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

  1. #16
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    Cocbolo

    Wibur,

    I appreciate the effort and i'm not trying to be a naysayer. I just dont think its entirely fair that you only cut ONE "dovetail" in cocobolo and then went to oak.

    Dont worry about chopping more notches, it doesnt matter really. youve got a fine chisel there and that is apparant.

    Thanks,

    dan

  2. #17
    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.

  3. How about a magnified shot of the cutting edge?

    If I'm not mistaken I think I already see some deterioration in the cutting edge in this shot:
    Last edited by Grant Vanbokklen; 05-04-2008 at 3:04 PM.

  4. #19
    Hey Dan... I hope you can take some "good natured ribbing". Here goes... It was your comment "If you were to try to use a japanese chisel to chop a dovetail on cocobolo, you'd be up $#!+ creek after the first mallet blow..." that started this whole thing in the first place. So Wilber puts it to the test and not only does his chisel survive the first "mallet blow" without sending him up "$#!+ creek", it survives the entire process. So then you come back with "...but, is ONE dovetail really putting anything to rest here?". So the guy goes back and chisels the livin' daylights out of end grain oak and you come back with "I just dont think its entirely fair that you only cut ONE "dovetail" in cocobolo and then went to oak." So now he's "cheating" because he's cutting oak? And not just any oak but white oak which is much harder and tougher than your garden variety red oak. Of course, I'm sure that in your shop where you make all of your drawer sides out of cocobolo and join them all with hand cut dovetails, you could put a chisel to a much more rigidly structured test. Sorry dude... you're goin' down in smoke here.....

    And to Brent: Would your comment that "You're using an Imai chisel, one of the better quality tools out there." not also apply to "western style" tools? You are, in effect, saying that the "test" is not valid because the tool used was not a poor quality one. But a poor quality "western style" chisel would fare no better than a poor quality Japanese chisel.
    David DeCristoforo

  5. #20
    Quote Originally Posted by Dan Barr View Post
    Wibur,

    I appreciate the effort and i'm not trying to be a naysayer. I just dont think its entirely fair that you only cut ONE "dovetail" in cocobolo and then went to oak.

    Dont worry about chopping more notches, it doesnt matter really. youve got a fine chisel there and that is apparant.

    Thanks,

    dan
    Dan - Let me support Wilbur here. A good Japanese chisel, one that strikes a good balance between hardness and toughness, can do essentially anything that a good western chisel can do - especially in the hands of an experienced user.

    The choice between the two is like the choice between LN chisels and Barr chisels - really up to the user.

    My own preference is for a western chisel because I find Japanese chisels (at least the ones I've used) to be too hard and I don't like the handles on Japanese chisels.

    But Japanese craftspeople have been doing woodwork with those chisels for centuries. If there was a problem, they would have fixed it by now.

    I think every woodworker should try Japanese chisels at some time in their career just to be a well rounded woodworker. You may like them or you may not like them. I don't think they're the best for a beginning woodworker because I think they're not as tolerant of mistakes as western chisels (it's easier to damage the edge).

    Mike
    Last edited by Mike Henderson; 05-04-2008 at 3:18 PM.
    Go into the world and do well. But more importantly, go into the world and do good.

  6. #21
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    Youre correct David,

    And i dont mind the ribbing. But taking the expression "after the first mallet blow" literally, does no good here. i should have said what i meant in that the harder edges are more susceptible to catastrophic failure (chipping) in woods like cocobolo or lignum vitae.

    I didnt expect anyone to put an Imai to the test. but i dont mind that either. I would rather have seen one of the woodcraft japanese chisels used here. that would have been a different story altogether.

    Nonetheless, Wilbur has rightly defended his Imai and proven that it is a superior chisel. not even my LN mortise chisels run through white oak that easily. now im thinking about getting me one of those Imais for myself.

    if anything, the thread has helped reached an objective point about at least one japanese chisel. that is worth more than 100 posts full of banter and BS.

    Now, how much do those Imais cost?

    ciao,

    dan

  7. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by David DeCristoforo View Post

    And to Brent: Would your comment that "You're using an Imai chisel, one of the better quality tools out there." not also apply to "western style" tools? You are, in effect, saying that the "test" is not valid because the tool used was not a poor quality one. But a poor quality "western style" chisel would fare no better than a poor quality Japanese chisel.
    Hi David,

    Either I wrote it wrong , or you read it wrong , but I wasn't trying to imply that the "test" wasn't valid. I was merely pointing out that Dan's statement could hold true depending on the quality of tool used, western or Japanese. The fact that Wilbur cut a dovetail in Cocobolo shows the opposite to be true also.....a good quality tool is a good quality tool in either western or Japanese style. As a matter of fact, I'm currently building a box from Cocobolo and using my Imai sword steel chisels to do it.....they cut like butter through the wood.

  8. #23
    "...a good quality tool is a good quality tool in either western or Japanese style..."

    I'm "wit chew" on that.....

    "Now, how much do those Imais cost?"

    "Fujihiro" chisels by Chutaro Imai here:
    http://www.hidatool.com/shop/shop.html

    Actually, these are very reasonably priced for a Japanese "artisan made" chisel at around five hundred (gag) for a set of ten.
    David DeCristoforo

  9. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by David DeCristoforo View Post
    "...a good quality tool is a good quality tool in either western or Japanese style..."

    I'm "wit chew" on that.....

    "Now, how much do those Imais cost?"

    "Fujihiro" chisels by Chutaro Imai here:
    http://www.hidatool.com/shop/shop.html

    Actually, these are very reasonably priced for a Japanese "artisan made" chisel at around five hundred (gag) for a set of ten.
    Hi David,

    The sword steel chisels were a bit more expensive, but ....WOW!!!!!!!

  10. #25
    "The sword steel chisels were a bit more expensive..."

    The chisels I have would cost considerably more also. But the ones Hida sells are a good "compromise" between quality and price.
    David DeCristoforo

  11. #26
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    Quote Originally Posted by Grant Vanbokklen View Post
    How about a magnified shot of the cutting edge?
    Ask and ye shall receive.

    This is what the front and back of the chisel looks like after chopping the cocobolo and the white oak. Still haven't resharpened it yet.





    The "deterioration in the cutting edge" in the photo you pointed out is really wood dust that caused a weird reflection. You can see that the vast majority of the edge is clean, and the only thing I can see is a tiny chip in the corner. It may appear that there is a small chip about a quarter of the way over in the second picture, but that's really a weird reflection. (It's amazing how hard it is to photograph a chisel edge.)

    To the naked eye, it's really hard to see this chip on the chisel.

    Chip/edge breakdown issues aside, the point remains that I can get clean endgrain shavings in pine with this chisel after chopping multiple times through two inches of cocobolo and 8/4 white oak.

    To everyone in this thread:

    The reason I decided to try this out is because on this and other woodworking fora I keep reading statements like the following:

    • "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)"
    • "You have to be careful with Japanese chisels compared to western chisels or the edge will chip, which then requires more major sharpening."
    • "I'd recommend the older western chisels and the LN chisels before I'd recommend spending the large sums required for name brand Japanese chisels."
    • "I don't think [Japanese chisels are] the best for a beginning woodworker because I think they're not as tolerant of mistakes as western chisels (it's easier to damage the edge)."

    I'm not trying to single anyone out, which is why I anonymized the quotes. But I think that there is a great deal of misinformation about Japanese tools and their capabilities.

    It is a misperception that Japanese tools are only useful for softwoods. Much woodworking in Japan was done with softwoods. But a significant amount of woodworking was done in hardwood as well. Case in point: the bodies of Japanese planes are almost exclusively made of Japanese white oak. The same chisels were used to chop out the opening of these wooden plane bodies as were used on softwoods. A search of antique Japanese furniture will turn up pieces made with keyaki (zelkova), and chestnut (kuri), both of which are hardwoods.

    It is also a misperception that Japanese chisels are prone to chipping. This statement is no more true than saying, "Western chisels roll their edge all the time." Once you get into an adequate level of quality in Japanese chisels, the chipping issue goes away. And no, I don't count the Grizzly or Woodcraft Japanese chisel sets as an adequate level of quality for Japanese chisels, any more than I would consider Grizzly or Woodcraft house brand western chisels as an adequate representation of quality for western chisels. Hopefully this demo puts that issue to rest.

    It is also a misperception that quality Japanese tools have to be super expensive. The Imai chisels that I use, at $50-55 each in the 1" or less sizes, are definitely competitive in price to Lie-Nielsen bevel edge socket chisels, which are $50 each except for the 1" size which is $65. (1" is the largest LN chisel available.) The set of 5 LN bevel edge socket chisels (1/8, 1/4, 3/8, 1/2, 3/4") goes for $250. A set of 5 Imai chisels in the same sizes is $258.30. There are more expensive Japanese chisels out there, but you don't need them to get good performance.

    I do think that Japanese chisels are good for the beginner. If it's okay to recommend LN chisels for a beginner, it's also okay to recommend Imai chisels for the beginner, since the cost is the same. The big advantages that I see with Japanese chisels (specifically my Imai chisels) are:

    • You don't have to learn how to sharpen a microbevel to get excellent results, which means that you can stop relying on jigs for sharpening.
    • The relatively larger bevel area on a Japanese chisel compared to western chisels also makes freehand sharpening easier than with western chisels.
    • Although the Japanese steels used in the cutting layer are very hard, with waterstones they are as easy or easier to sharpen than the A2 chisels I've run across, including the Lie-Nielsens.
    • I haven't found the western chisel yet that has the same edge edurance that I have with my Imai chisels.

    Finally, I don't understand the issue of using my Imai chisels as a test subject, in the "Well, of course this chisel did so well -- it's an Imai chisel, after all!" sense. This chisel costs $49.20 today, same as a Lie-Nielsen 1/8" bench chisel. In addition, this chisel is actually middle of the road as far as Japanese chisels go. It's not like I used a super high end chisel for this demo.

    I don't get the sense that if the situation was reversed, and I had used a Lie-Nielsen chisel to test the proposition that western chisels can't deal with cocobolo because the edge would get rolled after one mallet blow, anyone would think that it wasn't an appropriate test because I used a Lie-Nielsen instead of a Grizzly house brand chisel.

    In any case, this test was fun for me, and I hope that it settles some of the misperceptions about Japanese chisels.

  12. #27
    Well, I was the one who said I would not recommend Japanese chisels to a beginning woodworker. I would also not recommend LN chisels to a beginning woodworker - I would recommend chisels that were significantly less expensive. The woodworking school I attended recommends the Marples blue handle chisels which can be purchased for less than $50 for a set. Beginning woodworkers have so many expenses that $50 (each) chisels are a significant obstacle unless the person is wealthy.

    I also find that Japanese chisels chip their edges easier than western chisels. And based on the fact that Japanese chisels are heat treated harder, that's pretty hard to deny (the harder the chisel, the easier it chips). There's no magic in the metal - and if there were, other chisel manufacturers would use that magic also.

    It may be that some Japanese chisels are not as hard and thus do not chip as easily - which makes them more like western chisels.

    And certainly in the hands of an experienced woodworker, the Japanese chisel is less likely to chip. But put them in the hands of a beginning woodworker and you will have more problems. My continuing belief is that a beginning western woodworker is best served by learning on western chisels.

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

  13. #28
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    Hi Mike,

    Two points of information:

    The Imai chisels are hardened to Rockwell 64, so if they are not chipping, it's not because they are one of the softer Japanese chisels. For comparison, the Lie-Nielsen bevel edge socket chisels, which are made of A2, are hardened to Rockwell 60-62.

    This was one of the first chisels I bought, and I would still consider my woodworking skills to be on the beginner side. I also wasn't too delicate in my chisel pounding in this demo (I finished the white oak part of the test in just about 30 minutes of chopping), so if this Japanese chisel isn't chipping, it's not because of any special skill on my part. In fact, I've never chipped my Imai chisels, but I have put some good nicks in the Marples set I have.

    As far as initial chisel purchase, I started with the same set of Marples. This Imai was part of the second chisel purchase that I made. Looking back, I think that it's probably better for a beginner to get one really good 1/4" or 1/2" chisel to start with than a set of mediocre chisels. I only use the Marples chisels now as a beater set because I find that they don't hold an edge for very long. But I don't extrapolate that experience to all western chisels.
    Last edited by Wilbur Pan; 05-05-2008 at 8:42 AM.

  14. #29
    I've never had a problem with the edges of my Japanese chisels chipping and I work mainly with hardwoods. When you are working with a new chisels you may have some issues with chipping but once you have sharpened them a couple times the problem should be resolved, same with Kanna blades. In my opinion Japanese chisels take and hold a better edge, they are all I use.

    Dale
    DJO Furniture Maker / Timberwerks Studio 木材場

  15. 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.

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