LumberJocks

My First Handmade Tool: The Allen Chisel

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Blog entry by Eric posted 04-26-2008 05:32 AM 1548 reads 0 times favorited 11 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I’d been thinking about how to cut the slots in my box lid for the miter keys. The narrowest blade I have is my 1/4” chisel. Actually, I think my mini router plane blade is a touch smaller than that, but would still have cut far too wide of a slot. So here’s what I came up with: the allen chisel. My idea was to simply (simply, ha!) grind a bevel on an allen (or hex) wrench and then hone it up on my stones. I don’t have a grinder, so I had to do all my grinding with a file.

Well, it wasn’t actually quite that easy. First, I realized that when you grind the bevel on a hexagonal wrench, the “meat” of the bevel is wider than the cutting edge. This would make for a pretty sloppy groove. So what I had to do first was to grind the sides of the wrench to square the edges, essentially making it rectangular at the front. Then I could grind the bevel. I tried to estimate a 25-30 degree angle, and when I measured it with my Starrett protractor, I was pretty close. I just needed to touch it up a bit and I was in business. Take a look:

Allen Chisel

Honing the allen chisel was a bit unnerving. My stones cost a lot of money, and I didn’t particularly like dragging a little tiny blade across it, making little tiny grooves. Also, on two occasions I raised the “handle” just a tad too far and made a couple mini divets in the surface. Great. Needless to say, I didn’t put a microbevel on this sucker. Here’s another pic:

Allen Chisel

Someone told me that an allen wrench isn’t tempered or hardened or whatever, and that as a result, it wouldn’t hold an edge. I figured no problem, I’m only using it for a few inches of grooves; it should stay sharp enough for long enough.

Stay tuned for the next post to see the allen chisel in action!

-- Eric at http://adventuresinwoodworking.com



11 comments so far

View Betsy's profile

Betsy

2914 posts in 2639 days


#1 posted 04-26-2008 05:50 AM

That’s some mighty fine grinding and honing. How long did that take? Will be anxious to see the results.

-- Like a bad penny, I keep coming back!

View GaryK's profile

GaryK

10262 posts in 2732 days


#2 posted 04-26-2008 06:15 AM

Looks good as long as you didn’t heat it enough to lose it’s temper.

Looking forward to seeing the results.

-- Gary - Never pass up the opportunity to make a mistake look like you planned it that way - Tyler, TX

View Eric's profile

Eric

873 posts in 2527 days


#3 posted 04-26-2008 11:30 AM

Betsy: Took about 5 minutes of filing each side, another 5-10 to grind the bevel, and then the honing/sharpening on the stones.

GaryK: Temper? This was a cheap piece of steel that I filed until sharp. I don’t think it had any temper to begin with. I didn’t heat it at all, having no means to do so. Like I said, I only needed it to be sharp(ish) for fewer than six inches of wood. And it was! :^)

-- Eric at http://adventuresinwoodworking.com

View jjohn's profile

jjohn

390 posts in 2457 days


#4 posted 04-26-2008 01:59 PM

I heard that you can heat it up and dunk it in cold oil and create a temper of hard metal. Don’t know if this applies to a allen wrench or not. Are you going to create a handle for it?

-- JJohn

View Eric's profile

Eric

873 posts in 2527 days


#5 posted 04-26-2008 02:20 PM

Nah, in my mind this was a one-use tool. I will, of course, hang on to it just in case, but I’m also planning on buying a 1/8” chisel in the near future which should mostly do the trick for similar projects.

-- Eric at http://adventuresinwoodworking.com

View teenagewoodworker's profile

teenagewoodworker

2727 posts in 2512 days


#6 posted 04-26-2008 02:25 PM

wow that is cool. i love doing that and making tools. my smallest chisel is 1/2” and i needed a smaller one so i ground a screwdriver by flattening the back and making a bevel. it came out pretty good too. great job!

View Shopsmithtom's profile

Shopsmithtom

780 posts in 2938 days


#7 posted 04-26-2008 02:59 PM

I understand that if you get a lumberjock hot enough, that they’ll lose their temper…
On a more serious note, (that means the previous thing was supposed to be funny) I have heated home made tools with a bernz-o-matic type torch to red hot and then cooled by dunking in oil (I think any liquid will do, actually so as to cool it quickly) and it appears to do the hardening. I read that cooling too fast will actually get it too hard and brittle. The correct way is to control the cooling process to some degree (no pun intended…but as I think about it…not a bad one, eh?)
Back to where I was going, though, by doing the home hardening and turning a handle (we are, after all, woodworkers, so that’s possible) I’ve ended up with a couple of very serviceable chisels, so don’t overlook the possibility of future use.
My great grandfather’s tool box (he was a carpenter) contained many home made tools that served him well in his vocation.
Old files make great chisels, they’re hard already, unless they’re made in China, then all bets are off. -SST

-- Accuracy is not in your power tool, it's in you

View Eric's profile

Eric

873 posts in 2527 days


#8 posted 04-26-2008 03:08 PM

Thanks for the tip, SST. I’ll think about a handle I could make for it (but I can’t turn one, no lathe). Are all files hardened already? Even cheap Chinese ones (the ones I get here)?

-- Eric at http://adventuresinwoodworking.com

View Shopsmithtom's profile

Shopsmithtom

780 posts in 2938 days


#9 posted 04-26-2008 08:42 PM

All files are hardened or they couldn’t file other metals. I’m sure that Chinese ones are as well, but some of the cheaper ones are probably not as hard as good files should be. I always watch garage sales for old ones. While they might be well worn and not be good as files, and therefore really cheap, they are useful as re-makes to other tools. I even made a mini plane blade out of one. I get them to size with a grinding wheel, and use a disc sander for final facing.
As to your handle, if you don’t do lathe turning, you can always whittle one, and epoxy your chisel in. -SST

-- Accuracy is not in your power tool, it's in you

View fredf's profile

fredf

495 posts in 2453 days


#10 posted 04-27-2008 04:26 AM

google books has an excerpt from “The compleate modern blacksmith” that gives a bit of information on tempering and then drawing temper. http://books.google.com/books?id=em2Xmi1_-GcC&printsec=frontcover#PPA21,M1

Basically you heat to red heat, quench (oil is preferred, it cools slower and leaves middle a bit softer) which makes the metal hard and brittle. then you draw the temper a bit by putting a mirror polish on the piece and heating it till the oxidation colors shift to the color that you are looking for. As near as I can recall purple yields an edge for wood, and a bronze color a bit harder edge for chisels that are struck. It has been years since I’ve done any of this, and I only tried a few times

-- Fred, Springfield, Ma

View Eric's profile

Eric

873 posts in 2527 days


#11 posted 04-28-2008 02:51 PM

SST: If files are hardened, can you grind one down with another file? I don’t have a grinder or anything more high-powered than my right arm.

-- Eric at http://adventuresinwoodworking.com

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