A link to the original that I found is at:
========================================Newsgroups: rec.woodworking From: snipped-for-privacy@cs.Buffalo.EDU (Ken Smith) Subject: FAQ: Hand Tools
Originator: email@example.com.Buffalo.EDU Sender: firstname.lastname@example.org Nntp-Posting-Host: milo.cs.buffalo.edu Organization: State University of New York at Buffalo/Comp Sci Date: Sun, 1 May 1994 16:54:41 GMT Lines: 1045
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
0) What do I need to know before I start with Hand Tools? 1) General Information on Wood. 2) What Hand Tools do I need? 3) What Hand Tools would be nice to have? 4) What other Hand Tools are out there? 5) Should I buy Hand Tools new or used? 6) Where do I get new Hand Tools? 7) Where do I get used Hand Tools? 8) How do I sharpen chisels, plane blades, etc? 9) How do I sharpen saw blades? 10) General Information on planes. 11) General Information on scrapers. 12) General Information on saws. 13) General Information on chisels. 14) General Information on Japanese Woodworking Tools. 19) Collecting old tools. 20) What books can I get to learn more? 21) Tidbits
Note: I am only the editor of this FAQ. A *small* part of the information contained here comes from me. The majority of it comes from books and from previous traffic on rec.woodworking. The entire section on Japanese Woodworking Tools comes from Dave Burnard. The rest of the sections come from many contributors. I apologize for not keeping track of who contributed what information so proper acknowledgements could be made...
0) What do I need to know before I start with Hand Tools?
For some people the choice between hand tools and machinery is something of a religious war. Most sensible people realize that there is more than one way to skin a cat and to each his own. If you agree with that then there is no Right Answer to the question of whether hand tools are better than machinery, it all depends on the person. GROSSLY oversimplifying, hand tools tend to be less expensive, quieter, generate less saw dust (often in favor of wood shavings...), and take longer to use for a given task (especially for cases where there is a lot of repetition since often the major time consuming factor in using a machine is setup time). THERE WILL ALWAYS BE EXCEPTIONS TO THE ABOVE (hence the religious war attitude some folks have). It is hard to say whether you will find using a hand tool easier than using a machine, this is different for everyone. Some people pick up the skills needed for machines faster than for hand tools, for others it's the opposite. Using hand tools versus using machines doesn't have to be an either/or proposition. It is possible to mix the two.
If you decide to start using hand tools for stock preparation or large shaping tasks you will quickly realize you need a good bench. Speaking from personal experience a WorkMate (TM) won't cut it if you're trying to use bench planes to prepare rough-sawn lumber. Good benches can be bought or made, see the books section for a reference.
Another thing you will quickly find necessary is a means to sharpen the tools. Sharpening will be covered later. You will probably need a set of sharpening stones. If you're fixing up old tools you may also need a bench grinder.
If you're a klutz like me seriously consider keeping your Tetanus shots up to date. You need a booster shot every 10 years. This is especially true if you decide to give fixing up old/unusable tools a try... If you cut yourself with something rusty you run a risk if getting Tetanus (Lock Jaw). I'm told just cutting yourself won't give you Tetanus but increases your risk of getting it - I'm not sure but will try to find out.
1) General Information on Wood. Wood is not a material designed for humans to build things with. Wood is a material designed to provide life functions for a living organism, namely a tree. This (seemingly obvious) fact is often forgotten by novice woodworkers, and this fact causes many problems that woodworkers need to be aware of.
To begin with a grossly over-simplified model, think of wood as being made up of groups of tubes held together with glue named "Lignin". The circular ends of the tubes are what would be called "end grain", while the sides of the tubes would be "edge grain". It is much easier to break apart the tubes parallel to the tubes themselves (i.e. breaking the lignin holding the tubes together) than it is to break through perpendicular to the tubes. Keep this very simplistic model in mind when you are working with the wood and you should be able to avoid some problems. For example when trying to plane the end of a board (end grain) you can't run the plane across the whole end of the board because when you reach the end of the stroke it is likely the wood will split off on the far edge of the board because the lignin holding the tubes together is relatively weak and the tubes along the edge of the board will break away rather than be cut by the plane blade. You need to stop the stroke well short of the far edge and do a second stroke towards the center from that other edge. When using a chisel with the blade parallel to the grain there is a tendency for the wood to split apart very easily, it is best to first make a cut with the chisel perpendicular to the grain at the point you want the cut to stop (this is known as a "stop cut") before working the chisel parallel to the grain.
To understand things like "tearout" better we need to complicate our simple model a bit. Now picture wood as being made up of tubes and lignin as before but now the tubes aren't straight. They are wavy, with some meeting the surface of the board at an angle. If you push a plane "with the grain", meaning along the tubes starting where a given tube is below the surface towards where the tube meets the surface, then any splitting that happens will be harmlessly up towards the surface. If you plane against the grain then any splitting will occur down into the board, causing "tearout" (little holes in the surface where wood has been torn away). These little patches of tearout will be noticable. Power planers and jointers will also cause tearout if used against the grain.
Wood will expand and contract (people usually call this "wood movement") with changes in humidity because of water absorption. Our tubes generally don't change in length but will get thicker and thinner. Thus the wood will expand and contract in the directions (note that's plural) perpendicular to the direction of the grain as humidity changes. If you do not take this into account when designing a piece of furniture then the piece may split or break apart due to seasonal changes in humidity. It is usually "cross-grain" joints, where the grain (tubes) is running one direction in one of the pieces to be joined and a different direction in the other piece, that this is a problem. Since wood is much stronger with the grain than across the grain (easier to separate the tubes than to break through them) you need to design pieces in such a way that the grain is running in the direction of the load. But this goal often results in cross-grain joints. It is usually OK to glue a cross-grain joint that is up to 3 or 4 inches wide (some people say a bit more than this, some people a bit less...) without too much risk because the change in overall width for that narrow a section is small but for a larger width the change in overall width will be larger. Joints wider than this you run the risk of having the joint self-destruct over time. Note that the simplistic model of the tubes getting thicker and thinner is much too simplistic. Real wood will expand and contract more tangentially to the annual growth rings than it does radially. Explaining this any better requires pictures not possible with ASCII characters, it is best to find a good book (see Hoadley's, Korn's, or Frid's books in the section about books). This difference in tangential versus radial movement is why "quarter sawn" wood is better for some applications than "flat sawn". Again, explaining this requires pictures so see the above books.
When gluing wood the end grain will tend to allow glue to be drawn away from the joint (into the tubes). There is also evidence suggesting that the strength of a glue bond is mostly from molecular attraction between the glue and the wood. End grain has relatively little wood material (the plastic of the tubes) and lots of air space. These two factors mean that glue joints involving end grain are very weak and need to be avoided. Try to have as much edge grain as possible in a joint. Modern woodworking glues, if used properly (meaning use a thin layer of glue on edge grain), are stronger than lignin so the wood around a properly glued joint will fail before the joint itself.
2) What Hand Tools do I need?
Below is a starter's kit grouped by tool types. Get tools in the various groups as needed for projects. See the following sections for more information about the various tools and their use.
- paring chisels either bought one at a time as needed for projects or a set 1/4" through 1" in 1/4" increments - morticing chisels either one at a time or a set, start with 1/4" and then 3/8" - mallet for striking morticing chisels - rip saw (4-6 pt) - crosscut saw (7-9 pt) - backsaw (15-25 pt) - dovetail saw - coping saw - block plane - #4 smoothing plane - #5 jack plane - #7 jointer plane - rebate plane (e.g. Record 778) - bit brace and auger bit set (1/4" to 1") - hand drill and brad point bits (1/16" to 1/2") - scraper, bastard mill file and burnisher - screwdrivers In addition general-purpose marking tools you will find useful: - measuring tape - steel rule or folding "zig-zag" rule - trysquare and/or combination square (protractor head on the combination square is optional but nice) - scratch awl or marking knife - marking guage - sliding bevel guage Misc. stuff: - workbench is very important - toolbox (first project you build) - bench hook (second project, or maybe first and used to help build toolbox) - shoot board
3) What Hand Tools would be nice to have? - bow saw (many people like these better than the traditional rip and crosscut saws; they are harder to find but you can make one yourself) - #71 router plane - drawknife - spokeshave
4) What other Hand Tools are out there?
5) Should I buy Hand Tools new or used?
Most of the Hand Tool Gurus will tell you ``They just don't make them like they used to''. Planes and chisels in particular seem to be in wide abundance in the second-hand tool markets. Older Stanley planes seem to be the most often recommended for beginners who plan to work with them as opposed to collecting them. Ergonomics, as much as it's in style today, is often a reason to get the used tools. Handles of older saws are often more comfortable, likewise for planes. The fact is tool designers of old used the tools themselves, while current tool designers tend to be most interested in how to make a tool for the least amount of money and won't actually use the tool themselves.
6) Where do I get new Hand Tools?
You can start off looking in the local hardware stores or home centers but be careful. This type store in some places will have some reasonable quality hand tools. In other places this type store will only carry junk (new Stanley tools for the Do It Yourself-er types and stuff like that). Also see the separate Address FAQ posting.
American Machine & Tool Co. (AMT) Fourth Ave. and Spring Street Royersford, PA, 19468-2519 Phone: (215) 948-0400 Notes: Primarily importer of run-of-the-mill Taiwanese power tools, marginal supply of hand tools.
Constantines 2050 Eastchester Rd. Bronx, NY, 10461 Phone: (800) 223-8087 FAX: (800) 253-WOOD Notes: No direct experience.
Footprint Tools 33 Dorman Avenue San Francisco, CA, 94124 Phone: 1-415-920-7068 Notes: No direct experience.
Garrett Wade 161 Avenue of the Americas New York, NY, 10013-1299 Phone: (800) 221-2942 Notes: Best supplier of new hand tools I've found, at least in US; catalog well worth looking at for the info it contains. Slightly expensive but not too bad.
Lee Valley Tools P.O. Box 6295, Stn. J Ottawa, Ontario K2A 1T4 Phone: (800) 267-8767 FAX: (800) 668-1807 Notes: No direct experience.
Leichtung Workshops 4944 Commerce Parkway Cleveland, OH 44128 Phone: (800) 321-6840 FAX: (216) 464-6764 Fax Notes: No direct experience.
Lie Nielsen Toolworks Route 1 Warren, ME, 04864 Phone: (800) 327-2520 (outside Maine) Phone: (207) 273-2520 (inside Maine)
Trend-lines 375 Beacham St. Chelsea, MA 02150 Phone: (800) 767-9999 FAX: (617) 889-2072 Notes: Good selection of power tools, marginal selection of hand tools but if they have what you're looking for odds are they've got the best price (and will match if not). Can be a hassle to deal with on occasion.
Woodcraft 210 Wood County Industrial Park PO Box 1686 Parkersburg, WV 26102-1686 Phone: (800) 225-1153 Notes: No direct experience.
The Woodworker's Store 21801 Industrial Blvd. Rogers, MN 55374-9514 Phone: (612) 428-3200 FAX: (612) 428-8668 Notes: Not the best source of hand tools but not the worst. Decent prices, regional walk-in stores, good selection of hardware like knobs, hinges, etc.
Woodworker's Supply of New Mexico Woodworker's Supply of Wyoming 1108 North Glenn Rd. Casper, Wyoming 82601 Phone: (800) 645-9292 FAX: (307) 577-5272 Notes: No direct experience.
Woodworking Unlimited 3931 Image Dr. Dayton, OH 45414-2591 Phone: (800) 543-7586 FAX: (800) 722-3965 Notes: No direct experience.
7) Where do I get used Hand Tools?
This depends on what condition you're looking for. If you are looking for tools that are an absolute bargain and you are interested in fixing them up to make them usable then it's hard to beat the local Flea Markets, garage sales, etc. As an example I picked up a Stanley #4 smoothing plane at the local flea market for $7 that would cost $35 or so at a second-hand tool dealer in usable condition. It was unusable in its current condition (rust, blade severely nicked, etc.) but it had all the parts and after a couple hours of work it was ready to use. Chisels are in wide abundance and cheap but you'll need to sharpen them and probably remove some rust.
If you want usable second-hand tools you may be able to find a store locally that handles them. A few sources I know of are :
Patrick Leach RR1 Box 137 Ashby, MA, 01431 Phone: (508) 386-2436 email: email@example.com
Mark Williams Classic Restorations 3084 Fireside Dr. San Jose, CA 95128 4006 Phone: (408) 985-8099 email: firstname.lastname@example.org
8) How do I sharpen chisels, plane blades, etc?
The following works for me and others I know. There are lots of other alternatives, some explained later in this section, but what follows seems to be a relatively cheap workable sharpening setup. A set of Japanese Waterstones including 800 grit, 1200 grit, and 6000 grit stones can be used for sharpening. Keep the 800 and 1200 grit stones in a tupperware container full of water. Water is needed to lubricate and help the cutting action. Also keep a squirt-bottle of water handy to add water as needed while using the stones. Sharpening chisels and plane blades is roughly the same. Start with the back of the blade or chisel (the long face of the blade that meets the edge you're sharpening) to make sure it's flat. Then work on the bevel. Use the 800 grit waterstone until the edge is straight and nick-free. Then shift to the 1200 grit stone to remove the scratches left by the 800 grit stone leaving finer scratches, and finally polish with the 6000 grit stone. At this point the back and bevel faces should be mirror smooth. Some final polishing can be done with a cloth wheel or a leather strop. Simple aluminum housings can be bought to mount cloth wheels on, just add a small electric motor to drive it. Be careful with a strop or the cloth wheels - it is possible to round over the edge.
Waterstones require fairly frequent lapping to keep them flat. This can be done on a sheet of plate glass with some 120 grit wet/dry silicon carbide sandpaper stuck to it.
There are a variety of ``honing guides'' you can get that help hold chisels and plane blades while sharpening. Personally I find them useful for plane blades but not chisels. The bevel on plane blades is so small I find it difficult to keep flat while sharpening but the bevel on chisels is wide enough I can sharpen those free-hand. Some people swear by oil stones rather than waterstones. You need a special oil instead of water for lubrication of these stones. One argument for them is that water may lead to rust. On the other hand the oil may be a bit messier. Diamond stones are also available which also use water for lubrication. They are more expensive but do not require any lapping (and can be used to lap waterstones if you choose to mix the two - there is no reason you must stick to strictly one type of sharpening stone but you are best off sticking to one type of lubrication so don't mix oil stones with water stones). The "grits" of different stone types are in different units. The "US grits" are different than "Japanese grits".
If a blade is heavily nicked a bench grinder will save you a lot of time getting the nicks out. It is VERY easy to overheat the blade on a bench grinder. Keep a cup of water close by to dip the blade in regularly. Special "white wheels" are available for grinders that will lessen the chance of overheating the blade.
9) How do I sharpen saw blades?
HOW TO SHARPEN WESTERN PANEL SAWS
If you have had trouble cutting with a hand saw, it was probably dull. Hand saws work best when kept well-sharpened -- and they are easy to sharpen. It will probably take you less time to sharpen one than to drive it to and from a sharpening shop, so give it a try.
In Praise of Older Saws
Better old hand saws are made of superb steel; they have comfortable and beautiful handles, superior to the rough ones on saws today. You will get a lot of satisfaction from restoring one of these old timers and keeping it sharp yourself. Best of all, a great older saw can be bought for much less than a new saw.
Look for names like Disston and Superior on the saw nuts. Avoid saws with bent or pitted blades or broken handles. Other names to look for are Simonds, Atkins, Bishop, and Spear&Jackson.
TOOLS for Saw Sharpening: Saw file and vice
The saw file has three equal faces, an equialteral triangle in cross section. Any hardware store will have them. You need something to hold your saw while you file it. Called a saw vice, this is just a vice with a very wide pair of jaws. You can make one from two scraps of plywood, a hinge to hold them together, and some rubber to face the plywood with so the process is quieter. Clamp the saw vice in your bench vice. Old saw vices are around used, but they are becoming harder to find and really don't work any better than the wood vice you can make.
THE SHARPENING PROCESS
Basically you just file each tooth the same amount, in the same direction the old tooth was filed. Rip saws are usually sharpened with all teeth chisel cut, not skewed to the blade. Crosscut saws have each alternating tooth skewed to the blade, by about 15 degrees. Every few sharpenings you will want to "set" the teeth as explained below, and once every life time you may need to "joint" it, also explained below.
Jointing the Saw (optional)
Start with teeth that are roughly the same height. If they are, skip this step.
If the saw has been sharpened a lot, sometimes a dip or bump in the height of the teeth develops, which should be corrected by "jointing" the saw. Jointing is done by simply filing the tops of the teeth level with an ordinary smooth file, held in a little guide to keep it perpendicular to the blade. Then proceed to set the teeth and sharpen them.
Setting the teeth (Optional)
The teeth on panel saws are set alternately, that is each tooth is bent slightly away from the plane of the blade with a tool called a "saw set" or a hammer and anvil. This set makes the kerf wider than the blade so the saw can move through the cut freely.
You won't need to set the teeth every time you sharpen, but if the saw is clean and binds in the cut, it's probably time to set it.
I'll assume you have a saw set which allows you to dial the amount of set based on the tooth pitch (4,5,6,...). Once adjusted for the pitch, the saw set is used to bend every other tooth one direction, the saw is reversed in the vice and the remaining unset teeth are set. Don't buy a new saw set; they are very common on the used tool market and cost much less than new ones.
FILING the TEETH
The goal here is to take off just enough metal to put an edge on the tooth. Two to four strokes per tooth should do it. Use the same file and the same number of strokes on each tooth. When sharp, the teeth lose the shiny flat on the tip, and have just an edge. As I mentioned, crosscut saws have angled teeth, while rip saws have chisel cut teeth. For rip saws, the file is perpendicular to the blade.
For crosscuts, follow the angle on your saw teeth now. It is usually skewed about 15 degrees from perpendicular for crosscuts, and slightly pointed on the outer edge of the tooth. Hold the saw file at a consistent angle, sloped a little and skewed a little to match the angle of the existing teeth. It should take less than an hour to sharpen your saw. Try your newly sharpened saw and you will be amazed at the difference in effort and quality of cut you can make with a sharper saw. 10) General Information on planes.
The most common advice for beginners about getting planes seems to be get some of the older Stanley metal bench planes (also known as Bailey planes in respect to the person who first patented this style plane, Leonard Bailey). These can be bought at virtually any used tool dealer. If you opt for new planes Record makes planes that are "OK", they will need some tuning. Avoid the junk at Sears or the new Stanley's in your typical Home Center. If you are looking for a really good new plane Tom Lie-Nielsen makes some very good but relatively expensive planes.
There is a huge variety of planes available for different tasks, we'll just cover the basics here.
The Stanley #5 plane (aka the Jack plane) is considered the "workhorse" plane. For example it is what you would probably use to begin working a rough-sawn board, taking off the saw marks and beginning to make it flat. It is also what would be used for a lot of shaping tasks like chamfering an edge, etc. The Stanley #4 plane is known as a smoothing plane. It would typically be used to make the final passes on the board after the board has been flattened. The Stanley #7 plane is a jointer plane. It would be used to "joint an edge" which means make edges flat and ready to glue two boards together. It can also be used in surface preparation to help making large boards flat. The last plane in common use is the small block plane, which is used to do small shaping tasks, plane end grain, etc.
The main difference between the larger bench planes (#4, #5 and #7) is the length of the sole. The smoothing planes are generally about 9 to 10 inches long, jack planes about 14 inches long, and the jointers run about 22 inches long.
If you get a used plane, and even if you get a brand new plane, it is likely to need some tuning. I've bought an old badly rusted Stanley #4 plane at a local flea market and made it usable so I'll describe what I did to it, incorporating extra information gained from books and rec.woodworking postings. If you're starting off with a plane in better shape than my lump of rust you should be able to skip various steps in this.
Start by taking the whole plane apart. Brush off as much of the gunk as you can, then scrub off the parts with a brush (old toothbrush worked great - NOT a stiff wire brush because that will leave scratches) and mineral spirits. This should clean up pretty much everything but heavy rust. Some WD-40 and synthetic wool will get rust off, as will Naval Jelly. Pay special attention to cleaning up where the plane's cast body meets the frog (cast part that holds the blade, lateral adjustment lever, depth knob, etc.). With the plane cleaned reassemble the whole thing. Put the blade in but set the depth so the blade is not sticking out of the bottom. Now set up a lapping table. This is a large-ish chunk of plate glass with 220 grit (rougher if your plane's sole is in really bad shape) wet/dry cloth attached to the glass with spray adhesive. Use the lapping table to flatten the sole of the plane. If you need the sides to be perfectly perpendicular to the sole (this is needed for a planing technique called "shooting") then use something long-ish with a good right angle on it as a guide to flatten the sides as well. Some people recommend using a tool bed for a lapping table. If you've got a jointer you may find it perfect for this. Personally I'm afraid to use the spray adhesive on my jointer bed and I don't like the idea of having metal dust around my jointer but this doesn't bother some people. Finally sharpen the blade and adjust it (and if necessary the frog). Check to make sure the chip breaker meets the blade perfectly along the whole width of the blade, file the chip breaker's edge flat if necessary.
11) General Information on scrapers.
I have no personal experience with scrapers yet. The following is posts from other folks.
Tage Frid did a long article on scrapers in Fine WoodWorking that was reprinted in the hardcover version FWW #1. [I also found it in "Fine WoodWorking on Hand Tools" in softcover] The article includes pictures of each step that make the whole thing a lot easier to understand. I made notes for myself, intending to pick up one at Lee Valley on Vancouver on my next trip over. As Tage Frid says "since most people buy only one or two blades in a lifetime, it is a good investment to buy the best" which he says is the Sandvik #475.
Sharpening involves 3 steps: filing, honing, burnishing. He does all four edges each time, repeating only when all 4 edges are dull.
Filing squares the edge to the side. Scraper in vise, file in hands, fingers below, thumbs above, sliding lengthwise with scraper between fingers, few long even strokes.
Honing smooths the edge (still square), but involves two different stones. Honing part 1, with scraper still in vise, medium wet dry carborundum stone in both hands on edge, thumbs on top, finges on bottom, sliding lengthwise with scraper between fingers, to remove roughness left by file. Honing part 2, with scraper still in vise, using Belgian clay water-stone (with water), held flat but moved at a slight angle to prevent a groove. This will be a problem for most people, since Belgian water-stones do not exactly abound these days. When edge very smooth, wipe stone along face to remove any burr.
Burnishing takes place with the scraper lying flat on the bench, with edge extending 1" over the side of the bench, all scraper edges oiled. With back of chisel, held almost vertical (85 degrees) draw it back and forth a few times with light pressure until a fine burr forms (check with light finger tip pressure). Some have suggested that (lots) more than light pressure is required.
Reburnishing, required when scrapings turn to dust rather than fine shavings, is done with scraper flat on the bench, honing oil, chisel back applied to remove the burr, then hone again. If this does not work (after 4 or 5 times), start again from the file.
12) General Information on saws.
13) General Information on chisels.
The "They don't make 'em like they used to" sentiment seems strong in the chisel area. Chisels available new these days don't tend to sharpen as well or hold a sharp edge for as long as the older chisels. Manufacturers have tradeoffs to decide on when deciding how to "temper" the blades of the chisels. The metal can be made harder which generally lets it sharpen better and hold a sharp edge better. However this makes it more brittle so if you use the chisel to pry off paint can lids and things like that it will chip. Manufacturers are catering to the weekend warriors more these days so they're not tempering the blades as hard as they used to.
You can do your own heat-treating of chisels if you want to harden the steel yourself. See Michael Dunbar's book for a description of how to do the heat treating. Most new chisels will also require some or all of the sharpening procedure above before you can seriously use them - it is rare to find chisels that don't need the backs lapped and the edge resharpened.
There are two dominant chisel types. The paring chisels have a bevel down both sides of the blade as well as along the cutting end. Morticing chisels have square sides. Poor pictures of the ends of the chisels are:
------ --------- / \ | | ---------- --------- paring morticing
The paring chisels are usually used for general shaping and cutting tasks. Morticing chisels are used to, you guessed it, chop out mortices. The square sides of the morticing chisels help keep the mortice square. There are also some special-purpose chisels. One example is the "crank-neck" chisels which have a curve in the shaft of the blade before it meets the handle so that the flat portion of the blade can be kept flat on the wood surface even for large pieces of wood (regular chisels the handle gets in the way).
If you are buying new chisels the general consensus seems to be that Marples Blue Chip chisels are a decent chisel for a reasonable price. Robert Sorby used to make good chisels but the feeling is that they have dropped in quality recently. Henry Taylor chisels seem to be the preferred chisel but they're more expensive than Marples and harder to find. High quality Japanese chisels seem to be the best of the chisels as far as quality of the steel used but these tend to be very expensive.
Sometimes you will need something to hit paring chisels with while using them (if you can do what you want with hand pressure you're best off not hitting the chisel with anything but there are times when it is necessary...) and you will definitely need something to hit morticing chisels with. DO NOT use a normal claw hammer. Wooden mallets with either large flat faces or round faces are available for using with chisels, you are best off getting one of those. I prefer the round mallet because you don't need to pay attention to its orientation when you're striking the chisel and my attention is usually focused on the blade of the chisel.
14) General Information on Japanese Woodworking Tools.
What's all the fuss about? Over the past 20 years many American woodworkers have discovered that there are alternative woodworking traditions and tools available in the modern world. Many Japanese handtools available today (saws, chisels, hammers, planes, etc.) are still made in the traditional manner, by hand -- a master blacksmith with his one or two apprentices, a charcoal fire, an ancient anvil...
Japanese hand tools are often distinctly different from their western counterparts. Japanese saws cut on the pull stroke, planes are pulled towards you instead of pushed away. Often these differences yield advantages over their western counterparts, other times they are simply evidence of a different tradition.
Japanese plane blades and chisels are made from laminated steel (a hard tool steel for the cutting edge, and a softer steel, often wrought iron, for the remainder of the blade). The tool steels used in these tools is of a higher quality, and will hold a better edge than just about anything else made today. Western tools used to be made this way, or at least using higher quality steels, but the "home handyman" mentality of most western tool manufacturers forces us to seek out our grandfathers tools at auctions and flea markets.
The first step: Try a Japanese saw! The next time you have a few dovetails to cut, or a tenon to saw, buy a good replaceable blade saw (~$25, see sources below). For furniture sized work a 210mm (8") ryoba (ree-o-bah), which means two teeth, offers the highest utility (since it has rip teeth on one side and crosscut teeth on the other).
The other common saw people start with is a "dovetail dozuki", a dozuki is equivalent to a western back saw, and can be purchased with either crosscut, rip, or thorn-style teeth (for dovetails). Dozuki saws have very little set to their teeth so they leave a very smooth cut. Either version is available for $25-30 (replaceable blade).
By the way, the replaceable blades saws, are really very good. In my experience you would have to buy a very fine handmade saw ($100-200) to reliably find a better saw. Don't think of it like a disposeable razor, the reason the blades are replaceable is because with 18-28 crosscut teeth per inch, they are rather difficult to sharpen. (The only time I've ever had to replace a blade was when it was inadvertently used one to prune a tree, and the closing kerf put a kink in the blade.) They will stay sharp a long time.
Taking the next step: Mastering your Tools To really appreciate fine Japanese tools (or their western counterparts), you need to really appreciate your current tools. I don't want to sound elitist, but if you are happy sharpening your chisels with 600 grit sandpaper on a piece of glass, then read no further. Why, because you just won't notice much of a difference. However, if you enjoy keeping a razor edge on your tools, and can appreciate the difference between a sharp blade and a really sharp blade, then read on.
Chisels. (Nomi) After acquiring the saws above, the next step is to get a chisel or two. Japanese chisels are made from high quality tool steel, that is only tempered down to RC63-65 (as compared to RC58-62 for modern western chisels), and more importantly, will take and hold a better edge. Chisels come in metric sizes that correspond nicely (just slightly undersize) to fractional inches. Just say 3mm = 1/8" and multiply away... Common sizes are 1.5,3,6,9,12,15, 18,24,30,36. While they are available in sets (usually 9 or 10), one can start with a couple of common sizes and add as necessary. I recommend something in the 12mm (1/2") to 24mm (1") range until your sharpening skills adjust (note: sharpening jigs don't grip japanese chisels or plane blades very well).
Chisels are made from laminated steel, and will have one or more hollows on the back of the chisel to facilitate easily flattening the hard steel back (contrary to many popular misconceptions about why the hollows are there).
Planes. (Kanna) Japanese planes are nothing like the Bailey style plane most woodworkers are familiar with. Japanese planes are instead much closer in design to the legendary Norris style planes of yore. Japanese planes are very simply constructed: a tapered metal blade inserted into custom fitted wooden block, with a chip breaker wedged under a metal pin inserted through the block. The blade position is adjusted by tapping the blade and block with a small hammer. No fancy adjustment levers, no moveable frogs, no corrugated soles. The design focuses on the simple, yet crucial, aspects of successful planing: A flat sole with a narrow throat opening, a solid and well supported blade, a keen cutting edge, and a close fitting chipbreaker. One must spend some time adjusting the wooden soles, with heavy use and seasonal humidity changes, but the results are well worth the effort. I often use my Bailey-style planes when rough planing or jointing, but then switch to my Japanese planes for smoothing, or whenever I encounter difficult grain patterns.
Smoothing planes are commonly available in sizes ranging from 24mm (1") up to 70mm (~3") in width. The smaller sizes are for more specialized use, while the larger (>60mm) smoothing planes are difficult to learn on. I recommend something in the 42-54mm range as a first plane. You can find very nice planes of this size in the $70-$120 price range. A wide variety of specialty planes are also available (chamfers, rebates, groove, sliding dovetail, H&R's, etc.)
Stone Selection: Most people recommend a 1000/6000 pair. But if you are using Japanese planes or chisels (or older laminated western chisels), the jump from 1000 to 6000 may be too large to achieve the best edge. Most modern western tools use a softer steel (58-60 on the Rockwell scale compared to 63-65) which is easier to sharpen. On the harder steels, it will take a lot of polishing to get out the scratches left by the 1000 grit stone, and while the bevel may look like a mirror, the edge may not be as sharp as it could be. Unfortunately there aren't many types of stones in between 1000 and 6000 grit. The choices are: 1) use a 1200 instead, or 2) try a 3-4000 grit polishing stone before going to the 6000, 3) use a 1500 or 2000 as a middle stone (Japan Woodworker now sells both) or 4) Get yourself either a natural "Ocean Blue" or "Mountain Blue" middle stone which is equivalent to about 2000-2500 grit. Unfortunately these stones are "mined", not manufactured and last I heard the underwater "Ocean Blue" mine was closed and the "Mountain Blue" mine was nearly so. Last time I asked (Early 1994), Hida had just gotten a few of the "Mountain Blue" variety. Many of the "Ocean Blue" stones left on the market, if there are any at all now, are of low quality and tend to "disintegrate" into smaller randomly shaped chunks. Ask about the quality if you find one. (A friend just traded a $800 set of chisels for a really nice one.)
Remember just because they are called "waterstones" doesn't mean you need to leave them all in a bucket of water. The general rule is as follows: 1) Never leave a NATURAL stone of any grit soaking. They tend to disintegrate. Just sprinkle enough water on the stone to keep the surface nice and moist. 2) Never leave a manmade stone over 1500 grit soaking in water, again just use enough water to keep the surface wet. Your mileage may vary. Some of the newer natural finishing stones may work OK in the water bucket, I haven't felt the need to find out. I do leave my manmade 220, 600, 800, and 1200 grit stones in a bucket of water.
Flattening Your Stones: Don't forget to flatten your stones regularly, the "red" King brand 800-1200 stones wear especially fast. I prefer the Bester brand ceramic stones (white or yellowish), which are composed of small ceramic bits (unlike the fused ceramic stones that claim to "never wear out"). I use a piece of 1/4" glass with a piece of sandpaper on top, and just rub the stone on the sandpaper.
Nagura Stones: Nagura stones are NOT used to flatten other stones, they are used to enhance the sharpening characteristics of waterstones. They are actually very helpful, but your mileage will depend on the type of stone you are using it with, as well as the hardness of the steel you are working with. On inexpensive "Western" chisels (sears or stanley) the steel is "relatively" soft and I find the nagura doesn't help much on any stone. With the extremely hard steel found in Japanese chisels, and in some of the finer or older western steels, using the nagura to create a bit of paste on the waterstone can really help. When sharpening, if the tool slips or chirps across the stone, try a little nagura. Some natural polishing stones are very hard, and really need the nagura to cut smoothly. (Other stones can contain impurities that can leave tiny scratches on the blade, the nagura is used to "knock down" these impurities to prevent the scratches.)
My Choices: I'm fortunate enough to have both blue stones, and they work extremely well. The Ocean stone is rather hard, while the mountain stone is softer. If such stones are either no longer available (likely) or too expensive (also likely), then I think I'd opt for the 2000 as a middle stone. My current stone collection includes 220, 600, 800, 1200 (the workhorse), ocean blue, mountain blue, 6000, 8000 and several natural polishing stones. I also have several different types of nagura stones to play with, since some work better on different stones. When sharpening a chisel or plane blade I usually start on the 1200 unless there are big problems, then move to one of the blue middle stones, and then finish up on the 6000 or 8000, or one of the natural stones, depending on the quality of the tool (no sense polishing a $3 chisel on a $200 natural waterstone). I tend to use a nagura with the middle and polishing stones (different naguras though), but sometimes I use with on the 1200 as well. I don't really like my 6000 grit S1 stone very much, it seems very "soft". I received the 8000 G1 stone recently as a gift, and it works much much better than the 6000. As a result the 6000 has been relegated to sharpening small chisels and other tools that can easily damage a polishing stone.
ADVANCED STUFF: SHARPENING "HOLLOW BACKED" PLANES & CHISELS Japanese plane and chisel blades are hollow on the back side. In fact higher quality chisels often have multiple hollows. I'm a terrible ascii artist so netters who haven't seen this before will just have to look in a tool catalog. The hollow serves a very simple purpose. The steel used for the cutting edge is SO hard (Rockwell 63-65) that flattening the back would take forever, unless you "scooped out the middle" leaving only the edges to flatten. Sounds great until you sharpen down to the where the hollow starts. Then what? The story diverges here for chisels and plane blades, they are handled differently.
Plane blades: Unfortunatley, you can't just re-flatten the back (as you can on a chisel), is that the blade needs to fit rather precisely into a groove in the planes block, reflattening the blade would destroy this fit. (Of course, it's fine to just touch up the back on your fine stones to remove the "wire edge", from sharpening the bevel side.)
Instead you need to "tap out" the blade to "restore the land", where "land" refers to the flattened part of the back of the blade between the cutting edge and the hollow. You know, the part you just ran out of. As Mr. Odate recommends you simply "hit the plane blade with a hammer" until you create some more flat part. Scared the hell out of me when I first read that! At least, until I saw someone do it, and tried it myself a few times. I've done it dozens of times since without any problems. I even started with a piece of a larger blade with no flat part on the sides at all(!), and tapped it into shape.
First of all, realize that you don't have to do this very often. Plane blades and chisels come with 1/8 - 1/4" of land to begin with and unless you hit a nail or something to take a serious nick this should last through several years of heavy use. Then you perform this process once in a while to reestablish 1/32 - 1/16" or so of the land.
How to do it. First off you use a SMALL hammer and you "tap". I use a 3 or 4oz hammer with a small point on one end (like a nail or saw setting hammer). You also need a hunk of iron or steel (like a small anvil), I have a piece of 3" round mild steel about 5" tall. Holding the back of the blade against the corner or edge of the "anvil" you tap the hammer into the soft iron of the blade all along the front (near the cutting edge) of the blade. I can't remember if Odate's book shows this very well, again I learned by watching someone who had been doing it for years. The hammer will leave little marks in the soft iron, and actually deforms it and the hard steel so that the tip of the blade bends over slightly toward the back. A few quick passes on a sharpening stone and presto, you've got some land! Don't hit the hard steel of the cutting edge with the hammer, it may chip, especially if you hit very close to the cutting edge.
After you've been sharpening and occasionally tapping out you're favorite blade for many, many years it will eventually get pretty stubby and you will be really deforming the hard steel to keep some "land" on the blade. If trouble ever occurs, this is when it happens. Your favorite blade, the one you use on birdseye and quilted maple and other difficult jobs, finally gives in and breaks.
Still with me...Okay, On to chisels. Chisels are simpler because you sharpen them differently. On plane blades you don't flatten the back very often, only when you tap out, or if a big nick has distorted the back. With chisels you typically need to flatten the back more often because they endure more abuse by being hammered all the time. But don't do it unless it really needs it. Anyway, because you end up flattening the back more often, you tend to wear away the bottom of the chisel a bit and the hollow naturally recedes away from the cutting edge. If this doesn't happen naturally you can either "tap out" the chisel as described above or be a bit more agressive in flattening the back. If you are too aggressive in flattening the back the hollows will be gone while the chisel is still young and the hard steel may become too thin and be more susceptible to breaking. I've heard inexperienced users describe this problem (Wow, it was hard work grinding off those darn hollows!). If you tend toward this end of the scale, you'll need to ease up on flattening and "tap out" some instead.
I tend to do a bit of both. If I distort the back of a chisel somehow, sometimes I'll just tap it out until it's pretty flat again before going to the stone. Otherwise I simply flatten the back on a stone, when it needs it. It seems to be balancing out pretty well so far (5 years on these chisels)...
"Japanese Woodworking Tools: Their Tradition, Spirit and Use", Toshio, Odate, 1984, The Taunton Press, CN. (The best overall source of tool and usage information, some do question Odate's depth of knowledge, but this is far and away the best English language book available.)
"Japanese Woodworking: A Handbook of Japanese Tool Use & Woodworking Techniques", Hideo Sato (translated from Japanese), 1987, Cloudburst Press. WA (Good information on tools, excellent source for tool use and construction techniques.)
"Japanese Woodworking Tools: Selection, Care and Use", Henry Lanz, 1985, Sterling Publishing Co., NY. (Viewed from a westerners perspective)
"SHOJI - How to design build and install Japanese Screens", Jay van Arsdale, Kodansha International, NY. (Excellent general tool overview, plus shoji making. Jay teaches the highly recommended workshops at Hida and Japan Woodworker, listed below.)
"The Way of the Carpenter", William. H. Coaldrake, 1990, Weatherhill, Inc. NY. (History of Japanese woodworking tools and traditions. An excellent explanation of how the Japanese tradition evolved toward the tools we see today.)
Almost every mail order tool catalog these days advertises some Japanese tools (usually replaceable blade saws and a few chisels). Don't bother. Most of this stuff is of very poor quality. The businesses listed below are very reputable, and they understand what they are selling.
Hida Tool & Hardware (Catalog, Workshops) 1333 San Pablo Ave. Berkeley, CA 94702 (510)-524-3700 (800)-443-5512
The Japan Woodworker (Catalog, Workshops) 1731 Clement Ave. Alameda, CA 94501 (800)-537-7820
Nippon-4-Less (Catalog) 248 W Portola Ave. Los Altos, CA (415)-917-0706
Garrett-Wade Company, Inc. (Carrying less every year) 161 Avenue of the Americas New York, NY 10013 (800)-221-2942
19) Collecting old tools.
20) What books can I get to learn more?
Bertorelli, Paul (Editor); "Fine WoodWorking on Hand Tools"; The Tauton Press; Newtown, CT; 1986; ISBN 0-918804-53-1. Dunbar, Michael; ``Restoring, Tuning, and Using Classic Woodworking Tools''; Sterling Publishing Co; New York; 1989; ISBN 0-8069-6670-X. Hampton, C. W. and E. Clifford; "Planecraft", ?, 1911, ISBN ? Hoadley, R. Bruce; ``Understanding Wood, A Craftsman's Guide to Wood Technology''; The Tauton Press; Newtown, CT; 1980; ISBN 0-918804-05-1. Jones, Bernard; ``The Complete Woodworker''; Ten Speed Press; ISBN 0-89815-022-1. Jones, Bernard; ``The Practical Woodworker''; Ten Speed Press; ISBN 0-89815-106-6. Korn, Peter; ``Working with Wood, The Basics of Craftsmanship''; The Tauton Press; Newtown, CT; 1993; ISBN 1-56158-041-4. Salaman, R. A.; ``Dictionary of Woodworking Tools''; The Tauton Press; Newtown, CT; ISBN 0-942391-51-9 Spielman, Patrick; ``Sharpening Basics''; Sterling Publishing Co., New York, NY; ISBN 0-8069-7226-2
The Early American Industries Association (EAIA) is an international (but mostly American) organization dedicated to preserving the tools and procedures of bygone industries (loose translation of the bylaws from memory by the submitter of this tidbit). Membership in the EAIA is $25/yr. Periodicals of the EAIA include Shavings, a bimonthly containing news of the EAIA and other tool-related clubs, and Chronicles, which contains substantive, more scholarly atricles on some aspects of early industries. You can write to:
Early American Industries Association c/o John S. Watson, Treas. PO Box 2128, E.S.P. Station Albany, NY, 12220.
Some of the highly regarded Woodworking Schools are :
North Bennet Street School 39 North Bennet Street Boston, MA, 02113
- From there to here, from here to internet:
- From there to here, from here to internet:
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