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Pedro Reyes
04-01-2005, 12:19 PM
Dear all,

Sorry for posting on a subject that has been done ad nauseam. I did a search and still could not find specific answers to these questions. I am trying to buy my set (3) of mortise chisels and I'm struggling with the options, feedback and experiences also welcomed. I had pretty much decided on the 2 Cherries but with the new Ray Illes ones coming out I am now more confused.

Ragrading Mortise chisels:

1.- How important do you consider them having a taper from tip to handle?

2.- How important do you consider the section (rectangular vs Trapezoidal)? Are there any good chisels out there (besides the Ray Illes) with trapezoidal sections?

Any and all feedback welcomed. Thanks.

Pedro

Tom Saurer
04-01-2005, 1:00 PM
Someone posted a link to some mortise chisels that looked good.

I have some basic Crown chisels that work pretty good. I got them at a good price also, but I can't remember where. Do a Yahoo! search on crown mortise chisels and you should find it.

The biggest thing that I look for is a stout blade and handle, because they take some punishment!

Dennis McDonaugh
04-01-2005, 1:04 PM
Pedro, I like mortise chisels to be square because they just seem easier to guide along the mortise that way. I've only used tapered chisels so I can't help you there.

James Carmichael
04-01-2005, 1:30 PM
Bob Smalser had a post several months ago documenting chisel types, I believe he took issue with someone's comment that most mortising chisels had a beveled back (is that what you mean by "trapezoidal"?) I would think a square back would be better, for strength and helping cut square sides on very deep mortises.

I don't think is the taper is very important on modern sash-mortise chisels used in furniture-making, at least I haven't used enough to notice a difference. I imagine the taper on the original pigstickers transferred more of the energy from the mallet blow to the tip and drove it deeper when chopping extremely deep mortises for ship building and the like.

John Keeling
04-01-2005, 2:43 PM
The taper also helps you when you want to get it out after driving it in deep. I had trouble with my sash mortise chisels in cedar, they went in deep but they were a fight to get out. All that friction!

I love my 100+ yr old pig-stickers, I wouldn't trade them for a set of LN's.

My 2cents

John, NY

Bob Smalser
04-01-2005, 3:10 PM
Bob Smalser had a post several months ago documenting chisel types, I believe he took issue with someone's comment that most mortising chisels had a beveled back (is that what you mean by "trapezoidal"?) I would think a square back would be better, for strength and helping cut square sides on very deep mortises.



I've owned and used both types for all manner of mortises and frankly, I don't think it makes a whit of difference if the blade is tapered front to back or not. Given a choice between two mortise chisels, I'd pick the longer and heavier brand. Longer means easy to hold plumb, and heavy means more stability so you can hit it harder. I also recommend you turn a large carving mallet and weight the end with lead to get the most out of your mortise chisels.

Lotsa old mortise and framing chisels are badly dinged up where somebody used a framing hammer to beat it out after they got it stuck. Use a 4-blow chip-out technique without over reaching and getting it stuck shouldn't be a problem. If all your angled blows deep in the mortise are done bevel-down, you'd have to hit it with a 6lb hammer to get it stuck.

http://www.sawmillcreek.org/showthread.php?t=13246&highlight=mortise

FWW mag is trying to decide this week where to do the photo shoot for that chisel article. They commissioned and paid for an extensive, 6-page article based on that old posting but want a "good looking, finished" shop to shoot the action pics in. That lets out me and my associates out here in pole barns, sheds and boat shelters. Guess ya can't do "fine woodworking" on sawhorses in a boat tent. ;)

James Carmichael
04-01-2005, 3:17 PM
FWW mag is trying to decide this week where to do the photo shoot for that chisel article. They commissioned and paid for an extensive, 6-page article based on that old posting but want a "good looking, finished" shop to shoot the action pics in. That lets out me and my associates out here in pole barns, sheds and boat shelters. ;)

FWW is going to publish it? Great! Even though I already have just about all of your articles that were posted here, I'll be looking for it and buy a copy.

FWIW, my "shop" wouldn't be suitable for a photo shoot either, unless they wanted to use it as the "before" picture in a shop-makeover story.

Bob Smalser
04-01-2005, 3:33 PM
Could be a whole year before it comes out.

My concern with all these mags revolves around the 200 bucks a page and 25-50 bucks a photo...half with the first draft and half upon publishing, which is pretty standard. ;)

I have 4 articles accepted right now by various mags and several more in the mill. Forums tell me what the demand is and all I have to do is take the camera to work and fight for the computer at night to write them up. After the posting I did on chisels at some forumite's request, it only took me 6 hours to finish the larger article FWW wanted, and the editor had it 12 hours after he asked for it. My future postings will have to be in less detail, however, as several have been refused based on some of the details having been "already published."

Joel Moskowitz
04-01-2005, 5:29 PM
I'm the guy who convinced Ray Iles to start making real mortise chisels. As JC says above "I love my 100+ yr old pig-stickers" I feel the same way. The trapziodal nature of the blades is from front to back. The front being about .010 narrower than the back cutting edge. It makes is much easier to really go quickly. and you can be a little sloppier on positioning. However I think the oval handles are the real key because they just automatically guide the hand. The mortise in the picture below was chopped 3/8" deep in one pass in less than 40 seconds (and it's pretty clean). Always clamp the work on top of the bench because if you really push the tools the way they are supposed to you will at best just lose a lot of the force of the chisel, at worst break your vise. Yesterday I was working with an experieced wood writer who started out mortising in his vise and then switched to clamping benchtop and suddenly was able to see the increased power you get.

An interesting question is why English Mortise chisels were never manufactured here (as far as I know). I think the reason is that before 1840-50 when all mortising was done by hand these are the standard mortise chisel you find in every toolbox in the US. All imported from England. by the time the American tool industry got all fired up (1850 - onward but really after about 1865) mortising was mostly done by machine. Most Amercian tool catalogs do list the English Mortise chisels but they were not as popular. Also after the 1860's more and more of the American tool tradition was for Continental (non- English) style tools and in the rest of Europe you would get heavy sash mortise chisels.
here's a picture if you aren't sure what I am talking about:

<img src="http://www.toolsforworkingwood.com/prodimg/ms/big/MS-MORTXX_big.gif">

Pam Niedermayer
04-01-2005, 5:46 PM
I, too, prefer the trapezoidal shape, got tremendous splitting when I tried some huge, square versions. Now, I could wrap every piece in a clamp to avoid this problem, but that's a bit of a pain.

I also like the continental pig stickers, but use Japanese chisels usually, which I hit with regular Japanese hammers. The pig stickers I hit with a mallet or not at all.

Pam

Marc Hills
04-01-2005, 5:54 PM
Well Bob, while it certainly will be our loss if you have to be more vague in your posts in order to preserve the "publishability" of your material, I for one am very happy that you're finally getting the recognition and exposure you deserve. It was your second article about a year ago (the one about rehabbing old chisels, I think) when I decided that you really ought to get paid for all that knowledge and writing.

Interesting that FWW balked at shooting the photos at your location. I guess crusty old bodgers and boatwrights should be heard, but not seen. :)

Bob Smalser
04-01-2005, 8:32 PM
An interesting question is why English Mortise chisels were never manufactured here (as far as I know). I think the reason is that before 1840-50 when all mortising was done by hand these are the standard mortise chisel you find in every toolbox in the US.

All imported from England. by the time the American tool industry got all fired up (1850 - onward but really after about 1865) mortising was mostly done by machine. Most Amercian tool catalogs do list the English Mortise chisels but they were not as popular. Also after the 1860's more and more of the American tool tradition was for Continental (non- English) style tools and in the rest of Europe you would get heavy sash mortise chisels.

Interesting....but it doesn't explain these...all American made for factory work, not toolboxes...and not copies of anything made in Europe:

http://pic3.picturetrail.com/VOL12/1104763/5090019/80800758.jpg

I'd say it's a bit of a reach to say "most" mortising was done by machine circa 1865. That assumes the medium and small millwork operations had the capital of the biggies, and that era was positively rife with Mom and Pop operations compared to the Depression era, let alone today. Plus I know shipyards...which were an extensive US industry at least as large as window factories....did their mortises mostly by hand because of the size/complexity/nonconformity of the workpieces.

Those old chain mortisers were expensive, and maintenance intensive....and I suspect even the middlin-size shops that had it set up for their most common stock output and still did considerable mortising by hand.

Folks today forget all about the shipyards, which were just as big and important in 19th-Century Europe, too. I always understood that what you are calling a "heavy duty sash mortise chisel" in your catalog was a "registered" or "Shipwright" chisel originating with the trade guilds of Europe fro shipyard use. They are a tad heavy for those 8th and quarter-inch mortises in window sashes. ;)

Joel Moskowitz
04-01-2005, 9:51 PM
You raise a couple of points. Let's look at them.
the Buck Brothers catalog of 1890 describes the chisels (both socket firmer and socket mortise) as:
"The blades of these Sockets are solid cast steel, and the barrels are heavier than the socket firmer barrels. They are very desireable for coach-makers, boat-builders, or for light mortising. The socket Mortises are solid cast steel blades, and are fit for the heaviest kind of work."

The Marples catalog 1909 shows about 4 variations styles of the English Mortise chisel.
and described the sockets chisels above as "staulking" chisels

the 1888 Wm. P Walter's Sons catalog quotes the buck brothers catalog except they say ".. are adapted for the heavier kind of work."what is also interesting is that in the index they do not include the Buck brother mortise chisels at all and the entry under mortise chisels in the index points to a page of mortising machine bits.

The 1897 Chas STrelinger catalog does'n index any socket mortise chisels but does include imported WArd & Payne English mortise chisels which they call" Duck's Bill Mortise chisel"

what these entries tell me is that Buck BRothers took a millrwrights design and tried to beef it up to be used for Mortising. However the retailers of the time didn't buy that argument much and in general devoted much much more pages to helping customers buy mortising machines. IT also shows you how less important hand mortising equipment was compared to machine equipment.
Chain mortisers were very expensive, what was offered was many models of primative mortisers much like what we use today in a drill press but without the drilling core.

The chisels you like were favored in the boat building industry but certainly from a cabinetmaking perspective they were not favored.

As I said in a previous post before 1850 all the American cabinetmakers who tools we have seem to have used English MOrtise chisels for heavy work.

A registered chisel is any chisel with square, parrelel sides - usable for light mortising but knowhere need as useful or as easy to use as a real English Mortise chisel. Sash Mortise chisels and registered chisels are always listed as seperate entities in tool catalogs. "Shipwright's chisels" are something different entirely. THese days many retailers sell registered chisels as "mortise chisels" but they aren't - they don't work as well as real sash mortise chisels even. but they are less expensive and these days are really not used for regular cabinetwork. for occasional mortising they might be a cost effective way of proceeding.

The geometry of registered chisels is also different from sash mortise chisels.

Bob Smalser
04-01-2005, 10:49 PM
I don't dispute that cabinetmakers here used English chisels, it's just that as tough as they are, I'da have expected more of them to survive than one sees at old tool auctions....if they were that prevalent. I've seen plenty of old American framers and mortise chisels grafted onto after they were ground down...but never a Pigsticker.

Buck may have had more catalogs survive than the smaller makers, but these large mortise chisels were often made by specialists like New Haven Edge. Swan and Witherby are the only large companies I've found that made them....I don't believe Buck ever did. Dixon, Dickerson and Fulton also made them.

And hollow chisel mortisers have been around for almost as long as chain mortisers....but they were and are an even bigger pain in the butt to maintain...and although they were ballyhooed in advertisements, I'd surmise they and chain mortisers combined only produced a small fraction of all mortises cut in any given late-19th Century year.

Joel Moskowitz
04-01-2005, 11:38 PM
[QUOTE=Bob Smalser]I don't dispute that cabinetmakers here used English chisels, it's just that as tough as they are, I'da have expected more of them to survive than one sees at old tool auctions....if they were that prevalent.

Very few pre-1850 chisels of any sort survive in the wild. and after that cabinetry switched to factories and machines started to take over.
If you use chisels a lot they wear out. Even in the UK pre-1850 tools are pretty rare. THe tools that survive are the ones that weren't used much - or have replaceable cutting edges like metal planes.

After the civil war what you mostly find is carpenter's tools of all sorts - which are different. The higher end catalogs of the US in the latter part of the 19th century do list English tools as part of the listing. but certainly demand was very small compared to construction tools and speicalled tools for things like shipwrighting.

"Buck may have had more catalogs survive than the smaller makers, but these large mortise chisels were often made by specialists like New Haven Edge. Swan and Witherby are the only large companies I've found that made them....I don't believe Buck ever did. - "

Buck #48

"Dixon, Dickerson and Fulton also made them."

Also Witherby and others. I think the reason you find them so plentiful is that I think they were most popular in shipyards.

"I'd surmise they and chain mortisers combined only produced a small fraction of all mortises cut in any given late-19th Century year."

Surely you must be joking? by the late 19th century in the US most (I'd even guess at 90%) of the furniture sold in the US was made in large factories and sold by large companies including Montgomery Ward and Sears. not to mention the huge chains of department stores. All of that furniture was almost entirely machine made and assembled by hand. This was not the case in England at the same time which may explain why English mortise chisels were still available in such a selection at such a late date.

In another context I am in the middle of reading a 1850's report about manufacturing in the US by a group of English travellers under contract to the Royal goverment. (incliding whitworth as part of the party) what they were shocked by is how little hand work of any sort they saw. THey marveled at how the Americans were automating everything unlike the British industries which relied on handwork.

Bob Smalser
04-02-2005, 12:32 AM
Surely you must be joking?

By the late 19th century in the US most (I'd even guess at 90%) of the furniture sold in the US was made in large factories and sold by large companies including Montgomery Ward and Sears. not to mention the huge chains of department stores. All of that furniture was almost entirely machine made and assembled by hand. This was not the case in England at the same time which may explain why English mortise chisels were still available in such a selection at such a late date.

Not at all.

The large factories were the only ones using machines....and about that time M/T began losing favor to dowel joinery in lower and middlin grades of furniture. I'm sitting at a ca. 1880 London rolltop now that's chock full of dowels....not a single M/T joint in it except for stick and cope stub tenons in the lower panels.

Comparing the output of sashmakers and the high-end, large factory furniture pieces that were still made with M/T's to the millions of local finish carpenters, barn builders, cabinetmakers, carriage makers, wheelwrights, boatbuilders and shipwrights who had to do mortises by hand isn't precise....but it's hardly a blind guess.

Joel Moskowitz
04-02-2005, 1:08 AM
"The large factories were the only ones using machines...."

I can't agree - Stickley (moderate size operation) Green and Green's cabinentmakers, and F.L Wrights folks all used power tools. (all late 19th century or early 20th) Machinery was all over the place. and these were pretty small operations. As a matter of fact if you look at American furniture in the 1880's you can very easily see the influence of power tools such as the bandsaw on the design.


"Comparing the output of sashmakers and the high-end, large factory furniture pieces that were still made with M/T's to the millions of local finish carpenters, barn builders, cabinetmakers, carriage makers, wheelwrights, boatbuilders and shipwrights who had to do mortises by hand isn't precise....but it's hardly a blind guess."

my point is not that somebody bought sash mortise chisels - but in your list of wood trades with a lot of handwork only the cabinetmaker would have a need for real mortise chisels and they were few and far between.
finish carpenters needed a few sash mortise chisels. Barn builders used mortising machines and big framing chisels not 5/16" sash mortise chisels of any style, carriage makers and wheelrights - big Socketed mortise chisels (both in the UK and in the US). boatbuilders and shipwrights - the shipwright and mortising chisels you describe.
If you are doing cabinetmaking it seems to me that the best tools would be the specfic designs of tools used by people who did cabinetmaking not other trades.

Bob Smalser
04-02-2005, 2:24 AM
...my point is not that somebody bought sash mortise chisels - but in your list of wood trades with a lot of handwork only the cabinetmaker would have a need for real mortise chisels and they were few and far between.

I'll have to dig up some old family job site pictures for you. True, mortises over an inch were bored first, but interior joinery is interior joinery, whether the cabinet is a simple square one for the house or something a bit more challenging to fit the hull of a vessel or carriage body.

Mortises were generally chopped all the way through one-inch, and those All-American millwright chisels came in 1/8 increments through that size...a one-inch thick tenon supports a larger framing member than Gustav Stickley ever though about.

Like I've said before...when American standard bearer Lie Nielsen desided to make mortise chisels and copied the wimpiest of the English designs rather than your favorite pigstickers or my favorite All-American millwrights...

....several generations of boatbuilders, shipwrights, finish carpenters and carriage makers in my family well familiar with mortise chisels all rolled over in their graves.

Dave Anderson NH
04-02-2005, 8:10 AM
Just a couple of quick notes here. I'm glad to see Joel and Bob disagreeing in a polite and respectful manner. Disagreement is fine here and is quite useful as long as it produces light and not heat.

Data point: Pigsticker are not that uncommon at antique auctions or at flea markets here in the east. I wonder if Bob's not seeing them has to do with his location in WA state where settlement came later and fewer had the British heritage prevelant in the pre-1860 east coast?

Joel Moskowitz
04-02-2005, 10:36 AM
"Mortises were generally chopped all the way through one-inch, and those All-American millwright chisels came in 1/8 increments through that size...a one-inch thick tenon supports a larger framing member than Gustav Stickley ever though about."

i'm glad to see you call millwright chisels "millwright chisels" but your comment about them comming in 1/8" got me to get up and look up something. English Mortise chisels were made in 1/16" increments because being able to get a proportional size makes it easier to lay out the mortise and if you are doing tenons first (which sometimes makes sense) to get a closer size so there is less to pare. But what about the Americans? according to the Buck Bros catalog I quoted from before - the #47 which were regular socket firmer chisels which are like what you posted a picture of and every other style of chisels they made were available in 1/8" increments. BUT (and this is really interesting) the #48 the only thing they call a Socket Mortise chisel - was available in 1/16"s.

DAve's point makes a lot of sense. I think what you are seeing in your area is various later American Socket millwrights chisels - with a few american socket mortise chisels thrown in which were used for whatever mortising that was done because the English mortise chisels were not available. Cost certainly was one issue. but also shipwright's tradition was different and they just didn't know about or crave the English style.

In the Colonial American tradition, on the east coast, they used the English style which is more efficent, easier, and faster for furntiure (for housewriting and ships different tools were used). Try them you will like them.

"Like I've said before...when American standard bearer Lie Nielsen desided to make mortise chisels and copied the wimpiest of the English designs "

Actually I would say it a copy of an American design - socket chisels were developed in the UK but the style is American.

"rather than your favorite pigstickers or my favorite All-American millwrights...
....several generations of boatbuilders, shipwrights, finish carpenters and carriage makers in my family well familiar with mortise chisels all rolled over in their graves."

I would agree that's probabley but now with the Ray Iles's chisels on the market they can roll back.

I'm glad you are now calling the millwrights chisels by their right name but I hate the term "pigstickers" and as they are now finally available again, and people are rediscovering how great they are for mortising (as opposed to a murder weapon) it seems to avoid confusion we should all revert to their proper respectfull name "English Mortise Chisels" .

Alice Frampton
04-02-2005, 11:46 AM
it seems to avoid confusion we should all revert to their proper respectfull name "English Mortise Chisels" .
I hesitate to interrupt the cut and thrust here, 'cos it's very interesting, but may I suggest "Oval bolstered mortise chisels"? It's what they frequently get called over here and it's pretty descriptive. Just a thought.

Cheers, Alf

Joel Moskowitz
04-02-2005, 12:01 PM
Alf,
THe old English catalogs just call them "Mortise Chisels" but "Oval Bolstered" may be a little more descriptive for modern customers. Duck's Bill Mortise chisels is a name I saw in an American catalog but I don't like that at all. (they did come octagonally bostered too at one point but those are few and far between)

but as for "English Mortise Chisels" surely you know we here in the US call lots of things based on the country of origin:

Italian Parsley
French Fries
French Bread
Italian Bread
Chinese Checkers
German Silver
Russian Dressing
Swedish Meatballs
and for tools:

Swedish Steel
Sheffield Steel
Arkansas Stones
Damascus Steel
Belgian Waterstones

London pattern carving tools (a term you guys use too)

Bob Smalser
04-02-2005, 12:20 PM
Great, Joel....that makes two of us now who understand these are millwright mortise chisels. ;)

I usually get beat up pretty good about from folks who think they are "framing" or "socket mortise" chisels.

And I think the Staley, Ward and Sorby bolstered "English" chisels are some of the best mortise chisels ever made....with the advantage of fitting easily in a box or chest to carry up all that scaffolding. But Sorby today also makes "sash" mortise chisels the L/N's are a dead ringer for, except for a little more beef....but not enough beef to overcome the weaker design.

But all in all I find the American millwright chisels to be the fastest and most powerful mortise chisels ever made by far. Easier to keep plumb, so they line up quicker and with more confidence...and much more leverage to lever out waste and scrape bottoms...all that translating into speed. They aren't that hard to find in the smaller sizes, although few sellers have a clue what they are...most common are the window sash sizes of 1/8 and 1/4 because they were so common in sash factories....even factories who used chain mortisers. The additional 3/8 and 1/2 you need for common cabinetry won't be hard to find, either....just look at their distinctive profiles and length for ID and be prepared to make new handles for them.

They take biiiig, clean chips, even in the hardest maple or madrone:

http://pic3.picturetrail.com/VOL12/1104763/5536778/70921478.jpg

http://pic3.picturetrail.com/VOL12/1104763/5536778/70921602.jpg

http://pic3.picturetrail.com/VOL12/1104763/5536778/70922021.jpg

http://pic3.picturetrail.com/VOL12/1104763/5305809/67802788.jpg

So go ahead and get your set of storeboughts, Pedro....you need something to use now....but if you really do chop a lot of mortises it's well worth your time to hunt up a few of these All-American brutes...they have no competitors, in my opinion....and I have always chopped a lot of mortises, even working in shops that had big, 3ph mortising machines, as it's often faster to chop by hand for small runs rather than change bits, set up, and fuss with a balky machine.

Joel Moskowitz
04-02-2005, 12:49 PM
"millwright's chisels" not "millwright mortise chisels" was the contemporary term. the same tool catalogs also list "socketed mortise chisels" which are a little heavier.

LN is making american pattern socket mortise chisels - Sorby still makes tanged sash mortise chisels. There's a difference in strength because of the handle design.

I'm sorry to be such a stickler for terminology but there are subtle differences in design which make big differences in operation. Or are just local style variations.

Go ahead and enjoy your millwrights tools. They certainly work and old ones are less expensive than an English (oval bolstered) mortise chisel. From my own experience and from the pictures you post I think we have different ideas on what chopping a mortise quickly and taking a big chip means. I will try in the next few months to post a lesson on chopping mortise and tenons, I'm just swamped now.

What we can certainly agree on is that unless you have a repeditive production setup that justifies the cost of a machine, chopping mortises by hand is fast or really fast depending on which one of use you believe but effiecient either way.

incidently on a side note as far as I know (I could be wrong) Stanley - which made dozens of styles of bench chisels, butt chisels and sort of paring chisels (the 720) never made shipwrights chisels, millwright's chisels, or any srot of mortise chisel. - sort of shows you how big the demand was nationally.

Bob Smalser
04-02-2005, 4:42 PM
We can argue chisel names all day and not get anywhere...."accuracy" is in the eye of the beholder.

Like today, the manufacturers then called them anything they thought would sell them. With lots of conflicts, as you note in your well-done, attentive-to-detail catalog. And the users generally called them what their elders on the job site called them...and very often something entirely different from the manufacturers. Some manufacturer's names are inaccurate..."socket" chisel alone is meaningless...and some are almost silly ("heavy-duty sash mortise chisels"? - by definition, "sash" means light work.)....but the gents I learned from tended to call them by their function, not the type of factory they were made for.

http://pic3.picturetrail.com/VOL12/1104763/2595357/91556861.jpg

Millwright mortise chisels in use during the 1940's at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard where my father worked at the time. They are mortising a lammed (probably White Oak and resorcinol) cap rail to fit those stanchions in the background. A big'un - probably a wooden minesweeper. The gent on the right could very well be my father from the looks of him. I'm a Westerner by choice, not birth. I was born just across the river in Camden about the time that photo was taken.

The chisels in the photo could very well be New Haven Edge, who apparantly did a lot of government contracts. Some of the most finely made and finished chisels I've ever seen are a few New Haven millwrights I own that are marked US Army....from the days when the Army had wooden wagons, gun carriages, and (actually) more wooden boats than the Navy did. Government spec back then was a high standard as nice as Witherby or Swan ever did...let alone....Stanley. ;)

Also note the well-worn carborundum stone near the workpiece where it belongs. These fellas were accomplished pros but were hardly very anal about microscopically flat chisel backs, were they? ;)

And last...there are at least a dozen ways to make a mortise...all of them potentially successful, as it's a very forgiving joint...and more than one of them quite fast. Let's enjoy the diversity and be thankful we have it.

Heck, Joel....Stanley never made a mortise chisel probably because it'd hurt sales of their dowel jigs. But smaller makers of usually better quality made lots of them, as they are common as mud on the used tool market. Problem is, most sellers and many buyers don't know what they are looking at.

Joel Moskowitz
04-02-2005, 7:33 PM
cool picture - but where's the stone? I see two guys chopping away and a chisel resting on the work and a folded zig zag rule in the foreground - what am
I missing?

Chris Thompson
04-03-2005, 1:31 PM
Alf,
but as for "English Mortise Chisels" surely you know we here in the US call lots of things based on the country of origin:

French Fries


Veering WAY off topic here, you finally hit on something I know. My other obsessive compulsive hobby is cooking.

French Fries are not named after the French. "Frites" are Belgian in origin.

They were called French Fries because they're made out of potatoes which have been Frenched (http://www.m-w.com/cgi-bin/dictionary?va=frenched), or cut into thin strips before cooking.

Which, of course makes the whole "Freedom Fries" brouhaha a farce.

We now return you to your woodworking discussion in progress.

James Mittlefehldt
04-03-2005, 3:37 PM
Great discussion and I am glad you two have been so civilized about it, it is actually quite refreshing.

Bob if you have any more pictures like the one above I, and I am sure others would love to see them. I live in an older house, built 1894, and all the doors that are original to the house have through mortise and tenon joinery, something I had not noticed prior to living here, anywhere else. I measured the doors in the house after reading your discussion regarding factory, versus small shop made stuff, and it appears that they were stock sizes.

What I wondered was would they have been done by some sort of machine, I suspect yes, and I know there was a shop in this area that was not huge but had a full set of various mahines to do architectual millwork and such. All their equipment ran off a lineshaft. Not sure this has anything to do with mortise chisels but just thought I would throw it in.

Joel Moskowitz
04-03-2005, 6:57 PM
Even in pre-industrial times it was common for all the fittings in a house to be make in a shop and taken to the job site rather than bring them to the job. By guild rules carpenter's built the house but joiners (anyone who used a plane) were responsible for fitting it out. They would make the parts and then do installation on site.

By the late 19th century moldings, doors, and everything except the frame would have been brought to the jobsite already made in factories. There are many catalogs of fittings from the time period. And of course all of this stuff was machine made. The demand was huge - it's the time peroid of huge growth in cities. I would guess that in the very small rural areas carpenters still did stuff by hand - but in the cities they would not. - there was no point.
You would order the number of door you need from a catalog or go to your local lumberyard and moldings.

To give you an idea of how industrial the process was at it's extreme, I'm not sure exactly when but around that time SEars would be happy to sell you a complete house, all the parts, and instructions as a kit.

On another point I was staring at Bob's picture trying to find that stone and I realized a couple of things. The photo is staged - not unusual for the time at all there is no motion blur and both guys are working the same mortise. But what they are doing is paring the sides of the mortises to fit the railings. Both mortises in the shot were cut by machine in a shop. The machine had a 1" or so bit. That's why there are the ridges on the sides. If the mortises were chopped by hand you would trivially even out the ridges before moving to the next mortise. So they must have been cut by machine. But once on-site the exact position of the mortises whould have been scribed (I tihnk you can see the scribe lines but I am not sure) and then properly pared for a nice fit. The shavings on the work show a little paring not tons of chopping.

Mark Singer
04-03-2005, 7:44 PM
Bob,
My father worked in the Brooklyn Navy Shipyard...building LST's...
We can argue chisel names all day and not get anywhere...."accuracy" is in the eye of the beholder.


http://pic3.picturetrail.com/VOL12/1104763/2595357/91556861.jpg

Millwright mortise chisels in use during the 1940's at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard where my father worked at the time. .

Harry Goodwin
04-03-2005, 8:02 PM
All this talk about mortise chisels reminds me of my grandfathers shop that contained a wood mortiser. It had set ups much like modern ones and of course tool steel chisle propelled by your foot. It held the sash stationary and you moved it back and forth wacking it with your foot and length of mortise. I used to delight in playing with it as a small kid and he made window sash by hand.
Harry

Leif Hanson
04-03-2005, 8:42 PM
My dad still has the foot powered mortising machine my great grandfather used - I don't have a photo available of it, but it's the same model as pictured here:

http://www.owwm.com/PhotoIndex/detail.asp?id=654


It's a neat old machine....

When great grandad was running a crew, circa 1890 - 1930 or so, and in *way* rural america, he had his man (usually himself) start making moldings for the house on the same day they started the foundation. All by hand, with molding planes - for both interior and exterior trim. By the time the house was far enough along for trim, the moldings were ready, and the job of the man who made them was then to install them, then add finish when that was done.

The only power tool he ever used was on a single job, making cuts for curved rafters for a barn on a saw powered by a steam engine.

Bob Smalser
04-03-2005, 8:53 PM
http://pic3.picturetrail.com/VOL12/1104763/2595357/91556861.jpg

Ships don't go together like houses....and that photo wasn't staged. Look again at the perspective...the gent on the right is cleaning out the next mortise. On closer inspection I think you're right about the folding rule, tho.

That cap rail certainly was bored for the mortises first, and it would be interesting to see how they did it, as I doubt they used a brace....in fact, it looks like a chain mortiser of some sort from here, one of the small ones set up like an old timber framer's boring machine, and somewhere on the deck of that ship for the job. I'm 100% certain that the piece wasn't pre-mortised in the shop, first. Loftings are wonderful things, and they certainly got the profile for the rail off of the lofting floor....but an 8th of an inch plus or minus ain't good enough for those mortises.

That rail was lammed oversize on a cast iron grid with dogs and chains making the bends, the grid room heated to cure the resorcinol, a pattern taken for it off the lofting floor, then the lam was taken to the ship's saw (large, tilting table BS) and the profile cut out. Then it was hoisted into place onto those stanchions, aligned, and the mortises scribed.

The lines you see on the workpiece are the lamination gluejoints. As the stanchions are already bolted up into the inner and outer gunwales, all they had to do was align the piece carefully before scribing.

In a different but similar job like scribed-fit pin rail shelving where the pins (stanchions) are loose, they would have faired their outer mortise lines with a fairing batten and pull the stanchions or pins into fair during assembly.

At the beginning of the 20th Century my extended family had a carriage-maker shop, a boat shop, and a couple home builders/finish carpenters and masons thrown in. I grew up on those line shaft machines that by the 1950's had been converted to electricity and the carriage shop converted to boats.

Typical small, family operations that certainly did order some house millwork from large suppliers...but operations that had TS, BS, jointers and planers...but no mortising machines. Although they existed as Leif shows, they weren't near as common then in small commercial operations as other machine tools...and weren't until the homeowner-grade hollow-chisel machines came out with the advent of Norm-Delta Enterprises. Before that there were all manner of drill press gizmos that never worked well and there were large commercial machines that also didn't work well without a whole lot of maintenance. Hollow chisel mortiser bits are expensive, and a commercial operation that cuts mortises every day needs three sets of them per machine, as forcing dull bits into the work can permanently ruin the machine's alignment, making it a balky pain in the butt forever. That's why they were near as common in the small, family-run operations that in the grand scheme of things did most of the country's joinery....large millwork operations notwithstanding.

Joel Moskowitz
04-03-2005, 10:48 PM
Leif - it's very interesting to me that a shop that found it necessary to make molding by hand found a mortising machine (a foot operated one at that) worthwhile. I'm wondering if for windows sashes - which would have been the predominent use for mortising in house construction - THe ability to have a fence, and stops, saved enough time in layout so it was worth the while.

Joel Moskowitz
04-03-2005, 10:56 PM
Bob - the reason I say that the shot was posed is that there is no motion blur which considering the time and technology back then would be expected if the men were actually swinging a hammer. I'm not suggesting that anything is "faked" it's just that someone said to the guys while they were working.- "just a second, let me take a picture, look like you are really working. "click" thanks "

As for doing it in a fixed shop rather than on the ship then were building I would think it much easier to use a mortising machine to mill everything out in the machine shop based on the loftings but 1/8" or so per side small. Then scribe to exact location on-site and just trivally chop away the excess. it saves a setup, and as long as the power mortise is cut smaller than the variation in actual dimensions it's pretty easy. I can't see a portable power mortising machine being used on-site unless they had pretty specialized machinery - which is possible I suppose but this is before the days of the portable electric machine.

Bob Smalser
04-03-2005, 11:13 PM
Here's one of the bending grids used for both steambending and occasionally for laminating...note the rack of ship's curve templates on the left that look like hockey sticks:

http://pic3.picturetrail.com/VOL12/1104763/2595357/91769644.jpg

And a Ship's Saw cutting a beveled framing member from a rough lam:


http://pic3.picturetrail.com/VOL12/1104763/2595357/91769670.jpg

Dennis McDonaugh
04-04-2005, 12:02 AM
Bob, can you explain how they are using that bandsaw. It looks like an awaful big piece to move by hand and the guy on the left looks like he's cranking on something.

Bob Smalser
04-04-2005, 1:09 AM
I'm pretty sure that's the crank that tilts the saw over the table.

Picture ship frames fitted against curved hull planking and you'll see those frames have changing bevels. On smaller boats I take the angles off the lofting, rough cut them oversize, mount the frames, and hand plane the final bevel using a "try" or "fairing" batten, sometimes chalked to leave a mark.

He's got a large crew there to feed the frame through the saw and the look of concern on his face is probably because it's real easy to break a blade feeding stock that heavy thru the saw as you change the bevel.

James Mittlefehldt
04-04-2005, 6:49 AM
Joel I can speak to the issue of the blur or lack of. In the 1940's there were a number of camera's that could have captured that. I would suspect that anything with at least 1/500th of a second shutter speed and mounted on a tripod would be able to do it, and there were camera's available, even then, that had up to 1/1000th though they would have been in the hands of either a professional photographer, or a well heeled amateur.

Bob forgive my layman's ignorance of what is going on in the first picture, but ar they making a ship's rail for a sailing ship?

Dennis McDonaugh
04-04-2005, 9:54 AM
Thanks Bob, I'm amazed that a piece that large is fed by hand through the bandsaw and the bevel is eyeballed as they cut it.

Joel Moskowitz
04-04-2005, 10:05 AM
James,
The camera is not the is issue (although I think that was taken with a 4x5 which had real slow lenses) it's the film.
too slow - even in bright sun with that depth of field, given the way that sort of picture would have been shot at the time - the photographer would have asked for a pose.
The tripod wouldn't make a difference in this case. a tripod gets rid of camera shake not object motion.

The other pictures used flash bulbs. It is theoretically possible that the picture was not made with a under typical film/camera setups of the time - but unlikely.

(I do a fair bit of photography with old cameras and even with modern films without a flash motion blur is pretty common)

Bob Smalser
04-04-2005, 10:20 AM
Bob forgive my layman's ignorance of what is going on in the first picture, but ar they making a ship's rail for a sailing ship?


It's a US Navy Minesweeper about 200' long. They were still made of wood well into the 1960's.

The cap rail is what you lean on when getting seasick over the side.

Leif Hanson
04-04-2005, 12:36 PM
What an interesting thread! Thanks everyone!



Leif - it's very interesting to me that a shop that found it necessary to make molding by hand found a mortising machine (a foot operated one at that) worthwhile. I'm wondering if for windows sashes - which would have been the predominent use for mortising in house construction - THe ability to have a fence, and stops, saved enough time in layout so it was worth the while.

That's exactly what that mortiser was used for - at least the majority of the time. They built hundreds of windows over the years, and had the construction of them down to a science. I've seen many of the windows he made, and they are all built identically, and quite professionally - almost like a production shop's product. Dad re-built an elliptical window he made, and the original was of astounding quality for the time and place in which it was built.

I think machines such as these were more common than one might realize - Harry remembers one in his grandfather's shop, and I've seen a pair of them - though I would agree that not every construction crew would have one as it would require a fair amount of work to pay for itself. I also tried to purchase a set of knives for this one that appeared on ebay (several of the originals for the one dad has are missing), but was outbid by a pair of bidders, and bailed after the price topped $150. That was for 6 knives... I was surprised anybody even realized what they were - I only recognized them because I was familiar with the machine.

I understand the machine was also used for some of the joints made for post and beam construction. Granddad built more barns than houses, which were typically of this style of construction.

My guess is that a good percentage of such machines have been lost because of the advent of electricity... They wouldn't have been as common as a treadle lathe, for example, and you don't see originals of those too often, either. This one I'm referring to was saved from a grainery that had fallen in on itself, and exposed most of the contents of to the weather for over 20 years before anybody salvaged anything from it - and that was because the building was being cleared and it's contents hauled to the scrap yard. When I was a kid, I saw literally tons of cast iron and various tools hauled off like that... I remember an old forge, a treadle lathe, steam engine parts, belts, pulleys, wheels, hammers, axes... All lost in the name of progress. At the time, it was just old, obsolete junk...

Bob Smalser
04-04-2005, 3:51 PM
I'm pretty sure that's the crank that tilts the saw over the table.

Picture ship frames fitted against curved hull planking and you'll see those frames have changing bevels. On smaller boats I take the angles off the lofting, rough cut them oversize, mount the frames, and hand plane the final bevel using a "try" or "fairing" batten, sometimes chalked to leave a mark.

He's got a large crew there to feed the frame through the saw and the look of concern on his face is probably because it's real easy to break a blade feeding stock that heavy thru the saw as you change the bevel.

http://pic3.picturetrail.com/VOL12/1104763/2595357/91769670.jpg

From a retired shipwright pal who spent 40 years building wooden vessels this large in Seattle, San Francisco and San Diego:


Is this fella cranking the tilt mechanism to change the bevel during the cut?



Ayup.

The bevels were scribed in chalk or pencil all along the timber.

The sawman would callout the bevels and the bevel man would crank the handle to tilt the frame to that bevel marked on the scale mounted on the frame.

Most were hand powered like that one others of a newer vintage had shafts that would accept a drill motor either air or electric to do the cranking.

We are not talking radical changes here but slow gradual ones.

Observe how intently the bevel man is looking at the wood. He is slowly cranking the frame/blade towards the next degree written on the timber.

As I said it is gradual...something like this.

8 to 6 to 5 to 3 1/2

You just don't go from 8 degrees and let the blade cut that until it's time for 6 degrees. The bevel is gradually changed in the distance between the bevels so that you arrive at 6 degrees on the mark.

The shipwright marking the timber lays out the bevel changes to account for that as well as the distance between bevels.

Catch my drift?

Rich Tesoroni
04-05-2005, 12:28 PM
Isn't the crank kind of high to be tilting the saw? I have a 36" Crescent angle saw in the garage in pieces, on it the crank is in front below the table.

A drawing is at http://www.owwm.com/Crescent/BandSaws/AngleBandSaw.asp

Doesn't really make sense for the crank to be above the table level since it would be in the way. Maybe this is linked with a chain downward.

Rich

Roy Wall
04-05-2005, 11:32 PM
I wonder if Pedro ever bought any chisels..........:cool:

James Carmichael
04-06-2005, 7:47 PM
I wonder if Pedro ever bought any chisels..........:cool:

We may have scared him off.

Dennis McDonaugh
04-06-2005, 9:18 PM
We may have scared him off.

That was quite a discussion generated by a simple question. I learned a lot though.

Pedro Reyes
06-10-2005, 6:49 PM
Roy, Thanks for asking. I was also lost in the knowledge out there. Great replies. I did get some pig stickers (used). Have not used them but I will sharpen and take care of them soon.

While I'm here again. Does anyone have any ideas of chisel maintenance. should I give them some linseed oil love? I know some about planes (or at least I think I do) but not much about chisels.

While we are on the subject, I wanted to get some unhandled chisels (from the UK, used) and was wondering what wood is recommended for turning the handles, (I am having problems finding hornbeam or boxwood). I wanted to try making my own oval handles but not sure what the best way is (turn, then shape by hand?)
Any help appreciated.

Pedro

Takeshi Uchida
06-11-2005, 12:04 PM
Thank you for intersting story. I learned another culture of chisel.Very impressive and informative.

Joel Moskowitz
06-11-2005, 12:10 PM
Oval handled mortise chisels were handled with either beech (better) or ash handles.

Beech in general is a good handle wood.

the way you make oval handles is to fit the handle and then finsih the handle to the bolster. it's hard to do. after 1880 or so most of the oval handled tools you see have oversize stock handles. - does't look as nice but a lot lot easier to do. on replacement handles you also see a lot of leather washers. This takes up any gap between handle and bolster and is a lot lot easier to do (you don't need to fit theh handle as carefully) - doesn't look as nice though and the better tools NEVER had leather washers.