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Oriental Hand Tools

Variations on a theme

Giant Cypress - Tue, 06/20/2017 - 3:48am

Here are two planes that are designed to do the same thing: cut a 3/4″ groove into a piece of wood. Both of them are designed to cut across the grain, as they have nickers for scoring the wood. But the implementation of the nickers is quite different between the two planes.

This a closeup of the bottom plane. You can see the nicker on the left, which will score the wood ahead of the cutting blade and the chipbreaker. There’s a matching nicker on the opposite side. This arrangement of a pair of nickers ahead of the cutting blade is pretty common in Japanese planes that are used to cut across the grain.

This is a closeup of the top plane. Here it might look like the cutting blade is on the bottom and a chipbreaker that is advanced too far is on the top, but something else is happening here. What looks like the chipbreaker are actually nickers.

This is the complete assembly of the cutting blade, a pair of nickers that rest directly on the cutting blade, and a chipbreaker that fits between the nickers.

Close up of the business end. Here you can see more clearly how the nickers protrude past the main cutting blade.

Here are the separate parts. From the top, the chipbreaker, the nickers, and the cutting blade.

Clearly, the manufacturer of this plane went to a lot of trouble. Not only are the nickers more trouble to manufacture than a pair of separate nickers, but the nickers are held together with a pin so that they can pivot like a pair of scissors.

I have no idea why anyone would go to the trouble of making a plane with nickers in this fashion. In the years that I’ve been looking at Japanese planes, I have never seen one with this sort of nicker/blade set up. But it is cool. Maybe it just goes to show that there’s always someone in woodworking that’s looking to come up with a different way of doing things, and that just like in western woodworking, there isn’t a single way of doing Japanese woodworking.

Here are some Asians who rock covering AC/DC’s “Back in...

Giant Cypress - Mon, 06/19/2017 - 7:48am

Here are some Asians who rock covering AC/DC’s “Back in Black” to start your week. Bonus: a vocal performance that rivals any metal band I can think of.

Ridiculous Woodworking Books (Give me More!) - Popular Woodworking Magazine

Giant Cypress - Fri, 06/16/2017 - 3:58am
Ridiculous Woodworking Books (Give me More!) - Popular Woodworking Magazine:

Thanks to Megan Fitzpatrick for the shout out. Check out the titles, and submit your own for a chance to win a copy of David Denning’s The Art and Craft of Cabinet-Making, which is a great read, as well as one of those high quality examples of book printing that seem to be harder to find these days.

Anon that asked about the 'beyond repair' chisels here. I've not seen any japanese chisels with no sign of any lamination remaining, but I have seen many on ebay with the hollow smaller than a framing nail head and the lamination line on the edge of...

Giant Cypress - Thu, 06/15/2017 - 3:38am

Got a link to an example? I’d love to see it.

Without actually seeing it, and having seen a lot of used Japanese chisels, my guess as to what you’re seeing is a combination of really aggressive working of the back to make the hollow get that small, and a sharpening method that obscures the lamination line at the bevel. This deserves a more detailed discussion, but I’ve found that sharpening with (some) man-made waterstones tend to make the lamination line disappear, whereas sharpening with natural waterstones really brings that detail out.

Apparently you can ask Nick Offerman woodworking questions on...

Giant Cypress - Wed, 06/14/2017 - 3:58am

Apparently you can ask Nick Offerman woodworking questions on Twitter. I might give this a try.

(Thanks to Matt Cremona for the link.)

Making a Dovetail Kanna

Giant Cypress - Tue, 06/13/2017 - 6:48am
Making a Dovetail Kanna:

There’s a decent amount of information out there on chopping out a dai for making your standard Japanese plane. Not so much on the specialty planes. Gabe Dwiggins has a terrific write up here on making a Japanese dovetail plane.

Get to Know Japanese Handplanes - FineWoodworking

Giant Cypress - Fri, 06/09/2017 - 5:08am
Get to Know Japanese Handplanes - FineWoodworking:

Speaking of Andrew Hunter, I found that I completely forgot to note his excellent article in Fine Woodworking back in February on seeing up a Japanese plane. It’s well worth the read. And if you’re curious, here’s my take.

Interlocking Chinese Joinery - FineWoodworking

Giant Cypress - Thu, 06/08/2017 - 12:18pm
Interlocking Chinese Joinery - FineWoodworking:

Follow the link to see Ben Strano and Andrew Hunter’s video on Chinese furniture joints. It’s terrific.

I should also mention that Andrew also has an article in Fine Woodworking on how to construct a frame and panel, Chinese style. That’s also a terrific article.

I have seen some beautiful, unique, but unusable-looking chisels around. Is there anything that can be done to save a japanese chisel that has no more sign of the steel lamination on the edge?

Giant Cypress - Mon, 06/05/2017 - 9:58am

If the hard steel layer of a Japanese chisel is truly gone, there’s not much use that you’ll get out of it. The soft layer is too soft to hold an edge. (In fact, the soft layer is so soft that you’re effectively only sharpening the hard layer.)

On the other hand, if you have photos of a Japanese chisel that has lost the hard layer entirely, I’d love to see them. The hard layer makes up the entire back side of a Japanese chisel, and I’ve never seen one that was completely worn away. In fact, it’s hard to even imagine being able to do something like that to a Japanese chisel.

I’m finally getting around to making the chamfers on the legs of...

Giant Cypress - Thu, 06/01/2017 - 3:28am

I’m finally getting around to making the chamfers on the legs of my joint stool project. I also just picked up a mount so that I can use my iPhone on a tripod. Here’s the result.

In case it’s not clear how I’m going about doing this, I use a ryoba to make some cuts along the waste to make chiseling the waste out easier. Then I chop out the majority of the waste, using the chisel bevel down. I plane away the waste as close to my layout lines as I can using a Japanese spokeshave plane. I can pretty much take care of the middle part with the plane, but not the ends. Then it’s some paring to finish up the ends. After that, I work on the two chamfers, chiseling to get close to the line, again with the chisel bevel down, and then paring. For those who like to see how slow hand tools are, it takes me about 8 minutes to complete a chamfer.

The leg is made of red oak. Apparently I don’t know that Japanese tools can’t be used in hardwoods.

You’ll notice that I’m using both my Japanese bench chisel and Japanese paring chisel for paring. I’ve often heard people say that the bench chisel is uncomfortable for paring because of the hoop. I’ve never found this to be the case. From what I’ve seen, people who don’t like paring with a Japanese bench chisel because of the hoop also haven’t set the hoop properly.

Music: Titus Andronicus — Titus Andronicus, Live at Monty Hall, 9/8/2016. Titus Andronicus is from New Jersey.

"And that’s exactly what a few people back in the 1970s and 1980s did when they saw that the old ways..."

Giant Cypress - Wed, 05/31/2017 - 5:08am
“And that’s exactly what a few people back in the 1970s and 1980s did when they saw that the old ways of working wood were about to die out forever. They knew intuitively a principle that preppers do not understand: the only way to keep a way of life alive is to practice it, and to teach others to practice it, too. Prepping, on the other hand, assumes that a total withdraw from culture is necessary for survival, and in a twisted way, I think it may actually contribute to the cultural collapse that it fears. The more people stop contributing to the wellbeing of their society, the more likely that society is to decline.”

- Steve Schuler, on The Literary Workshop blog. This is one of the best things I’ve read in a long time. Despite a lot of talk on the virtues of self-reliance, people are social animals. The more we embrace the idea that relying on and interacting with each other is a good thing, the better off our world will be.

Non-standard Japanese chisels: mortise helpers

Giant Cypress - Tue, 05/30/2017 - 3:18am

For the most part, Japanese chisels play the same role as their western counterparts. There are Japanese bench chisels, mortise chisels, paring chisels, and Japanese chisels sized for timberframing. There are some specialty Japanese chisels designed for specific tasks. In the above picture, from left to right is a Japanese mortise chisel, followed by the three specialty chisels: a harpoon chisel, a sickle chisel, and a bottom scraping chisel. These chisels are primarily used in making shoji to help with cutting all those mortises for the latticework, although they can be used anytime you’re chopping a mortise.


Of course, to illustrate this article, I had to chop out a mortise, because that’s the sort of effort I’m willing to go to provide high-quality content here on Giant Cypress. I then cut off the side of the mortise so that it’s easy to see how these chisels are used. Yes, I know the right side of the mortise is badly undercut. I was in a hurry.


This is a harpoon chisel, or a mori-nomi. The tip is sharpened so as to make both ends of the barb cutting edges. It’s the only one of these three chisels that has a hoop, so it is meant to be struck with a hammer. It’s good for getting into the corner of the mortise, or as a replacement for a regular Japanese mortise chisel. The barb can be used as an aid to clear out chips.


The sickle chisel, or kama-nomi, is is not so much a chisel as it is a small knife blade on a stick. The end is shaped like a small double bevel knife, and it’s also used for getting into the corner of the mortise to clean out the corner.


This is a bottom-scraping chisel, or a sokozarai-nomi. It’s useful for pulling along the bottom of a mortise to get rid of high spots along the floor of the mortise. 

Of these chisels, I find the bottom scraper chisel the most useful for mortises, mainly because I use it a lot to clear out chips, but not so much for scraping the bottom. I generally don’t use it for its intended purpose very often. I don’t use the sickle chisel very much for mortises, but I find it useful for many other tasks, such as cleaning up the corners of dovetails. Overall, I’m glad that I have these chisels, but they certainly aren’t in the “must-have” category as far as chisels go.

giantcypress: giantcypress: “In Flanders Fields”, by John...

Giant Cypress - Mon, 05/29/2017 - 3:08am



“In Flanders Fields”, by John McCrae, 1915. For Memorial Day.

Making this a tradition.

Roger Moore, in The Guardian:The sad fact is that I know exactly...

Giant Cypress - Thu, 05/25/2017 - 3:58am

Roger Moore, in The Guardian:

The sad fact is that I know exactly how to make a dry martini but I can’t drink them because, two years ago, I discovered I was diabetic. I prefer one with gin, but James Bond liked a vodka martini, “shaken not stirred” – which I never said, by the way. That was Sean Connery, remember him?

The worst martini I’ve ever had was in a club in New Zealand, where the barman poured juice from a bottle of olives into the vodka. That’s called a dirty martini and it is a dirty, filthy, rotten martini, and should not be drunk by anybody except condemned prisoners.

My dry martinis taste amazing and the day they tell me I’ve got 24 hours to live I am going to have six. Here’s how I make them:

Great guy. I hope he had his six.

(Photo from Flickering Myth.)

New paint colors invented by neural network

Giant Cypress - Wed, 05/24/2017 - 6:38am


So if you’ve ever picked out paint, you know that every infinitesimally different shade of blue, beige, and gray has its own descriptive, attractive name. Tuscan sunrise, blushing pear, Tradewind, etc… There are in fact people who invent these names for a living. But given that the human eye can see millions of distinct colors, sooner or later we’re going to run out of good names. Can AI help?

For this experiment, I gave the neural network a list of about 7,700 Sherwin-Williams paint colors along with their RGB values. (RGB = red, green, and blue color values) Could the neural network learn to invent new paint colors and give them attractive names?

One way I have of checking on the neural network’s progress during training is to ask it to produce some output using the lowest-creativity setting. Then the neural network plays it safe, and we can get an idea of what it has learned for sure.

By the first checkpoint, the neural network has learned to produce valid RGB values - these are colors, all right, and you could technically paint your walls with them. It’s a little farther behind the curve on the names, although it does seem to be attempting a combination of the colors brown, blue, and gray.

By the second checkpoint, the neural network can properly spell green and gray. It doesn’t seem to actually know what color they are, however.

Let’s check in with what the more-creative setting is producing.

…oh, okay.

Later in the training process, the neural network is about as well-trained as it’s going to be (perhaps with different parameters, it could have done a bit better - a lot of neural network training involves choosing the right training parameters). By this point, it’s able to figure out some of the basic colors, like white, red, and grey:

Although not reliably.

In fact, looking at the neural network’s output as a whole, it is evident that:

  1. The neural network really likes brown, beige, and grey.
  2. The neural network has really really bad ideas for paint names.

I’m impressed by how many of these look like traditional milk paint colors. They have terrible names (Hurky White), but a lot of the colors fall in the traditional colonial milk paint palette.

There’s a followup with more colors and terrible paint names (Farty Red, which may actually be an awesome paint name) here.

It was 50 years ago today.

Giant Cypress - Tue, 05/23/2017 - 3:08am

It was 50 years ago today.

Sprawled Below Tables and Chairs

Giant Cypress - Tue, 05/23/2017 - 3:08am
Sprawled Below Tables and Chairs:

Suzanne Ellison, on the lengths folks will go to in the pursuit of figuring out how furniture was made:

We still need those curious and intrepid souls who enjoy exploring out-of-the-way shops and regional museums and know how to charm their way into taking a closer look at that one piece that has caught their eye. If need be, they are perfectly willing to sprawl on the floor and get a bit dusty.

I completely understand. In the course of visiting the Chinese furniture collection at the National Museum Of China in Beijing, I managed to come away with this photo of a Ming Dynasty table.

The two Japanese tools I found at Handworks 2017: a dozuki used...

Giant Cypress - Mon, 05/22/2017 - 3:38am

The two Japanese tools I found at Handworks 2017: a dozuki used by David Barron to make dovetails, and a Japanese spokeshave at the chairmaking area.

Even though this seemed to be the entirety of the Japanese tool representation, Handworks was still completely awesome. I hope that it comes around again.

Roy Underhill, doing his thing at Handworks 2017, and showing an...

Giant Cypress - Mon, 05/22/2017 - 3:08am

Roy Underhill, doing his thing at Handworks 2017, and showing an example of a saw that goes the wrong way.


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