Monthly Archives: January 2021

Tools Series – Part 5 – Chisels and Gouges

Narex Richter – See it’s surprising test result in James Wright’s Chisel Test – link below

Chisels

Back in my early days while beginning my woodworking journey, I believed a chisel was a chunk of metal with a plastic handle. You’d pound them mercilessly to remove wood during construction. They were not precious or even to be well cared for. They were a rough tool, to be used and abused and forgotten about after the work was done.

My enlightenment began slowly. Yes, I had seen Roy Underhill use them to great effect on his show the “Woodwright’s Shop”. But until I started my personal journey, it did not click about their proper uses until later in my life. My first step was with a shop class. I asked the shop teacher to show me how to sharpen a chisel. He took me over to the grinder in the shop and proceeded to use it to sharpen my Stanley Handyman set (1/4″, 1/2″, 3/4″ and 1″) from the early 80’s. They were OK for use in a power tool shop and they did sharpen and hold an acceptable edge. They were also heavy, unwieldy and unbalanced. A few years later…OK, like 15 year later, I attended Roy’s Dovetail class; this is when I learned what sharp was and specifically a sharp chisel.

I went home determined to “tune” my Stanley chisel set, but then I though to myself, maybe if I got a new set and sharpened those I’d be in business. So I purchased a new Buck Bros. Set. I had studied up on sharpening a bit on the internet and discovered the “Scary Sharp” sharpening method using sandpaper.

Buck Bros Chisel – Not Recommended

Now armed with my new set of chisels and my newfound sharpening knowledge, I went to town sharpening these so-called chisels. After sharpening them, I excitedly started testing them on the edge of some soft pine and they cut it like butter. This is what I wanted, so I started a new project (using white pine) with them. It was’t long before I noticed they weren’t as sharp as when I started and then I looked at them closely with a magnifying lens. They looked like I had be pounding them into concrete. The teeth were jagged and chipped. Remember, this is soft pine (no knots either).

So I did the obvious, I resharpened them again and they had a beautiful gleaming edge and I resumed using them on my project. Next thing I know, they were back to the snaggletooth shape as before. This would not do. I was so disappointed and it was about this time that I read Chris Schwarz’s book “Anarchist’s Tool Chest” (buy it, read it, you’ll thank me later). In it, Chris goes into great detail on what makes a good chisel.

I had some old chisels I had been collecting for the past couple of years. I started cleaning them up and sharpening them. Some needed new handles, so I made some crude ones to get going (I made better handles later after I got my lathe.) I started using these old chisels and they were orders of magnitude better that those lumps of crappy metal and plastic with a label that said “Chisel”. They took a wonderful edge and kept it. They cut through pine, walnut, cherry, hickory and hard maple and kept on going. Now I was getting somewhere.

I needed a more complete chisel selection at the time. My vintage tools had some major gaps in sizes. After more research and some soul searching, I decided to save up some money and get the Lie-Nielsen Bevel Edge set (3/4″, 1/2″, 3/8″, 1/4″, and 1/8″). This was not a cheap purchase, but it was an investment. I had just proven Chris’ statement “Buy the best tools” or you’ll buy them twice, once for the cheap tool and second, you’ll buy the quality tool. Save yourself a step and just buy the quality tool and get to work.

If you are looking for the best chisel for you, you may want to go here to watch James Wright’s chisel comparison video (you may also want to subscribe to his channel, if you’re not already). He has performed a very exhaustive study of the currently available brands and the results are quite surprising and very interesting. This study will save you time and money in choosing your next chisel or set of chisels.

Based on James’s results, I ordered the Narex Richter 1″ Chisel to fill a gap in my set. This should be fun to compare to my LN set. I’ll let you know how I like it in a future blog entry.

There are several types of chisels available to the modern woodworker as I own just a few types, I will only discuss those in detail.

  • Beveled Edge Chisel – This is the workhorse of the chisels, It can be struck and removes moderate amounts of material. Its shape makes it ideal to use when making dovetails.
  • Firmer Chisel – Does very heavy work and takes a pounding, used mainly for cleaning out a lot of material quickly. Not a precision tool.
  • Pairing Chisel – Very thin blade for taking fine shavings and never gets struck with a mallet.
  • Mortising Chisel – This is the 900 lb. gorilla of chisels. It can take heavy pounding. It is used in hogging out mortises with abandon.
Mortise Chisels – Left to Right – LN 1/2″, 3/8″ and Vintage 1/4″ with homemade maple handle

There are three basic types of Western chisel handles:

  • Tang – These are easier to manufacture and usually a little less expensive. They are, in my opinion, a little less robust but people have their own opinions about this.
  • Socket – More difficult to make but very robust. These are my favorite types of chisels and I have a pretty complete set of these. One caveat about these, never carry them by their wooden handle. It can shrink with humidity changes and the pointy bits can go careening down towards your feet and at best hit the floor dulling your tool and at worst imbed itself in your tender fleshy foot and you end up with a trip to the urgent care facility.
  • Tang and Socket – Most difficult to make and has it proponents. I do not currently own any chisels of this type.

I believe the Socket chisels are more robust, but people also swear by the Tang type too. As I have a lathe, handle creation for socket chisels is very easy and I have made quite a few handles over the years. You can see me rescue a Union Chisel in this video. If you don’t have a lathe, it may be easier to make handles for the tang variety. I just remember making a tang handle for a morticing chisel I used to own and it was a real challenge for me and I cracked the handle after I was almost through making it.

Gouges

As with chisels, there are many types of gouges, and like before, I’m going to stick to the ones I own in this BLOG. Most of the larger gouges can be struck with a large mallet, while the smaller ones need a bit more finesse. Gouge Types:

  • Incannel Gouge – Used to carve a concave groove
  • Outcannel Gouge – Used to carve a convex or rounded shape

Gouges can be either straight or have a curved shaft. The curved shaft version allows you to work closer to the surface of a board or project. All of my gouges are vintage that I have collected over the years. I cannot recall where or when I acquired any of these, just that I have collected them between 2012-2019.

Until next time, keep making shavings and sawdust.

Peace,

Aaron

Copyright 2021 © W. A. Henderson

Tools Series – Part 4 – Striking Tools, Hammers, Mallets, etc.

Poster – courtesy of Lost Art Press

There’s something very satisfying about driving a nail home or hitting a chisel with a mallet where you take just the perfect chunk of wood off. Mallets and Hammers offer the woodworker a great opportunity to make their own tools. At least this was the case for me. I have made several striking tools and I love using them. Woodworking mallets are simple to make and can last you a lifetime (more on that later). Good hammers are easy to re-handle and a joy to use. I have just a drop in the bucket of types of striking tools available to the modern craftsman, but every one of them gets plenty of use.

The nail on the magnet pictured on the left, is a nail I found at the homestead of my 5th Great-Grandfather. It’s a forged 18th century nail used in the construction of his first homestead in 1756. He would have recognized most of the tools in my current shop (the metal planes are “New” inventions, but he would know what they are) as hand woodworking tools have not changed all that much in the 270 years since then. I keep it next to my hammers to remind me of what came before and to keep in mind the ingenuity, resilience and fortitude of our ancestors.


“When you wish to make mortises, you begin by fastening the work on the bench with the holdfast and as close to the workbench legs as is possible so that the hammering has the strongest support for the cuts.”

Andre Roubo – With All The Precision Possible

Left to Right – Vaughan DO16 16 OZ, , Workforce 7 oz., Lie-Nielsen 4 oz. Steel Cross Peen Hammer, Homemade 7 oz. Brass Hammer, Estwing MRW16BP 16 oz. Ball Peen Hammer

Hammers

My hammers are used on every project. I’ve seen people with dozens of hammers, but I prefer to keep only the ones I need and will use regularly. My Vaughan 16 OZ Octagon Hammer is very nice. I bought it in 2012 from a local hardware store but it had a “singing” problem. Some hammers made with hardened steel sing or ring when struck. Some folks just accept it and others like me find it a bit annoying. I’ve looked for a solution for a while but I finally thought of a fix. Because it’s the claw that “sings”, I thought maybe some CA glue at the apex of the claw would dampen it. Sure enough it did, by about 70%. I can live with the reduced volume and it’s no longer a concern. I’m hoping the glue will not break off after lots of use, I’ll let you know it it does, but for right now I enjoying the softer songs it produces.

The 7 oz. Homemade Brass hammer (Jan 2015) was a really great addition to my hammer set. I blogged about it here and I have used it as my primary plane iron adjuster. It’s also used any time I don’t want the mar the surface of metal object I’m striking.


Left to right, top to bottom – Lathe Center Striking Mallet. Spoon Carving Baton, Impossible Mallet, Small Soft Maple Mallet, Small Hickory Mallet, Large Hard Maple Mallet, Estwing 16 oz. Soft Face Mallet.

Mallets

There are myriad of different mallets for different uses. But I will concentrate on just the few types I own.

I made my first mallets in 2010 from hard maple I bought from the lumber yard. The first was a small mallet like the one pictured above, made from an article in an old wood-working magazine. I laminated the head from three pieces of the maple. I was using this first mallet in my first class at the Woodwright’s School making dovetails. While I was chopping out some wood the head exploded into 3 different parts (my understanding of gluing was still in it’s early stages). I embarrassingly looked around me to see if anyone noticed the mishap (I was at the rear most bench) and thankfully no one did. Only the handle survived.

It was about this time that I was able to get a stump from a maple that my Dad had cut down on the property where I grew up. I shaped this head and put in on the surviving handle and it has served me well ever since. I made a second small mallet just like the first except I used a solid piece of hickory rescued from my wife Beth’s childhood home. The hickory used to host a tree-swing in her childhood and gave her many happy memories, but the tree was toppled by a storm. I liked this mallet a little better as the Hickory was tough as nails and weighted more than the Soft Maple version. We have since started using the first mallet in our kitchen for pounding chicken breasts flat.

The second mallet I made was made at the same time and manner as the first “exploding” mallet and it is used for my heaviest tasks. It works great and time will tell if it has the same fate as the first. It has lasted 10 years, so I think I’m good.

The third mallet is a Estwing 12 oz. Soft Face Mallet. I use this as a “dead blow” mallet even if it’s not really one. I like its weight and it does the job I need done. Granted I haven’t done any really “big” jobs that need that kind of persuading (except the Split-top Roubo Workbench), so I may have to resort to an actual dead blow mallet in that instance.

Lastly, I have a Lathe Maple Mallet I use to pound mercilessly on my lathe center to set it into a turned piece. The mallet “takes a hit for the team” and gets damaged on every use to spare my center from being damaged.

  • Small Soft Maple Head Mallet (replacement for the exploded mallet)
  • Small Hickory Head Mallet
  • Large Maple Mallet
  • Estwing 12 oz. Soft Face Mallet with 12 in. Hickory Handle
  • Turned Maple Lathe Mallet
  • Roy Underhill’s “Impossible Mallet”

Left to right – 4 lb. Sledge Hammer, 3 lb. Straight Peen Hammer

Sledges

What can you say about sledge hammers, they’re heavy and they “persuade” things to move. They are invaluable in splitting logs and processing raw timber. I have had the 4 lb. Sledge for probably 30 years and I do not remember where I got it. The 3 lb. Straight Peen Hammer was a more recent acquisition from a yard sale.

  • 4 lb. Sledge Hammer
  • 3 lb. Straight Peen Hammer

Spoon Carving Baton

Batons, Gluts and Mauls

I only have one Baton, it’s used in my spoon and bowl carving kit. I turned this specifically for driving the meat cleaver I use for splitting wooden spoon blanks. It looks like a rolling pin with just one handle and that is probably what inspire me to give it this shape. Gluts and Mauls are usually made from tough wood stumps or tree sections.


Tools That Get Struck

Chisels (there are a lot of different types of chisels so I’ll create a dedicated blog about them in this “Tool Series”), Nail Sets, Steel and Wooden Wedges (not pictured). The Drawbore Pins are a couple of Craftsman Drift Pins that I pressed into service as Drawbore Pins. The nail set, punch set and wedges I’ve had for ages and could not tell you where I got them.

  • Drawbore Pins
  • Old Nail Set set
  • Old Punch Set
  • Steel Wedges

Accessary Tools

Hammers hang out with a many different tools that help them do what they do. Dowel plates, vices and anvils, these are all tools that are used with my hammers. The Dowel Plate is exactly that, used to make dowels. Best used with green stock, the dowel plate can also be used with dried sticks. Just make sure to reduce the stick to a square or better yet an octagon to get the best results. This is a nice tool to have when you need just a few dowels of a specific size. The small vise is used in so many ways, I can’t list them here. The Narrow Gauge Rail Track Anvil came from my father in-law and its origin is from a small coal tunnel in Appalachia. The Small Iron Curved Anvil came from a yard sale. The anvils are used primarily for peening pins and rivets and also clinching nails.

  • LN Dowel Plate
  • Small Modelers Vice
  • Narrow Gauge Rail Track Anvil
  • Small Iron Curved Anvil

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Until next time, keep making shavings and sawdust.

Peace,

Aaron

Copyright 2021 © W. A. Henderson