Old Men and their Tools Part One
It’s perhaps ambitious at the age of 65 to be ordering a new set of chisels. And I haven’t gone that far, but I have ordered two or three. In the late 1970’s when Jim Krenov started talking about using Japanese tools I picked up on that and was able to buy, from a famous master blacksmith called Ouchi-san. I bought from him, not a full set, but four then extremely expensive chisels. They have served me for over 35 years and still do a good job. And I’m now buying from his son, Ouchi-san Jr. I have to say the workmanship appears to be absolutely superb. Small, craftsman blacksmiths have not fared well in the past 20 years, and I think it’s good to support makers. People like Ouchi-san, workmen and women who strive to do the very best workmanship they can. I buy most of my tools from Japan from http://japantool-iida.com and I buy from a man called Tomohito -san. Over the years, he’s guided me pretty carefully to buy planes, chisels and stones and though it may not be the cheapest way to buy Japanese tools I think that, for me, it puts me in the way of pretty good advice. And in the long run appears to save me money!
When I bought tools from his father they were Ebony handled and I wanted to leave off the steel hoops on the ends of the chisels. This was a huge mistake! Japanese chisels are made to be hit with a steel hammer and the hoop is there to stop the end of the chisel splitting. Some of my chisels have been wrecked, but most have only survived because I’ve used a nylon faced hammer. Really there are times you just want to hit the damn thing hard. Now all my newer Japanese chisels are fitted with a steel hoop.
The fitting of the hoop is quite important. When the new chisel comes to you the hoop is there, but it’s not in its proper place. To get the hoop fitted further down the handle you have to first take it off then cut a small rebate about a quarter of an inch further down from where the hoop is seated flush with the end of the handle. The idea is to seat the hoop with a quarter of an inch of handle poking through the hoop. This is now soaked in water over night and then hammered over to provide a domed shaped face to the end of the chisel that covers the steel hoop. So when you’re hammering with a steel hammer, you only hit wood rather than the steel. The function of the steel band around the end of the chisel is also intended to support the timber and prevent splitting.