Japanese chisel NOMI setup
preparing, fitting the hoop and sharpening.
If you are looking for ‘ready out of the box’ just leave this blog now, and forget about Japanese chisels!
This blog is for those who want to understand their tools, to trim, adjust and become the master of your tool.
Traditionally new Japanese chisels will need a setup before they can be used, for us in the west it might sound strange, to buy new that need setup… But the truth is that after you have done this process you will be familiar with your chisels and you can trim them the way you prefer.
When this is said it is no rocket science, just a few easy steps before you use the chisels, and the reason why I make this blog is to show all that it is easy.
Reading Toshio Odate’s inspire ring words in his book ‘Japanese woodworking tools their tradition spirit and use’ gave me the knowledge to get started on the Japanese chisels my sister bought me when she was in Korea by the help of our friend here Poisson – thank you all three.
And so this blog begins.
Before we really start I will tell a little of what I have read about the Japanese chisels;
If we travel to Japan we might find a little old blacksmith that can make us some hand forged wonderful chisels, perhaps even only the metal, we can have them made of blue or white steel for the perfect cutting edge, he will hammer for days on this one chisel turning the metal again and again to make it more and more compressed, with softer old anchor chain steel as the softer front part, and our smith might come from a family of Samurai sword smiths that was without a job since 1870 when swords became illegal to wear and own, he would have had to start making tools in the days where the samurais became forbidden, many weapon smiths ended like that – this is the wonderful dream.
We might also get some from a respected dealer who makes more than one chisel a week, and friends if we buy chisels from a western dealer that can get us as many as we want no Samurai smith has been involved… Be realistic please.
So what do we get? We get what we pay for!
High quality chisels, hand forged by a master smith, dead expensive, and you need to go to Japan, and you need someone to recommend the smith.
High quality chisels, hand forged by smiths in different little workshops but sold as one brand just like in England in the good old days, this is the safe way for a western to find good Japanese tools in Japan or at a respected dealer of Japanese tools in the west.
Medium – High quality chisels factory made by smiths and under strict control of quality of work and materials, it is most likely these we get here in the west, and trust me this is nothing to be sad about, this is quality at its best.
Medium quality chisels from small shops or factories, these might varies in hardness and finish, so you need to test to feel sure of the quality – these we also get here and often so cheap that we should be worried.
Finally there is crap, no reason to talk about this.
Mine is factory made and was with brand stickers on the wood that are a sure sign of factory, the quality seems excellent since the steel holds a excellent edge and can become razor sharp, the finish more on the fabrication side than ‘hand made’, and the finish from machinery still visible.
So are you happy MaFe? Yabadooo yes, I love them.
Bevel edge, three or four hollow grinds on the back and so on is all new inventions in Japan, probably from western influence so this has nothing to do with ‘traditional’ Japanese chisels even I would never buy new chisels without bevel edge, the number of hollows on the back is pure taste, more will give more support but also more sharpening.
Here is what started my interest, the gift from my wonderful sister.
Six chisels recommended by our LJ fellow Poissons woodworking teacher in Korea.
A little wonderful Japanese Kanna (Plane).
A Korean mallet and marking knife so Korea would also be represented in my work shop.
The first thing I did was to split it into pieces so I could see how it was made, and become familiar with the parts of the chisel. To do this you hold the blade and bang the handle into the side of a flat piece of wood until it will fall off, use the whole surface so you do not make dings into the handles wood.
The blade HOSAKI on Japanese chisels are of laminated steel, a layer of high quality hard steel on the back to be able to make a sharp edge, this is hardened to RC 64 normally and then a softer front that are supposed to shock absorb, I am not sure I believe in this, I believe it could give some flex on a sword, but on a chisel I think it is simply tradition because it was easier to work with the softer steal, and the fact that the softer steel was less expensive, especially when I hear they used to use old anchor chains for this part (but this is my personal thoughts).
The shank (first part of tang) KUBI, Ferrule KUCHIGANE, The handle ‘Eh’ (thank you)..., Iron ring, KATSURA.
Notice the Japanese chisels today have both the tang and the socket in form of the ferrule, in this way the handle should have an optimal shock absobtion when you beat it.
The first thing I did was to sand down the handles, this because I think they had given them lacquer.
I prefer linseed oil and wax.
To get the hoop of, place the end of the handle on top of a flat surface, I used a bolt head, then used a small hammer top tap down the hoop while turning the chisel around slow.
Hoops might be custom for each chisel so keep then separate, and they might have an upside and a down side so pay attention and mark them when you take them of.
Like this it will come of easy.
Some can be all loose from birth.
To fit the hoop and shape the top for beating you must soften the wood and turn it out (kind of like making a rivet). This can be done by beating the wood sides on the end while the hoop is off or by beating with a wedge shape at the top to split the fibers slightly so they can be worked.
Place the chisel on a piece of wood while doing this so you do not damage the blade.
Well prepared now soft.
Now work the end to create a flat slightly rounded surface that grasp over the steel ring.
Here you see the steps.
And the whole bunch done.
Now drip some oil on the tops.
And you might want to hammer a little while they are wet to make them smooth.
So here we are at the back of the blade this is hollowed out so you will need a minimum of honing each time you sharpen. It is not supposed to be a mirror shine here so if you are one of those who can’t have a tool where you can’t see your own reflection just forget about Japanese chisels.
First take a cloth with some acetone or alcohol to remove grease and rust preventing lacquer.
Then wax or perhaps camellia oil if you prefer the Japanese way of rust prevention.
Time to sharpen.
We start with the back, I use here the sandpaper on glass method, but of course Japanese water stones are more the thing…
Start by flattening the back and go all the way up to mirror polish, I went 320-400-600-800-1200.
If you use Japanese stones start with 1000-6000-10000 later you just need to touch up with the last two.
Then sharpen the bevel the same tour.
And I finish as always with a tour on honing compound on a leather strap, this gives the final touch to the razor edge and a mirror shine.
Bad photo sorry but you can see the two layers of steel.
And the shiny flat back.
Now wax or oil.
And check for sharpness – youuuhooo this is wonderful sharp.
I get so excited I need to make waves – lol.
And this is where the story ends.
The chisels right at hand in their fine new rack, what more can you ask for?
(Except a set of Iles right behind…).
Life is sweet, and full of surprises.
(Notice a little new one on the table…).
This is the end of the chisel setup blog in the Japanese tools series.
Hope this blog can bring some help or inspiration to others that want to play with Japanese chisels.
My Japanese style scraper plane: http://lumberjocks.com/projects/51555
My blog on setting up Japanese planes: http://lumberjocks.com/mafe/blog/24608
My post on the chisel rack: http://lumberjocks.com/projects/49702
Read about the Japanese tools: http://www.dougukan.jp/contents-en/modules/tinyd8/index.php?id=21
-- MAD F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect. Democraticwoodworking.