The Oiirenomi (pronounced oh/ee/reh/noh/mee) is the most common variety of Japanese woodworking chisel, and the style best known both inside and outside Japan. There are several types of oiirenomi made, but in this post we will examine at the most popular type called the ”mentori oiirenomi” ( 面取り追入鑿) meaning ” beveled” oirenomi.
As mentioned in my previous post in this series, “nomi” means ” chisel” in the Japanese language, but the term ”oiire” 追入れ” is not so straightforward. It is composed of two Chinese characters: ”Oi” 追いmeaning ”to chase” or ” to follow,” and ”ire” 入れ meaning ” insert” or ”place in.” I am uncertain of the origin of this word, but some hints of the original meaning may perhaps be deduced from the characters.
As the name suggests, this chisel’s face is beveled at both sides making it lighter and better able to get into tight locations than the older-style kakuuchi oiirenomi, the forerunner of this chisel, which we will examine in a future post.
I think most people agree that the two bevels moving up the blade, curving around the shoulder, and feathering into the neck give this chisel a sculptural, elegant appearance. While these bevels do make this chisel handier and better able to access some tight spots, they do sacrifice some stiffness and authority compared to the kakuuchi style. But clearly, these compromises are acceptable to most consumers.
A member of the tatakinomi family, it is designed to be struck with a steel hammer and has a hoop (called a “katsura” in Japanese which means “crown”) on the handle’s end to prevent splitting.
There are larger types of tatakinomi called atsunomi better suited than the oiirenomi to heavy cutting and wasting wood in applications such as timber frame joints, and most of those share the same mentori bevel detail, but oiirenomi are better suited to lighter tasks such as furniture work and interior installation work the same as Western bench or butt chisels.
Oiirenomi in general and mentori oiirenomi especially are light-weight, relatively inexpensive, and handy to use. All woodworkers in Japan own at least a few of these.
Materials and Manufacturing Techniques
Our oiirenomi are hand-forged by traditional self-employed blacksmiths with more than 50 years of experience working in their self-owned one-man smithies. They are stubborn gentlemen absolutely dedicated to quality.
These blacksmiths use only Hitachi’s Metal’s Yasugi Shirogami No.1 Steel (aka “White Label Steel”) for the cutting edge, a plain, exceptionally high-purity, high-quality, high-carbon steel that does not contain significant amounts of chrome, molybdenum, nickel, vanadium, or tungsten, chemicals which are added to nearly all commercial tool steels to make products easier to mass-produce by factory workers, instead of more expensive skilled blacksmiths, with fewer rejects. These alloys add considerably to the cost of the strip steel, while resulting in a finished product that will not become as sharp as Shirogami steel, will not hold a sharp edge as long, and will be more unpleasant and more time-consuming to sharpen. If you have the sharpening skills, then Shirogami No.1 is a steel you should experience.
The blade combines a strip of this high-carbon steel forge-laminated to a softer low/no-carbon steel body and neck. During heat treatment the high-carbon steel layer becomes very hard, but the low-carbon steel body and neck remain relatively soft. In use, this construction protects the hard steel from breaking, which is what would happen if the entire chisel was made of one piece of steel hardened to the degree Japanese professional woodworkers demand. It also makes it easier to sharpen the hard cutting edge, a task that would be difficult if the blade was all the same hardness. Please see this this page, this page, and this page to learn more.
Our blacksmiths perform a minimum of 3 heats to each blade while using hammers and spring hammers to forge this special steel. This “hand-forging” process, combined with special heat-treating techniques they have perfected over many years, such as multiple quenchings, the application of temperature modulating clay coatings, normalization and low-oxygen carbon soaks produces a “fine-grained” steel of the sort that has been coveted by professionals for tools and weapons since ancient times.
The final hardness is between 65~66 on the Rockwell C hardness scale. Most Western Chisels are softer at 55~60 HRc. This extra hardness makes the blade stay relatively sharper longer, and the fine-grain crystalline structure of the steel ensures each blade will become sharper without sacrificing durability.
These are professional-grade tools made by craftsmen, not factories, and are intended to meet the severe performance expectations for Japan’s most uncompromising woodworkers, unlike the mediocre-quality but attractive-looking “hardware-store-grade” chisels peddled inside Japan to the amateur market, and outside Japan to the uninformed. How much bacon do you like with your sizzle?
Our oiirenomi are available individually, or in discounted 10 piece sets (3, 6, 9, 12, 15, 18, 24, 30, 36, 42mm) with Japanese Red Oak or White Oak handles.
We usually have all varieties in-stock ready to deliver, but as the blacksmiths that can reliably produce these handmade products are few, and are becoming fewer every year, there are occasionally times when our stock is low. We apologize for any inconvenience that may result and humbly beg your kind understanding.
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If you have questions or would like to learn more about our tools, please click the “Pricelist” link here or at the top of the page and use the “Contact Us” form located immediately below.
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Links to Other Posts in this Series
- The Varieties of Japanese Chisels Part 1 – The Main Categories
- The Varieties of Japanese Chisels Part 3 – The Shinogi Oiirenomi (鎬追入鑿）
- The Varieties of Japanese Chisels Part 4 – Kakuuchi Oiirenomi (角打追入鑿）
- The Varieties of Japanese Chisels Part 5 – High-Speed Steel Oiirenomi (HSS 追入鑿）
- The Varieties of Japanese Chisels Part 6 – The Mortise Chisel (Mukomachi Nomi 向待鑿)
- The Varieties of Japanese Chisels Part 7 – The Nihon Mukomachi Nomi (二本向待鑿)
- The Varieties of Japanese Chisels Part 8 – The Atsunomi （厚鑿）
- The Varieties of Japanese Chisels Part 9 – The Uchimaru Nomi Gouge （内丸鑿）
- The Varieties of Japanese Chisels Part 10 – The Sotomaru Nomi Incannel Gouge （外丸鑿)
- The Varieties of Japanese Chisels Part 11 – The Tsuba Nomi Guard Chisel (鍔鑿）
- The Varieties of Japanese Chisels Part 12 – The Usunomi Paring Chisel (薄鑿)
- The Varieties of Japanese Chisels Part 13 – The Shinogi Usunomi 鎬薄鑿 Paring Chisel
- The Varieties of Japanese Chisels Part 14 – Kote Nomi (鏝鑿Trowel Chisel)
- The Varieties of Japanese Chisels Part 15 – Ootsuki Nomi 大突き鑿
- The Varieties of Japanese Chisels Part 16 – HSS Atsunomi