Hand Tools Archive

Re: When you see that, it's kind of alarming..

david weaver
...we all assume first (or some of us do), that either there is some machine immersing chisels into a liquid or there is someone carefully running all of the tools through an automated heat treat process that is also...well, careful.

I saw a razor manufacturer - still in business - hang razor forgings on a wire rack, immerse the razors in what looks like molten lead and then quench them in oil. It would not by any means be an expensive process, but I guess an insurer might not like it because ...what if someone trips and falls in or whatever. Who really knows.

The bottom line is that it's not hard to do much better than a lot of the modern process work like what may have been done to my marples - with nothing more than a two hole coffee can forge and a couple of bucks worth of gas. Every iron that I've minded the details on has turned out great.

The mystery steel chisels that have come soft and who knows whether or not they're supposed to be good coming out of an oil quench....still fine. Not as ideal, but much better than as delivered.

We get a small view of modern process by tools made with care (LN and LV, which are probably done in a vacuum environment or by some automated machine that works to a tight spec) and don't get a good sense for how bad things were after the "inflection point" that I mentioned.

Another interesting one is buck knives. You look at a new 110 and say "not really that neat, but I can't figure out how they'd make it for a price that would wholesale and meet the retail target of $40 or so".

And then you see a guy stick a blank on a wheel, it goes around in a circle and the blade is ground. If that process makes something good, then that's what you get. if it makes something mediocre or inconsistent, then that's what you get.

I'd like to be a fly on the wall in the Ward manufacturing operation 150 years ago. I'm sure it wasn't some little bald guy with an apron poring over the details of every chisel and kissing each one as they were finished, and I'm sure it was plenty industrial. But the result is that each unit was made with deliberate care, and despite the stuff about old chisels being inconsistent, within each actual make, they were VERY consistent. Wards are generally very similar. Buck, very similar. Wards and bucks are different to each other, but that's because they chose different specs. Operations like LN, etc, make nice tools, but they have to be tailored to modern process.

Not sure where I'm going other than that for most folks, beware buying anything made after steel gets dark with age, and don't assume that modern stuff is better than vintage stuff when you get the right vintage. In my estimation, chisels lost their quality first, and then their shape. You can get in trouble buying a chisel that looks like it has nice proportions, but was made after quality went out the window with other details - just like my set of marples. I can clean them up so that they're good, but would anyone ever give $160 for a set of chisels that have been rehardened. I don't know. If I clean them up, maybe. I'd have to be a real jerk to play coy and pass them along the way they came to me.

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