Japanese Chisel Setup: Additional Notes

A properly setup and hard-used set of excellent mukomachi mortise chisels by Kiyotada. Guess which ones have seen the hardest use over the years and benefited most from proper setup. The blades and handles are all shorter than when new, but without proper setup it is unlikely some of these tools, all of which are at least 30 years old, would still have their original handles, which they do.

Honesty and transparency make you vulnerable. Be honest and transparent anyway.

Mother Teresa

Introduction

Since we wrote the tutorial (located here) describing the advanced procedures we recommend for setting up Japanese chisels ten years or so ago, we have frequently received questions from Gentle Readers about the fact that the chisel setup procedures described therein differ in important ways from those taught by most retailers of Japanese tools in the USA and Europe, as well as those expounded in videos on NoobTube, or posted on the woodworking internet forums.

In response to these questions, we recently added a few paragraphs at the end of the tutorial in question which we are including in this post to dispel confusion among Gentle Readers that have not had the opportunity to read the article.

The Question

The most common question is: “Why does your description of how to setup Japanese chisels vary so much from those given in online videos and the woodworking forums?”

A knee-jerk response to this question might be that the questioner should take a big, heaping spoonful of that online advice, then hold their nose and swallow it down, yes, all the way down, …. keep swallowing now, then judge for themselves if it is sugar or BS. As the saying goes: “the proof is in the pudding,” or was it “laughter is the best medicine?” We forget. In any case, while such a hasty reply would be entertaining, it would also be crude and unrefined, and since we are nothing if not always gentle and elegant, we will instead try to provide a more palatable explanation.

The Long Answer

Yes, Virginia, we have seen the various online videos about setting-up Japanese chisels. The creators of most of them are simply parroting instructions that some long-gone employee of a Japanese wholesaler, someone who had never used a chisel professionally, heard from another guy working at a chisel factory assembling thousands of chisels everyday as quickly as possible from cheap parts, some of which may have been imported from China.

Some Gentle Reader may be saying to themselves: “Wait just one frickin minute there! What do you mean, “made in China!?” Please, take a deep breath, smell the napalm, and realize that many of the components assembled into products in advanced countries are actually made in China at low cost. Poor quality is the natural consequence of procurement policies aiming to maximize profits above all else. The components used in C&S Tools’s chisels, however, are all made in Japan of quality materials and to reasonable tolerances.

Here’s the problem: Imagine a chisel handle and/or crown manufactured to such careless tolerances that one must beat the heck out of the handle with a hammer (kigoroshi) to crush and break the wood cells to reduce the handle’s diameter enough so the poorly-matched crown will fit. With this still percolating in your head ask yourself two questions: (1) What sort of attention is being paid to quality control that these two simple parts aren’t manufactured to better tolerances? And (2), will crushing the hardwood handle’s cells improve or harm its durability and/or longevity?

Or imagine, if you possibly can (difficult, we know), a handle and its crown or ferrule so poorly matched that one must swell the wood with water to get the crown or ferrule to stay attached long enough to ship the chisel overseas. Is your mind boggled yet?

Do you suppose poor tolerances or ham-handed setup techniques make for a better chisel, one that will provide good long-term service in the real world? Sadly, this is the grade of chisel with which the PooTube “Creators” and the so-called “experts” on the orc-infested forums have hands-on experience.

The manufacturers of these hardware store-grade tools provide zero warranties. Their products disappear into anonymous overseas markets where consumers are accustomed to being deceived as a matter of course, and the quality of most of their competitor’s products in the local markets, essentially sharpened Chinese-made screwdrivers, are of even poorer quality, so there is no backlash, only profits.

If any of this sounds to you like proper quality control or good value for the consumer, then there’s some swamp land located next to an abandoned plutonium extraction plant in North Korea, shovel-ready for resort development, that’s for sale at an amazingly low price. We read about it on an internet forum, so it must be true. All you have to do is send US$3,000 in small bills via FedEx to a private P.O. Box belonging to Prince Musa Adebayo in Abuja, Nigeria. It’s a limited time-offer, so you’d better hurry. ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)

Most of our Beloved Customers are not new to Japanese tools. They have bought the sizzle before, found it rancid, and come to us for honest handmade tools that meet the rigorous demands of advanced Japanese professional woodworkers.

The Short Answer

Let’s wrap this up by concisely answering the original question.

First, the setup techniques we recommend are different because the tools our Beloved Customers need to setup are different from those to which the “Creators” on Gooble’s PhewTube and the trolls on the internet forums are accustomed. They are made by true craftsmen, not unskilled factory workers using mass-produced components, much less mass-produced Chinese components. Our craftsmen are Japanese gentlemen living and working in Japan using crowns, ferrules, and handles made by them to reasonable tolerances, and the highest-quality hand-forged blades, also made by real Japanese blacksmiths working in their own smithies. Kigoroshi and water soaks are not necessary to setup these chisels, and will in fact harm them.

Second, because our Beloved Customers selected C&S Tools, we assume they are more advanced than the easily-deceived amateurs that typically buy hardware store-grade mass-produced chisels, and therefore actually want to do initial setup in accordance with the highest standards, not the lowest. It’s their choice, of course, but it would be grossly irresponsible of us to advocate lesser techniques like those of the GooberLube posers or the slimy denizens of the internet forum troll pits.

And third, unlike the wholesalers and distributors that peddle hardware store-grade tools overseas at inflated prices, we take our warranty seriously, and therefore actually care about the performance and longevity of the tools we sell. Accordingly, we need our Beloved Customers to set them up properly using the advanced techniques in our tutorial because we have a reputation to protect and a direct financial interest in customer satisfaction.

Five Potential Solutions

We hope the foregoing explanation clears up the original question. In addition, the following list describes five potential solutions to the other problems we touched on above. Sorry, but you’re on your own in the case of Prince Musa:

  1. Purchase only high-quality tools made to reasonable tolerances from quality materials by genuine professional craftsmen and blacksmiths that have long-term relationships and reputations that might be damaged by shoddy quality, not factories;
  2. Buy chisels and other edged handtools only from retailers (like C&S Tools) that both offer and honor a full international warranty on materials and workmanship, one that doesn’t require you to expend additional funds to benefit from. Good luck finding anyone else;
  3. Beware the often well-intentioned posers on Yoogle’s GooTube (or is it Toogle’s YouGube? We forget) who specialize in spinning an ounce of BS into 7 minutes of visual entertainment, all without any responsibility for the accuracy, completeness or honesty of their representations;
  4. Beware the chittering of the pustulous trolls and execrable orcs scuttling about in the fetid darkness of the internet forums;
  5. And last but not least, always remember the most reliable litmus test for veracity: Money Talks and BS Walks (see point 2 listed above).

Or, you can always try the spoon test described above: Bitter lessons teach surest. (ツ)

YMHOS

A properly setup and hard-used 10-piece set of oiirenomi chisels by Kiyotada. Guess which ones have seen the most use? All the handles and most of the blades are significantly shorter than when new, but the handles are entirely undamaged, proof that proper setup pays dividends. I need to tap-out some of the blades again.

If you have questions or would like to learn more about our tools, please use the questions form located immediately below. Please share your insights and comments with everyone in the form located further below labeled “Leave a Reply.” We aren’t evil Google or incompetent facebook and won’t sell, share, or profitably “misplace” your information.

© 2020 Stanley Covington All Rights Reserved

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