17th Apr 2019, 05:59 PM #1
These are my chisels. There are many like them, but these ones are mine.
Let's start at the very beginning, a very good place to start...
The first chisel I ever bought was a 1" Stanley fat-max whilst we were building our house. I needed something to act as a lever, trim off bits of wood etc. (but mostly as a lever with a sharp point on the end). It was never really sharp. I never owned any water or oil stones (and perish the thought of diamond plates), and never really knew better, so when it got really bad, I'd take my file to it. That made it really "sharp" again!
Then at some point my in-laws gave us a set of bargain special chisels. They just got chucked into the tool drawer. I only ever pulled them out when the little black blade protector came off whilst rummaging around in the drawer and I managed to impale myself (thought they were very blunt, so "impale" is a little hyperbolic"). They were so cherished, that of the five or so we were given, only two remain. I have no idea what happened to the rest. In all likelihood, they got thrown away over the years because... you know... who needs chisels when you have drop saws, and routers and drills.
Anyway, fast forward a number of years and a cabinetmaker neighbour was helping us with something or other and saw my neglected chisel and told me to bring it over to his house so that he could sharpen it for me. He showed me how to hollow grind and sharpen it on his oil-stone. Holy smokes! That thing was sharp. Then I found out that a stone costs about $50, which was way more than my chisel cost me, and thought anyone who would spend $50 on something to sharpen a chisel was mad.
In the background, my neighbour continued to work on us (my wife and me) to use more hand tools. He even bought and restored a beautiful #4 1/2 plane to give to us. Needless to say over the years we've become converts. I've even spent far more on my sharpening setup than I have on bladed tools!
Back to chisels. I had subsequently picked up a couple more Marple's from a market, and got them working well too. This grew my chisel stable to three, which I keep nice and sharp for handwork. The in-law gift ones are really bad, so they don't count.
My wife knows I love my chisels and treat them like prised possessions, and takes special care when she uses them too. It was then with a sense of dread that she watched a friend butcher one. By way of background, she hosts a regular Friday woodworking/craft day with a bunch of women at our house, as we have the shed and a range of tools. Mostly people bring along projects that they are working on and need a hand with. It works well for the most part. On this particular day, someone had brought along some old wooden posts that were being cleaned up, but they had large nails in them. They couldn't remove them, so asked for my help. As I was working on one, the lady in question grabbed another leg, grabbed a hammer and one of my chisels. The first I knew about it was when I heard the sound to a pounding hammer on something. I looked up to see my poor chisel being presented to the nail in an effort to CHOP IT OFF! With a grimace, I looked across at my wife as the blood drained from her face. All I could do was give her a shrug in an "oh well" resigned expression. I knew that with the first hit, it would need a re-grind, so no point in loosing my cool at this juncture. Especially when we're trying to encourage other women to have a go. When she had excerpted all her energies on the nail with no result, I explained that that was not the correct tool for the job, and showed he how to use the hacksaw. (For those of you thinking this arrangement is mad, in the several years that it's been a near weekly event, this is only the second "GREAT SCOTT" issue we've had, so we think the benefit outweighs the occasional "oops".)
Later that evening my wife and I had a good laugh at our reactions to "the massacre", and thought it may be time to buy a proper set of chisels that are kept "private" from general shed users. A week or so later, the postman knocked on the door with a brand new set of Narex chisels. It was (nearly) like being handed your baby when it's just been wrapped up in a blanked after birth. Sadly, like a new born baby, there's also a lot of work involved to prepare the chisels. Flattening the backs was an ordeal. There was a daft action movie in the 80's (I can't recall the name) where this chap practised strengthening his fingers, which would allow him to stab people in the chest with just his fingers and pull out their heart. After getting my chisel back's flattened, I feel that I too could now dispatch someone in the same manner. I tried the "wet and dry spray glued to 10 mm flat glass" route, but no matter how careful I was, it always ended up feathering the leading edge of the chisel (different edge depending on the direction of the push stroke).
In the end I reverted to using my 600 and 1200 diamond plates. It was a protracted effort, but at least I wasn't making more work for myself. In the end they are all done though, so phew! I still need to hollow grind and sharpen up, but at this stage that may have to wait until next week.
The other thing to come out of this ordeal, is that I'll be making a hand tool cabinet in the near future, where planes, chisels, marking tools etc will get shut away, and out of bounds to anyone other than my wife and me.
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17th Apr 2019, 06:52 PM #2
Great story, Lance - welcome to the arcane world of hand-tools and the strange folks who live in it - we are an odd bunch, but harmless, I assure you, and more than willing to encourage others down the slippery slope.
I think you are wise to start out with a sensible 'mid-range' set of chisels, too, & not blow the entire tool budget on $100-plus each 'high end' things straight off. These will serve you well for many years. They are not the best chisels for really fine dovetails (sides a bit fat), but they'll be fine on larger ones, & I imagine you won't be trying knife-thin, tiny D/Ts for a while, yet, in any case.
I saw your post mentioning you are working on a tool cabinet in another thread, but a bit embarrassed to show the results. Remember no-one (or at last no-one I know) makes a museum-quality piece straight off, & as I keep saying, there's only one way to get the experience that improves your skill. For us amateurs, acquiring high skills is a protracted process when we only get to practice intermittently, thanks to all the other things life demands we attend to. However, it does give us time to absorb & learn our lessons and time to build up a decent set of weapons. Old used tools are a great way to go. You can still get some very good bargains if you keep your eyes peeled, and any cleaning & fettling that's required is a great teaching process in itself. Sounds like you've got a great source of knowledge & help in that neighbor!
The woodworking world is opening before you - dive into it...
17th Apr 2019, 08:08 PM #3
Love the story and can relate to every bit of it especially the horror of a tool getting mistreated. Like you, I didn't hold a lot of respect for handtools when I was younger and strived for every powertool I could save up for. Fast forward a number of years and the wheel has done a complete turn where I now respect the older handtools and use them to complement the machines. Still couldn't do without the powered tools but really enjoy using handtools and have a lot more respect for the quality of older one. I have a set of 4 Narex Butt chisels and use them for fine work in favour of the bigger, heavier Stanley chisels I brought years ago. It's so nice to finish a day in the shed by only having to sweep up shavings and chips rather than fine dust everywhere.
What you and your wife are doing for the community is fantastic but getting that tool cabinet finished will be a priority.Cheers,
17th Apr 2019, 08:15 PM #4
That was someone else that was building the tool cabinet, not me... but will be soon. The transition to hand tools has indeed been really enjoyable. The nice thing about woodworking as a hobby is that I don’t need to be “productive”. The slow and steady acquisition of compounding skills is what feeds my soul.
With respect to the dovetails, I started working on them a couple of weeks ago (after being inspired by stratman) with good results after a couple of false starts. I will look at finer edged chisels down the track. I have plenty to accomplish with what I have on hand at the moment. My current challenge is getting a dovetail saw. I’ve had a veritas saw on order for a while, but the retailer says he’s been waiting on stock for months. They say anticipation is half the joy in acquiring something new, so am very full of joy at this point
17th Apr 2019, 08:25 PM #5
In all seriousness though, I totally agree. Plus the chickens like fresh shavings in their nesting boxes.
18th Apr 2019, 09:59 AM #6
Excellent thread Lance.
I am a sucker for a good story.
"Power tends to corrupt. Absolute power corrupts, absolutely!"
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