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

  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
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    Hi Wilbur,

    Thanks for that demo. In all fairness to Dan, I think we have to put things in a bit of context though. You're using an Imai chisel, one of the better quality tools out there. I've tried using lower quality Japanese chisels on exotics and have been very disappointed in the outcome. I've also used Imai and Miyanaga chisels and been as satisfied as you were in this demo. Japanese tools, as with western tools, will only perform as well as they are made.

  7. #7
    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.

  8. #8
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    Japanese chisels

    Thanks for the report, Wilbur; it's consistent with my experience.

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    Mike

    In addition to the hardness of the steel and the ability to take, and keep, a very sharp edge, I really like the geometry of traditional Japanese chisels, their shapes simply make for more aggressive cutting than any of my good Western chisels, either bench or mortise. I think the hollow backs have a lot to do with that; the tools don't "belly" against the back of the work, throwing your cut off.

    Japanese carpenters like to sharpen their chisels with a very slight hollow in the middle of the edge (the opposite of how they sharpen plane blades); the purpose is to let the two corners of the chisel hit the cut line marginally ahead of the rest of the edge so that the chisel doesn't inadvertently pivot off the mark, however slightly. I never mastered sharpening that way, however; when I asked I was just told to concentrate harder . (Maybe they use the corner of the stone to work the middle of the edge a bit more than the corners.)

  10. #10

    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

  11. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by Frank Drew View Post
    Mike

    In addition to the hardness of the steel and the ability to take, and keep, a very sharp edge, I really like the geometry of traditional Japanese chisels, their shapes simply make for more aggressive cutting than any of my good Western chisels, either bench or mortise. I think the hollow backs have a lot to do with that; the tools don't "belly" against the back of the work, throwing your cut off.

    Japanese carpenters like to sharpen their chisels with a very slight hollow in the middle of the edge (the opposite of how they sharpen plane blades); the purpose is to let the two corners of the chisel hit the cut line marginally ahead of the rest of the edge so that the chisel doesn't inadvertently pivot off the mark, however slightly. I never mastered sharpening that way, however; when I asked I was just told to concentrate harder . (Maybe they use the corner of the stone to work the middle of the edge a bit more than the corners.)
    Frank - thank you for the info. The hardness of the steel is something that's been discussed here quite a bit. The issue is the tradeoff between hardness (and edge holding ability) and toughness (the ability to resist fracture).

    I don't understand your comment about the geometry of the chisel - would you mind expanding on that, please? Perhaps you're referring to the hollow in the back of the chisel. Others may have a different experience, but I never noticed any difference in use because of that hollow. And all books about Japanese chisels say that the hollow is primarily to allow easier flattening of the back of the chisel. I don't understand how a hollow would be any better than a flat back in actual use.

    The issue of sharpening is not inherent to the chisel, as far as I can see. It seems to me that you could sharpen either a western or eastern chisel that way, so I would not catagorize that as unique to Japanese chisels, but more of a technique of the craftsman.

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

  12. #12
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    This is a fine demonstration of a chisel and its ability.
    It would really be great if there were some examples of western chisels thrown in to see what they do.

    jim

  13. #13
    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.

  14. #14
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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.

  15. #15
    "...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

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