Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Now there's a chisel...

I have spent some considerable time searching the web for an information site about chisels and I can't find one. Not one. There are numerous sites about planes offering more information about them then I am ever going to need to know and there are web sites dedicated to just about every saw manufacturer that ever produced a decent one. Heck, I even found one dedicated to the topic of axes, but darned if I can find one dedicated to chisels. I don't understand this. Why are chisels treated as secondary citizens? If you work with hand tools you use chisels a lot. To me, they are the basis of any tool cabinet.

I seemed to have become hooked on the Stanley 40's. When I made the decision to buy a set, I found that a complete set was going for anywhere from $1500.00 to $2200.00. I even saw one 2" that had a price tag of $229.00 on it. One chisel!

Because of the cost of the set and the fact that I had never held one in my hands before I thought it might be a good idea to buy just one and have a look. It was back to eBay where I found a really good 1 1/4" that I picked up for $40.00. When it arrived, I did what I had to do to make it usable. Wow. What an amazing tool. There is a balance to that chisel that I have never experienced before, it takes an edge beautifully and holds it, and it really is a pretty tool.

The most amazing fact about the 40's, though, is that these 80 to 100 year old chisels arrive with their backs as flat as flat could be. All that I have acquired so far have not required any serious lapping, just enough to remove the stains and give them a polishing. It really is incredible.

Because my first purchase was so good I thought it would be smart, not to mention cheaper, to put a set together piecemeal. I do keep making mistake after mistake, don't I? The other day I got to double my collection of them when two more arrived, a 1/2" and a 1". These are not in as good of shape as my previous two, but once I cleaned them up, they are still far better than any of the other brands I own.

I'm a collector's nightmare. I clean these old chisels with turps and steel wool, lightly sand the handles to get rid of as much crud as I can without removing much of the wood, sharpen the edge and lap the back, then give the whole thing multiple coats of paste wax. I use Johnson's paste wax as supposedly it does not have the no-no ingredients some of the other paste waxes have.

Here's what I started out with...

I cheat and use a Veritas Mark II Honing Guide. I use this guide for one simple reason - repeatability. I can set the angle of the chisel and sharpen it one day and two months later put it back in the guide set to that same angle and not have to start from scratch, just refine the edge based on the first honing. If I was sharpening chisels once a week I might be able to train my eye to hit the angle without the use of the guide, but given I might sharpen every two months or so, the guide is a necessity.

I also use wet/dry sandpaper or emery cloth to sharpen instead of stones. This can be a whole lot more expensive, even though one good stone could run me $70.00 or so here in Canada, as an out of flat chisel back can eat up a whole lot of paper before you get it right. My main reason for using paper, though, is just its size. I can stick two full sheets of different grits side by side on my glass plate and I have a double 9" x 12" of sharpening surface to work with instead of the usual 3" x 8" that a stone offers. I'd really love a good power sharpener but I cannot rationalize it. It just doesn't seem right to turn your back on power tools in favour of working with hand tools then turning back to a power tool to sharpen your hand tools.

Here's what I ended up with after about a half hour of work...

For me, my little chisel section in my tool cabinet is just getting prettier all the time.