Posts Tagged ‘chisel’


In:In the Shop

Comments Off on Dovetail Joinery: Part 4- Chisel Work

Part 3 of this series wrapped up the saw work for the tail board.  Now there’s just a little chisel work to take care of before moving onto the pin board.  For smaller work, I like to lay the parts on my shooting board.  This gives me something to back the work against and also provides a sacrificial surface that can be gouged with a chisel on occasion.  Make sure the board is clear of debris before you start working or you may press something into the face of your board, denting it.  This is quite aggravating if you’re working on a drawer face or the outside of a box.  I can say “quite aggravating” now because I’m typing, but if this happens in the shop and potentially ruins an otherwise flawless piece of work… well, my grammar may be quite different.  The real issue here is at first the work surface may be clean, but as you start chiseling out the waste those bits of wood fall on the bench or shooting board.  Then without thinking, you flip the board over and start chiseling from the other side and one of those stray wood fragments gets embedded in your board.  So every time you move or flip the board, make a habit of clearing the debris.

A simple chisel set up

When chiseling to the baseline, there’s a few things to keep in mind.  First of all, unless you’re really good with your fret or coping saw, you probably have a decent amount of waste to clear… maybe 1/16″ – 1/8″ of material for most people.  Typical advice is to remove half the waste at a time until there is such a small amount left that you can’t split it, then drop the chisel in the baseline and finish it off.  That’s actually a good method to use.  Chopping through too much waste at once drives this chisel back into the board, crushing wood fibers behind the chisel in the process.  If you drop right into the baseline and the chisel is driven back, you’ve just crushed good wood and you’ll be looking at an unsightly gap when the joint is assembled.  So don’t get greedy, take the 2-4 chops you may need to take and work your way back to the baseline.  Another important tip if you’ve never considered this is which way to pry the chisel.  If the chisel gets stuck in the board you need to pry it loose.  Not a big deal, but you need to push it away from the baseline.  Prying back against the baseline will again crush the wood fibers and carry the chisel across the baseline.

The chisel on the left is prying itself loose by pulling against the baseline… this is bad. The chisel in the middle picture is pushing away from the baseline… this is good. You can see on the right how the chisel crossed the baseline.

As to the chopping process itself, I stand on the side of the board hold the chisel vertically (basically what is pictured above).  If you’re positioned in front of the board you can’t tell if the chisel is vertical or not.  If you have to, undercutting the joint is perfectly acceptable 90% of the time or better, at least in my opinion.  Chop about half way through the board, then flip it over and chop the remainder in from the other side.  This avoids blowing out fibers which is almost a given if you chop entirely through the joint.

The last bit of chopping, dropping the chisel right into the baseline.

Once the waste is chiseled out between the tails, clamp the board back in the vise and clean up the outside shoulders, then check everything for squareness.

Clean up the shoulder

When checking for square, the smaller the tool the better.  My square is a vintage Millers Falls model, but Starrett and Vesper Tools also offer nice squares similar to what’s shown.  Check your shoulders, baseline, and the cheeks of the tails.  Any humps in the baseline should be removed, with an undercut if need be.  The tails should never need squaring if you’re sawing correctly… but if they are out of square you have to fix it now or you’ll never have a tight joint.  If you can’t get a chisel between the tails to fix a skewed cheek you may be out of luck and need to start again.  The joint can still go together obviously, but you’ll be filling gaps for sure.  Again, with a little practice at sawing you should never need to adjust the tail cheeks, just the baseline.

A square shoulder is your friend.

If the square can’t touch the baseline at both sides there’s a hump.  Remove some more material.

Check the cheeks. With a little practice these should always be square, right off the saw.

Next up we’ll be tackling the pin board.



In:In the Shop, Vintage Tool Talk

Comments Off on A Custom Fishtail Chisel

We make winding sticks… lots of them.  Each set has four trapezoidal pieces of inlay, each with two sharp corners that need to be cleared out.  So for a batch of 50 sets of sticks I have 400 corners to clear.  Thus far I have used my Lie-Nielsen 3/8″ fishtail chisel, but it’s too narrow and the fishtail angle is too shallow to really reach the corners, so I have to reach down from above and scoop out the waste.  It works, but it’s not ideal.

My first thought was to buy their largest size chisel (5/8″), but I scoped it out at the Lie-Nielsen event in Brooklyn a few weeks back and found it was also too narrow and too shallow on the side angles to give me what I wanted.  I decided to try modifying a vintage chisel if I could find one suitable for the job, so here’s the rundown:

I found this Stanley chisel (with steel through the entire body) which had been ground down quite a ways for $9.  Normally I wouldn’t want to pay even $9 for a chisel that was so short, but for this task where I want to be closer to the work it was perfect.  The steel running through the handle also puts good weight in the hand and balances the tool nicely, so $9 was worth it.

The chisel as purchased, prepare to be decimated.

I painted on some machinist layout fluid, scratched in some general guide lines to grind to, and started hogging off material.  I’ve had a few people as about the risk of removing the temper from the steel during this process so I want to address that up front.  To avoid ruining the steel, you need to avoid over heating it.  This starts by using fresh abrasives.  I was grinding with a freshly dressed grinding wheel from Norton.  I held the tool with my bare hands so I could feel when it started to warm up, then I cooled it in water.  I also don’t grind up by the tip of the tool, this material is so thin that it will heat up too quickly and be ruined.  Any final grinding of the tip was done by hand on sandpaper and finished on waterstones.

Heavy material removal completed from the bench grinder. Time for the belt sander.

When I had the sides brought in I needed to refine the shape so I switched to my belt sander outfitted with metal grinding belts (Alumina Zirconia).  This worked extremely well and was basically trial-and-error process.  I’d grind some metal, check my progress, draw new target lines occasionally, and grind some more.  Eventually I got the shape I wanted and went from a 40 grit belt to an 80.  Refined things a bit further, then polished it up with a 220 grit belt.

My restored belt grinder… too pretty to just grind metal on, so I covered the walnut with some thick paper to avoid getting metal embedded in the wood.  Worked like a charm.

Shape being refined on the belt sander.

After the grinding was finished, I hand filed a few areas and then sharpened the blade.  I started with sandpaper as this was the initial sharpening/flattening of the tool.  After sanding up to 320 grit I switched to my waterstones and polished the tool up to 8,000 grit.  This was a freehand operation given the shape of the tool doesn’t really fit the standard sharpening jigs.  I use the sharpening jigs whenever possible and am not ashamed to admit it, but I can freehand when necessary.

The finished tool compared to my 3/8″ Lie-Nielsen. I had a slight ding on the bevel near the cutting edge, but it’s not at the cutting edge and will be ground off in future sharpenings. I didn’t remove it now because I’d be wasting several sharpenings over a small cosmetic flaw.

The chisel being used as designed. You can see that it can reach all the way to the corner of the inlay pocket and still has a little clearance between the chisel and the pocket’s side wall.

I tried the chisel out briefly and it works brilliantly.  Overall it took $9 and between three and four hours of work, and that’s from the time the tool was untouched to completely finished.  I did give the handle a quick sanding and refinishing, but nothing fancy and now it’s ready for years of service.  Time to get some work done.



In:In the Shop

Comments Off on Essential Hand Tools

I’ve been asked a few times about what tools are required to get started in woodworking… specifically working wood by hand.  Chris Schwarz compiled an excellent list of necessary hand tools for his book The Anarchist’s Tool Chest.  To see that list, check here.  And while that is an excellent list, it assumes you are not using any power tools and doesn’t really give any ranking in terms of what to buy first and what can come a little later.  The following is my opinion on what to buy and when to buy it (the tools I mention first are the ones I would buy first), especially if you’re going to be using the hybrid approach of some work done by hand, some with the assistance of electricity.

A Bench – Sounds obvious, but without something to hold wood flat, on its edge, and vertically, you won’t get very far.

Bench Planes – Get three: a jack, jointer, and smoother.  Ideally you will have all three, but the jack will be used a lot and a vintage one will do fine (low cost) as it is primarily a roughing tool.  This is also the easiest plane to learn on as many of its properties (mouth opening, sole flatness, etc) are not critical for it to function properly.  The jointer is next and will leave your surfaces flat… but powered jointers and planers can replace this if you so choose (though not in my shop).  Finally, a smoother is another work-horse in my shop, but the reality is that once your surface is flat, you can (and a lot of people do) use sandpaper to get the final finish.  Again, a smoother is better for a lot of reasons, but if money is tight it can be purchased last (and if you’re able, buy a premium model).  Purchasing this last also allows you to get comfortable with hand planes before getting into the most temperamental of all models.  A smoother must have a razor sharp blade and be tuned to perfection if you want the results we all dream about in our sleep (we do all dream about hand planes, yes?).  And on a similar note, a card scraper is critical in my shop while others go their whole careers never even seeing one and get by with sandpaper.  Oh, and you’ll need a way to sharpen these tools (and a grinder isn’t it).

Chisels – 1/8″, 1/4″, 1/2″, and 3/4″.  A bit bigger is nice as is a skewed pair or fishtail chisel, but not essential.  Mortise chisels are also nice, but if you drill the waste out or use a mortising machine, they aren’t going to see any use.

Saws – Start with a dovetail saw, next I’d get a carcass (or crosscut) saw.  That will be all many woodworkers need.  Full sized hand saws, tenon saws, or bow saws are commonly replaced by table saws and bandsaws today, but a backsaw filed rip and another crosscut are worth their weight in gold.

Specialty Planes – A spokeshave, block plane, and large router plane will see a lot of use, even in a power tool shop.  I’m not going to get into the uses of these tools, the router plane especially may seem foreign to some, but they are critical in my shop.  I’m not recommending shoulder, rabbet, or plow planes because, while they are essential in a hand tool shop, many will be just fine using a table saw or router for these operations so I wouldn’t rate these as essential (unless you’re not using any power tools).

Drills – I can’t say these are essential, most people have a cordless drill and/or drill press, but for the cost I find an “egg beater” drill and hand brace to be very useful and more responsive for fine woodworking.  For more info on drills, see here.

And finally, the usual mix of hammers, dividers, marking gauges, a tape measure, clamps, etc. are all necessary in any shop.  Schwarz’s list does a good job outlining those tools, plus some useful shop accessories like bench hooks and shooting boards, but above are the critical tools I believe everyone in every shop will use, regardless of your woodworking preferences.

Hopefully that helps.  It can be overwhelming to see a complete hand tool shop, the cost and time associated with purchasing and learning to use those tools is substantial.  If you start with what I recommend above, you can slowly add to it as your skills and preferences take over.  Good luck, get working.