The following is an old tale from Japan’s Toyama Prefecture. It’s not exactly a Christmas story, but includes all the classical elements a story shared on a cold winter’s eve must have: A beautiful maiden, a cranky blacksmith, an elemental creature, magic, weapons of death and destruction, an impossible challenge, and of course…, chickens. I hope you enjoy it.
Long long ago and far far away in a country in Japan called Etchu (modern day Toyama Prefecture) there was a large blacksmith’s shop.
The owner of the smithy, called “Master Blacksmith,” was well-to-do with many craftsmen working for him. He lived in a big house called a chouja.
Master Blacksmith had a single daughter of marriageable age, a rare beauty with almond eyes and long black hair shiny as a raven’s wing.
One day he announced to all the craftsmen in the area that he would give the hand of this daughter to the first suitor to forge 1,000 spearheads in a single night.
But no matter how skilled, every weapons blacksmith knows that it’s impossible to forge 1,000 spearheads in a single night, so his challenge went unanswered.
Master Blacksmith decided he needed to expand his offer and so put up a notice board describing his challenge alongside the main road for passersby to see, and waited for skilled craftsmen to appear.
Lo and behold an ogre that lived on a nearby mountain meandered by late one night and saw the notice. It did a little jig the way happy ogres do and gleefully exclaimed “Ha ha hee heee! A thousand spearheads is easy for meee!
The next morning, using the elemental magic that many ogres have, it changed his appearance to that of a young man and went down the mountain to Master Blacksmith’s house.
The Master looked doubtfully at the ogre in the shape of a young man and disdainfully said “What makes a young fella like you think he can make a thousand spearheads in one night?”
The ogre responded, “I can do it. I will surely make them before the cock crows in the morning.”
Thinking he had nothing to loose, the Master responded: “Then make them if you can.”
As the sun went down, the ogre in the shape of a young man went into the smithy, closed the doors, and began working.
Master Blacksmith heard sounds like the wind blowing from inside his smithy, but nary the sound of a hammer striking metal or the ringing of an anvil. Perplexed, he said to himself “What can he be doing in there?”
Slipping quietly around to the back of his smithy and peeking through a crack in the siding boards, Master Blacksmith was shocked as he had never been shocked before because he saw fire spewing from the young man’s mouth as he bent and folded and shaped yellow-hot steel in his bare hands like it was warm taffy!
Before his eyes a smoking stack of completed spearheads quickly grew. It became obvious to Master Blacksmith that all 1,000 spearheads would be finished well before dawn.
Fearful for his tender daughter, Master Blacksmith realized he had to do something to stop the strange young man from successfully completing the challenge, so he thought and thought and thought until his thinker overheated.
“The only way out of this mess I have made is for the cock to crow before all 1,000 spearheads are completed,” he eventually reasoned. Following this logic to it’s natural conclusion, he took a jar of hot water into the chicken coop where the chickens were all fast asleep dreaming of stretchy worms and crunchy beetles.
Desperate to make even a single chicken crow, he poured the hot water on the roost where the chickens slept soundly. The surprised chickens all woke at once in a panic with the hens squacking, cackling, and screaming while the roosters all crowed out “Cock-a-doodly dooooo!”
Hearing this racket from the chicken coop the ogre in the form of a young man became frightened, wailing out “I have been discovered!”
Instantly, the magic that had changed its appearance popped like a soap bubble revealing the ogre’s supernatural red skin, yellow horns, and shiny white fangs again. The ogre ran out of the smithy like ten stampeding bulls raising a cloud of smoke all the way back to the mountain where it came from never to be seen again.
With this, the blacksmith rubbed his chest and exclaimed in relief “I see, he was an ogre after all!”
“And just what is this?” he said as he walked fearfully over the shattered remains of the front door to his smithy and peered inside in amazement at the stack of smoking-hot, sparkling spearheads left behind by the ogre. Indeed, it turned out the red ogre had left behind exactly 999 completed spearheads, each wonderfully made.
From that day forward the blacksmith’s shop was famous for the quality of its spearheads, which are still known as “ogre-spears.”
And the blacksmith became wealthier than ever.
If you have questions or would like to learn more about our tools, please use the “Contact Us” form located immediately below. Please share your insights and comments with all Gentle Readers by using the form located further below labeled “Leave a Reply.” We aren’t evil Google, incompetent facebook, criminal Twitter, or the Chinese girlfriend/fundraiser of a Congressman, and so won’t sell, share, or profitably “misplace” your information.
One accurate measurement is worth a thousand expert opinions.
As your humble servant mentioned in a previous post, and contrary to what corporate product development departments appear to assume, it is the nature of the human body for the hand to precede the hammer head during the arc of travel, with the result that, if the handle is affixed perpendicular to the axis of the head, the hammer’s face will hit the nail or chisel handle off-center and at an angle.
In this post we will discuss this eccentric phenomenon in more detail and suggest how to compensate for it in Gentle Reader’s drawing.
The Angle of the Dangle
In evidence of your humble servant’s counter-intuitive assertions above, let us view some stop-motion high-speed photography of a shockingly ugly hammer (‘Nando is simply clucking with disapproval at the sight).
Although the wood-butcher in this photo is using the inefficent Hobbit-basher grip, please notice the location of his pinkie finger with respect to the hammer’s face shown in this photo, as well as the angle between the hammer’s face and the nail’s axis at the point of impact seen in the last frame.
Now riddle me this, Oh Enigmatic Sphinx:
In this series of photos did the impact between hammer face and nail head occur in the center of the claw hammer’s face, or in the lower half of the face?
Was the center of mass of the hammer head in-line with the axis of the nail at the instant of impact, or was it offset?
Was the striking face oriented perpendicular to the axis of the nail at the instant of impact, or cocked?
Gentle Readers who answer all three questions correctly will win one-half of a day-old Crispy Creme glazed donut the next time they are in Tokyo (I get the first bite of course (ツ)). But rather than just giving out the correct answers (and risk losing half a donut!), Gentle Readers should perform the following tests themselves to gain irrefutable personal knowledge.
The Experiment & Analysis of the Results
Color the face of your hammer or gennou with a marking pen, or Dykem, then use it with a chisel to cut a mortise, without giving the hammer special attention. Perhaps a dozen blows to the chisel while it is held vertical. Then examine the hammer’s striking face and chisel handle.
Now that’s done, please examine the chisel handle. What Rosetta Stone should we use to decipher these mysterious marks?
If the ink has transferred from the hammer face to the chisel mostly dead-center, then all is well. But if it is off-center, it usually indicates two things. First, the hammer handle is either too long, too short, or your grip is goofy. Second, it may indicate that the hammer’s head is cocked at the instant of impact. More on that next. In any case, a clean impact on the end of the chisel must be our goal if we are to work efficiently (perfection is unattainable), so an adjustment to either the hammer, or the way we grip it may be called for.
Let’s take a gander at the hammer’s face next. Most people discover that the ink has been scrubbed off the bottom half of the hammer’s or gennou’s face (closest to the hand), and that the ink marks transferred to the chisel are off-center.
If the bare spots (where the ink was scrubbed off) are not centered on the hammer’s striking face, two things are indicated: First, as seen in the photo above, the hammer’s face is probably not striking the chisel’s handle squarely, but is angled at the time of impact instead of being perpendicular. Not good.
Why should we be concerned about something as insignificant as an angled impact? How clever of you to ask such a intelligent question! Vector analysis suggests that the angled impact must cause the hammer to push the chisel away from the intended direction of cut. This has consequences we need to be concerned about.
The second thing these uneven marks indicate is more certain, namely that the centerline of the hammer’s head is not in-line with the centerline of the chisel’s handle at the time of impact. Once again, physics and vector analysis tells us this misalignment causes impact energy to be wasted instead of being transmitted through the chisel to its cutting edge and into the wood being cut. The resulting feeling is a whack followed by a kick instead of a clean chopping sensation.
Where does this wasted energy go and what does it do? It forces the chisel out of the ideal alignment and makes it feel squirrely. It beats on the hand holding the chisel. It also converts to friction heat as the blade beats on the wood instead of cutting it cleanly.
This wasted energy reduces your cutting precision, destroys your hammering rhythm, dulls your chisels, hurts your hand and bends your nails. This condition can no more be tolerated than a rabid gerbil or a corrupt politician. Or is that a rabid politician and a stinky gerbil? I forget, but it’s a difference without a distinction.
In any case, if we want the hammer’s energy to enter the chisel cleanly and motivate the chisel to cut both efficiently and precisely, we need the center of mass of the head to be oriented closely in-line with the central axis of the chisel or nail at the instant of impact. Likewise, we need the gennou’s flat striking face to impact the chisel handle or nail head squarely, not at an angle.
Your work with a hammer will be most efficient and precise if you meet the following three conditions:
Grip the hammer’s handle correctly;
Use a hammer with a handle length that fits your body best;
Use a hammer with head alignment and striking face angle that corrects the misalignment and cocking inherent in standard hammers as mentioned above.
The following guidelines should get your handle design in the ballpark.
When gripping the hammer as described in Post 13 in this series, your pinkie should just fit between the front edge of the handle and the plane of the flat striking face. The small circle drawn near the end of the hammer in the drawing is the pinkie, a dimensions that varies from person to person.
This means that if you place the gennou on a flat tabletop as shown in the drawing, and press straight down on the head so the flat striking face is flush with the tabletop, the toe of the handle will float above the tabletop with just enough clearance for your pinkie to fit between handle and table when you grip it properly.
So let’s take some more measurements and add them to our drawing.
First, measure the diameter of your pinkie. Approximate is fine.
Next, we need to determine where to draw the pinkie in cross section on our drawing, but to do that we first need to measure the size of your grip. To do this, hold a hammer handle or stick in your hand gripping it lightly across your palm as described in the previous post in this series (not in a Hobbit-basher fist) with the heel of your palm and the first segment of your index finger resting on the handle’s back edge (opposite the head’s striking face), and your fingers wrapped around the handle. Use a pencil or pen to following mark 3 points on the handle or stick:
Make the first mark at the point where your palm’s heel ends on the handle’s back edge near the butt. Let’s call this Point 1;
Make another mark at the point where the first joint of your index finger begins to curve around the handle/ Let’s call this Point 2;
Make the third mark where the front and back edges of your pinkie finger touche the handle’s front edge. We’ll call this distance your “pinkie diameter.”
The length of the “grip” is the distance from Point 1 to Point 2.
Going back to our drawing, layout the “grip” length or “forefinger” location as shown in the drawing.
A line drawn from the top of the butt to the intersection of the grip length, as shown by the arc in the drawing below, will give you the grip angle.
Next use your divider to transfer the location and width of your pinkie finger onto the bottom edge of the drawing’s handle touching the horizontal line. Sketch a circle representing your pinkie finger in cross-section.
With the addition of these details to your drawing, it is close to being complete. I’m excited as a puppy on Christmas morning!
In the next post in this saga spanning time and the islands of the seas we will add the handle’s top and bottom edges.
The following link is to a folder containing pricelists and photos of most of our products. If you have questions or would like to learn more, please use the form located immediately below titled “Contact Us.”
Please share your insights and comments with everyone in the form located further below labeled “Leave a Reply.” We aren’t evil Google, fascist facebook, thuggish Twitter, or a US Congressman’s Chinese girlfriend and so won’t sell, share, or profitably “misplace” your information. May I swallow a thousand needles if I lie.
Previous Posts in The Japanese Gennou Hammer & Handle Series
If you can’t stay young, you can at least stay immature.
The Ryoba saw is certainly the best-known woodworking saw in Japan if only because of its unique shape. Indeed, for as long as your humble servant has been rattling around on the earth, it has been the single tool that most represents the Japanese carpenter in the public mind. It is probably the best-known Japanese saw outside of Japan too, second only to the Dozuki saw.
In this post we will discuss the Ryouba saw in general, and the Ryouba we provide to our Beloved Customers in particular.
The full name of this saw is “Ryouba Nokogiri” written 両刃鋸 in Chinese characters, and pronounced “ryoh-/bah/noh/koh/giri.” Ryou means “both,” “Ha” means “blade” or “cutting edge,” and “nokogiri” means “saw.” In other words, a “double-edged saw.”
The word is almost always spelled “Ryoba” in the English-language alphabet, but the “o” in “Ryo,” in this case, is actually pronounced a little longer. When I was young man first learning the Japanese language on Shikoku Island, the convention was to express this longer pronunciation by adding a straight line over the letter “o” to look like “ō”, but with the wide use of computers nowadays, the trend seems to have shifted to adding a “u” after the “o,” which is perfectly consistent with how it’s written phonetically in Japanese (りょうば ). But I digress.
Being double-edged, the Ryoba has a set of rip teeth on one edge and cross-cut teeth on the other. It is a relatively recent invention, first appearing around 1897, instantly gaining tremendous popularity throughout Japan.
While the invention of cross-cut teeth is at least several hundred years old, archaeologists and researchers have postulated that they are a recent development, at least in Japan.
Why a Double-Edged Saw?
Because the Ryouba saw combines both a rip-saw and crosscut saw into a single saw, it has the following advantages over single-edge saws:
More efficient use of expensive steel and labor than a two-saw set comprised of a single-edged crosscut saw and single-edged rip saw;
Reduced weight and space requirements, especially important before people generally had automobiles to help carry the load;
Fewer saws to keep track of, and less time spent switching between them.
But all is not blue bunnies and fairy farts because, compared to the single-edged saw, the Ryoba saw has a few disadvantages Gentle Readers should be aware of:
While the blade of a single-edge saw (kataba nokogiri 方刃鋸) is thickest at the teeth, and tapers thinner towards the back of the blade to reduce friction in the cut and to prevent the blade from binding, the Ryouba saw is thickest at both cutting edges and thinnest at the centerline of the plate between the teeth. The result is that, if one makes a cut using a Ryouba saw in a timber or board deeper than the thin centerline of the plate, friction in the saw kerf acting on the blade will increase as the cut approaches the offside teeth. The result is that the Ryouba saw is not ideal for deep cuts;
If one uses a Ryouba saw to cut into a board or timber deep enough that the teeth from the opposite edge fall into the saw kerf, the opposing teeth will tend to score the surface of the wood surfaces inside the kerf. While these scratches may be of no consequence for many types of cuts, the Ryouba saw is not ideal for some types of cuts.
The Ryouba saw is perfect for many other applications, especially when working in the field.
When doing cabinet or joinery installations I always have a Ryouba saw on-hand simply because a single saw that can make shallow rip cuts and crosscuts is simply more time and cost efficient. The one in the photos below is my favorite.
Fine-toothed Ryouba saws like the one above were once common but are difficult to find nowadays.
The C&S Tool’s Seigoro Brand Ryouba Saw 清五郎印両刃鋸
We carry two ryouba saws, a 270mm (teeth length = 255mm) and 240mm (teeth length = 230mm). The longer of the two is well-suited for general carpentry, while the 240mm is better suited to finer work.
Our Seigoro brand saws were made by Azuma Kenichi 東賢一, the third generation Nakaya Choujiro in Nagaoka City Japan.
I have been using Choujiro brand saws made by Mr. Azuma’s father and grandfather for many years and have been absolutely satisfied with their quality and performance. We are thrilled to be able to offer a limited number of his Ryouba saws to our Beloved Customers.
These saws were a special order Choujiro filled using the last of his stock of Shirogami No.2 steel some years ago. We purchased the remainder of this order from the wholesaler who originally ordered them. There will be no more.
Choujiro no longer makes saws this large, having since shifted his focus to smaller saws used by European luthiers and model makers.
Of course, used Ryouba saws are available on the auction sites. The problem with used Japanese saws, however, is that it is impossible to judge the quality and preservation of a saw from photos alone. The only way to tell if a sawblade is kinked, warped, or oil-canned is to hold the saw up to the light, bend the blade, examine the reflections and feel the teeth. And the teeth of used saws are always dull and often damaged. Caveat emptor, baby.
These are new, high-quality saws made by a well-known blacksmith still working, perfect in every way, and backed by the C&S Tools warranty, so the risk of wasting money on an old saw you cannot examine in-person (assuming you have the expertise to examine Japanese saws to begin with), made by someone who’s name you cannot read, bought from someone that won’t give you back your money if the saw is not as good as it looks in the photos or even damaged before you receive it, is not a problem. (Wow, that was mouthful)
If a saw you purchased from us needs sharpening or repair, simply ship it back and we will arrange for a professional saw sharpener to restore its beautiful smile and revive its voracious appetite for sawdust, or even have Azuma-san repair it, if necessary, for a reasonable fee. Unlike thee and me, he doesn’t work for free. (Ah, poetry!)
Rip teeth: Standard (increase in size progressively from heel to toe)
Crosscut teeth: 3-facet “edome”
Ryouba saws are not specialist saws, but excellent general-use saws. If I could have only one saw in my workshop, or could take only one saw to a jobsite, it would be a Ryouba saw.
They are especially handy for general carpentry tasks and ideal for cutting tenons and many other joints in timber framing.
If you are interested, please check out the folder at this link containing pricelists and photos for most of our products, and drop a note in the contact form below.
If you have questions or would like to learn more about our tools, please use the form located immediately below titled “Contact Us.” Please share your insights and comments with everyone in the form located further below labeled “Leave a Reply.” We aren’t evil Google, incompetent facebook, thuggish Twitter, or an IT manager for the US Congress and so won’t sell, share, or profitably “misplace” your information. May I swallow a thousand needles if I lie.
“This life’s hard, but it’s harder if you’re stupid.”
George V. Higgins, The Friends of Eddie Coyle
In the previous post we started the drawing of our gennou handle using the gennou head as a template. In this post we will determine critical design details including the overall length, butt dimensions, and typical cross sections.
But first, since we are talking about making a tool we must grip in the hand, let’s consider how to hold it. You would be surprised at how many people get this simple action wrong. It matters in the context of this article because we are designing a minimalist tool for which the smallest details matter.
The Grip is the Grip
There are many ways to hold a gennou handle. The hobbit-basher grip in the fist is popular among many hammer wigglers, even those with five fingers, but it provides both low power and poor control, good for Bagginses but not so much for woodworkers.
The most efficient grip is to orient the handle diagonally across the open palm, touching the heel of the palm at one end and the pad at the base of the index finger at the other. The index finger and other fingers then wrap around and under the handle on one side, with the thumb gripping the opposite side of the handle so its is pinched between the index finger and thumb. This is similar to the grip recommended by the famous golfer Ben Hogan.
This method of holding the handle provides significant advantages:
The wrist is able to rotate more freely and to a greater degree;
The length of the hand touching and motivating the handle is much longer than the Hobbit-basher fist grip providing more leverage (couple) with less effort and more control;
The touchpoints at the thumb, index finger, and heel of the palm triangulate the handle in the hand and mind so the user always knows exactly where the gennou’s face is located and its angle with respect to the target without looking at the gennou or fiddling with it.
The grip on the handle is more secure so the handle wiggles around less in the hand reducing blisters and stresses.
If you find this grip difficult, please stick with it until it becomes a good habit that displaces a bad habit.
Determine Overall Length
The next thing we need to add to our drawing begun in the previous post is the gennou’s overall length (OAL) measured from the handle’s butt (not including the dome) to the Vertical Centerline through the head’s face. This dimension comes from your body with some adjustment for how you grip and swing.
For most people, a good starting length can be measured by bending your hammer arm 90° at the elbow and laying a straightedge or folding ruler across your upward-facing palm and forearm. Touch one end of the straightedge against the tendon at your elbow and measure the distance to the base of your middle finger. In my case this 12 inches, but I’m not a big guy.
You may want to add an extra inch to your first handle. If you later decide the handle is too long, you can whittle it shorter. Remember, the first handle you make will be experimental, and probably not a keeper. I suggest you plan on making at least three over a period of a few years and after sufficient testing to determine the ideal length for you.
As seen in the photo above, with the head held in a flat palm (not a fist), and the fingers wrapped over the head, the butt just touches my bicep tendon. In my case, by total coincidence, this is 12″. Add ¼” to the length for the domed butt; you will need it. At 5’8″ I am not a big man and have neither long arms nor big hands. Your handle may well be different.
So far we have focused on the head and overall length. The next details we need to determine are the dimensions of the butt, most importantly, its height.
The height of the butt is important not only because it determines how large the grip area’s circumference will be, but also because it partially controls the angle of the grip, and therefore the angle of the head and striking face at the time of impact.
Only you can decide what dimensions will work best for you, but since we need to start somewhere, I suggest you make the handle’s butt at least l” (25mm) wide (seen from above), and 1-⅜” (35mm) high. If you have large hands or prefer a large grip, or are using a heavier head, then the flat area should be wider to reduce pressure on the hand.
Next let’s consider the forces acting on the handle and the user’s hand, and their influence on the hammer’s performance and user’s comfort and endurance.
Commercial handles typically have a symmetrical oval cross-section that looks good, is easy to manufacture, and is consistent with the one-size-fits-nobody philosophy convenient for mass-production and mass-marketing. Sadly, this oval cross-section ignores the three reaction forces that act on the user’s hand.
The first reaction force occurs when the user brings the hammer up in preparation for a strike. In this case, a force couple (matched forces) presses the handle into the first joints of the fingers and the heel of the hand (assuming, of course, one is gripping the handle as recommended above and not like a demented mountain troll).
The second reaction occurs when the hammer reaches the top of its swing and the user changes the direction of the hammer head towards nail or chisel. A force couple presses the handle against the first joint at the base of the user’s index finger, and the tips of the other fingers. The pinkie finger has a major role in retaining the user’s hold on the tool, you will notice.
The third reaction occurs when the speeding hammer head impacts nail or chisel and the handle kicks back at the user’s palm and fingers, just as Sir Isaac Newton predicted.
If these reactions are balanced to the object being struck/cut by the weight and speed of the hammer, this cycle can be smooth and efficient and the kickback forces minimal. But if the hammer is too heavy, or too light, the forces the user must apply to the hammer and the force and pressure of the resulting reactions can be become tiring and even bruising. A good handle made to fit the head and the user’s body and hammering technique will improve efficiency and reduce wear and tear on the user’s body.
What is this wear and tear you say? All the aforementioned reaction forces cause the handle to kick the muscles, tendons and bones in the user’s hand, and can cause bruising. Even if it doesn’t bruise, after a long day of chiseling the hand wielding the hammer will be more worn and tender than when the day started.
Even if you never grow tired and pain means nothing to you, Oh Master Blaster, these reaction forces tend to push the handle out of alignment in the user’s hand shifting the next hammer stroke slightly off-line, and twisting the hammer’s face slightly out of ideal alignment. Have you ever noticed how the hammer becomes wobbly after a couple of blows in quick succession? Guess why that happened.
Back-edge/Top Cross-section: Flat
The solution to these troublesome physics problems is simply to make the top/back edge of the hammer in the grip area more-or-less flat instead of round or oval, a modification that will spread the reaction forces more evenly across your hand, preventing bruising and reducing fatigue. It will also stabilize the handle in your hand improving unconscious alignment and reducing twisting.
You have probably never seen a handle shaped like this much less used one. It may look uncomfortable in your mind’s eye or on paper, but it is comfortable in-use. Try it before you dismiss it.
Another big advantage of the flat on a hammer handle is one you have probably never thought about, but the lack of which has wasted much of your time while using hammers. When doing woodworking especially, we tend to set our hammers down while we change position, move the workpiece, or remove chips. Often, we don’t recall the angle or direction we set the hammer down, so when we pick it back up we must double check two things by eye: First, where our hand is located on the grip, which distance of course determines how far the center of the striking face is from our hand; and second which face/ claw of the hammer is facing which direction.
I don’t know about you, but I want my hand to learn this information and get the hammer oriented properly without my having to take my eyes or attention away from the work at hand. Anything else is stupid.
The flat immediately tells your hand which direction the striking face is oriented, and where your hand is located on the handle, all without using your eyes or giving the matter a single thought. It’s a psychic handle, sorta (ツ)
Front-edge Cross-sectional Shape
While the top/back of the handle is more or less flat, as seen in the photo above, the lower/leading edge (surface facing the chisel or nail) should be circular at the butt, gradually transitioning to a flat surface as it nears the eye. Some people like this surface to be egg-shaped. I prefer a simple circular radius. For your first gennou handle, I recommend you begin by making it a simple circular radius and shave and whittle it to fit your hand more precisely later.
The reasons for making this surface rounded are simply to maximize the surface area of contact between hand and handle, and to make the grip comfortable.
Put all this into a simple sketch and transfer it to the drawing. At this point the end view of the butt should be shaped like a pregnant letter “D” with the curved surface oriented downwards towards the bottom of the page of the profile drawing.
Side Surface Cross Section: Flat and Parallel
So far, we have determined the back/top edge will be mostly-sorta-kinda flat, and the front edge will be more-or-less rounded. Next, let’s examine the two side surfaces.
Looking at the butt in cross-section, the handle’s right and left sides should be perpendicular to the flat on the handle’s back/top edge (plan view). These curved-plane surfaces begin at the head’s eyes, and curve down the handle all the way to the butt with some radiusing and softening of course.
Please note that, unlike commercial wooden hammer and axe handles that need a goofy flair below the eye to keep steel wedges from splitting the poorly-made handle, this minimalist gennou handle does not. It is an elegant, handmade craftsman’s tool, not a nail-bender or cockroach killer, and simply doesn’t need wedges.
Instead of a cancerous bulge, the handle remains a few shavings thicker than the eye for some distance until it smoothly flairs into the grip area. This design has serious advantages we have discussed in earlier posts in another series about what hammers to use with chisels, which I will briefly summarize.
A minimalist, thin handle has less air resistance wasting less energy, a serious concern in a tool moved as quickly as a gennou;
A thin handle transits fewer shocks and vibrations to the user’s hand;
A thin handle is easier to pinch between index finger and thumb providing maximum control in the Ben Hogan golf club grip;
If and when the handles loosens (it’s only wood after all, not eternal Chinese-made plastic-covered bent sheet metal), the user can tap the handle further into the eye quickly tightening the handle without pausing work. Note that this is not necessarily the ideal permanent fix, although it certainly can be.
Some will look at the thin handle and fear it will break. This is always a possibility with any wooden handle, but your humble servant has never broken a properly-made gennou handle, although I have broken plenty of commercial hammer handles. The key is to make your handle from the right wood, with proper grain orientation and minimal runout (we’ll talk more about these details in future posts), and to always use the head, not the handle, to drive nails and stuff. Duh.
We will talk about these specifications and details in future posts in this story of crime and passion.
In the next post we will determine the angle between the head and the handle. If you think this angle is unimportant then you’re in for a big surprise.
PS: We will provide a comprehensive document covering all the steps of making a gennou handle to our Beloved Customers (may the hair on their toes never fall out) upon request.
The following link is to a folder containing pricelists and photos of most of our products. If you have questions or would like to learn more, please use the form located immediately below titled “Contact Us.”
Please share your insights and comments with everyone in the form located further below labeled “Leave a Reply.” We aren’t evil Google, fascist facebook, thuggish Twitter, or a US Congressman’s Chinese girlfriend and so won’t sell, share, or profitably “misplace” your information. May I swallow a thousand needles if I lie.
Previous Posts in The Japanese Gennou & Handle Series
“Any fool can write a book and most of them are doing it; but it takes brains to build a house.”
Charles Fletcher Lummis
This article is not focused directly on woodworking or woodworking tools per se, but rather on how to go about leasing space in Japan, and contracting for construction in that space. The wood and tools come afterwards.
I have never seen the subject of Tenant Improvements (or Tenant Fit-out, as it is called in some countries) addressed in writing outside of real estate dealings and construction projects in Japan, and never on the internet. It will no doubt sound like gibberish to many, but those involved in the real estate or commercial construction industries may find it interesting and maybe even profitable.
You should find it especially interesting if you anticipate leasing space in a building in Japan, or doing construction work in a leased space here. This little bit of basic insider knowledge could make you look like a genius.
You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know
Too often I have worked with people and companies, who shall remain nameless, that made planning decisions without the insight described below. The results were sometimes painful.
The most jarring incidents I have seen occurred with people and companies accustomed to real estate leasing and construction projects in their own countries, but who are willfully ignorant of how things are done here in Japan, and insist that the knowledge and experience they possess is applicable without significant adaptation. In response to corporate pressure, and based on a poor understanding of local realities, these lost souls plan the process to fit their abilities confident they will be able to manipulate the Landlord and contractors through a combination of their devastating charm, superhuman negotiation skills, and the leverage afforded by their company’s wealth and fame. In a leasing market of 96% occupancy, such people frequently wake up to find reality kneeling on their neck while carving tasteless limericks into their forehead.
The most pitiful prospective tenants I have seen came to Tokyo from Hong Kong and Singapore. They sent younger employees to handle the leasing, always with good English-language abilities, but no experience outside their own country or mainland China, where they had only dealt with unsophisticated and hungry brokers, consultants, and contractors to whom they could dictate terms and conditions. Absolutely convinced the Hong Kong or Singapore way of doing things is the only way, they waste time, money and goodwill banging their heads against a stone wall never realizing that Japan has an advanced real estate and construction industry with many companies hundreds of years old and possessing technical capabilities few, if any, American or European companies can even think to match.
High unit lease rates and the tricks of the trade described below have made owning and leasing out office/retail space in a Class 1 office building in Tokyo one of the world’s most profitable, risk-free, and steady investments.
You won’t see this fact written about in financial publications, however, because it’s small club that’s difficult to join and with few opportunities for foreign financial consultants to make a profit in the fly’s lifespan time-window they allow for investments to bear fruit. But there are a few savvy real estate investors outside of Japan who know the value of owning the right building in the right place in a Japanese metropolitan area and wish they could get a piece of it.
A handful of foreign companies and investors have succeeded here, especially in the hospitality industry, but it is a long row that few non-Japanese companies have the patience or connections to successfully hoe.
All of the terms mentioned in this post are related to a tenant space (usually office or retail) leased in buildings in one of Japan’s major cities, and constructing the improvements (aka “tenant improvements,” “TI’s,” or “tenant fit-out”) needed to make the space usable.
So let’s dive in and paddle like a duck in an alligator farm.
“A Work” (short for “Category A Work”) is a contractual term in Japan which refers to construction work performed directly on the “Base Building” on behalf of a Tenant in the building. This type of construction work does not, however, come into play until the building’s construction is complete and the terms of a tenant lease agreement are being negotiated.
“A Work” typically includes any modifications to the base building’s structure, core & shell, mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems, elevators, common areas, etc. If you need to cut holes in the floor slabs for stairs between multiple floors you will lease, or need to add duct space or pipe shafts for your rooftop equipment for instance, it will be A Work.
Owners of high-quality buildings in metropolitan areas are understandably keen to preserve their investment and the income it produces and so will always have their designated contractor perform A Work at their direction but at the Tenant’s expense. This is an important point to keep in mind.
You will have no opportunity to competitively bid A Work, so save yourself the embarrassment of insisting, being rebuffed, and having to explain a strategic error to your board of directors.
Be aware that if you intend to propose to the building Owner or Landlord that the modifications you require will improve or upgrade the base building, and therefore the cost should either be borne or supplemented by them, you will need to conclude those negotiations before you sign the lease, while you have leverage, or the entire cost will be your responsibility.
Please note that it will be your contractual obligation to pay for restoring the building to its original condition, whether the Owner/Landlord actually does it or not, and even if that means downgrading the building. The cost, for instance, of removing/restoring a stairway between floors frequently costs more than the original construction itself. Ouch is right.
We will discuss “Restoration” in a future post in this series.
“B Work” is another contractual term you will need to understand. It refers to tenant improvements (aka “tenant fit-out”) “connected” to the base building.
B Work typically includes all mechanical, electrical, lighting, plumbing, HVAC, ductwork, fire life-safety work (fire sprinklers, gas fire suppression systems, fire alarms and emergency lighting, etc), partitions, ceilings, OA floors (raised floors) wall finishes, most floor finishes, blinds and PA systems to be constructed or installed inside the lease space, as well as Tenant-requested BMS systems, emergency generators, chillers and heat exchangers required to service the tenant’s equipment.
Often millwork (cabinets), kitchen, pantries, and sometimes even system furniture to be located within the tenant’s leased space are included in B Work too. The old, bitter joke is that if you turn the building upside down and shake it, everything that doesn’t fall off is either A or B Work. Not a lot left.
B Work too is almost always performed by the Owner/Landlord’s designated contractor(s), often the same ones that constructed the building originally, at highly inflated prices. You won’t see it as line item in the B Work contractor’s cost estimate, but the Owner’s and management company’s hefty cuts are included.
Here is a critical point to grasp: Competitive bidding is not an option for B Work. Your company’s strict procurement rules will therefore be irrelevant, so best to get your procurement department on-board early. But don’t worry, this isn’t the only standard “carved-in-stone” rule your company will need to adapt.
The Tenant normally signs a construction contract directly with the designated B Work contractor(s) but has very little leverage to control construction costs. The Owner/Landlord has no motivation to see these construction costs reduced, you see, and so will not aid you in reducing them. Do you see where this is going?
The third type of Work we will discuss in this article is called “C Work.” It includes everything the Tenant wants constructed besides A Work and B Work, including carpet tiles, Audio-visual equipment, IT cabling and servers, Telecom, UPS, security systems (card readers, security sensors and cameras inside tenant spaces) millwork (sometimes), specialty lighting and sound systems, AV systems, and loose furniture. Usually system furniture too, but not always.
Sometimes C Work includes interior partitions, such as glass or metal partitions, that are installed between the OA floor and the ceiling and do not connect directly with the floor slab or overhead structure. This item is often a good opportunity to save costs and is worth negotiating thoroughly before signing any lease. More on this in the “Demarcation Table” section below.
Unlike A and B Work, a Tenant can directly perform C Work using qualified licensed contractors they select. Bidding is entirely possible and construction costs are typically at market prices much less than A Work and B Work, so compared to A Work and B Work, cost savings can be realized.
On the other hand, if you are in a dreadful hurry and/or can’t be bothered to deal with producing drawings and hiring contractors, then asking the B Work contractor to execute your C Work design/build is an excellent, but expensive way to simplify and expedite the process.
You will want to prepare well and plan your lease negotiation schedule to take advantage of the local knowledge your PM team possesses to move as much of A Work and B Work into the C Work column of the Demarcation Table as possible.
The Demarcation Table
As you probably deduced from my vague definitions of A, B and C Work above, the limits of each type of construction work vary from city to city, landlord to landlord, and from building to building. Sometimes they are negotiable, sometimes not.
The “Demarcation Table,” or more correctly “Construction Work Demarcation Table” 工事区分表 is a document that becomes part of the lease agreement and lists the items of construction work included in A, B, and C Work. As the Tenant, you or your agent must negotiate this document along with the lease.
Careless people sometimes leave this discussion for after the lease agreement, but a wise Tenant will know before beginning negotiations what construction work they will need, what concessions they want, and the likely unit prices they will be charged for construction so that negotiations will go smoothly, the best deal can be obtained, and buyer’s remorse can be avoided.
Having a knowledgeable leasing agent and Project Management team on your side during this critical process will make the process quicker and the results more economical.
Allow me to share a few examples of how to handle the Demarcation Table to your benefit during Lease Agreement negotiations.
For instance, the Landlord may not be willing to discount your lease as much as you like, but if you are prepared in-advance, you may be able to convince him to tweak the demarcation table so some expensive construction items, and/or items you want your contractor to perform, are shifted from B Work to C Work allowing you more control at less cost.
Or perhaps you need to install a backup generator to service your IT system. You will need space to install it, and provisions for a fuel tank, fuel lines, and exhaust and cable shafts/ducts. If you negotiate carefully and early, you may be able to get the space for free, or at a discount. After the lease is signed, however, fat chance.
After they perform their electrical load calculations, some tenants are surprised to learn that, while the building overall has adequate power for their needs as confirmed during due diligence, they will need to install a transformer or three to step the power up or down or change the phasing to meet their power requirements. Labs, cleanrooms, kitchens, and video studios, for example, use a lot of juice.
Transformers often must be mounted outside, perhaps on a balcony or more likely on the building’s roof. Transformers, switchgear and electrical panels are definitely “long-lead items” that take months to fabricate/procure, as are the steel electrical cabinets to house them. If you know you will need this equipment you can adjust your schedule and budget early, and negotiate concessions from the landlord for space, and access. But if you wait until the lease is already signed, your leverage will be gone, baby, gone.
Why does all this matter, you ask? It matters because once you sign the lease, you are committed and have no choice but to pay whatever price the Landlord and his contractor want to charge you for A Work and B Work, and comply with their schedule. There are ways to minimize the pain, but on your own you won’t have the relationships, the data, the local experience, or the language skills to make meaningful headway. Conversely, you most definitely will have the ability to increase the costs of A Work and B Work by creating hard feelings with the Landlord through confrontational Trumpian-style negotiation techniques.
Don’t push or allow your real estate leasing representative to negotiate your lease in a rude, condescending, or pushy manner because, if he does, the Landlord will make you pay for it ten times over later in cashy money.
There are many other details related to A work, B Work and C Work you need to identify through due diligence, engineering consultation, cost estimating, scheduling and negotiations. Experience in the locale and possessing good relations with the Landlord, contractors and consultants are critical. You will need a good Project Manager with local experience to ensure this work gets done quickly and completely, unless, that is, you enjoy explaining budget overruns, schedule delays, and inadequate facilities to your boss or board of directors.
In many countries, the process of obtaining building permits/approvals is a huge uncertainty, and sometimes a crap-shoot that delays schedules and wastes huge amounts of time and money. In Japan’s metropolitan areas, however, building permits are typically not required for tenant inprovements. There typically aren’t even any inspections by the building department.
The one sure exception to this general rule is the Fire Department, who will need to review the fire sprinkler and other fire/life-safety drawings the B Work contractor will prepare and submit to the Fire Department. The Fire Department will also insist on inspecting the building at the completion of construction, but before occupation. This is a “hard stop” to construction that cannot be avoided, and sometimes consumes a week or more. Careful preparation by a respected B Work contractor can accelerate this process.
As the Tenant, you have no role in this process other than to stay out of the way.
If your legal beagles get their panties in a knot out of concern about potential non-compliance of the Work with local codes and regulations, tell them to take a handful of Xanax with a cold brew and just chill because the general contractor has full legal responsibility for defective and/or non-compliant work. I have never seen permits or approvals become a problem.
You would be wise, however, to have your Project Management team in Japan perform regular inspections and report to you until the construction is complete and the project receives occupancy permission from the Fire Department.
In the next post in this series we will examine the design process for a tenant fit-out project in Japan.
If you have questions or would like to learn more about our tools, please use the form located immediately below titled “Contact Us.” Please share your insights and comments with everyone in the form located further below labeled “Leave a Reply.” We aren’t evil Google, incompetent facebook, thuggish Twitter, or a driver for a US Congressman and so won’t sell, share, or profitably “misplace” your information.
The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten.
Well done is better than well said.
Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)
Purchasing woodworking cutting tools long-distance based only on pictures, what you read online, and the vague descriptions retailers provide can be confusing and frustrating. And squawking BS meters are not reassuring.
In this post, we will share some insight to help our Gentle Readers avoid the most common mistakes.
If the following is obvious please do not be offended. We are confident our discerning Beloved Customers and intelligent Gentle Readers will discover somewhere in this post what is called in Japan a “stork in a rubbish dump 掃き溜めに鶴,” which perhaps translates better to a “Jewel in a garbage pile.” We trust there are more jewels than garbage to be found in this article.
Risks & Psychology
At C&S Tools we understand the risks and stresses inherent in long-distant purchases. After all, not much can be discerned about a cutting-tool’s quality or performance from online photos and retailer’s product descriptions alone. We believe the best way to reduce uncertainty, alleviate customer’s concerns and calm BS alarms is to treat customers they way we want to be treated.
The difficulty faced by the consumer in assessing the quality of woodworking blades based on photos and generic descriptions alone, combined with the curiously short-sighted tendency of consumers nowadays to demand lowest possible price without considering the consequences to quality and performance, has created a strange psychological syndrome we call “Chinese Logic.”
This pattern of logic goes something like this: “Product A looks identical to Product B, but B is 1/3 the price, so B must be better.” Makes perfect sense, right?
In our professional experience most corporate procurement processes, as well as those of many private individuals, wallow ass-up in this shallow logic, but whether corporate or private, construction or real estate, the results are almost always wasteful and embarrassing.
But wait a minute, as Lieutenant Columbo always mumbles, is it just possible that Chinese Logic may be valid? We live in a Wally World where most products readily available to the consumer are “Made in China.” After all, if the choice is between Turd A, sorry, I mean Product A, made in an unnamed automotive bumper factory located in Southern Guangzhou by untrained farmers (not blacksmiths), and Product B, made in a mystery manufactory located just outside Shanghai where untrained farmer’s wives (not blacksmiths) normally sew decorative cushions with embroidered images of kittens, puppies, and ducklings, the only discernible differences between the two Products will be outward appearance and price. Actual quality is not given serious consideration, leaving only perceived quality rattling around noisily in the consumer’s head, cushioned by smelly patties of marketing BS, of course.
If the consumer doesn’t care about performance and intends to use, toss and replace said turd, sorry, I mean “product,” in a short time anyway, no big deal. But given time and enough repetition could this experience have a Pavlovian doggie drool effect on consumer’s buying habits and maybe even their psychology? You bet your sweet bippy it could.
Of course I’m safe from such mind conditioning because of my most excellent tinfoil cap with its curly copper wires and red fringe (I added a groovy red fringe recently to confuse those pesky alien drones that follow me everywhere), but I worry about thee. >~(ツ)~<
When, however, the desired product is a cutting tool such as a chisel, and not a pretty polyester pillow embroidered with adorable yellow ducklings, the wise man will immediately realize that, if the choice before him is either Turd A or Turd B, he needs to find better options, none of which will involve car bumpers, embroidered pillows or Chinese turds.
BTW, none of our products or their component parts are made in China. Indeed, everything from the steel in the blades to the wood in the handles and blocks, and even the hoops are made in Japan by Japanese craftsmen. Everything. No exceptions.
Assess the Retailer
Sorry to digress. I almost fell of my soapbox and kinked some wires on my most excellent hat! (ツ)
The real-world performance of a blade depends very little on outward appearance, and not at all on cheap talk, but almost entirely on the crystalline properties of the steel resulting directly from the skill of the blacksmith (or factory in the case of most other retailers) in forging the blade and heat-treating the steel, properties that can be confirmed only through actual use. So it’s no wonder people have a hard time telling jewels from rubbish.
A few of the practical difficulties we must overcome when attempting to buy quality woodworking cutting tools long-distance include the following:
It is impossible to judge the crystalline quality of steel and the quality of a blade lamination in tools from photos on websites or in catalogs alone;
It is impossible to judge the crystalline quality of steel by simply holding a tool; One must actually use it hard and sharpen it a few times;
Many marketing claims are unreliable because they are written by shopkeepers and/or people in marketing departments that have never used a Japanese plane, chisel or saw except to maybe cut open a box of printer toner. They couldn’t discern the quality of steel in a chisel even if they sat on it. For a long time. And wiggled around. So you need to assess the veracity of the retailer’s claims.
Most online retailers offer no real warranty, and even if they do, the customer ends up paying all the costs required to benefit from it, an expensive proposition internationally. When considering any purchase, much less a long-distance one, you would be wise to select a retailer willing to repair or replace defective tools. And you need him to pay the shipping costs.
If we can’t reliably assess the tools long-distance, the next-best option is to assess the seller and his warranty. Here’s a few common-sense suggestions:
Read the retailer’ product description and information carefully and ask questions. Beware of retailers who provide only sketchy information lacking details and who won’t or can’t answer your pertinent questions.
Understand the source of the information being provided. There are exceptions, of course, but most websites selling tools take a blurb from the wholesaler’s or distributor’s marketing people, dress it in a short skirt and high heels, and trot it out curbside. Sometimes they trip on those heels exposing their spotty unmentionables. How embarrassing! Often the information they put out has a peculiar odor you can detect if you pay attention. We recommend you look for first-hand, accurate information without unsightly undies, hairy legs wobbling on high heels, or BO.
Understand the retailer’s practical experience with the tools, because this will help you assess the veracity of his claims. Does the fella selling the tools or the person recommending a particular tool or brand of tool to you have personal experience with that tool or brand, or are they just parroting claims by a wholesaler or distributor who, like him, has no direct experience beyond selling, and maybe sitting on, chisels?
Here are some questions you might ask: Have they cut mortises with the chisels they sell? Have they planed beams with the handplanes they sell? Have they cut kumiko panels with the saws they sell? How many times have they sharpened, by hand, the tools they sell? What angle did they sharpen the blade to? How did the tool perform? Most stories invented by marketing czars or e-commerce pukes will begin to fall apart at this point.
Be Knowledgable. If you don’t have it already, you will need to gain some knowledge on the subject to enable you to ask relevant questions, ascertain the retailer’s level of knowledge and experience, the truth of his claims, and the suitability of his tools to your needs. This means finding valid sources of information and studying.
At C&S Tools we provide reliable information, without smoke and mirrors, to help buyers make wise decisions. For free. We reveal who we are and what our experience is. We have used similar tools as a woodworking professional for many years, and have personally tested to destruction the tools we carry, so we can share valid, useful opinions. We will provide details and helpful guidance instead of the usual silence or weasel words.
Seek relevant recommendations from experienced people who know what they are talking about. Whenever possible seek the advice and recommendations of friends or people you trust who have direct, hands-on experience with the tools sold by the retailer in question, not just some guy sitting in his Mom’s basement trying to justify his tool purchase by convincing others to purchase the same tool because misery loves company.
Beware of advice from the guy who claims to have decades of experience, but in reality bought his first Japanese tool only 3 years ago and has never been paid a dime for using it. Yes, there are too many of those “experts” out there.
Beware the trolls and orcs on the forums. The amount of truly useful information and advice to be found in those roiling cesspits is too little to measure.
The experiences and opinions of our customers recorded in our “Testimonials” page may be helpful.
Make sure the retailer provides a valid guarantee, one that won’t cost you money to benefit from. More on that below.
We do our best to follow the ancient principle Benny Franklin puts forth in his saying quoted above: “Well done is better than well said.”
Before you lay down your money, make sure the seller has a guarantee for defective materials and workmanship just in case the tool turns out to be more rubbish than stork. Honoring a warranty of this type internationally can be expensive, in fact ruinous, if the tools are routinely defective, but a responsible retailer selling quality tools should be able to handle it. We believe it’s only fair that most of the expense of honoring the warranty be borne by the retailer, not the customer. What do you think?
At C&S Tools we offer a full warranty on materials and labor. If the tool is either defective in materials or workmanship, or not what we represented it to be, and on condition that (i) your expectations for hand-forged tools are realistic (perfection is unattainable); and (ii) you have done your job correctly and not abused the tool or failed to maintain it properly, we will either replace or repair the tool or refund the purchase price. If indeed we or the tool are at fault, we will also pay all pre-approved shipping costs. That’s truly the best international warranty in the business, one we put in writing in all our invoices without weasel words, and one we honor.
If you have a problem, simply let us know by email and we will respond. You will not be told to “take a number” from a dispenser that looks like a hand grenade and be left to stand in line. You will not be ignored.
Free, Useful Information Without Strings
Knowledge is power.
There’s a lot written in plain, mystery-free language in the many pages in this blog to help you learn what you need to know to make wise decisions about Japanese handtools. We encourage you to plug-in to this power, no cords attached
While we’re on the subject of cords, you may have noticed that this blog is unusual in that it has no advertising, and no sponsors, not even promos of video games or home-security systems. It produces zero income by itself. Foolish as it seems, we have no SEO strategy. Patreon is a brand of non-stick frying pan, right?
Please notice that there are no links to e-commerce pages. We only sell stuff to people who want it enough to ask for it because keeping product in-stock is not easy with the dramatic decrease in active blacksmiths nowadays.
If you ask a question, make a comment, or purchase something from us we will never share or sell your information. We hate data miners because they are filthy sneak-thieves.
The Three Options
We will conclude by directly addressing the title of this article.
There is an old saying, a version of which goes like this: “You have three options: (1) Beautiful Appearance; (2) High Quality (cutting performance in the case of chisels, planes and saws); and (3) Reasonable Cost. Choose any two.”
A wise man may obtain two out of three;
Many are lucky to get one out of three;
Some get none;
The fool believes he got them all.
We have clear objectives with regards to these three options, with measurable standards and specifications.
We place highest priority on highest-quality materials, skilled hand-forging, and rigorous heat-treat to ensure the ideal crystalline structures are formed and maximum possible performance achieved because they are working tools for professional woodworkers. This is absolute.
Reasonable price is a close second priority because they are working tools for working professionals,
Appearance is third, because they are working tools for professional woodworkers, not “safe queens” for collectors. Perfection is unattainable
Beautiful appearance in a hand-forged tool is a relatively expensive thing to achieve. It takes skill, time, and lots of expensive handwork with files, effort that contributes nothing to performance in a working tool, so we assigned it lowest priority.
To achieve both the target appearance and price, our blacksmiths shape with fire, hammer and grinder and finish with sanders, not files. The results look pretty good, but are not up to Ichihiro’s standards of beauty (the chisel at the very top of this page is an authentic atsunomi by Ichihiro). Fortunately, the prices are not up to Ichihiro’s standards either, thank goodness.
What are your priorities?
If you have questions or would like to learn more about our tools, please use the form located immediately below titled “Contact Us.” Please share your insights and comments with everyone in the form located further below labeled “Leave a Reply.” We aren’t evil Google, incompetent facebook, thuggish Twitter, or the Congressional IT department of the Democrat Party and so won’t sell, share, or profitably “misplace” your information. May an elephant caress me with his toes if I lie.
For a change of pace, I would like to share this charming folktale from Kagoshima Prefecture, Japan, of a sort traditionally told to small children.
We originally posted this little story about a year ago, but since those pesky pixies seem to have pulled it down, we are re-publishing it today for Japan’s Labor Thanksgiving Day holiday and because Tengo was such a great workman (or at least labor producer).
I have included photo extracts from the Kasuga Gongen Genki E (春日権現験記絵) scrolls painted in 1309 on silk using silver and gold paints, showing carpenters working on the Kasuga Temple jobsite.
My children and I enjoyed this story. Perhaps you and yours will too.
The Tale of Tengo and Tenjin
Once upon a time there was a very good carpenter. But he was sad because he lived alone, so he asked the prettiest girl in the village to be his bride.
She did not want to marry, but to put him off without hurting his feelings, she decided to charge him with an impossible task.
“If you will build me a big house with 60 tatami mats in a single day, then I will marry you.” (60 tatami mats = approx 99 square meters = 1065 sqft based on the standard modern tatami mat)
The carpenter was shocked by this demand, but because he wanted her for his bride, he boldly accepted the challenge saying: “I will build you this house in one day.”
His voice rang with confidence as he said this, but he despaired in his heart knowing he could not build such a large and beautiful house in one day. He thought to himself “ What shall I do, what shall I do?”
But never fear, because as you have probably guessed, our carpenter was no ordinary fellow to give up easily. Before long he came up with a plan.
He made 2,000 dolls out of straw and breathed on each while casting a magical spell transforming them all into human carpenters.
The carpenter and his 2,000 man crew then went to work.
With the assistance of his 2,000 helpers, the carpenter completed building his bride-to-be’s house before the sun went down that day,
Overjoyed, the carpenter flew to the pretty girl’s house to tell her of his success. “I have finished the house you asked for. Please marry me now!”
“Truly?” she asked. Upon inspecting the work she found a big, beautiful house with 60 tatami mats, just as she had asked. “I will marry you.” she said.
And thus the prettiest girl in the village became the carpenter’s bride.
The carpenter and his bride then moved into their happy new home.
Afterwards, the 2,000 carpenters scattered throughout Japan to build houses, temples and bridges and teach many other carpenters how to build beautiful things for many years.
After several happy years had passed, the bride said to her husband “I have been silent up to now, but the time has come to tell you the whole truth. I am not really a human being, but an angel named Tenjin. I came down to earth from the kingdom of heaven. But the time has now come for me to return to heaven.”
The carpenter replied: “Ah, well, now that you mention it, I’m not a human being either, but a carpenter god named Tengo. Let’s both return to heaven together.”
So Tengo and Tenjin rose high into heaven where they still live happily ever after.
If you have questions or would like to learn more about our tools, please use the “Contact Us” form located immediately below. Please share your insights and comments with all Gentle Readers by using the form located further below labeled “Leave a Reply.” We aren’t evil Google, incompetent facebook, or twitchy Twitter and so won’t sell, share, or profitably “misplace” your information.
This post is about a tool that looks quite ordinary but is in fact extraordinary in subtle ways.
Why Do Woodworkers Need a Good Straightedge?
When woodworking we need to be able to mark and measure straight lines and examine the precision of edges and surfaces. There are several ways and tools available to accomplish these tasks, but the steel straightedge is efficient for shorter distances, assuming one’s straightedge is up to the job.
For most woodworking tasks we don’t need a precision straightedge. But for those few activities where it is necessary, nothing can take its place. So what are some of those activities? I can suggest a few from my experience:
I use a precision straightedge as a “Standard” to check that my working straightedges and squares (the ones that are used and abused daily) are truly straight and square. This is necessary because, during use, Murphy governs all operations, while pernicious Iron Pixies dance among the piles of dandruff on his shoulders. Due to their malicious ministrations, measuring and marking tools are easily damaged, wear-out, and lose tolerance so I need a reliable “Standard” to check them against regularly. Of course, you can’t check for straight or square unless you have a truly straight line/surface to index from. It would be silly to imagine that the edge of one’s tablesaw top or jointer table are perfectly straight without first checking it against a reliable standard;
I use a precision straightedge to examine the soles of my handplanes to help me keep them straight, flat and free of wind because it’s very difficult to plane a flat surface with a screwy plane. No matter how much time I invest in truing my planes, I’ve found the results are never better than the straightedge used.
Check that lapping plates and the float-glass plate I use for truing stones and plane soles remain within tolerances. Yes, they wear out too.
Check that the tables of stationary equipment such as tablesaws, bandsaws, jointers, and planers are true, and that infeed/outfeed soles of handheld electrical planers are properly aligned;
Check that surfaces of wooden components of special projects requiring extra precision are true.
Do you ever need to accomplish any of these tasks?
Tasks for Which the Matsui Precision Straightedge is Not Ideally Suited
The Matsui Precision Straightedge is not an expensive tool, but since it is one I rely on, it is most cost-effective to protect it from premature wear and damage, so the following are tasks for which I use a less-expensive and less-protected “working straightedge” instead of my Matsui precision straightedge:
I don’t use it for checking sharpening stones. The Matsui straightedge can do this job with style, but after a few years of being pressed against (and dragged over) abrasive stones, the tool’s precision would be degraded. Better to use a less-expensive straightedge for this job, and check it occasionally against the Matsui Precision Straightedge to confirm it’s still straight. If it isn’t, fix or replace it.
I don’t use it for daily general woodworking tasks. Once again, the Matsui straightedge can do general jobs with style, but after a few years of being pressed against (and dragged over) wooden surfaces, the tool’s precision would become degraded prematurely. Instead I use a “working straightedge” that has been checked against my “Standard” Matsui Precision straightedge;
How To Use a Precision Straightedge for Checking Tools and Surfaces
Neither the human hand nor eye can measure a straight line or a true plane with any precision unaided, but there is one technique older than the pyramids all woodworkers must be proficient at, namely to place a truly straight, simple straightedge on-edge on a surface to be checked, be it a board, a jointer outfeed table, or the sole of a plane, and shine a light source at the gap between the straightedge and the surface being examined. If gaps exist, light will pass between the edge of the straightedge and the surface being checked confirming the surface is not straight and/or flat. The human eye can detect even a small amount of light this way and both quickly and effectively judge how flat the surface being checked is with a surprising degree of accuracy.
Another technique that yields more precise values without relying on Mark1 Eyeball is to place the straightedge’s beveled edge against the surface to be checked, and insert feeler gauges into gaps between the straightedge and the surface. If the feeler gauge selected won’t fit, then one replaces it with thinner gauges until one that just fits is found.
Once you know the value of the gap between your straightedge and the area of the board you need to true, for instance, you can divide the measured thickness of the shaving your planes takes in a single pass (easily checked with a vernier caliper) to calculate how many passes it will take to true the high-spots on a board. eliminating a lot of the guesswork that makes precise woodworking difficult at times.
To reliably perform these checks, we need a truly straight straightedge. Straight is a relative thing, but straightedges sold for woodworking are seldom straight because purveyors rely on purchasers to not bother, or even know how, to check the quality and precision of the straightedges they sell.
Another reason honest, precision straightedges are relatively rare among woodworking tools is that making a high-tolerance piece of hardened steel that is straight, and will stay that way, is hard work that most woodworkers are neither inclined to appreciate nor bother to check, much less pay for. Is ignorance bliss? I believe it is in the natures of our Gentle Readers to always strive to improve the quality and efficiency of their work. A high-quality precision straightedge is an essential tool in that blissful quest.
Challenges & Solutions
The dilemma of the straightedge is that it must be thick and rigid enough to prevent warping and flopping around in-use, but reasonably lightweight and not too bulky or it will be clumsy. At the same time, it must not be too thick, or it will block out most of the light passing between its edge and work-piece making it useless.
Another challenge the straightedge faces is the constant threat of damage. If the delicate edge is too soft, it will become dinged and deformed instantly becoming inaccurate. And if the straightedge rusts (the bane of steel since ancient times), precision will suffer.
What are the viable solutions? They are obvious and proven, but seldom implemented well. Here is how Matsui Precision does it.
Stainless Steel Construction
First, they use high-quality stainless steel to prevent corrosion. If you work in humid conditions or if you will admit to perspiring salt-laden moisture at times, then this is important, but not rare.
Properly-sized, Precision-ground & Polished
This straightedge is not an insignificant piece of stainless steel. It is available in various lengths, but in the case of the Matsui’s 400mm straightedge (a handy, reasonably-priced length), the blade is 34mm wide and 3mm thick, enough to keep the blade rigid in use and prevent warping, but not so wide or thick as to feel heavy or clumsy. It weighs 320gm, a nice balance of rigidity and weight.
Compact, lightweight tools made using quality materials efficiently have a deep genetic attraction to the Japanese people.
What is more rare is the fact that Matsui then precision-grinds and precision polishes the stainless steel (not the same thing) so the tool is as straight and flat as machinists require, because this is a tool designed to the higher standards of machinists, not just woodworkers.
Hardened & Trued
Matsui also hardens the stainless steel to ensure the tool is rigid and will resist wear and damage over its long useful lifespan.
During heat treating and grinding the metal warps slightly. After stress-relieving the tool, Matsui inspects each tool one-by-one and corrects irregularities or rejects those that cannot be sufficiently corrected. It’s called quality control, something that never happens in China or India in the case of tools intended for woodworkers.
To make it easy to see light passing between the straightedge and surface being checked, one edge is beveled. The importance of this detail cannot be overstated.
In the case of the tool we are introducing here, Matsui cuts a small semi-circular notch in the beveled edge of the blade to provide clearance for irregularities in the surface being checked, such as welds, or in the case of woodworking tools the cutting edges of the blades of handplanes, electrical planers and electrical jointers. This is an important and unique feature.
Why is this notch so useful? The problem with using a metal straightedge to check/true the sole of a handplane has always been that, in order to correctly check for flatness/wind, the blade must be set to project from the plane’s mouth the same amount it should be when the plane is being used, because in the case of Japanese planes the wedge-shaped blade applies slightly different pressures on the wooden block at different depths in the block, producing variable degrees of deflection.
But if the blade is projecting from the mouth from the same amount as it will be in use, then the straightedge will ride on top of the blade preventing a proper examination, and at the same time, possibly dulling the blade and gouging the straightedge. The solution has always been to adjust the blade to not actually project, but to be just in-line with the sole, a fiddly process that has resulted in many dulled blades, scratched straightedges, and inaccurate examinations.
With the elegant Matsui Precision straightedge, however, the notch fits directly over the projecting blade avoiding the irritating and time-wasting fiddling normally required to get the blade in the exact position, one that ultimately yields an imperfect reading.
If you need to maintain handplanes, electrical woodworking tools, or do precision woodworking and need an accurate, reliable, lightweight, durable, reasonably-priced straightedge to help take the guesswork out of these jobs, this product is just what you need. I have been using one for years and couldn’t get by without it.
If you are interested, send us a message using the form below.
The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining.
John F. Kennedy
This article is based primarily on an online discussion with Gary, a truly Beloved Customer, regarding his wise observation about the need to make a toolchest easily repairable, especially if one intends it to be useful for 200 years. I touched briefly on most of these points in previous posts in this series but failed to address the subject of repairability. I would like to clarify a few relevant points in this article.
There are several types of repairs that a faithful toolchest may require during it’s lifetime if it is to remain useful, but I think the two main categories are cosmetic and mechanical. So what did I do to facilitate Moby Dick’s “repairability,” and what would I change to improve it in this regard? Frankly, I gave the subject little thought while designing it, so perhaps you may learn from, or at least giggle at, my mistakes. Soft giggles only, please.
It’s just a wooden box, but it would be wasteful to make it quickly and cheaply, get it out the door, receive payment, and hope cheap materials, crappy hinges, sloppy tolerances and loose joints won’t matter because, with an intended useful lifespan of 200 years, Poor Quality Equals Miserable Failure.
In my experienced professional opinion the only effective way to ensure quality is to actively plan for it during the design phase. It would be foolishly optimistic to imagine quality could be achieved otherwise.
This is one area where the pooch walked funny for a few days because I screwed it good. But wait, there’s more to this tale of shame. When I realized my mistake and tried to remediate it, I only compounded it. Poor sore Poochie!
You, Gentle Reader, have of course never suffered this sort of humiliation, but in the interest of sad and abused toolchests everywhere, I bow my shiny bald head, place my hand over my heart (it’s rattling around here in my chest somewhere, although my wife sometimes disagrees) and humbly confess all. One or two teardrops fall, …
When new, my toolchest was striking in appearance, with highly figured solid mahogany wood panels (not veneer) exposed on the lid surfaces and a clear, high-gloss, rubbed-out catalyzed varnish finish. It was a thing of beauty, but not a joy forever because, after several years of use in a drafty, dusty, pixie-infested garage shop followed by several long-distance moves and more than a few months of exposure to wind and sun it was scratched, dinged and crazed.
In my foolish vanity I repaired it using what I thought were sound techniques and quality materials, but which eventually proved to be wasteful.
I’m a highly-edumacated fella, you know, and during my studies at the University of Stupid, School of Hard Knocks where I earned an MD degree (Master Dipstick, Summa Cum Laude) I learned that catalyzed varnish was not tough enough. Out of an abundance of humility I don’t display my UoS graduation certificate on my “I Love Me Wall,” so please don’t ask to see it.
Drawing upon my training at UoS, I next refinished the toolchest with a brushed-on spar-varnish finish. Not as pretty, but it was more flexible and more resistant to scratches and UV rays. But ultimately, it too failed. Poochie wept!
As the wise Nigerian Prince Musa Adebayo once told me (in exchange for a small wire transfer to his bank in Abuja, of course), “ Time destroys all things.” This eternal truth definitely applies to woodwork finishes, but I didn’t realize at the time he was talking about credit ratings!
A decade or so later the toolchest (aka “Moby Dick”) was as scratched and gouged on the outside as its fishy namesake such that no translucent finish could conceal the repairs, forcing me to seek a more practical solution, one that would spare poor Poochie further indignity.
On that bright day I said to myself: “Self,” (of course, I don’t address myself as “Mr. Covington” when deliberating with myself, because that would be insane), “Would you wear a bespoke tuxedo with handmade alligator skin dress-shoes to a muddy jobsite to perform a foundation rebar inspection?” I had to think about it for a while because, as you know, fashion is my life, but with a sigh of resignation I eventually answered myself, because that’s the only polite thing to do. The response was a resounding “No.”
In my supervisory role, I’m obligated to perform periodic construction jobsite inspections as part of quality control measures to ensure compliance with plans and regulations, but I wouldn’t wear a black tuxedo and delicate loafers to a jobsite any more than I would wear board-shorts and flip-flops. Instead I dress in tougher clothes that protect my legs and don’t instantly tear if they get hung-up on a rebar cage, and that won’t look filthy if they get a little muddy. And when the paparazzi’s cameras aren’t rolling (they seem to follow me everywhere, donchano (ツ)) I prefer boots that actually protect the tasteful glitter-varnish finish that decorates my fuzzy pink toes.
With greater age and experience I finally concluded that in my vanity I had erred by trying to make a toolbox look like pretty furniture. Feel free to mock the fool if so inclined but no tossing of rotten eggs, please!
So, determined to not make the same mistake a third time, I researched finishes that might work. In the end I rejected the extremely tough, expensive and difficult-to-repair industrial solutions such as Imron and Polane and settled on a cheaper, friendlier and easier-to-repair solution; I sanded my toolchest down to bare wood and refinished the exterior with distressed milkpaint per Mr. Dunbar’s recommendations, as discussed in a previous post, and shellac on the inside.
When cured, milkpaint contains oodles of hard mineral solids with few volatiles to evaporate over the years to cause shrinkage and cracking (unless you want it to craze). It is not as flexible as latex paint but much tougher long-term than any clear finish. UV protection is absolute.
Like a Tabasco Sauce stain on camo pants, repairs are nearly invisible, indeed they even improve the chest’s character. With a bit of primer, milkpaint covers bondo used to repair the cuts, scratches, and dings incurred during international moves, the ravages of rabid forklift attacks, and even injuries received from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune (yes, here at C&S Tools we quote literary giants such as Shakespeare andRed Green). Latex paint works too, but milkpaint looks better and it’s far tougher.
But Gentle Reader, you are no doubt wondering what all this rambling has to do with “repairability.” The point is that repairs to a distressed milkpaint finish are easily accomplished and don’t look like repairs even when made to localized spots, they just give the overall finish more “character” making it look more interesting. No other finish I am aware of looks better with age and wear. Now that’s true repairability.
I only regret it took so long to stumble upon this excellent solution. So does Poochie.
Mechanical Repairability: Hinges & Screws
Hinges always wear out. The historical record shows that cute iron hinges secured with small steel screws, while inexpensive and “historically correct,” always fail, usually sooner than later, as Murphy dictates. And when they fail, Murphy also ensures that they cause interference and secondary damage.
Would you use flimsy sheet-metal cabinet hinges to secure the tailgate of your pickup truck knowing that one day you may see that same tailgate in your rear-view mirror scattering festive sparks as it skates down the highway behind you? Why would you put them on your toolchest?
Being in the construction industry I know the solution to hinge durability is to use more, bigger, corrosion-proof hinges because larger internal bearing/wear surfaces free of abrasive iron oxide wear slower and keep things tighter. Think stainless-steel or brass door hinges. Commercial ball bearing door hinges are good too, but the bearings are oriented for an axial load, not a side load, so the cost-benefit analysis of bearings in this application is weak.
But I digress. How does one plan for repairability in the case of hinges? The answer is simple: “R&R,” as in “remove and replace.” Let’s look at “replacement” first.
Unless you or your descendants (assuming the chest stays in the family, which it should) intend to have replacement hinges custom-made when the original set wears out (funded by the generous cash inheritance you will no doubt bequeath them) I recommend you plan for the original hinges to be quality products matching industry-standard specifications. Why would you use custom-forged hinges that look “antiquey” but that aren’t a standard dimension for which replacements are easily purchased? A toolchest is not a jewelry box.
I recommend you use door hinges in standard sizes so they can be easily replaced without hiring a blacksmith when the time comes, a day that certainly will not fall within your lifetime if you heed the advice in the previous paragraphs. This is the essence of “repairability” as it applies to hinges, IMO.
Moving on to the “remove” aspect of R&R, what else can go wrong with hinges? That’s right, those pesky screws.
If you use the skinny, short screws that are packaged with the hinges, sure as eggses is eggses they will begin to dance the reverse macarena after a decade or four. I promise you that when that inevitable day comes, replacing them and their worn-out holes will be a pain in the shorts. And what happens to the wobbly lid before you or your great grandkids get around to fixing those idiot screws?
But wait, it gets worse (stay away Poochie, stay far away!). What happens when the hinges wear-out or fail but you can’t remove the blasted screws to replace them because they have broken-off in the screwhole during the removal attempt? That’s right, blasphemies and curses will fly because a clean replacement will be difficult, and perhaps never happen, turning a measly two-hinge chest into a lop-sided one-hinge chest. Why would you give Murphy the satisfaction?
The best way to improve the “remove” factor in R&R therefore is to use oversized, extra-long, stainless steel grade 8 screws actually made in American, Europe, or Japan. Oversized because strength improves durability. Extra-long because the deeper a strong screw is embedded in the wood, the more resistant to the reverse macarena it will be.
Grade 8 because this is an industrial specification that tells you something about the screw’s quality, reducing doubt. They cost more, but are worth it when you consider what would happen if a cheaper screw, one made to no quality specifications, breaks off in the hole when it comes time to remove/replace it.
Stainless steel because brass is too weak and a rusty carbon-steel screw will become a loose screw every frickin time.
Made in America, Europe or Japan because, while Chinese-made screws are cheap (often sold under false pretenses as “quality fasteners”) one must assume they are ALWAYS defective and will SURELY break. Indeed, it’s not a matter of “ if” they’ll break but only “when.“ Murphy won’t need to lift a finger.
If an inexpensive stainless-steel screw is sold at a big-box retailer, even if it’s represented to be Grade 8, assume it’s made by Godless, bait-n-switch commies. No, not the gangsters that burned down Portland, Seattle and Minneapolis, nor the ones that govern the coastal strip of land between Mexico and Oregon, but those in Beijing.
Reputable marine supply stores may be the best source for quality stainless steel screws.
I also encourage you to prep the screw holes in the hinge plates by countersinking them to the right depth and angle for solid, maximum contact between screwheads and plates.
Prep the screw holes in the wood too. Drill pilot holes the right size and right depth, and put epoxy or glue in the holes just before inserting the screws to penetrate the wood and reinforce the threads the screws cut into the wood.
And if a screw becomes loose, figure out why and repair it instead of just screwing it in tighter and tighter until it strips out.
Remember: History always calls an optimist who didn’t prepare for the worst eventuality a bone-headed loser.
Mechanical Repairs: Tray Sliding Surfaces
Besides hinges the other things in a toolchest that always wear out and need repair are the surfaces that support the trays and on which they slide. This normal wear is easily remedied by planing the old, worn surfaces flat and gluing in durable hardwood wear strips. The lower the coefficient of friction the better. I have installed six replacement sliding surfaces to the ledges of my toolchest. In retrospect, it would have been better to rabbet and glue these strips in-place when new so they would be easier to remove & replace when necessary.
Knowing these surfaces would wear and need replacement, I intentionally screwed the ledges that support the trays to the chest’s sides so they can be removed and easily worked on with handplanes instead of gluing/doweling them in-place. I highly recommend this design detail.
The subject of “reversible adhesives” such as hide glue or starch glue is interesting, and relevant to repairability because such adhesives make non-destructive disassembly of wood joints possible. Unfortunately I have no experience with hide glue.
A renowned master joiner taught me his philosophy on the subject of glue, and it has stuck with me (pun intended). He held that it’s the craftsman’s job to make his work as precise and durable as possible when new, therefore obligating him to use the strongest, most durable glue available to him and reasonably practicable to ensure that, if repairs are necessary, it won’t be because the glue failed.
He learned the trade when the only available woodworking adhesives were “nikawa” hide glue, or starch glues made from rice, so he knew all about reversible adhesives. But when I knew him, he used PVA glue.
When I once mentioned I had read that rice glue should be used for fine joinery work to make repairs easier, he looked at me like there was a wriggling frog’s leg hanging out of my mouth, and turned away in disgust. Nuff said.
Thank you for reading this series of posts about toolchests. I hope you found it interesting, or at least amusing.
I would like to conclude with a Japanese saying relevant to the subject of this article: 「石橋を叩いて渡る」pronounced “ishibash wo tataite, wataru.” A direct translation of this idiom is “Strike a stone bridge before crossing,” meaning to “take every precaution.” I have a similar saying that goes “Belt, suspenders, safety harness.” I encourage Gentle Readers to consider this principle when designing and constructing toolchests for their personal use.
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, incompetent facebook, or twitchy Twitter and so won’t sell, share, or profitably “misplace” your information. May my grandchildren become lawyers if I lie.
I am past scorching; not easily can’st thou scorch a scar.”
Herman Melville, Moby-Dick or, the Whale
We have presented 15 varieties of Japanese chisels for your consideration at this blog to-date. In this post we will examine a specialized version of the Atsunomi previously presented in Part 8 of this series, made from high-speed steel.
The C&S Tools High-speed Steel Atsunomi
The chisel in question is made by Mr. Usui Yoshio of Yoita-cho, Nagaoka City, Niigata Prefecture, under his brand name of Sukemaru. The shape of this tool is identical to his standard atsunomi, the only significant differences being the type of steel used and the bright appearance of the blade. This is not a small chisel but a professional-grade, rugged tool with an overall length of approximately 300mm (12″). It is an indispensable tool in some situations.
If you need a smaller, handier, and more economical HSS chisel, please take a look at our HSS Oiirenomi also by Sukemaru.
What is High-speed Steel?
So just what is high-speed steel (HSS)?
HSS is a tool steel developed for manufacturing commercial cutters, dies, etc. In this case, Usui-san uses a high-speed steel designated SKH51 in Japan, the equivalent to M2 in the USA, BM2 in the UK, HS6-5-2 in Germany, and Z85WDCV06-05-04-02 in France. This is the most popular HSS in the world. If you own router bits without carbide cutters, and not made in China, you own this steel.
This variety of HSS contains buckets-full of tungsten, molybdenum, chrome, with a stout vanadium chaser.
After oven heat-treat, these chemicals make the steel tougher, more abrasion-resistant, and more resistant to softening (aka “temper-loss”) when subjected to high-temperatures than regular high-carbon steel. Its nickname of high-speed steel comes from the tendency of cutters made from this steel to retain their hardness even when worked so hard blade temperatures become hot enough to draw the temper of standard steel cutters, softening and making them useless.
The chemical composition is listed below, just in case you are interested. You can see what I mean about “buckets.”
Chemical composition of SKH51/M2 HSS Steel
Why Use High-speed Steel?
The next question in our Gentle Reader’s minds, no doubt, is “what are the properties of high-speed steel and what difficulties can a chisel made from this special steel help me overcome?” Let’s answer these questions below.
Toughness and Shock Resistance
Perhaps the most significant property of high-speed steel is its toughness. SKH51 (M2) steel is the most shock-resistant of the high-speed steels, making it especially suitable for use in a chisel that may impact hard objects in daily use but must survive without chipping or breaking. This toughness provides huge benefits in the situations described further below.
Abrasion resistance goes hand-in-hand with toughness, but it is a different characteristic many misunderstand. It does not mean a cutting edge will be sharper than a cutter made of high-carbon steel, only that it won’t wear and become dramatically rounded-over as quickly. In the case of chisels, a blade made from highly abrasion-resistant tool steel will reach a certain level of sharpness (or dullness) and remain at that level a relatively long time allowing a cutter to keep on cutting without becoming useless. But the quality of the cut will decrease, and energy necessary to motivate the blade will of course increase as the blade dulls with use.
Abrasion resistance is not typically considered overly important in blades where great sharpness is given priority, but it is extremely important when the blade is used to cut materials such as exotic hardwoods that contain silica crystals, or Engineered Wood Products that contain hard adhesives and/or highly-abrasive particles such as silicon carbide deposited by sandpaper, or dirty wood contaminated with sand, grit and other contaminants that will literally destroy the cutting edge of a plain high-carbon steel blade making it useless.
Just as a strong truck would be at a hopeless disadvantage in a Formula One race, a McLaren MP4/6 with all its speed, power and agility couldn’t tow a heavy trailer 100 yards through the mountains. Horses for courses.
Engineered Wood Products
One major challenge the HSS atsunomi excels at overcoming is modern wood products called Engineered Wood Products (EWP)
Commercial carpenters and cabinet makers nowadays have no choice but to use modern EWP such as plywood, MDF, HDF, OSB, LVL, glulams, etc.. Unlike new, clean, solid lumber cut with saws and planed with knives to final dimensions, engineered wood products are comprised of wood veneer, chipped wood and/or sawdust glued together by hard adhesives that will harm standard steel tool blades. HSS handles these difficult adhesives easily.
A bigger problem associated with EWP is the extremely hard abrasive particles left embedded in them by the sanding belts used to dimension and smooth them, particles much harder than any heat-treated steel, that will quickly destroy a good high-carbon steel chisel. Being much tougher and more abrasion resistant than high-carbon steel, HSS can handle this abrasive residue without being destroyed. That does not mean abrasive particles do not scratch and dull HSS atsunomi cutting edges, it just means they won’t chip or break and will keep on cutting longer than HC steel blades.
Restoration & Remodeling Work
Another type of work this HSS atsunomi excels at is restoration work, remodeling work, and chisel work around concrete and masonry.
In the case of restoration work, the job usually involves cutting wooden structural members and finish materials that are old and dirty and contain hard abrasive dirt, sand, small stones and of course hidden nails and screws that will not only dull a chisel blade but may badly chip it.
For instance, a Beloved Customer who is a timber-frame carpenter in the Czech Republic was tasked with splicing segments of new timber to replace rotted-out sections of a large number of 300 year-old rafters during the ongoing restoration of the Grand Priory Palace located in Prague (constructed from 1726 to 1731), an ancient city with many beautiful, old structures.
The wood was dirty and full of gravel and broken-off nails that chowed down on standard chisels without pausing for a drop o’ Tabasco Sauce. But our HSS atsunomi chisel made it possible for him to cut and fit the timber splices while working on the steeply-slanted roof far above cobble-stone streets without chipping the blade and without stopping the work for frequent resharpenings beyond an occasional touchup with a belt sander.
In the case of remodeling work, one must routinely cut precise holes through existing wood contaminated with abrasive dirt and hiding screws and nails, as well as lathe, plaster and drywall containing abrasive sand, and in close proximity to mortar and concrete which contains sand and gravel aggregates that will dull, chip and even destroy a standard chisel in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.
If you have ever done remodeling work or an installation that took a chiselwork to perform, you know the despair one feels when gazing upon the damage done to a beloved tool.
Likewise, during installations, cabinetmakers must make precision cuts in abrasive engineered wood products such as plywood, OSB and MDF. Our HSS atsunomi chisel, as well as our HSS oiirenomi chisel excel at this job being far more durable than standard chisels with high-carbon steel blades.
The jigane Usui-san uses for his HSS Atsunomi is a harder version of the standard low-carbon steel he uses for his standard atsunomi. The furniture (katsura (hoop) and kuchigane (ferrule)) are made from mild steel, not stainless steel, despite the bright appearance, and will exhibit corrosion over time. As an option, these two parts can be ordered blackened creating a two-toned chisel some people find attractive.
Heat-treat and Hardness
To prevent chipping, the HSS blade is heat-treated in a special oven in accordance with a formula to a hardness of Rc63, intentionally a little softer than the Rc64 hardness listed for this steel. Even then, this is harder than nearly all currently-available Western chisels we are aware of.
The blade’s bevel angle is 30°, the standard angle for Japanese woodworking chisels. To reduce denting you may want to increase the angle to 35° if you will be cutting through hard materials.
Resharpening in the Field
Another huge advantage of Sukemaru’s HSS chisels is that they can be quickly resharpened to a usable cutting edge in the field using angle grinders and belt sanders without losing temper and softening so long as one is careful to keep temperatures below 650°C (1200°F), not difficult to do if one pays attention. Don’t underestimate the efficiency this feature will bring to your work some days.
The compromise with HSS chisels is that, while they can be made extremely sharp using stones and proper technique, they will never become as sharp as our hand-forged high-carbon steel chisels. Moreover, they will take twice as long to sharpen by hand using conventional wetstones and waterstones. They are not ideal for all jobs.
Sharpening time can be reduced dramatically by using aggressive diamond plates.
We have personally tested these chisels to failure and resharpened them. We are confident of their quality and performance.
If you need an exceptionally tough chisel that can “take a lickin and keep on tickin” even in conditions that would destroy a regular chisel, then the HSS Atsunomi, or where a smaller tool is required, its tough little brother the HSS Oiirenomi, will get the job done for you.
If you would like to know more about these chisels, please drop a note in the form below titled “Contact Us.”
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