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Thread: Japanese chisels vs. cocobolo, with lots of pics

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  1. #1
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    Japanese chisels vs. cocobolo, with lots of pics

    Quote Originally Posted by Dan Barr View Post
    I think that the whole japanese chisel issue can be summed up this way.

    If you were to try to use a japanese chisel to chop a dovetail on cocobolo, you'd be up $#!+ creek after the first mallet blow. (much less lignum vitae)
    I got curious after reading this in a previous thread about chisels. I finally had some time tonight to test out this proposition.

    So here's the test set up. On the Japanese chisel side, a "delicate" 3 mm Imai bench chisel (oire nomi), about $50 from Hida Tool, which is the same cost as a 1/8" Lie-Nielsen bevel edge socket chisel. On the cocobolo side, a cocobolo bowl blank 2" thick. If you look closely, you'll be able to see how much I overpaid for this bowl blank.



    I did a quick touch up of the chisel on a natural fine waterstone before starting. No chips here.



    I sawed the sides of the dovetail.



    And started chopping.



    Close up of the chisel stuck in the cocobolo after a good whack. Notice that the width of the place I'm chopping is actually twice as wide as the width of the chisel I'm using, so I'm really doing twice the chopping I would if I were using a properly sized chisel.



    After getting about halfway through, I started chopping from the other side.



    All done! Total chopping time was a few minutes, not counting the time I took to take pictures.



    No chips in the chisel after cutting a 2" thick dovetail in cocobolo.



    Here's what I think is the impressive part. I took a scrap piece of pine, and did some endgrain paring with this chisel, without any additional sharpening.



    So hopefully this will put to rest the question of whether a Japanese chisel can be used with very hard woods.
    Last edited by Wilbur Pan; 05-03-2008 at 10:57 PM.

  2. #2
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    I guess I stand corrected

    looks like that chisel did fine job on a dovetail. but, is ONE dovetail really putting anything to rest here? What is your bevel angle?

    Thanks for taking a look into this though.

    Dan

  3. #3
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    I must be bored tonight.

    I didn't want to put more notches into my bowl blank, so I found some 8/4 white oak. Same 3 mm Imai bench chisel as before, and I still haven't resharpened it.

    I chopped a bunch of notches (these weren't sawed carefully enough to call them dovetails). But it's good enough for a test of chopping ability and edge holding.



    Again, given the width of my 3 mm chisel, I had to take 2-3 passes in each notch, so it was at least twice the chopping I would do if I used a properly sized chisel. If I'm calculating this right, the amount of chopping I did here is close to what I would need to do for all four corners of a dovetailed box made of 1/2" white oak with a properly sized chisel.

    After I finished the chopping in the 8/4 white oak, I made some more endgrain shavings from that same piece of scrap pine I used before, which you can see. Again, no sharpening since before I chopped the dovetail in that cocobolo bowl blank. And still no chipping.

    It felt like the chisel was slowing down a bit as I got towards the end, but maybe my hammering arm was just getting tired. In any case, the chisel was still sharp enough to make clean endgrain shavings in pine.

    The bevel angle on this chisel is 29°, which how it came, and is pretty much the same as the Lie Nielsen bevel edge socket chisels. I don't use a microbevel.
    Last edited by Wilbur Pan; 05-04-2008 at 12:45 AM.

  4. #4
    "...no sharpening since before I chopped the dovetail in that cocobolo bowl blank. And still no chipping..."

    Hummmm. Imagine that. But will it hold up in court?

    David DeCristoforo

  5. #5

    Wink

    Well done Wilbur. It sometimes suprises me what lengths we have to go to prove how superior Japanese tools are to their western counterparts.

    I'll just sit back and wait for the fallout now>

    Actually there are those of us who use these tools and fully belive in the spirit in these tools if the answer is as simple as they are hand made by an artisian who puts his time, love , and pride into making these tools and I think that is enough said. Just look at other handmade tools like Mike Wenzloff's saws, Ron Breese's planes, Wayne Anderson's planes and the list goes on. I simply believe that you get out what you put in. When someone cares to put part of themselves into a tool they make it can't help but be a better tool than one make by machine only. Just look at a Stanley plane. It's just a kit until you take the time to personely tune and fet the plane into a usuable tool.
    Charlie Mastro
    Mastro Woodworking & Design
    Joseph, OR

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by Charlie Mastro View Post
    Well done Wilbur. It sometimes suprises me what lengths we have to go to prove how superior Japanese tools are to their western counterparts.
    What are the superior aspects of a Japanese tool compared to its western counterpart? I'm primarily interested in the physical (measurable) aspects of the tool (or use) and not the spiritual aspects.

    Mike
    Go into the world and do well. But more importantly, go into the world and do good.

  7. #7

    Wink

    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Henderson View Post
    What are the superior aspects of a Japanese tool compared to its western counterpart? I'm primarily interested in the physical (measurable) aspects of the tool (or use) and not the spiritual aspects.

    Mike
    Mike,

    I know from my reading of your posts that you will NEVER GET the spiritual aspects of anything! It's not in your nature. You are an engineer and I don't expect you to see life from the other side. The side we can't show on paper.

    But Wilbur did show show you the physical aspects very well indeed. I just added my 2 cents for no added value what so ever.
    Charlie Mastro
    Mastro Woodworking & Design
    Joseph, OR

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by Charlie Mastro View Post
    Mike,

    I know from my reading of your posts that you will NEVER GET the spiritual aspects of anything! It's not in your nature. You are an engineer and I don't expect you to see life from the other side. The side we can't show on paper.

    But Wilbur did show show you the physical aspects very well indeed. I just added my 2 cents for no added value what so ever.
    Actually, Wilbur was very careful to not make any gereralized claims for the superiority of Japanese chisels over western chisels. He demonstrated that he can cut cocobolo with a good quality Japanese chisel.

    There's nothing wrong in appreciating spritual qualities, but the spiritual qualities are not within the tool, but within you. And because of that, not everyone will have the same spiritual feeling.

    My objection to your general statement that Japanese tools are superior to western tools is that the statement only applies to "believers" unless you can provide some physical evidence. If you want to make such general statements, you should condition them to indicate that the statement only applies to those who have drunk the kool-aid.

    Mike
    Last edited by Mike Henderson; 05-04-2008 at 1:07 PM.
    Go into the world and do well. But more importantly, go into the world and do good.

  9. #9
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    Mike

    In my experience, the tools aren't brittle; they're hard and tough.

    The blade portion of Japanese chisels (excluding shanks and handles) is relatively short; conversely, most Western chisels have longish blades. More metal, yes, but that can also make it less easy to control your cut. Long is nice for turning tools, and mortise chisels to an extent (timber framing, for instance); not so much with bench chisels.

    The Japanese carpenters I worked with explained the hollow as primarily for tool control, not flattening; they saw it as an aid to prevent the tool from being levered away from the work by the back. Like any hollow ground edge, it's for clearance, I guess.

    Without having done my dissertation on the tools, I started with typical American and English tools but found a lot to like when I was introduced to Japanese tools. They're fabulous carpenters -- the best I've ever seen at hand work -- and have developed tools to match their skills.

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by Frank Drew View Post
    In my experience, the tools aren't brittle; they're hard and tough.
    And there it is; saying Japanese chisels are better than Western chisels is like saying Grizzly is better than Powermatic. Each makes good and bad tools. If I use a poor Powermatic drill press or a poor Japanese chisel and a good Grizzly Table saw or a good Western chisel does that make all Grizzly or Western tools better?

    There are varying qualities in most all 'makers' today and each persons experience will be slanted a bit on that specific experience. We all have probably been guilty at one time or another of letting one bad apple spoil the bunch, opinion-wise.
    “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” -- George Orwell


  11. #11
    "...the statement only applies to those who have drunk the kool-aid...."

    Hic.....

    Also, it should be kept in mind that Japanese chisels are "all over the place" when to comes to hardness. Many artisan makers pride themselves in their ability to temper steel to unheard of levels of hardness. Then there is the plethora of different alloys, many of which are based on "secret" formulas that are passed from generation to generation which can affect the hardness/brittleness of the steel.

    Toshio Odate, in his book "Japanese Tools, etc" makes a big point of the fact that Japanese blades need to be used for varying periods of time in order to achieve their best performance. He states that the steel may be way too hard and brittle when "new" but that, with repeated use and sharpening, the temper of the steel is refined in subtile ways. This all may just be so much more "hooie" but it might serve to explain why some people find these tools much more difficult to manage than others.

    Om
    David DeCristoforo

  12. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by David DeCristoforo View Post
    "...the statement only applies to those who have drunk the kool-aid...."

    Hic.....

    Also, it should be kept in mind that Japanese chisels are "all over the place" when to comes to hardness. Many artisan makers pride themselves in their ability to temper steel to unheard of levels of hardness. Then there is the plethora of different alloys, many of which are based on "secret" formulas that are passed from generation to generation which can affect the hardness/brittleness of the steel.

    Toshio Odate, in his book "Japanese Tools, etc" makes a big point of the fact that Japanese blades need to be used for varying periods of time in order to achieve their best performance. He states that the steel may be way too hard and brittle when "new" but that, with repeated use and sharpening, the temper of the steel is refined in subtile ways. This all may just be so much more "hooie" but it might serve to explain why some people find these tools much more difficult to manage than others.

    Om
    I absolutely agree with you, David. I believe the best Japanese tools are those that strike a good (the best for the particular user) balance between hardness and toughness. And a lot depends upon the technique of the user.

    I'm not opposed to Japanese tools. I'm glad we have the choice - some people find they are the best tools for their use.

    But when someone claims that all Japanese tools are superior to all western tools, my skepticism alarm goes off.

    Mike
    Go into the world and do well. But more importantly, go into the world and do good.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Henderson View Post
    ...
    I'm not opposed to Japanese tools. I'm glad we have the choice - some people find they are the best tools for their use.

    But when someone claims that all Japanese tools are superior to all western tools, my skepticism alarm goes off.
    Mike, we've gone through this before. When the only Japanese chisels you've tried are the cheapos from Grizzly, you can not speak about Japanesse chisels in general. This experience says only that cheap Japanese chisels don't perform well. Well, neither do cheap western chisels.

    Pam

  14. Wilbur,

    This was a very interesting thread - thank for putting it together. My disclaimer is that I have never used a japanese chisel. I own, or have owned, a set of Marples, Ashley Iles, 2 cherries, and Lie-Nielsen. SO I'm obviously not a water-carrier for Japanese tools. In fact, I initially avoided japanese chisels precisely because of the 'truisms' about edge chipping. I now seriously doubt that truism, not jsut because of this thread, but bvecause I've seen so many like it. For every bit of solid info (case in point) there are a couple of dozen of repetitions about the edge chipping. Problem is, I can't find much solid testing that bears the assertions that japanese chisels chip easily out. And trust me: testing only a Grizzly japanese chisel is, to me, no more useful than testing a HF western chisel as representative of all western designs.

    Please understand, I do not mean this to be personal, or an offense - but I think it's important. Sorry if it seems to point largely to one person, but it cannot be helped here. Please accept my sincere disclaimer: this is not an ad hominem criticism. The original questioner is in no way shape or form the only person to make such claims, or even a particularly egregious such claimant.

    But a statement was taken to task here, and disproven (One DT chopped in cocobolo will chip a J chisel in short order and elave you in trouble). Then the original statement was modified (well - one DT isn't enough) and disproven again. Then it was again modified (well, material changed), and still there is defense of the truism. FInally, it descends to 'well, it should have been done with lower quality japanese chisels' to the point that the intent of the original statement has been completely warped.

    If the original statement had been 'the problem with japanese chisels is that if you chop a dovetail in ciocbolo, and then 6 or 8 more in 8/4 white oak, and use a very inexpensive chisel, you'll be in big big trouble'..

    well, I think there would have been a lot less conflict.

    I am not asking this to be contentious. But as someone who began their use of HT's largely based on info from these forums, I like to keep in mind the hard-learned lesson that it's often very very hard to know what advice to take, and what not to take. My question for those who 'disagree' with the results in this case, for instance, is: how much actual experience do you personally have with the tools you criticize?

    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Henderson View Post
    There's nothing wrong in appreciating spritual qualities, but the spiritual qualities are not within the tool, but within you. And because of that, not everyone will have the same spiritual feeling.
    Mike, I absolutely understand your point here, but I would like to disagree somewhat with your assertion: The 'spirituality' is not in the tool, or the user - it's in the unseen area uniting the two. It may sound odd to an engineer when couched in 'spiritual' jargon, but really it's just the assertion that there are some tools that perform better for some users, and we can't fully explain the 'whys'. We have all experienced the feeling of 'rightness' that certain tools have. Whether there's a solid engineering explanation or not is not the final test: the results are.

    I contend that not only are the 'unexplainable' aspects of a certain tool important: it's often the most important thing. Find me a half-decent review that doesn't include somewhere a very heavy emphasis on 'you really have to try this tool to know how it works for you."

    Isn't that the same as saying 'the spiritual aspects' - or the combination of tool and user - is in fact the MOST important aspect of any tool?



    edit to add: Thanks all for a very interesting discussion.

    Wilbur: I note with interest that we live fairly close to one another. I live in Flemington, and would like to some day have the chance to get some chance to see your tools. Maybe we could do a day of 'east and west' tool comparing?
    Last edited by Raney Nelson; 05-05-2008 at 10:50 AM.

  15. #15
    Quote Originally Posted by Raney Nelson View Post
    Mike, I absolutely understand your point here, but I would like to disagree somewhat with your assertion: The 'spirituality' is not in the tool, or the user - it's in the unseen area uniting the two. It may sound odd to an engineer when couched in 'spiritual' jargon, but really it's just the assertion that there are some tools that perform better for some users, and we can't fully explain the 'whys'. We have all experienced the feeling of 'rightness' that certain tools have. Whether there's a solid engineering explanation or not is not the final test: the results are.

    I contend that not only are the 'unexplainable' aspects of a certain tool important: it's often the most important thing. Find me a half-decent review that doesn't include somewhere a very heavy emphasis on 'you really have to try this tool to know how it works for you."

    Isn't that the same as saying 'the spiritual aspects' - or the combination of tool and user - is in fact the MOST important aspect of any tool?
    Raney - I don't really disagree with you but perhaps we have assigned different meanings to the term "spirituality". I have tools that I have the same feeling about that you described - the tool just "fits" me and works well. But I don't call that spirituality.

    And I'm especially skeptical when westerners start talking spirituality about eastern things.

    I have a number of old western tools (chisels and wooden planes) and I enjoy using them because of the connection I feel with the past while using them. I view myself a part of a continuum of users - I visualize the users of the past, as well as the users of the future who get these tools after I'm gone.

    I suppose someone could call that a spiritual connection (I don't) but even if it is a spiritual connection, I would not make the leap to say that old western tools are superior to any other tools, modern or Asian, just because I had a spiritual connection when using those tools.

    But in any case, if I'm describing the advantages of the tool to someone who has never used it before, I have to rely on a description of the superior physical attributes to convince the other person to try the tool. Trying to convince them that they will have a spiritual experience when they use the tool is a difficult argument.

    Mike
    Go into the world and do well. But more importantly, go into the world and do good.

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