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Just a quick post to say that, as of today, I am no longer with Popular Woodworking.
But that doesn’t mean I’m leaving woodworking – far from it. I’m looking forward to lots more time in the shop as I build some commission pieces, and I’m working on a number of woodworking writing and editing projects. Plus, I’ve a couple classes already lined up for 2018, and am working on a few more. In short, this is nothing but a positive change.
Megan brought a breath of fresh air to the woodworking world during her tenure as editor of Popular Woodworking. I’m honored to have been a small part of her time at the magazine. Best wishes for her future projects and endeavors. I’m looking forward to see what she has in store.
Hello, I read your article on buying Japanese saws and have a question. What set of saws would you recommend for a budget/utilitarian buyer?
If you’re talking about this article, that is my budget recommendation. A set of saws like those I describe can be had for around $200. That’s a really good deal for a set of saws that will allow you to make almost any saw cut needed for furniture making.
"I worked for nonprofits and had jobs that were just looking at numbers on a screen. But this is..."
- Mac Kohler, founder of Brooklyn Copper Cookware, in Saveur magazine. He’s talking about the copper cookware that he makes and cooking, but this is exactly why I like woodworking with hand tools. And cooking, for that matter.
Early 20th century memes.
At 16:23 Marc Spagnuolo claims he’s not the best person to talk about Japanese saws, and then does a nice job talking about pros and cons of Japanese saws. Video game controllers are also referenced. Completely worth watching.
He also gives me a shout out. Thanks, Marc!
I’ve been told by some woodworkers that a turn off to using Japanese tools is the fact that there aren’t a whole lot of Japanese tools showing up at their local flea market means that their itch to find a bargain is somewhat limited. There are certainly a good number of used Japanese tools out there. It’s just that they’re on eBay. Given that today’s Black Friday, I figured it was a good day to talk about shopping. And if you know what to look for, there are good values to be had.
To this end, I’m going to show how I look for a used Japanese tool on eBay. I’m going to go searching for a used 1/2″ Japanese chisel. Why? Because everyone can use a good 1/2″ Japanese chisel.
But before we go tool hunting, there are a few things that will help with the search.
1. Japanese tools aren’t rare (on eBay, at least).
Many auctions will describe the tool being sold as rare. It’s not. Be patient. If you don’t win an auction, another will come along.
2. Know the market.
Before you start bidding, it’s a good idea to know what the tool you are looking for typically sells for. The best way to do this is look at auctions for a while before starting to bid. I have a saved eBay search that looks for the word “Japanese” in the Collectibles –> Tools, Hardware, and Locks category. I check it every day. Because of that, I have a good idea of what a used chisel in good shape is going for. You can also look at completed listings to see what chisels sold for in the past.
3. Get over not having free shipping.
Shopping on the internet has made us accustomed to the idea of free shipping. If you are beholden to the idea of free shipping, it would be good to let go of that idea. A chisel can be shipped from Japan to your door for around $10-15. That’s a bargain. If you don’t think so, price out an airplane ticket from the U.S. to Japan sometime.
Keeping these things in mind, you can start searching eBay. Here are some things to look for in a listing for a used Japanese chisel.
First, the length of a new Japanese bench chisel is around 8 inches long, with the blade being 2-½ inches. In metric, that’s 210 mm, and the blade being 60 mm. The chisel that you’re looking at will most likely be shorter than these measurements, but this will help determine how used up the chisel you might be interested in is.
Second, you want good pictures of the front, the back, and the bevel of the chisel. You’re looking to see that there aren’t major pitting problems from rust, especially on the back. Pitting on the bevel might be able to be ground away, but pitting on the back is going to be more problematic. Surface rust or patina is fine.
Third, the lamination line should be clean, symmetric, and turn up a little at the corners, like a smile. The hollow on the back ideally should be symmetric, but this isn’t a deal breaker if it’s not.
Fourth, if you’re looking for a really high quality chisel, the non-functional parts of the chisel will look as if the blacksmith still paid attention to them. I tend to look at the shoulders of a Japanese chisel. Lower quality chisels will have a rougher appearance, as the blacksmith would not waste extra time on this part of a chisel unless it was of high quality.
Finally, make sure all the parts are there. Sometimes a Japanese chisel on eBay is missing the hoop. Replacement hoops are available, but that’s something else you’ll have to buy, and that takes away the idea of finding a bargain.
With these things in mind, we can now go to eBay to look for a 1/2″ Japanese chisel. Japan, like almost all of the rest of the world, uses metric, so instead of searching for a 1/2″ chisel, looking for a 12mm chisel will be more effective.
Look at the pictures of the chisels that catch your eye. Here are some examples of pictures from eBay Japanese chisel listings, and what I think of them. (All of these pictures are from expired listings, and I don’t have any affiliation with the sellers.)
This chisel’s back has been worked pretty aggressively. You can tell by how large the flat area is at the cutting edge. This isn’t very pretty, but not a dealbreaker. If I had this chisel, I would polish up the back, and not touch it until sharpening the bevel side got closer to the hollow.
You can tell without measurements that this chisel has had a decent amount of use. Not a dealbreaker, but I would take this into consideration as to how much I would bid on this chisel.
This chisel has a lot of rust and scale on it. You can barely make out the hollow. I would take a pass on this one unless it was super cheap. Note that I’m not concerned about the nicks. Those can be taken care of by sharpening.
This is from a listing of a pair of Japanese chisels. The 12 mm chisel is on the right. The lamination line on this one looks good. It’s symmetric, curves up at the sides, and looks tight.
On the other hand, this lamination line from a different chisel, is pretty much straight across. Not the sign of a good quality chisel. If the lamination line was better, I wouldn’t be concerned about the pitting. That will go away with sharpening.
This lamination line is tight, and goes up the sides, but is clearly asymmetric. Not a dealbreaker, because the line is tight, but I would pay less for this one.
This is the back side of the first pair of chisels above. There’s not much hollow left, but I wouldn’t consider this a dealbreaker. I wouldn’t pay very much for this, however. You can reestablish the hollow using the corner of a coarse waterstone, or a Dremel tool, or some similar method.
Sometimes you don’t get a good look at the lamination line. The rest of the photos of this chisel looked really good, however, and I would take a chance on this chisel if it was cheap enough.
Sometimes you’ll find groups of chisels for sale. As you might expect, the price per chisel will be cheaper if you buy chisels in a lot.
This is from another lot of chisels. The 12mm chisel is on the left. This chisel has a beveled top. New Japanese bench chisels will have this detail for the most part. I’ve found that smaller used Japanese chisels tend to have straighter sides, as you can see from the previous photos. Theoretically, the bevel will give you clearance when using the chisel, but the sides of non-bevel Japanese chisels are tapered in slightly, like on a mortise chisel. This isn’t a dealbreaker, and is mainly a matter of aesthetics. I’ve found that if you’re looking for this particular shape, you’ll have to be patient when searching eBay.
So these are examples of things I look for when buying a used Japanese chisel on eBay. I’m heading there now, and will report back once I’ve found a 12 mm chisel and it gets shipped to me. Hopefully I won’t be in a bidding war with one of you.
Amanda Kolson Hurley, on a 12 story wooden building being built in Portland, OR:
Although we’ve been building with trees since prehistoric times, they are having a moment, architecturally. Wooden structures similar to those in Portland have recently been built in Sweden, Finland, and the U.K., and a 24-story wooden building is under way in Vienna. […]
Buildings are by some estimates responsible for a third of global greenhouse-gas emissions. Much of a building’s carbon footprint results from its lifetime energy use, but another big part derives from its construction. The manufacture of concrete and steel accounts for an estimated 10 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions. Trees, however, are “carbon sinks”—they absorb and hold carbon until they decompose or are burned. According to a study in the Journal of Sustainable Forestry, substituting wood for other materials used in buildings and bridges could prevent 14 to 31 percent of global carbon emissions.
And the music was good and the music was loud.
Malcom Young gives an eight minute clinic on rhythm guitar.
"Some people express their deep appreciation in different ways. But one of the ways that I believe..."
Although this primarily refers to Apple’s products, it could easily be about woodworking. At the very least, it dovetails nicely with his “When you’re a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers” quote.
I’m behind on my podcast listening, but I’d like to thank Shannon Rogers for giving a shout out to my new video on Japanese tools on the Wood Talk podcast a couple of weeks ago.
This has become a bit of a tradition here at giant Cypress.
This is one of the best Veteran’s Day songs, ever, even if it was written for Australia’s version of today.
God bless our vets, all of them.
I have a replaceable-blade Ryoba and in rip cuts it seems to go very very slow, doubly so if I try to "just let the blade do the work". It also tends to skip when I try to start a rip cut in a hard pine. During cuts the teeth feel like they are...
I think that making rip cuts, especially long rip cuts, is more difficult than the other types of cuts you would do with a Japanese saw. I’ve found that a key issue is how you set up the board for the cut, and the angle that the saw makes with the board.
The grabby feeling you get does happen, especially if you’re using hard pine. (Insert joke about hardwoods and softwoods here.) The difference between the early and late growth rings will make that wood inherently grabby. What you should find, however, is that there is a particular angle that the blade makes with the wood that will give you a smooth feeling in the cut.
For starting the cut, I’ll often start by facing the end of the board, and making a short cut to get the kerf started. Then I’ll turn the board around, and make the rest of the cut by pulling the saw down the length of the board.
Finally, if you think that your cut is going too slow, the most likely thing is that your saw is too small for the type of cut you’re trying to make. Which is not a bad thing, because that gives you an excuse to buy a new tool.
I stumbled across some Japanese knives, did a bit of an ‘ip dip’ and chucked one in the basket. It turned a boring order of glue and screws into bloody Christmas. Blimey Charley, the knife was perfect.