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Thread: Beveled Timber Framing Chisels

  1. #1
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    Beveled Timber Framing Chisels

    Is there any benefit/detriment to side-beveled timber framing chisels and/or slicks?

  2. #2
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    Caleb,

    Welcome to the Creek. Your profile doesn't indicate where you are located. What part of the world do you call home?

    Is there any benefit/detriment to side-beveled timber framing chisels and/or slicks?
    There is some paring in timber framing.

    There are also some big dovetail joints at times.

    If one were cutting some large mortises, then they might want a heavy square sided chisel instead.

    Just because it is timber framing doesn't exclude fine details.

    jtk
    "A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."
    - Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

  3. #3
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    Thanks for the Welcome, Jim.
    If I understand correctly, the bevels help the chisels more easily pare into the corners. If one were to put together a framing chisel set, say with a 1", 1 1/2", 2", corner chisel, and a slick, would it be worthwhile to have bevels on some and straight sides on others (excluding the corner chisel)?

  4. #4
    So... In use, my experience is that framing chisels are just big paring chisels. They don't actually work the way smaller chisels do. All good (read: old) framing chisels will have beveled sides. The question is how much bevel. Is it 85 degrees of bevel (often called square sided but not) or something in the neighborhood of 30 degrees?

    My advice is to buy old chisels that appear to be close to full length. My preference is for THIN chisels. You will probably find that the thinner models will all be "square sided". Some of the more modern beveled chisels are just wayy tooo much metal- too think, too heavy and ugly. Cheap drop forged tools.

    You want sockets and not big tanged chisels. Look for brands like Witherby, Swan, Buck, etc etc Backs should be clean, but they dont have to be straight by any means. Many of these tools have curved backs and they work just fine. Years ago I had a set of Sorbys. Sorby are often said to be soft. Tho these weren't terrible, they just weren't nice chisels and I replaced them.

    Slicks are very specific tools, not used in timberframing (but could be). They were traditionally used for boating building. Sometimes you can run into 3" framing chisels that folks mistake for slicks. These are (well, all of them are) just big parers. That doesn't mean you can't or shouldn't mallet them. Slicks typically have angled (cranked) sockets. They are often rounded on the flat and have round edges.

    If you are really doing TF work, you need some specific sizes. Really best to have a chisel the width of your mortises. 1-1/2" could be right. I'd be inclined to seek out every 1/4" from 1 to 2-1/2 or so. Over the years I've had these and sold them as my TF days are gone now. You really want to match augers to chisels.

    The corner chisel I think was used to square up auger bored holes. And while I think they can work for this, they are generally so difficult to sharpen that guys find them not useful. Just easier to use your 1" chisel.

    Speaking of sharpening, grind your framers LOOOOW. Like 20 degrees or so. Wide chisels hold their edges pretty well. And you can/should hone a secondary. This also lets them penetrate wood easier. I'd also be wary of hollow grinding a bevel this large. Were I to do it today, I think I'd prepare the initial bevel on a belt sander.

  5. #5
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    I am always in favor of having more chisels.

    Practically though, one large bevel edged chisel would likely suffice.

    jtk
    "A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."
    - Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

  6. #6
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    So the beveled sides won't compromise the strength of the framing (firmer?) chisel? I may be off the mark completely but won't "squared" sides be more adept a chopping? I don't have a strong opinion either way, just a complete novice trying to amass some knowledge. Thanks.

  7. #7
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    Adam who gave you a lesson above is one of the premier hand tool workers in the world. I highly recomend that you read and follow exactly what he says.

    Peter

  8. #8
    I'm not Adam, but I've done some timber framing. Trying to chop a 1" wide mortise like you would a 1/4" mortise is a fool's errand, the chisel will just bounce. It's used more for cleaning up the walls and end after you remove the majority of the waste with an appropriately sized auger.

    Now that said I have some very very heavy duty timber framing chisels that can stand some chopping; but I honestly mostly use them to pare walls and the like (my 2" is a particularly lovely example).

    I have a pair of slicks but I've never done timber framing at a scale where they made a lot of sense (seen people use them for tieing joints in 10x10 timbers). Great for putting a bevel on the edge of a board, though.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Peter Gavin View Post
    Adam who gave you a lesson above is one of the premier hand tool workers in the world. I highly recomend that you read and follow exactly what he says.

    Peter
    I am familiar with Adam Cherubini's column and musings through various postings and greatly respect his opinions. In comparison my knowledge is slight, therefore while I have read and heeded his response, I am grateful to receive as many opinions on this topic from those willing to contribute.

    Adam, with the range of bevel angles suggested, do the "square-sided" bevels prove more resilient or am I really just harping on a moot point. Thanks for the previous detailed response and apologizes for any perceived denseness on my part.

  10. #10
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    Adam, why were the old framers beveled? Weight savings? I've got a number of Greenlee firmers that are pretty thick and have fairly small bevels (I think they're 230s). The old millwright/framer/timber chisels I have tend to be even thicker.
    Where did I put that tape measure...

  11. #11
    Hi Gary, 18th c English chisels were generally not beveled (in the way that we know bevels). 17th c Dutch chisels were beveled. So there was a choice made. But it could be that the square sided tools were easier to make and my beloved thin chisels were just less steel. The bevel sided chisels we know came about with die forged or drop forging in the 19th c. I don't see the advantage in them. They are typically much heavier. Unless the sides are ground to an edge, you can't really get into corners much better than a thin chisel. In small chisels, I especially like thin square sided models. I think the edges are stronger and less prone to overheating at the grinder. Also, old chisels tapered back from the edge- the sides weren't parallel. Most tools like this warp when you quench them. I think some smiths use that to produce a gentle curved tool. Maybe the extra mass of the chisel helped in manufacture somehow. Forging a 1" wide 1/8" chisel isn't easy. So maybe that's the reason for the heavier chisels. Maybe the beveled back is really a spine. Never thought of that before.

    For framing, I'm with Graham. I recall trying to timberframe a workbench made from kiln dried maple. 1-1/2 hours per mortise. I think carpenters have always cut mortises with some type of drill or a mortising axe. That said, I made a pencil post bed last Fall out of fir 4x4's from Home Depot. It had 1" mortises and I cut them directly. But I pared them out more than chopped. And the wood was soft. Old English timberframes I have seen have massive mortises- more like 3" wide. I really doubt that guy had a 3" chisel to cut it. And some of their TFs are English Oak. Sometimes you are better nibbling out a joint with a smaller chisel. But I agree with Graham. Framers are really more paring tools than mortisers.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by Caleb James View Post
    do the "square-sided" bevels prove more resilient
    Caleb,
    You are more likely to break the handle of the chisel than bend the steel. I have both beveled and square framing chisels and each perform well. I have never worried about damaging either type, with normal use. Like most hand tools, each "feels different" and becomes preferred for certain tasks. I have both Barr and Sorby chisels and they have preformed well. I also have some old Witherbys and they too have worked well. In addition, I have a slick and use it frequently, when timber framing. It makes quick work of flattening a scarf joint.
    Matt

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