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Oriental Hand Tools

Hi again Wilbur, I'm the same reader with the blade fitting & mortise chisel question. In one conversation that I had with an American Japanese woodworker, he told me that using a mouth piece (kuchie ire??) in a dai is a bad practice. Different wood...

Giant Cypress - 14 hours 20 min ago

All things considered, it’s probably better to make a new dai than it is to patch the mouth of an old one. Having said that, it’s going to be a lot faster to patch the mouth of an old dai than it is to make a new one.

It is true that different species of wood move at different rates. But so will different samples of the same species of wood. Different parts of the same dai will move at different rates as well, which is why one should check the body of a Japanese plane every so often for twist. If the patch really gets to a point where it’s not working well, you can always make a new one. Or make a new dai, if you have the time.

Hi Wilbur, I've got a couple of questions for you. If you had a 67-68 mm wide blade and you wanted to fit it in a dai that was made for a 65 mm blade, what would you do? Grind the sides of your blade on 80 grit sandpaper or widen the opening of your...

Giant Cypress - Wed, 04/23/2014 - 6:58am

1. I’d widen the opening of the dai. That’s going to be a lot easier than grinding off a total of 2-3mm off the sides of the blade.

2. I have three mortise chisels: 6mm, 7.5mm, and 24mm. The smaller two have covered all the mortising jobs I’ve needed to do in furniture scale mortise and tenons up to this point. The larger one I bought to make the mortises for my workbench. I doubt that I will ever use it again, and there are certainly easier ways of making 1” wide mortises, but it makes for a great story.

I can’t speak to using a Japanese bench chisel with a trapezoid profile for mortising, since I’ve never tried one, but I don’t see why you couldn’t make it work. It just will be nicer to use a real mortise chisel.

This video shows how a pair of large Japanese crosscut saws are...

Giant Cypress - Tue, 04/22/2014 - 3:43am

This video shows how a pair of large Japanese crosscut saws are made. These are not your typical Japanese saws that are seen in woodworking catalogs and stores. These saws are used more for crosscutting timbers. I’m really impressed by how fast the hammer setting of the teeth goes.

Hi Wilbur, I have 3 Japanese chisels now that I have set up more or less per instructions on the internet. One thing I can't figure out though is the reason that the back of the chisel should be flattened with a flat metal plate and polishing powder...

Giant Cypress - Mon, 04/21/2014 - 3:19am

The downside of using a waterstone for the initial working the back of a chisel (or plane blade, for that matter) is that this is a task that is usually done by a coarser (less than 1000 grit) waterstone. Overall, coarser waterstones dish more quickly than finer grit waterstones, and so you run the risk of putting a slightly convex surface on the back of your chisel.

The flat steel plate and powder method has the advantage of the flat steel plate remaining, well, flat in use. The disadvantage is that it tends to be a messier process, since the powder tends to roll off the plate, and has to be refreshed every so often. Having said this, I should mention that I haven’t used this method very much, but I do have alternative ways of working the back of a chisel.

For me, if I need to flatten the back of a chisel or plane blade, if a 1000 grit waterstone isn’t working fast enough, I’ll use either my Atoma diamond plate that I use for flattening waterstones, or 80 grit Norton 3X sandpaper on a granite plate.

If you’re getting decent results with your waterstones, there’s no need to get the flat steel plate and powder. If you are not happy with the results you’re getting, then I would look into it.

Happy Easter from Giant Cypress and the nuns at Ladywell...

Giant Cypress - Sun, 04/20/2014 - 2:20pm

Happy Easter from Giant Cypress and the nuns at Ladywell Convent.

Jackie Chan. Chopsticks. Woodworking. What’s not to like?

Giant Cypress - Fri, 04/18/2014 - 3:38am

Jackie Chan. Chopsticks. Woodworking.

What’s not to like?

Got my goose

Giant Cypress - Wed, 04/16/2014 - 3:28am

Speaking of joineryNeil Cronk started an interesting woodworking exercise on Twitter. Towards the end of March, Neil decided, for reasons that remain unknown to me, to take on cutting a lock rabbet miter joint, which is usually made with a router table, using hand tools instead. He live-tweeted this project, and it was fun to watch.

As a sequel, Neil decided to take on the lapped gooseneck joint, also known as a kamatsugi. In addition, Chris Wong, Adam Maxwell, and Shannon Rogers decided to join in. I decided to give this a try because someone needed to cut this joint with Japanese tools.


There are a number of variants of this joint. I decided to try making the mechigaihozotsuki kamatsugi, which is distinguished by incorporating a stub tenon in the lower half of the joint. This is a diagram of this joint, taken from The Complete Japanese Joinery. It was used for joining large beams end-to-end.


I started by milling up a 2x2 piece of walnut and crosscutting it. Each piece was laid out and marked separately. This was traditional practice. Although some of the lines could be marked together, many times it was not practical to line up large beams for this task. In fact, sometimes the layout was done by different people, relying on their skill to lay the lines out accurately.


I worked on making the male piece first. The first cut was made along the grain, defining the bottom face of the gooseneck and the top face of the half-lap. With this cut, I realized that the 210 mm ryoba that I usually use for joinery cuts was a bit small for 2x2 pieces, and switched to a 240 mm ryoba.


The next two cuts define the head of the gooseneck.


A vertical cut is made on the underside of the male piece. I knew at this point that I had already made my first mistake, which was cutting on the wrong side of the line.


Two shallow cuts are made to define the sloped back side of the goose head.


And a chisel was used to chop out the waste.


Some more saw cuts, chopping, and paring finish off the underside tenon. 


This finished off the male piece. To make the female piece, I started by sawing waste off to provide the half-lap. 


Sawcuts were made to define the neck, and more chiseling defined the mortise in the area of the head.


You can barely see a faint line on the side wall that is clearly not perpendicular, This is to mark the slope of the face of the female piece that matches up with the slope of the back of the goose head. I used the line as a guide to angle my chisel for paring. I don’t think achieving a perfect fit here is important. Like dovetails, the mechanical advantage will be there even if the fit isn’t perfect.

The last step was to make saw cuts and some chopping to define the mortise on the bottom of this piece. I forgot to take a picture of this part.

Then came fitting. This took up quite a bit of time, partially due to lack of experience on my part, and partially because I had to figure out which face of the joint to pare back to achieve a better fit. Finally, I was able to achieve this.


The male piece is not completely seated, but at this point the two pieces are wedged so closely together that this joint will stay this way for a very long time, even though there isn’t any glue in this joint.

After planing, though, it looked really good, for a first try.


The gap on the lower half reflects my sawing on the wrong side of that line early on in the process. It represents a two-saw kerf error. But overall, this joint came together surprisingly well, given that I didn’t mark one piece off of the other, and that I didn’t knife any of my lines before starting to cut them. Total time: about 30 minutes to mark the pieces, 1-1/2 hours for the making of the pieces, and 30 minutes of final fitting.

If you’re interested in seeing more, go to Twitter and look for #HandJoinery. This was a lot of fun.

Jackie Chan. Chopsticks. Woodworking. What’s not to like?

Giant Cypress - Wed, 04/16/2014 - 3:18am

Jackie Chan. Chopsticks. Woodworking. What’s not to like?

I'm looking for books on Japanese joinery. Any suggestions?

Giant Cypress - Tue, 04/15/2014 - 3:08am

The Complete Japanese Joinery, by Hideo Sato and Yasua Nakahara (translated by Koichi Paul Nii). Many people consider this to be the bible of Japanese joinery.

The Art of Japanese Joinery, by Kiyosi Seike. Terrific pictures, not as much detail on the uses and construction of these joints.

The Genius of Japanese Carpentry, by S. Azby Brown. More concerned with the architectural aspects of Japanese joinery, but has a nice photo essay on cutting a half-lapped gooseneck joint.

Picking just one would be difficult. I have all three books, and wouldn’t be without any of them. I would get The Complete Japanese Joinery first, but realize that you eventually get all three.

Executive summary of WoodTalk #177. Go listen. It’s a terrific...

Giant Cypress - Mon, 04/14/2014 - 3:58am

Executive summary of WoodTalk #177.

Go listen. It’s a terrific discussion.

(Picture poached from Adam Maxwell.)

Upcoming Japanese woodworking classes with Yann Giguère

Giant Cypress - Fri, 04/11/2014 - 3:18am
Upcoming Japanese woodworking classes with Yann Giguère:

Last summer I had the chance to take a woodworking class with Yann Giguère. He’s a fantastic teacher, and I learned a ton from that class. Yann has since relocated to Brooklyn, and is offering classes at his studio and in the tri-state area. Check out Yann’s offerings, and if you take a class, it will be well worth it.

For Shannon Rogers: an 1858 parlor table made in the Modern...

Giant Cypress - Thu, 04/10/2014 - 3:38am

For Shannon Rogers: an 1858 parlor table made in the Modern French style, made by Jelliff & Co., Newark, and a late 18th century parlor chair made in the Rococo style, made by an unknown maker in New Brunswick, NJ.

Both can be seen at the Newark Museum.

Another Asian who truly rocks.

Giant Cypress - Wed, 04/09/2014 - 3:48am

Another Asian who truly rocks.

Hanging wall cabinet, made by George Nakashima out of cherry in...

Giant Cypress - Tue, 04/08/2014 - 3:58am

Hanging wall cabinet, made by George Nakashima out of cherry in 1958, on display at the Newark Museum. The most interesting thing to me is the use of dowel joints alongside the expected dovetails.

Also note that the angles of these dovetails are fairly acute compared to the skinny-pin dovetails seen on many pieces. The pieces that I saw on my visit to the Nakashima workshop showed that this was a fairly consistent practice by George Nakashima.

Kanna ER…Japanese hand plane Evaluation and Renovation: Part I

Giant Cypress - Mon, 04/07/2014 - 3:18am
Kanna ER…Japanese hand plane Evaluation and Renovation: Part I:

Nice writeup on fixing up the Japanese plane equivalent of a beat up flea market Stanley, followed by part 2 and part 3.

Getting ready for my talk at the Greater Newark Mini Maker...

Giant Cypress - Sat, 04/05/2014 - 7:56am

Getting ready for my talk at the Greater Newark Mini Maker Faire.

Speaking of sharpening Japanese saws…  (From the collection of...

Giant Cypress - Fri, 04/04/2014 - 3:38am

Speaking of sharpening Japanese saws… 

(From the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Thanks to the Sturdy Butterfly for the link.)

How to Resharpen a Japanese Ryoba’s Rip Teeth

Giant Cypress - Thu, 04/03/2014 - 3:38am
How to Resharpen a Japanese Ryoba’s Rip Teeth:
Nice writeup by Lee Laird on sharpening the rip teeth of a ryoba, including a homemade saw vise. I’m glad that I’m not the only one who thinks that sharpening a Japanese saw is feasible. I find that the Gramercy Tools saw vise does a great job of holding Japanese saws for sharpening as well.

In Ottawa, opposites do seem to attract.

Giant Cypress - Tue, 04/01/2014 - 8:48am

In Ottawa, opposites do seem to attract.

I'm in the market for some Japanese chisels. What are your thoughts on the "house" brands from Japan Woodworker and Hida Tool? Are they decent value compared to say the Narex chisels?

Giant Cypress - Mon, 03/31/2014 - 11:28am

I haven’t had personal experience with those brands of chisels, so I don’t think I can draw any sort of meaningful comparison.

This is where your relationship with a Japanese tool seller really becomes valuable. Most of the tool sellers out there are not looking to run a business by selling a piece of crap and ripping you off. If they did that, they make a profit, but only over a single transaction. But if you have a pleasant transaction with them, then odds are that you are going to buy more tools from them in the future, in which case the tool seller will make money over a number of transactions.

I would contact both Japan Woodworker and Hida Tool and see what they have to say about these chisels, and how they compare to other brands. Whichever place gives you a warm fuzzy feeling, that’s the place to get your chisels from.


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