Thursday, October 11, 2018

Which Chisel Set Should I Buy?

I often see this question posted in internet forums (fora?) from beginners who want to get started in woodworking and were told that they should invest in a good set of chisels that will last a lifetime. More often than not they are trying to decide between a set of eleven Lie-Nielsen knock-offs and a set of 13 plastic handled beauties they found at the home center.

I've been there, in fact I started off this way. Here is what I learned:

Nobody needs a set of thirteen bench chisels.

That's it.

I've written about  this before. I think a set of more than three chisels is a marketing gimmick (that most of us have bought into) that puts more tools than you need in your toolbox, separating you from more money that you could use for nicer tools.

Here's why:

If you have a nice box with a graduated set of chisels from 1/8" up to 1 1/2", the one you will inevitably reach for is the sharpest one. You'll eventually feel guilty about not keeping them all of them razor-sharp, but at the same time you won't have time to sharpen them all.

One doesn't often need a specific width of a bench chisel. Mortising is different, but let's put that aside for a moment. I find I use bench chisels on every project I build, but only occasionally need a specialty tool like a mortise chisel.

You can get away with two chisels: a kinda big one, and a kinda small one. My favorite sizes are a one inch chisel and a 3/8 inch chisel. These two chisels work for about 85% of all my chiselling needs.
Here's my current set of chisels in my tool chest. The ones on the left are 3/8" and 1".
The biggest advantage with starting with only two chisels is you can really learn to sharpen them. With two chisels to sharpen instead of eleven, keeping them perfectly tuned is no problem. Over time you'll get better and better at getting them sharp and in less time.

Once you are happy with those, then you can (slowly) collect some more chisels for different uses. Sometimes you need something extra narrow, or sometimes you run into a wood that needs a lower angle honed on the edge than your daily beaters. If those happen to be around and tuned up, great! However, nine times out of ten, I could have gotten by with one of my two main chisels.

I would recommend in buying a premium chisel to start with, unless someone can show you how to tune an old chisel up to perfection. I've previously recommended Lie-Nielsen chisels, and I still do. Stay away from the ones that just look like Lie-Nielsens.

As far as my own personal preferences, I have moved away from the A2 steels in my chisels in favor of older O1 steel. To me it just "feels" better. It's hard to explain otherwise.

I also like to put a new handle that I've made on chisels with unsatisfactory (or missing) chisels.
This style of handle is very comfortable in my hand, easy to make, and if it breaks I can always make another one.
I've chosen to use a different wood for each of my chisels. The one on the right was a replacement handle I had, and the next one was given to me.
With a different colored handle on each chisel, it is easy to pull the one I need right out of my chest without looking at the blade.
My chisels live here in my chest.
If you have a big set of really nice chisels, try this. Take a big one and a little one out of the box and keep them at hand. Put the rest away for one year. After a year, see if you have missed them.

What are your thoughts about the "perfect" set for the beginner?

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The Story of the Easy Chisel Rehab

I've tortured the poor folks on Instagram with this story, so I suppose I ought to also put it up here.

I got a sweet stash of tools from Jonas' dad when I was in Denmark. They all need some rehab, some more than others.
Sweet stash of tools. The chisel I'm working on is the third tool from the right..
I got the fretsaw cleaned up and re-handled, but that's not what this post is about. Part of this haul was a few smallish chisels. For some reason all the chisels I have in Spain that are ready for rehab are around 1" wide. I thought the small ones would be usefull, too. It so happened that a 3/8" Jernbolaget chisel was exactly what I thought I needed for the next step on my rocking chair, and I don't happen to have one in my chest. Let's get this one handled up and sharpened.

I had a nice offcut of wenge left over from a Roorkee chair build a long time ago, and figured it would be perfect for this. It turns out wenge easily splits, and a tiny crack opened up after I finished the handle and drove it home.

The crack wasn't too bad. I figured I'd stuff some hide glue in there and put some massive pressure on it with a C clamp.
C clamps provide a lot of pressure.
The next day I took it out of the clamp, and figured I was golden. It looked great. All that was required now was to lap the back (which was a mess), grind the primary bevel, and hone an edge.

I took some care with all of this, and was surprised how quickly it went. However, I wasn't too happy with the edge after doing my thumbnail test. I ground it again, and honed a new edge.

My thumbnail test failed again. For some reason, I didn't trust my thumbnail test. It didn't quite work like it should, but I did everything right to put a razor edge on it, so figured I was good.

After two whacks on the chisel into wood, I discovered something very wrong, indeed.
Something very wrong, indeed.
I didn't really pay attention to the color of the chisel before. I figured it was just patina from age. But, it now occurred to me that the black-ish color of the steel combined with the crusty black flakes was a sign that this chisel has been annealed in a fire at some point.

I was trying to use a chisel that had unhardened steel. I probably could have done just as well with a chisel made from lead.
Plenty of clues this chisel had lost it's temper.
I got some great encouragement and advice on Instagram, including from Larry Williams of Old Street Tools. I watched his YouTube video and thought I'd give it a try.

I twisted the chisel out of the handle as carefully as I could. I re-opened the crack I had repaired, and opened a second crack, but they weren't catastrophic to the handle. A couple of clamps and some hide glue took care of that.
I was able to repair the handle after removing it from the soft chisel.
I don't have a forge, but The Frau is out of town, so I figured I go for heat treating this chisel using only a MAPP torch and a pair of pliers. I wasn't able to get the whole chisel glowing orange, so I just focused on the last inch or so near the business end. Once I got the little iron pools coming up, I quenched in a small jar of sunflower oil, which was the least expensive oil we happened to have in the kitchen.
This is the chisel after quenching.
Now I got the toaster oven out, and fired it up to about 400 degrees Farenheit (210 Celsius or so), and baked it for an hour. This softens the steel up a bit so it isn't quite so brittle.

While that was cooking, I removed all the squeeze-out from the chisel handle, and added a chamfer to the hole which helps the chisel seat all the way. I forgot to do this last time.
I chamfered the hole to help the chisel seat flat.
When the chisel came out of the oven, I was surprised there was even more color on it than before.
Very colorful now.
This didn't bother me, as long as the edge would hold up.

Being a small chisel, it didn't take long to lap the back, grind a 25 degree bevel, and hone it to 30 degrees.
Frickin' perfect!
Holy carp! This certainly did the trick. This chisel feels and cuts wonderfully now.
It doesn't look like much, but it sure works well.
If I had a buffing wheel, I might try to buff the black off, but I don't. I might try to polish it up at some point, but I think the color on it near the bolster will always be there. I might just leave the black on it. I will for sure leave it there for now.
Lots of colors on the metal.
I suppose the moral of the story is not to give up. If you have a chisel that has somehow lost it's temper, depending on the steel that is used it could be easily hardened again. This also might make it possible if you need to do some serious grinding, such as if you make a new side escapement plane. You can use an old iron. Just anneal it by heating it up and letting it cool naturally. You can then easily grind it to a rough shape, then harden it again.

I'll not be afraid to do this again, it was easy. But, hopefully none of my other chisels are like this.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Danish Chair Building Extravaganza III - Day Six - Final Day

Just a quick update, as I left my camera which has the best pictures in the shop. I'll post some of those photos tomorrow.

Today was the last official day of the DCBE. I don't fly home until tomorrow evening, so it is possible I might be able to sneak a little bit more time in Jonas' shop. It looks like a bomb went off in there. I think tomorrow should be dedicated to putting it back in order and helping move Olav's benches out. I'll also need to pack my stuff to get ready to fly.

Ty left today. It was great getting to know him over the week, and it was refreshing to see him work on his chair which required such precision. He pulled it off to perfection, and completed his chair with time to spare. Something of a first for the DCBE.
Jonas giving Ty's chair a test.
The rest of us have all made a lot of progress on our builds, but Jonas, Olav and I will all have to put the finishing touches on our builds later.

Jonas is saddling the seat of his nanny rocker. It is a mammoth task because it is a pretty big seat and bassinet combination, and he is going the full 3/4" depth into whitebeam, which is doing everything in it's power to resist being saddled. Once he's done with that, I think he'll be on the downhill stretch.

Olav is wrapping up his shave horse. I look forward to seeing it completed. It should be a massive thing when it's done. He has designed it with removable legs.

I'm actually pleased with my progress. I hoped to finish this week, but there are certain things that just take time. No shortcuts allowed. One such thing was getting the rockers on.

It really wasn't difficult, I just had to get my head around what I was looking at, what I wanted to see, and where the problems were coming from. Next time will be a bit easier now that I've done the mental gymnastics required.

I discovered one thing that was giving me fits, and that was the front right leg. I must have been just a hair off in drilling the mortise for the stretcher, because the front leg assembly doesn't quite snap into the seat as it should. It's not much, but the angle is just a tad bit too open. I decided to charge on with it rather than making a new front leg assembly because it is just a small thing, and the legs are flexible enough to lock properly into the mortises in the seat.

The issue is, that tiny bit of tension has changed the angle of that leg ever so slightly.

It's not enough to be seen or noticed, but it does make aligning the rockers so they are perfectly in line difficult. The usual method of measuring distances between different parts of the chair isn't working.

Once I made this realization, the alignment was pretty easy. I just levelled the rockers with each other using winding sticks, then measured from the seat bottom to the rockers on each side to ensure the chair sat level, left to right.
Aligning the rockers.
I then marked out the full depth of the rocker slots on the legs, sawed to depth, and used a chisel to permanently mark the baseline to chisel to. There is still a few things to get ready on this chair that I have to do in Jonas' shop rather than at home, so I didn't chisel the waste out to the basselines and final fit the rockers. That can easily be done later.
It works!
The rest of the day was spent roughing out parts from Jonas' massive stash of wood for the pieces I still needed: back spindles and arms.

I found a really nice board of kiln dried ash. Since they were the delicate back spindles, I spent some real care laying out the cuts for the spindles resulting in blanks with perfectly straight grain.

Here's how I did it: I crosscut the board to length, then I used a straight edge to pencil in a line on the board which followed the grain from one corner of the board until it ran off the other side, as best I could. Some of the boards already were straight, some of them had a little runout which wasted a little wood. After laying out these lines, I jointed one face on the machine, then cut to the previously marked line on the bandsaw. This freshly sawn edge was run over the jointer giving me a flat edge and a flat face to take to the table saw. There I ripped out about twice as many blanks as I needed, as not all of the defects could be seen through the rough finish of the rough sawn boards.

I ran them all through the thickness planer and selected eleven of the most perfect blanks that had the least runout, (nine for the chair and two extras, just in case).

Once the spindle blanks were four-squared, I used Glen Huey's trick to taper the blanks on the jointer.

Now I have eleven square spindle blanks that are rough shaped on the machine and double tapered. The next step is to spokeshave them to final shape.

The last thing I did today was use the leftovers from the board I cut the rockers from to rough out arms to the general shape I want. They will eventually get a round tenon on one end.
Here's a picture of the upper assembly as it looks right now.
If I'm able to get some shop time tomorrow, I'll see how far I can get final shaping the spindles. and the crest (it is bandsawn to rough shape)

Here is what's left for me to do on this chair:
  • Finish shaping the crest, and tenon it into the back supports.
  • Shape the spindles
  • Drill 1/2" holes in the seat for the spindles and 3/8" holes in the crest for the spindles.
  • Final scraping of the seat to remove any marks - ready for finish. 
  • Plane the bottoms of the rockers to an angle so they sit flat on the floor.
  • Mount the spindles and crest rail after gluing and wedging the back supports.
  • Perhaps before that I should glue and wedge the legs (after finishing the mortises to final depth).
  • Finish shaping the arms, mortise the back supports.
  • Final shaping of the arm stumps, glue and wedge into seat.
  • Mount the arms, glue and wedge.
  • Shape the bottoms of the legs and mount the rockers.
No matter what, the rockers go on last. One piece of advice Ray Schwanenberger gave both Jonas and I was to mount the rockers last. I can just imagine the clown show involved in assembling the upper assembly on a chair with permanently affixed rockers.

Overall, it has been an amazing week. Although I hoped to finish the chair, I am pleased with the progress I have made. I've only made a handful of staked chairs, and this is my first rocker. It was fun, and I would like to make another one someday.

Next: Bonus (Cleanup) Day

EDIT: More pictures! I took a lot fewer than I thought.
Field expedient measuring dividers

Dividers in use

Rough shaped spindles.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Danish Chair Building Extravaganza III - Day Five

This morning started out great. Three of us were in the shop making marvelous progress. I started the day by finishing up the carving of my seat blank. I had gotten as far as hollowing out the bowl last night, and today I finished up the shaping of the seat blank.
Doing this in raking light was much better than carving it after dark.
Ty seems to be moving more at a pace of realistically finishing his chair.
Ty is fast approaching a finished chair.
Jonas' nanny rocker is coming along, too. He has his legs mounted.
Jonas giving it a test-sit.
It was such a beautiful morning. The sun was shining, it was warming up outside, we had the door to the shop open to let in some fresh air, and life was good. This is about the time that Hurricane Brian hit the shop. I didn't get any pictures of this because it was so embarrassing.

A giant Danish bee flew in the open door and decided to investigate the area around my bench. I'm not normally bothered by bees, but the thing was trapped inside, so I figured I ought to help it out before it got angry about being trapped inside.

Naturally, I grabbed the closest thing to shoo it away, a shop broom. Unfortunately the bee didn't follow my directions and fly back out of the door. Instead he made a beeline (get it, "bee-line?") for the window near my bench.

While he was on the window sill, I figured I'd put him out of his misery, so I gave him a whack. It turns out that brooms aren't really that efficient as flyswatters. The stunned bee took a couple more whacks before I hauled back and went for the death blow.

I have no idea what happened to the bee, as the broom went through the window and I forgot all about the bee.

Luckily, it was a single pane of glass and wasn't expensive to fix, but poor Jonas didn't really get much farther after this point as he had to go get a piece of glass, fix it (in which he broke his new pane of glass, too), and finish the window off. By the time that was over with, Jonas' dad showed up for a visit, and it seemed as if Jonas never did get back into an efficient rhythm until after dinner.

Later I apologized to Mrs. Mulesaw for being so clumsy. She said, "Don't worry, it happens all the time."

This begs the question: who else has broken a window in their home with a broom?

Let's get back to some non-bee related events:

Jonas' dad, Jens, arrived with another trunkload of Swedish tools to sell us. It's fortunate I arrived by plane this time. This helped me in selecting only a few tools which will fit in my luggage, rather than my customary glut of chisels, hammers, and axes.
We had a miniature Swedish tool flea market in the horse barn. Olav, Jens, and Jonas.
Jonas looks pleased. He wound up fixing the glass with another piece he must have found at a nearby archeological site.
Meanwhile, while Jonas was fixing the window, I got all kinds of progress done on my chair. Sadly, I forgot to take pictures of the finished seat. You'll have to wait until tomorrow for that. It is ready to go, except for a bit of final scraping on the seat.

While Jonas and Olav went to the home center to get a new piece of glass, Ty went to visit his mother and I was alone in the shop. I spent that time looking through Jonas' wood stashes for a suitable hunk of wood for rockers. I found the perfect piece. It was a little over an inch thick, and had some grain that followed an arc. The arc doesn't perfectly match the pattern for the rockers, but it is close enough that there are some long wood fibers that go all the way from the front of the rocker to the back.

I copied the general shape of the rocker from Ray Schwanenberger's nanny rocker plans, and added my own flair to the decorative parts. I think a plain form will better suit my chair.
I finished the blank of wood to the final shape before resawing.
The blank of wood was not so thick that I could waste thickness resawing it on one of Jonas' machines, so I used a Dick saw instead.
Action photography by Ty, who is a professional photographer.

More action photography.
I took my time, and tried to make the most perfect cut possible.
Jens, who is a retired wood shop teacher, gave me an A- for my resawing skills..
Seeing Jens again was great fun. He is a character, and loves woodworking.
Jens giving my chair a test-sit.
Meanwhile, Ty is finished with the woodworking for his chair, so he started sewing the canvas seat.
Ty's chair is beautiful. The wood he chose was hornbeam.
Now it's time to mount the rockers. With all the care I took to ensure the legs lined up perfectly, they are now a tiny bit out of alignment because I was just a hair off on one of my stretcher mortises. Not the end of the world, everything will still fit together with some care.

I used the method from Elia Bizzarri to mount the rockers, which is fairly uncomplicated. It involves clamping one rocker to the legs and using it to mark angles and locations for a perfect fit. The only thing that made this difficult was again my choice to use octagonal legs rather than round ones.
Laying out the stretcher mortises.
Eventually I was successful with one mortise. It only goes in a little way while I fit everything and align the rockers, then I'll sink them to their final depth.
At least it fits. Hopefully it aligns with the front leg.
One of these joints is as far as I got today. Tomorrow I'll finish fitting these and mill the final parts to my chair
The state of my chair after Day 5.
Cross your fingers there are no more bee incidents tomorrow.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Danish Chair Building Extravaganza III - Day Four

It was a good day yesterday, not too many do-overs due to not paying attention today. I did re-do the stretchers I made, but only because I couldn't quite figure out the best way to do them.

Overall, I got lots done: steam bending, stretchers made and mounted, and the seat bowl carved.

Another couple of weeks of this and I'll be done. Too bad I fly on Sunday.

Ty had the brilliant idea of using a plastic bag as a steam box, as the pipe Jonas used for his bending wasn't wide enough for my crest rail.
Just a plastic bag full of steam.

Close up. I tied it shut loosely with a string and poked some pinholes for the water to drain.

It seems to have worked.
There is a crack in the back of the crest, but I think I can fix it with glue.
Octagonal stretchers with a tenon shaped on the dowel plates.

Drilling contraption #1. It works, but is complicated and it would be easy for something to go wrong.

Drilling contraption #2, this worked perfectly and was a bit safer.

Rough crest rail out of the bending form.

Here's what woodworking blogging looks like.

Stretchers glued up, they fit.
Next it was time to move on to hollowing the seat.
Adzing out the rough stuff.
I wasn't able to bring my scorp along this time. I was bummed because it works well as the medium tool after the adze does the roughing. I was leery to use my travisher, a fine tool, right after the adze, but I was surprised that it worked just fine.
Travishing across the grain to remove the adze marks.
Jonas feels like he is behind, but really he is doing amazing things. He decded to turn simple legs, and made a template for his pattern-copying attachment for his lathe. That thing works great, and gave him four identical legs in no time.
Jonas and his pattern copier.

Four identical legs.
Olav's shavehorse is making progress. I had to laugh watching him drill a 2" hole with a cordless drill. Somehow it worked.
Ty's chair is going to be freaking cool.
Day five will hopefully result in a finished seat blank, some rockers made, and perhaps some start on mounting the crest and making the spindles.