I thought I’d show some relatively decently priced Japanese chisels, and share an experience. One of my friends, Jameel Abraham from Benchcrafted, shared with me his good results using Fujihiro Japanese chisels. Jameel was pleasantly surprised at how well these chisels held their edge, even when working American hardwoods. Many of the Japanese woodworkers from the past used woods that were much less harsh on cutting tools, and some of the Japanese tools could be prone to chipping when used on American hardwoods or exotics. The Fujihiro brand seems to be up to the task.
I followed Jameel’s lead, and bought a couple of the Fujihiro line of tools. I’ve always thought having a slick in my toolkit would be useful, so I chose a 30mm (1 1/16″) Fujihiro slick. To go along with that, and since I like making dovetailed joints, I also picked up a 4.5mm (3/16″) Fujihiro chisel. Both tools have traditional red oak handles, which looks good and will hold up over time. Both chisel and slick show signs of great craftsmanship, as the hard steel to soft iron weld is very consistent.
The slick is intended to be driven with hand pressure only, so has no hoop at the end of the handle. The 4.5mm chisel does come with a hoop, but as is fairly usual on Japanese chisels, it needs to be set. The hoop comes on the end of the handle, and to the uninitiated, it can look like it’s ready for work right away. The way I handle setting hoops, is to completely remove it, compress the area of the handle where it will reside, making sure to work about 1/16″-1/8″ longer than the hoop. To compress the wood, I take a small hammer and make light strikes over the complete area where the hoop will sit. This will allow the hoop to slide onto the handle, with extra wood beyond the end of the hoop. I spread this extra wood, using careful hammer blows, making the wood move from the center towards the outer edge, and ultimately over the edges of the hoop. This should secure the hoop for a long time, if not for the life of the tool. Some suggest soaking the end of the handle in water, to make the fibers swell, but I think that might lead to failure. I have handles with hoops that I set over 10 years ago, that are showing no problems. I expect the compressed wood in the handle likely absorbs small amounts of moisture from the air, whenever it’s humid, which gently swells the fibers back to size, helping to lock the hoop in place.
|30mm Slick, 4.5mm chisel & Lie-Nielsen chisel for comparison (left to right).|
When these tools arrived, the metal was coated with what felt like a thin layer of lacquer, which made the tools feel somewhat dull. Rather than just taking them to my water stone, I opted to remove the coating in a well ventilated area. I put some lacquer thinner on a paper towel, and applied liberally until the coating was removed. (*Note: Make sure to either wear a properly rated mask or work where there is adequate ventilation; Wear gloves to protect your skin; Make sure to dispose of rags properly, as lacquer thinner is flammable.) After the coating was removed, I was surprised to find the slick felt like it was shaving sharp, or at least close to it. I tried paring some hard maple, and it worked as if I’d just sharpened it. I’ll still give them both a final honing, just so I get the best possible results from my tools. For this I’ll use my water stones, and may even go all the way up to my 30,000 grit natural Japanese stone. There is something about the traditional look these natural stones give the laminated tools, that is subtly different than the man-made water stones. Honestly, even if you just go up to a man-made 8000 grit water stone, it’ll work wonderfully.
As I’m still getting over my back surgery, it may be a little while until I can give my thoughts on the small chisel, but I’ll share this info as soon as I have something useful.
Both of the Fujihiro tools came from Hida Tool in Berkeley California. Their contact information is: (510) 524-3700 or (800) 443-5512, and they are very nice folks.
Please let me know if you have any questions or suggestions for future posts.