Hand Tools Archive

Making Many of One thing...

David Weaver
Rather than making one or two and then moving on and trying something new.

I've maybe made 8 or 10 chisels now in total - it hasn't changed a lot since last week, I finished 3 chisels.

But what I'm noticing (Especially since I don't do a lot of this work) is how much better #8 looks than #1 or #2 did, and how much easier it is to kind of get there (and there's still more improvement). Initially, I thought it would be a stretch to make myself a set (and before that yet, I thought the idea of making nice chisels was kind of dumb as the going rate for a good vintage English chisel is about $20).

But the little knife in this picture and a bunch like it kind of changed my mind after I made the same style of knife out of an O1 iron cutoff and noticed how much tougher the file steel edge was (not longer wearing in easy use, just less likely to deflect and less likely to hold a wire edge when sharpening).

AT any rate, in my youth, I never had the tolerance to do anything twice. As I'm getting older (early 40s), I kind of have already settled into the idea that I'd rather make something 30 or 40 times to actually get good at it and then enjoy the predictable making (without taking the skill out).

I had two bottlenecks with this process that weren't deal killers - using MAPP gas in a paint can forge (which is a great way to heat an iron for hardening and tempering - just gets costly to hammer the irons and keep things in the heat) and my belt sander was one of the 1200 feet per minute home depot junkers. Without going bonkers, I upgraded both and the forge will work indefinitely. The sander is a direct drive 4x36 type (double the belt speed) that will remove scale quickly and make octagonal handles in a couple of minutes, but was neither as expensive as a true belt grinder nor as good (I want to keep doing most of the shaping by hammering).

The one surprise so far is that I've used all old files except for one chisel (for that one, I used american made 1095 bar stock). The files surprisingly make a more dry and nicer filing steel than the bar stock does, but it's hard to get a file that isn't gigantic that will yield a significant tang thickness. so the narrower chisels that I'm making would be kind of a hassle and a waste to make out of big files unless I find a gaggle of discarded square files (no luck so far).

I think to make something well is difficult if you limit yourself to needing to do it well on the first or second try. To give yourself some breathing room and make a few and then correct issues is a lot more enjoyable (but wouldn't be so on a huge piece of furniture).

(the black chisels have been hardened and tempered. The silvery ones haven't. I'm kind of on the fence about whether or not it even makes sense to remove the black cooked oil layer and oxide from the chisels. I get it that a trade grinder would make new ones look great by grinding and glazing that layer off, but I'm doing shaping pre-hardening and probably won't come up with a glazing setup to finish the chisels any further. Most of the later chisels got fairly rough treatment before they went to round bolsters and chunkier more smudged over bevels, but one of my older chisels - an LI&J white chisel - has perfectly proportioned bolster work that was carefully glazed afterward, and it just looks like a million bucks).

The bolster on the left has one point on the little triangles that needs to be filed a bit further (already did that after this picture), but I've got a system down to file these nicely and just a few more aesthetics to figure out - like getting a tapering bevel from the bolster through the length of the tang.

Haven't given any serious thoughts to getting a process down for the handles, though- they've just been quickie by-eye afterthought types so far.

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