Sunday, August 2, 2015

New old tools!

It's tool sharpening day again.....Oh joy! As you know by now, that's not meant to sound sarcastic, either.


The bevel on my old drawknife is a bit more round/convex than I prefer, and now seems like a decent opportunity to flatten it out a bit. I don't need it to be PERFECTLY flat, it's not like I can sharpen this 12" monster on the stones.....which brings me to another point....getting the bevel perfectly flat isn't meant to be some sort of religious or ethical dilemma. A flat bevel is self-jigging, makes sharpening more easy and repeatable, that's all. A convex bevel seems to get away from you after a while. 22 degrees =>24 degrees =>45 degrees, you know? This bevel angle wanders around a bit, so I'm just trying to improve things a little bit.

Problem is, normal files won't touch this steel, it's too hard. To have any hope of getting this done today, I need to use my cheap China diamond files.

What looks like dust on the blade.....that's steel. These files cut!

This $10 set of files has the coarsest grit of anything that I've got, and they are turning into one of those "life-saving, off-grid, must have tools". They've held up amazingly well so far, and look nearly new still, despite having already seen some fairly hard service. The diamond grit is embedded very thoroughly, so as you use the files, more grit gets exposed and the action becomes more aggressive. They have shown no tendency to shed grit when used on soft-ish steel, something that can't be said of many of the more expensive diamond stones from guys like DMT.

This drawknife is most definitely NOT soft. I bought this thing on eBay last year, but haven't had much cause to use it until now. It still had most of the factory paint on it, I couldn't see any makers stamp, but it seemed nicely forged. The handles aren't too nice, and are mismatched, to boot. It hasn't been used much at all, nor mucked up by fools. I figured it for a decent newer import knife, but today I took a closer look.

D.R. Barton, Rochester, NY. The makers stamp is so faint that it was obscured by the paint. The blade is laminated. I couldn't see that under the paint either. The Barton stamp was used until 1923 I read, so there you go. I think I paid around $20 shipping included. Old drawknives are painfully cheap, and almost certainly better than anything that you can find today.

Ever more, my tools are around the 100 year old mark, which sounds impressively old, but now that I'm nearly 1/2 that age, it doesn't feel as exceptional, haha. If you think about tool life and return on investment, these old tools are really phenomenal values. I am lucky to see 4 years of use from a power tool, but many of the hand tools that I use every day have been in use for over 100 years. That's just incredible to me. Talk about value and economy!


My friend Brandon is soon to set sail to the far corners of the globe in our old sailboat (and now beautiful, thanks to him....he sure didn't get it that way, haha!) and boat space being at such a premium, he figured that I might be able to put some of his old tools to good use. Thanks yet again're the best! They arrived two days ago, and they are perfect!


A lipped shipwrights adze (yeah, the handle's upside down,oops, my bad, haha), a hewing hatchet.....



....and an arrow for Ellie.

The perfect gift for her (and she likes the harmonica that you sent, too! Lucky for me, she is developing some skill with music, otherwise....:-p

This arrow is one of a set that Brandon made years ago for elk hunting. Now she needs to build a decent bow, something that has enough muscle to push this monster. Hawaii smoked ham, here we come!


Phosphoric acid takes away the slight amount of surface rust.


Even more importantly for me, it reveals the details of the forging.

A laminated blade, L.& I.J. White, Buffalo, NY Kent pattern #3 broad hatchet. This hatchet is also well over 100 years old. According to the catalog, you could buy these for $16/dozen, of course that was in 1890. Not cheap, these tools.

I've had a few broad-axes and hatchets before, but now that I really need one...I've got nothing. Your gift is SO very timely, thank you!


Something that I wasn't aware of before, is that some of the broad hatchets have a welded steel face on the poll of the axe.

That seems odd to me. All I can assume is that this is the original shingleing hatchet, so you'd want a hardened hammer face to use for driving nails. One end splits, the other end drives. Cool!


I love the original tooling marks.

Laminated blades are awesome.


When viewed on edge, you can see how the steel bit was forge welded to the body, using a nice long scarf.

Very clean. A really nice, solid tool. Perfect.




And on to the adze. It needs some BLO, to nourish the dried wood.


Looking better, now that I've got the handle facing the right way.




I should've taken the hatchet down far enough that the grinder marks were eliminated. I figured that they would soon disappear due to sharpening attrition, but now I don't know. This steel is tough, much harder that the adze. Those grinder tracks might be there for a LONG time yet.


As I was sharpening the adze, I kept wondering if I was seeing evidence of a lamination, but I'm pretty sure that it isn't, despite how the picture makes it appear. Even on the back of the blade, though, it almost looks like it could be. I can't say with 100% certainty, but if it is laminated, the heat of forging it caused enough carbon to migrate out of the steel that the separation line is virtually eliminated. And not that it matters one lick, it's an awesome adze, and I've wanted one of these lipped adze for the last 20 years. I'm pretty happy, partly a delayed gratification thing, partly just overwhelmingly pleased with the tools that Brandon sends me.

Thanks Brandon!! Ellie, too. She's psyched!


Now for something completely different.....

I have a short list of tools that I've wanted for quite some time, but I haven't really felt the lack until recently. I am of divided mind on tools acquisition. I used to flip through the tool catalogs endlessly, each tool suggesting new possibilities for projects, each idea giving birth to ever grander plans. I made lists, added up the totals then promptly chucked the lists out the window. How many tools do you really need, anyway (Coincidentally, Sebastian has been exploring this same issue with the students in his woodworking classes down in Chile.)? As I get more proficient, the answer is less and less. Before, I wanted ALL the tools, seeing them as somehow being necessary to proper craftsmanship. Now, I tend to view many of those same tools as being a crutch to make up for a lack of skill. How can you improve if everything is done for you?

On the other hand, I've gotten more than a few tools, just bought on a whim, but then later realized how awesome they are. The "point of a sword" knife that I forged is one of those tools (although I wouldn't buy one for the $300 they cost), a wakitori-ganna (a special plane used for shaving the sides of a groove) is another. The POAS knife I've never seen for sale used, but the wakitori-ganna are so common they are nearly free. Buy one.


Anyways, here is another tool that just never made it onto my must-have list, but it's there now.

A (Gasp!) new tool. Finally I've bought myself a sashigane! I had been planning to buy an old one, made using German steel (what was that stuff? Aluminum? Pewter?), but my needs overcame my wants. A new Shinwa sashigane, stainless steel and everything.

I have come to hate and despise the western style framing square, but even so, how different can the Japanese version be? It has been all of this Project Mayhem framing joinery practice that has finally made me see the light. When you watch those YouTube videos of the old Japanese carpenter laying out the joint, whipping the sashigane left and right, tilting and angling..... I realized that the square can be an artful and dynamic tool, more than just the 90° reference it is commonly used for.

A western framing square is placed down, skootched into position, then the line is drawn. It is stiff and heavy, and unless you are striking from an already square edge, you pretty much need to use two hands to move it where you want. A sashigane is different. It's thin, light and nimble. It's a single-handed tool that you poke down right where you want it, draw a line, then give it a twist to the next location, mark, move, mark. This Japanese joinery has so many cut lines that the layout becomes part of the fun itself, nearly a dance if done properly. I'm only beginning to feel this, but I REALLY like it.




Of particular importance in how the tool works..... The corner.

The edges of the sashigane are relieved . You know how when you are marking a line and it is just the slightest bit off, due to the interference between the square and whatever it is that you are using to mark with, the thickness of the pencil, whatever..... You need to pull the square back from the line before you strike it, if you want it to be accurate, you know?


To hazard another esoteric byway/explanation......

I have been striking my layout lines for years using a pencil for rough cuts, a knife for the important stuff. I use a knife, because it's more sharply defined than what the carpenters pencil in my pocket can provide. A knife works great with a square, because you can run the blade right next to the edge of the square, zero clearance like. The knife also gives this great little divot point for placing the tool as you progress the marking out, an index mark. I started using the knife more, because I wanted greater accuracy than my pencil would provide.

Ironically, now that I've started laying out these crazy complex joinery works, I am frequently wanting an even more accurate mark than a knife can provide. How is a relatively fat 0.2 mm line considered more accurate than a 0mm width knife mark? Obviously it's not, but the problem is that I want to fudge the cut some arbitrary amount one side or the other AWAY from the line, and that doesn't work well with a knife line. The knife struck line disappears if you get too close. An ink line lets you fudge, but still keep the original (in part at least). Right now, for my skill level, a 0.2 mm line feels like a good goal to shoot for. I can cut one side, then the other, and chances are I'll get an acceptable fit. Far from a piston, but I'm happy for now.


Anyways, back to the other tools.....

A sashigane has its edges ground back, so the edge doesn't actually touch the surface. It is said that's  because the Japanese guys layout using ink, and the relieved edge prevent the ink from getting all over the square and fouling the surface, but in practice it is more than that. When I use a sashigane, I can stick the corner point exactly where is want it to be, then angle the drawing tool (sumisashi, pencil or knife) to mark the line perfectly. It is so much faster and easier.

I never would've guessed.




Living in this way, very simply and with no power source, can be difficult in many ways (try living in a warm climate without refrigeration, haaa!) but it also has its rewards. Renee has seen the value of having all of these ridiculous hand tools! Now that she gets to see things in action (and she does much of the work herself, too), she's given me encouragement to buy more of what I need/want tool-wise.


Doing the Project Mayhem joinery challenge has brought to light one of my biggest lacks. Despite the amazing resource of the Internet, there is still not much info out there on basic Japanese carpentry practice and joinery. There are a handful of books however, that keep being referenced, but I don't have any. Strike that.....didn't have.


Books are coming, a survey of what might be useful to a relative beginner (I guess that's what I am. I'm sure no expert, haha ).




I'm also dreaming.....


.....dreaming of a shaded porch, lying in a hammock, feeling the afternoon breeze.


  1. So glad the box arrived with contents intact. The tools look beautiful after you TLC. Wish I could try them out now that they are truly sharp. I don't think I ever did either of them justice. Glad they are where they are used, taken care of and appreciated.

    I think of you and your family every day, every day, every day.

    Waves of love,

    1. Nonsense! They were received in excellent condition, solid, usable and perfect in every way. I did notice a distinct lack of white paint spatters though. What's up with that?

      I thank you again my friend!

  2. Nice restorations! I did not know tools were made in my hometown, I thought we just produced flour, cameras, and hulking heaps of food (google garbage plates, sometime)

    I wish you the best with your house; if Hawaii wasn't so humid, you could try making one of these:


    1. Yes, the Zeer pot! Great for Arizona, but as you mentioned, not so good here. Actually, the other side of the big island IS sunny and dry, but over on this side....not so much, haha.

      I was thinking about where you are. I bet you'll be able to find tons of old industrial wrought iron to work in your forge. I am envious! WAY nicer to work with, it moves so nicely under the hammer. When I was back on the mainland, I wanted to buy some old ag equipment to cut up and send back here, but didn't have the time. I've got too much going on as it is, but soon....

    2. I will keep an eye out for some wrought iron! Haven't found any yet, but I haven't really been looking too hard, either. It's funny, there was a $30 adze in great condition at the flea market one day. I didn't buy it, kind of rethinking my choice now, with all this hickory.

      There always could be more time; so much of it goes to sleeping, its annoying!

  3. Excellent tools, the adze is really beautiful, perfect for what you're going to be doing.
    What new books will you be getting? I too am ready to invest in more educational material. Thinking of getting Chris Halls first carpentry drawing book and The Complete Japanese Joinery. I need something that better explains center line layout and design. What do you think?

    1. My books are still coming in, but here's what I'm reading:

      "Japanese woodworking". Hideo Sato (I'm reading this now).

      "Japanese joinery". Takahara (These two books are combined in the "Complete Japanese joinery", but I think that they were unchanged when merged, so you can just buy "Complete". Probably comes today.

      "The art of Japanese joinery". Seike. Maybe today.

      But the big one......

      "Measure and construction of the Japanese house ". Heino Engle. OMG! This one really clicked for me. More details coming soon.....

      Now if only I could get my Project Mayhem stuff going.....

    2. man, that last book. I save my opinion for later but I was a more than a tad disappointed. It has nice plans though.

    3. Know exactly what you mean, as I've picked up this title more than a few times over the years and though......not my thing. Two years ago, I would've put that title back on the shelf. It feels like 1/2 of the book is given over to variations of tatami mat orientation.....Boring!

    4. I don't know if boring, the guys just seems so pedantic/western chauvinist... like he doesn't really love japanese architecture. Anyway, has amazing diagrams for foundations too, very useful to your new house I guess.

  4. Just a few days ago I was reading this:

    and found that the adze you got looks particularly beautiful. Man, I need a sashigane.

    1. Yeah, I'm so cheap, I thought "No way do I need a $30 square when I have about 5 framing squares already (that I hate!)". I use homemade wooden squares nowadays, but.....I'm very pleased with the sashigane. Thing was, I wasn't ready for one, till now.


Like all of us, I am figuring this out as I go, so when you see something that is incorrect or flat out wrong (and you will!), let me know. This is a learning process. Real people and names, please. Constructive comments and questions are very welcome, but hate speak/politics are not! Life (get one!) is too short.

Thanks, Jason