Hand Tools Archive

Japanese vs Western chisels
Response To:
Hand/Bench Chisels ()

Derek Cohen (in Perth, Australia)
Hi Don

Ask 10 woodworkers for a recommendation and you will get 10 different answers.

I think that you want a recommendation for Japanese chisels because of the steel. Well you are correct. In the tests I ran (admittedly limited in scope), the Japanese chisel bench chisel came in first. If you want to go down this route, then look for Koyamaichi. They are excellent chisels, with excellent steel, and will not break the bank.

They are the same price as the second-placed chisel, Veritas PM-V11 bench chisels.

These two are standout choices because of their edge holding and ease of sharpening by the steel. In a way the steel is secondary - it is only something you notice when all else is good and the steel is letting you down. So what could you be looking for ...

The two bench chisels above represent two different user groups. The Japanese bench chisel (e.g. Koyamaichi) has a steel hoop and is designed to be used with a steel-headed hammer (a gennou). It is not designed to be pushed by hand, although you can do so - this is not its domain and it is not as comfortable in the hand as a chisel that is designed to be pushed. The use of a gennou permits great precision when the chisel is used. There is no wavering of the hand and a precise amount of force is imparted via the gennou.

The Western chisel (e.g. Veritas) is wooden handled without a steel hoop. It is design as much to be pushed with the hand as hit with a wooden-headed mallet. So how does the mallet/gennou area differ? Not a lot - there is an advantage with the Western chisel as it has greater all round use. The advantage of the Japanese chisel is that it is the more durable (but not by much in this particular example).

Veritas (dark) and Lie-Nielsen (light) ...

If you plan to go down the Western chisel route, it is important that you try out a few since the handles differ. The Veritas handles are excellent, as are Blue Spruce. Lie-Nielsen offer remakes of the vintage Stanley #750, so you may be familiar with these. You really cannot go wrong with any of these makers.

There are also issues with sharpening that one should consider. The Japanese chisel is laminated steel, and is designed to have the full bevel honed ideally freehand, or a secondary bevel with a guide. One is not supposed to hollow grind these blades (unless using a Tormek wet grinder). The Western chisel is solid steel and may be hollow ground with a high speed grinder, or what you like. It can be honed full bevel, secondary bevel or on a hollow.

I have a few reviews on my website:

Koyamaichi: http://www.inthewoodshop.com/ToolReviews/KoyamaichiChisels.html

Veritas O1 steel: http://www.inthewoodshop.com/ToolReviews/VeritasChiselReview.html

Comparison of chisel steels: http://www.inthewoodshop.com/ToolReviews/FourChiselSteelsCompared.html

Hope this helps.

Regards from Perth


The thing is that there is more to choosing a chisel that goin

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