First page of the Japanese tools archive.

Fujihiro Japanese chisel, and a slick

Posted by is9582 on June 8, 2012 with No Commentsas , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

Sharpening – Do I need to go to 30,000 grit?

Posted by is9582 on March 2, 2012 with No Commentsas , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Like many of you, I sharpen on a very regular basis. I’ve tried most of the different sharpening media that is presently available, along with some that are not so readily found any longer. I’ll share some of the results, and hopefully answer the title question.

When I first got into woodworking, I purchased three King water stones in grits up to 6000. I had decent results, but the lower grit stones dished so quickly that it seemed like I was spending too much time trying to keep them flat. At that point, I didn’t have any diamond stones, with which to quickly flatten the water stones.

Later on, I bought a WorkSharp 3000, thinking it would not only sharpen, but provide rapid repeatable results. Another of the major selling points for me, was the ability to flatten the backs of old chisels, without spending hours at a stone. The highest grit was again 6000. One thing I noticed that seemed to be even more important for the finest grit sheet, was laying the sheet completely flat. Since the grit size is so small, on the fine sheets, a small bubble or leftover residue on the plate can cause uneven honing. One accessory they added, after I “parked” my WorkSharp, is the leather honing wheel. I have not tried this option, but it may offer some of what I perceive as the missing precision, at the final honing process. One caveat to know, is leather will compress, which may not sound like a problem. Depending on the thickness of the leather, the amount of compression can vary, and cause some unwanted results. One such negative result would be a slight rounding over of the tool edge. This may not show itself, until your next sharpening. Put some black marker on the surface you wish to check, out to the very edge. Work the tool in the normal manner, at the grit at which you normally start. After a quick touch to the media, check to see if any of the marker remains, at the very edge. If it does, this indicates the very edge has at minimum, a slight rounding. Since I haven’t personally played with their leather honing wheel, I can’t advise as to its compression factor, but a light touch is suggested. The WorkSharp, in my configuration, provided decent results.

The next sharpening system I purchased was a Tormek T-7. One of the selling points for this system, is it has a large number of accessories that make it possible to sharpen almost anything. For my needs, that part was overkill, since I primarily wanted to quickly and easily sharpen my chisels and plane irons. The T-7’s sharpening wheel has a grit size of 220, which using the provided stone grader, can be modified to act as a 1000 grit. It works well, but as you might imagine, even after going to it’s leather stropping wheel, the tool sharpened was no where near a 6000 grit sharpness. On tools such as turning gouges and the like, the level of sharpness from the T-7 was certainly adequate. Tormek has additional sharpening wheels, of which, one is a 4000 grit Japanese stone. I have not tried this stone, but it is still an option, for those wishing a finer edge, while still using the Tormek. For optimal results, chisels and plane irons still needed, at minimum, some light attention on an 8000 grit stone.

I own both Norton 220/1000 & 4000/8000 water stones, as well as Shapton Glass stones in 1000 & 16000 grits. The Norton stones have a medium matrix, so they both provide new abrasive regularly, but it’s strong enough that they don’t dish as quickly as the King stones. Even with this said, I flatten these stones either between each tool, or after a minute or two of use. This may sound compulsive, but it’s what is required to know you are not unintentionally adding shape to an edge. The Shapton Glass stone series is a ceramic matrix that is quite a bit stronger than the Norton’s matrix. With this, they dish much less quickly, while still sharpening quite rapidly. I still flatten these regularly, but I can probably work a bit longer, before it’s needed. Since they sharpen quickly, it’s unusual to spend more time on a stone, than it can stay flat, other than potentially the 1000 stone. While I don’t use the Shapton stones as regularly, I keep them for sharpening non-flat items such as carving tools. The harder matrix helps them hold up to the tough contact of this type of tool, much better than a softer stone. Both Norton and Shapton water stones, at these grits, provide an extremely sharp tool that I can trust to be razor sharp.

Ok, ok, I haven’t mentioned anything in my kit that is close to a 30000 grit. How can I try to compare tools sharpened via these stones/devices to a tool at 30000 grit, if I don’t actually have a 30000 grit stone? Yeah, that wouldn’t be cool. As it happens, I do actually have a couple of natural Japanese water stones, that are each in the 25000 – 35000 grit range. I have tested both American and German made tool steels as well as Japanese tool steels on these stones. Can I tell the difference? Hmmm, that’s a good question. I really don’t think I can tell much difference in the non-Japanese tools. Once something is razor sharp (e.g. reaching the 8000 grit range), it’s exceedingly hard to feel much difference in the way it interacts with wood, at higher grits. On my best Japanese chisels, I can tell the sharpness is enhanced, even though it isn’t hugely different, as you might find moving from 6000 to 8000 grits. Beyond the sharpening aspect, the natural Japanese water stones leave a different finish on the tools. This is most noticeable on the laminated Japanese tools, although still viewable on almost all tools. With the laminated tools, these water stones leave a different finish on the hardened steel compared to the soft iron. The hardened steel looks almost like a cold mirror, that someone has breathed on, leaving the foggy myst. This is much more pronounced than when sharpening these laminated tools on other stones. Other tools will also take on this non-shiny texture, and strangely, it is still amazingly sharp.

Many people look at a tool’s edge, and if sharp, expect to see a mirrored type of reflection. Just a reminder that shiny does not always equal sharp, especially if the sharpener did not hone at an angle sufficient to reach the very edge. When you sharpen, make sure you raise a burr on the opposite side, so you know you’ve actually reached the edge. Otherwise you may just make something shiny.

Is it necessary to sharpen a tool to 30000 grit? For me, no, but this seems like a more personal question. I think as long as you sharpen to 8000 grit, as a minimum, you’ll have tools that make woodworking what it’s suppose to be. FUN! Go make some shavings.