Hand Tools Archive

Re: Mike Brady - Phil Lowe's Chisels

david weaver
>differences, differences<

That's one of the reasons that I don't get on SMC, the discussion doesn't evolve. I don't know how many times I can type the same counterpoint to things like "hollow grinds make chisels weak and should be avoided" or "lie niesen says not to use a grinder" or "makers 150 did the best they could with what they had, but tools are better now".

The differences that I perceive after who knows...80 sets of chisels and another couple hundred oddballs......I don't know what people want to know, but limited bandwidth and my final thought about them is just like sharpening stones. I doubt the new ones are really better than the old ones, but I also think the equation is 85% user and 15% tool.

re: the iyorois, mine were kamaji backed iyorois and for whatever reason (care? I don't know), they were better finished and more consistent (in terms of edge holding) than the typical red oak handled inexpensive iyorois. If they were 62 hardness (my guess, the oilstones will quickly rat out anything that's not 63/64 or harder - those chisels will not sharpen well on novaculite, and anything softer than 61 or so will sharpen quickly), they were the best 62 hardness chisels I've had.

At the same time, I had older ouchis that were definitely full hardness, koyamaichi chisels (which are separated fairly little from the best chisels when it comes to edge holding, they're just made in dies and coarsely finished), and a couple of kiyotadas - and then maybe 40 unallocated older japanese chisels and another set of multihollow older more delicate chisels. Only the iyorois were softer than their spec, but they always seem to be. I think they prefer it, and for heavy work, I do, too. heavy handedness with chisels like the ouchis or anything else that's 65/66 hardness will lead to broken chisel corners and some of those chisels will not tolerate any harsh abrasives or the edges will crumble in later sharpening stages. For mortising planes or fast work in dovetail sockets (as in, also heavy handed, not tidy show-me type work), they're also better.

But their proportions are not like western chisels, only their edges are.

as you know, I took microscope pictures of various edges, and what I found by guessing was confirmed - those iyorois liked natural stones a lot and their hardness was ideal for them. They took a better edge off of oilstones and natural waterstones than most western chisels because they were a little harder, but they lacked fragility that some harder japanese chisels have and that. Very good chisels tainted both by a name as well as the spec book desire to have a 65 hardness chisel.

Rob (can't remember his last name) did a nice hardness test on various chisels, and as many stones and tools as I've been through, when someone tells me they have a 65 or 66 hardness chisel that sharpens really easily on natural stones, I usually speculate that the chisels aren't 65 or 66 hardness. People love tasai chisels and some of the other "specially refined" chisels from certain makers, but the ones that sharpen really easily are just softer. Nobody wants to admit that they like a tool that's softer (not aimed toward you, just people in general). It goes across hobbies. Thiers issard tried to make ungodly hard razors out of carbonsong 135. In public view, everyone gushes about them. In private messages, I would get "hey, do you know what stone will sharpen this razor? the edge seems to crumble easily when finish it, and i can't get it sharp". It's too hard. sell it to someone else and get a razor that was made for a professional user, and not a catalog spec.

That said, the vintage japanese chisels that I've gotten in odd lots from buyee are often also very very hard. A couple are a match for the best chisels I've ever seen, but they're $8 or $10 a piece if you're willing to get rid of the half of the lot that aren't that great.

It's fun for me to look at all of these things out of curiosity, but I tend to favor the western types because of the way I sharpen, or the iyorois. I could sit and do a case of half blind sockets with the iyorois (again, not the production ones) with a single natural finish stone and spend about 5 or 6 minutes total and have a fresh chisel at the end. Never having to stand to do anything other than switch boards. A full hardness chisel may have done the same thing at two degrees less total angle, but i never appreciated the punishment they could dole out if a corner disappeared.

Shape and steel like vintage chisels if this is a tight constraints conversation? There isn't anything out there, nobody has the skill or patience to make chisels as fine now. Oil hardening is close. I could get along very comfortably doing almost everything I've done with a $35 set of mifer chisels off of ebay, though. With their proportions as they are, I'd prefer them over lie nielsen's chisels.

Maybe I'd have different opinions if I worked with 2000 hardness janka wood all the time. Cocobolo is the only thing that's hard that I'll work with on a regular basis - i challenged myself to use a stanley chisel to do a couple of plane bodies, and then the same in beech, and found that I was fine with them. An extra two or three degrees made a chisel that I thought wasn't holding up well hold up really well, and it was a little less slick through the wood, but something I wouldn't notice without doing an a-b side by side comparison.

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