Sunday, September 8, 2013

Nihon no surudoi nomi!

I really hope Google Translate can be trusted and that I haven’t just declared that I use goose fat for deodorant or that I drive a hairdryer to work...only one of which is true.

A couple weeks ago I took my first crack at using barrel hinges on an Oak box project.  My measurements were just a hair off so the lid didn’t line up perfectly with the box when closed.
After kicking the cast iron base of the drill press...much harder than my foot by the way...I set my mind to salvaging the box.  After all, there is a pretty spiffy looking Maple burl, veneered panel in the lid.
Because the offset is so slight one’s eye cannot really tell that the positions of the holes aren’t symmetrical, so I opted to plug the holes with Walnut dowels to match the corner key splines.  I can just hear Jim Heavey now, telling me to “Shut up!”

After gluing and trimming the dowels I needed to pare them down flush with the surface of the box wall.  The box material is only 3/8 of an inch thick so I didn’t want to risk any rocking with a block or chisel plane.  Instead, I reached for my nihon no surudoi nomi.  To you, that means I pared down those dowels with razor sharp Japanese chisels...or a hair dryer.

It’s been a while since I used my Japanese chisels as my Marples and Stanleys are the go-to chisels out on the bench.  I chose the Japanese chisels because of the position of the blade in relation to the handle.  I wanted the length of the chisel iron to ride flat along the wall of the box and allow for some control to skew and draw the edge across the end of the dowel.  They cut like a dream!  Even end-grain Walnut was no match for these keen wonders.  Then it hit me...I had snapped a few photos a while back when I was sharpening and setting the hoops on the handles and still hadn’t shared them here on the blog.  So grab some popcorn, sit back, relax and enjoy the show.  Well, maybe don’t sit back too far.  You still have to read and work that scrolly, wheely, thingy to see the pictures.

Setting the hoops onto the handles has to be one of the most frustrating tool prep exercises I’d ever done.  I read the booklet that came with the chisels and did some follow-up research online.  The process of hammering the sides of the handles to compress the wood so that the hoops could slide onto the end...not very effective for me.  Maybe I was a little too impatient, but I was really wailing on one of those handles and it didn’t seem to have much effect at all.  I ended up using a carving knife to sneak up on just the right width for each handle, followed by some very light sanding.
Once all the hoops were set, with just little bit of the handle protruding past the hoop, I was able to use the hammer to preen the ends.

With the ends set, it was on to flattening the backs.  One of the unique features of Japanese chisels is the hollowed back.  There is much less material to remove when flattening the backs, so the process is pretty quick compared to western chisels.  I used the sandpaper on glass method...Scary Sharp!

Until last year I used to do all of my sharpening with sandpaper on glass or water stones...that is until the Work Sharp 3000!  Sounds like something from the late night infomercials in Robocop, but it works great.  I didn’t get it for a dollar though.

Another difference with Japanese chisels is in the make-up of the chisel iron.  There are actually two layers of steel, one hard (at the cutting edge) and one softer (along the top of the iron.)  I had to be extra careful using the Work Sharp to avoid heating the softer layer too quickly.  It took a little longer than when sharpening my western style chisels, but the edges came out razor sharp...or covered in goose fat, depending on translation.

Included in my set is a very thin, 3mm (less than 1/8 of an inch) chisel.  This one did not fare so well on the Work Sharp.  The temper is fine, so no damage done to the steel itself, but the end is no longer square.  You can also just make out a bit of a facet in the surface of the edge.  I’ll have to rig up a jig to hold the narrow iron and fix this one on the sandpaper or water stones.

As I said...they cut like a dream!  Those Walnut dowels never had a chance, and no unsightly gouges or scratches left in the surface of the Oak.

They also served me well a couple months ago when trimming some Wenge inlay banding on another box project.  This was face-grain, but Wenge can be very splintery and unforgiving.  Just look at those smooth shaving curls.

I had trimmed the inlays down quite a bit with block and chisel planes and then fine tuned the final cuts with the hair dryer...uh, Japanese chisels!

I was fortunate enough to acquire this set several years ago at a special discount price.  At the time I thought it was a bit frivolous.  In the end though, I’ve come to appreciate the unique qualities of these chisels and on many occasions they have been just the right tool for the job...and they make my armpits smell terrific!