Pro Woodworking Tips.com
Hand Tools - part - 1
Woodworking chisels are used to rough out joints, and also to pare down pieces
for a perfect fit. The right chisel for the job will lead to a successful end.
Woodworkers of all sorts use chisels for everything from paring down a thousands of an inch off a mortise,
to opening a paint can. We have invested heavily in paint can openers, so that isn't necessary in our shop!
A subject as seemingly small as wood chisels, is quite broad in scope. Consider all the different types of
specialty chisels, and it's surprising just how large a variety there is. There are very large slicks for timber
framing, dovetail chisels, mortising chisels, bench chisels, short bench chisels, paring chisels, skew chisels,
corner chisels, dog leg chisels... The list seems to be endless.
Then there are the broader categories, meaning Western made, English made, Japanese made, blue steel, white
Having used most of them at one point or another, I can say my favorites are hands down, Japanese chisels. In
our shop we have maybe eight sets of chisels. What I used to think was a great set of bench chisels, has been
demoted to such tasks as removing glue or very rough work. The edge seem to chip rather easily, without major
abuse. At least no more than they were designed for.
Then we have a rough mortise set, and again when we bought them, we thought they were great quality tools. These
too, have received demotions. Even after having spent the time to "tune" these chisels, they are no match for their
Tuning a wood chisel
By tuning a chisel, I mean working the front, and back of the chisel to a point where they want to cut wood!
Start with flattening the backs, using sharpening stones, begin with a rough stone, and work through the grits
to fine stones, and then on to a leather strop, charged with rouge. My preference for sharpening stones are the
water stones, as opposed to oil stones.
Another very effective way to finish off the sharpening process, and my own personal preference, is
to take a few small pieces of M.D.F., and "charging" them with diamond paste. This is a paste with diamond
particles in it. Again start with the rougher grits, and move through to the finer grits. It is important to clean
the chisels, sharpening stones and M.D.F. blocks, prior to switching grits. Otherwise you'll contaminate the finer
I take them to a point where you can actually see your face in them. Then the cutting edge receives
the same efforts in achieving a very sharp, polished edge. While this may sound somewhat extreme, anybody who has
taken the time to tune a chisel, will tell you it's time well spent. These "tuned" chisels will cut the end of a
board with so little effort, leaving a polished edge in their wake.
It's actually amazing to realize how crude these tools are when received from the factory. (of course some are
worse than others). If you ever saw the edge under a microscope, you'de be surprised at the edges that leave the
Japanese chisels on the other hand, generally come flattened and polished, with an edge that is simply amazing.
At least the better quality ones. These chisels are laminated with a soft metal, hand forged to a hard metal. I've
seen sets of ten chisels that were Seven Thousand Dollars! These are truly works of art in there own right. I
unfortunately, am not the proud owner of such a set. The workmanship in these tools is impeccable. I can't imagine
what these guys could do with wood.
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