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Oriental Hand Tools
Federico Calboli asked this question via email:
Assuming I could impregnate a dai with resin (making it impervious to moisture and harder wearing), would that be a good idea? I presume it is too much trouble to do all the time by everybody, but assuming one could do it I can only see advantages. What am I not getting (aside from ruining the mystical zen connection with the universe)?
This is an interesting question, and I haven’t seen anyone try to do this with a Japanese plane. Resin-impreganted wood certainly seems to work well with other tools, like the chisels and mallets that Blue Spruce Toolworks makes. I think resin-impregnating a dai could certainly help with stabilization, but I think the rationale fails in two ways for this particular application.
First of all, it assumes that the process of reconditioning a dai is long and arduous, so that it’s worth looking into ways of making it easier. I’ve found that conditioning a dai is pretty easy once the initial set up is done. Also, the amount of conditioning of a dai for regular woodworking processes is not nearly as involved as what most people think of, which is for Japanese planing contests.
Second, I think the resin impregnation will make the dai behave worse in terms of locking the blade in place. The blade of a Japanese plane is held in by friction and the wedging process of the blade into the side grooves. One of the reasons Japanese oak is used for this purpose is that there’s a springiness to the oak that allows it to compress enough when tapping the blade to lock the blade in place, but then it can spring back to its original shape when the blade is retracted. The resin is sure to interfere with these properties of the dai.
Having said that, if anyone has tried this, please let me know how it turned out.
Beautiful photo essay by Christopher Payne and Sam Anderson on the way the General Pencil Company makes pencils, right here in New Jersey. This process may be mechanized woodworking, but it’s woodworking nonetheless.
The iconic pencil that most people think of is the Ticonderoga, which is now made outside the U.S. Buy General instead!
Pab Sungenis, from The New Adventures of Queen Victoria. Zhaozhou gets around.
Bob Rozaieski does a great job talking about how hand tools are a lot more efficient than you may think, and how to get there with your hand tool set. And if you’re not subscribing to his podcast, you really should.
A while back I won an eBay auction for a used Japanese chisel for $20, shipped to my door. It only took a couple of weeks to get to me. It came in a shipping packet, wrapped in bubble wrap.
When I unwrapped it, it seemed to be in okay shape. There was more surface rust than was apparent in the eBay listing. The hoop was a little loose, and the back had some rust and pitting. The ferrule wasn’t completely in line with the shaft, but that’s only a cosmetic issue.
I started on the back. I placed the entire back of the chisel on my Atoma 400 grit diamond plate, and did a couple of swipes to see what kind of condition the back side was in. I could see that the Atoma diamond plate left scratches back where the blade met the shaft of the chisel, and at the cutting edge. This was a great sign. This showed that the chisel was slightly concave on the back. It would have meant a lot more work if the back were convex.
I used the Atoma diamond plate until I got rid of the pitting in the area of the cutting edge. Then I used my usual sharpening routine of a 1000 grit waterstone, a medium grit natural Japanese waterstone (~4000 grit), and a fine grit natural Japanese waterstone (~12000 grit). That brought the back of the chisel to a nice reflective surface.
I did consider working the back more to address the pitting in the middle of the back of the chisel. I decided against it, since I knew I would be working the back anyway as I used this chisel more, and that would take care of the rest of the pitting over time. The important thing is that there was about 3/16″ of clean, flat, polished metal making up the back at the cutting edge.
Now it was time to address the bevel. I used a Lee Valley Mk II sharpening guide to establish a 30º bevel. Here I started out on my 1000 grit waterstone. I was pleased to see that a nice lamination line was hiding under the rust.
I went back to the Atoma diamond plate to get rid of the rust and establish the bevel surface. After that, I went up through the 1000 grit waterstone, the media grit natural Japanese waterstone, and the fine grit Japanese waterstone. Here’s the result.
To tighten up the hoop, I redid the mushroom by taking a hammer and striking glancing blows on the handle to try to reseat the hoop. That worked pretty well, but it may come loose again later. Time will tell.
There are a variety of methods to deal with the surface rust. I like using a rust eraser.
This is a rubber eraser with some sort of fine abrasive compound embedded in it. I used it on the rusty parts of the chisel. There was an area on the ferrule that had more rust, so I used a bit of 400 grit sandpaper to knock down the rust in that area. Finally, I applied a coat of camellia oil.
Looks pretty nice, if I say so myself. All together, it took me less than an hour from beginning to end. It probably would have been about 40 minutes if I wasn’t stopping to take pictures.
So how does it work? Here’s the obligatory end grain pine shaving picture.
I’m really happy with this chisel. For $20, I have what looks to be a very nice Japanese chisel. The only aspect of this chisel I can’t comment on yet is how well the chisel holds an edge over time. But aside from the surface rust and the misalignment of the ferrule, this looks to be a very nice Japanese chisel.
Megan Fitzpatrick does a great job with a list of what tools to start with for woodworking. But then there’s this:
My absolute favorites are a Japanese make that I can never remember (so I had a reminder on my computer at PW that I could look up. Oops.), but I also don’t think they are easily available. So among chisels you can actually get, I like the Lie-Nielsen Bevel-edge Socket Chisels.
*** single tear rolls down cheek ***
Merry Christmas from Giant Cypress and the King of the Monsters.
A while back, I wrote about things to look for when buying used Japanese chisels on eBay. I recently went through the process of looking for a 12mm Japanese chisel on eBay, bidding on it, and buying it. Here’s how I decided on the chisel I bought.
I searched for “Japanese chisel 12mm”, and found this listing, among others. Here are the photos from the listing.
In my previous article, I mention that having good photos to look at is key. These photos weren’t optimal, since a few of them were not completely in focus, but the length of the chisel was good, the handle looked good, and the hollow seemed to be in decent shape. There’s some rust, but I expect that it will clean up easily. Despite the advice in my article, there isn’t a clear picture of the bevel, but the price ($8) and shipping cost ($12) were right. So I took a chance on that part.
I use a sniping program for eBay auctions. I’ll set a maximal price for the item that I want, and walk away. This keeps me from getting caught up in auction fever, and is really the best way to deal with eBay auctions.
As it turned out, I was the only bidder on this chisel, and so I won. There are so many Japanese chisels on eBay that this often is the case. The chisel is on its way to New Jersey from Japan. When it arrives, I’ll see how well I did.
A 23-year-old man in Chicago developed a rare, festering fungal lesion on his lower lip after he reportedly “snipped a pimple” with a woodworking blade.
Doctors at the John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital of Cook County treated the man, who was an otherwise healthy construction worker.
Two things stood out to me about this story. First, this probably wouldn’t have happened if the blade was really sharp. Sharp tools are clean tools. So there’s your argument for keeping your tools sharp.
Second, Cook County Hospital was one of the hospitals I trained at when I was in medical school. It does not surprise me at all that this case wound up there.
Modern Woodworkers Association Podcast - Conversations Among Woodworkers by Dyami Plotke & Sean Wisniewski
Dyami Plotke and Sean Wisniewski had yours truly as a guest on the Modern Woodworkers Association podcast. Apparently we had such a good time talking about Japanese tools that they made it a two-parter (part 1, part 2).
If you haven’t subscribed to this podcast, and are interested in woodworking at all, click on the links above to get to their listing on iTunes. The MWA podcast is really terrific.
I just purchased the video you made with Shop Woodworking on Japanese tools and I am really enjoying the details that you have dealt with. GREAT JOB! Thanks for sharing your knowledge and experience!
Thanks so much for the kind words! I really happy that you liked the video.
My video on Japanese woodworking tools is available at Shop Woodworking, Popular Woodworking’s online storefront for videos, books, and more. There are shorter videos on Japanese saws, Japanese planes, Japanese chisels, and “everything you ever wanted to know about Japanese tools but were afraid to ask”. These videos are also compiled into one longer video, available as a DVD and as a download. It might make a nice holiday present for the woodworker in your life.
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.