The Primary Difference Between a Japanese Dovetail and Bench Chisel

I was asked recently what the difference is between a Japanese bench and dovetail chisel.

If you look at the first image you can see the dovetail chisel makes an angled cut to a point, and the bench chisel more of a square cut when they’re both driven in a bit.

Angled corner vs square corner

The second image shows you why. The dovetail chisel blade comes to a point along the edge, where as the bench chisel has a ‘ledge’ or taper that is almost vertical.

Dovetail (left) vs Bench (right)

It doesn’t mean you can’t use a bench chisel for dovetails, you just have to be mindful of that fact or what will happen is image 3.

The third image shows in the right dovetail what happens when you’re using a bench chisel and drive a bit too deep. You’ll nick the corner of the tail and leave a gap. The left dovetail is made with the dovetail chisel. No such issues.

Squared tail corner on the right.

Having said that, the ‘square’ result on the edge of the bench chisel is desirable because you want to use it for mortises, dados and such and that is a good reference surface to give you a nice finish.

New Japanese Chisels, My Evolution In Sharpening #9.

I recently decided to upgrade my chisels to something that better fit my style of work, and the feel I’m looking for. While there was nothing wrong with my Lie-Nielsen chisels, I still wanted to have something more balanced, with a different handle, and something made by a small maker. I’d been fascinated by Japanese chisels, and had researched them for a bit, so I decided to switch. Along with that switch, came a different way of sharpening. If I was going to get Japanese chisels, I was going to use their traditional method of setting up the chisel and sharpening it. Thanks to the advice from Wilbur Pan from Giant Cypress, I zeroed in on Fujihiro brand chisels made by the amazing Mr. Chitaro Imai which I bought from Hida Tools.

Prepping the chisels.

Fujihiro Chisels

When I got the chisels, I knew preparing them would be different than traditional western chisels. The differences are:

  • They’re not factory setup. You need to get them ready.
  • The backs are hollow for faster honing/truing of the back.
  • The bevel needs to be honed to the angle you want to use them at for the purpose you intend to use them for.
  • The hoop needs to be properly set.
  • The back of the chisel needs to be pounded to round the end over the hoop. This is necessary so the hoop or end of the chisel doesn’t dig into your palm when pairing.

I won’t go into every detail of the setup because Wilbur Pan already wrote a fantastic entry in his blog.

What I do want to talk about is the stones I switched to in order to handle these high carbon chisels. When I tried the oil stones I use on your standard western chisels it seemed like they were not cutting this metal fast enough and in the case of the black stone not at all. Therefore in order to properly handle these chisels I needed to revert back to water stones.

Things I learned about water stones (that I didn’t somehow already know).

  • Different water stones make a different level of mess. Wait what?
    • The 1000 Ohishi waterstone is incredibly messy. It makes an awful lot of slurry and is a pain to keep things clean. My sharpening area was a mess. Compared to the Shapton 1000 stone that keeps the area fairly clear of slurry.
  • A water stone might be called a 1000, but in reality all grits are not created equal.
    • The 1000 Shapton is way more aggressive than the 1000 Ohishi. The 1000 Ohishi felt more like a 3k water stone comparatively. I don’t know which one is right, but the Shapton is quite good.
  • You can use a Kanaban (Metal Plate) to rub the water stone on to use the slurry to then rub the chisel back on. What I love about this is that the metal plate is nice and flat, so less to worry about when prepping a chisel. Going straight on the water stone means flattening the stone constantly. Using the Kanaban just requires rubbing the appropriate water stone to create the slurry and work the chisel.
  • Shapton water stones are excellent.

My Sharpening Evolution #9 – Japanese chisel sharpening setup.

Evolution #9

My sharpening setup now consist of 3 stones. The diamond plate I use to flatten the stones as I work.

What kind of edge does this produce?

Mirror finish.

Yeah this is nice

But is it sharp? This is a test on pine end grain.

Shaving the end of pine

Summary.

When folks say oil stones don’t work well on Japanese chisels, I tend to believe them now. Having said that, I will try again soon to see if the edge is comparable if I spend a little time on the oil stones. I need to first understand how the edge is supposed to feel like with the traditional stones before I switch to give it a go again.

To be clear, I am not getting rid of the oil stones. I still have western chisels, and hand planes by Lie-Nielsen that I will use the oil stones with. That process won’t change. I just have a new, additional, process for the Japanese chisels. For plane irons I hit the Black Arkansas stone. For Japanese chisels the 10k Naniwa. Not complicated.

All in all I am extremely pleased with these chisels. They’re balanced, they feel just right in my hand and as I work. I don’t have to think about the chisel or how it’s behaving; I just work. They keep a keen edge for quite a bit. I haven’t had to hit the stones yet after 3 shop sessions where I’ve been working on building drawers. Time will tell how often I need to walk to my sharpening area and hit the edge on the 10k stone.

To read the rest of the evolutions, start here.

The shop move is complete.

It took 3 months from start to finish but the shop is finally ready to roll.

The two mover guys came on Saturday and I watched them move the shop, which included a heavy bandsaw and Roubo bench, in 1 hour. It was impressive if not unnerving for me.

Moving a few hundred pounds like it’s nothing.

At the end of the move I was left with this giant puzzle to untangle.

Barely any room to move.
Now to work through this.

After two days of work, which included some purging of old finish and things I didn’t know I kept, some great help from my kids, and the Bora wood rack showing up Sunday instead of next Tuesday, I finally got things in place so I can access and use them.

Bora rack.
Peg board needs reorg.
Everything a step or two away.
Band saw and router table.

It’s time to get back to work on the credenza. Before I do though, it will be necessary for me to cut some dovetails and practice again, as well as prep and sharpen the Japanese chisels that arrived while the shop was in limbo.

Finishing the inside

It’s been a couple of weeks and now the shop inside is complete. That includes work to dry wall, mud, paint, final electrical, and floors.

The drywall wasn’t too bad to install. I decided to place then sheets horizontally, and one vertically to minimize cuts and seams. The one challenge was to remove the mini split from the wall so we can slide drywall behind it.

Used a ladder to keep the mini split hanging off the wall.

Overall it took about 6 hours to do the whole thing.

All the drywall is in.

Then came the mudding. I’d never laid down mud before and it was a serious learning curve. I don’t know if I’d do it again. I had challenges with the tape bubbling because I didn’t have enough mud behind it, then when I had enough with it I switched to fiberglass tape and that went much faster.

Fixing tape bubble

Once I got the hang of the process I was able to get fairly well feathered sections which I then sanded and smoothed out with a damp sponge.

Cleaned up joints.

I waited a full 24 hours in between layers for a total of 3, lightly sanding in between.

After the mud comes the paint. I used premium latex paint for the base. It always surprises me how much paint a dry wall absorbs. For this 12×20 room it took 2.5 gallons of paint over two coats to provide a clean and smooth looking finish.

Base coat complete.

Then a friend of mine recommended a light yellow for the large wall. I wanted a color that was relaxing, happy, and instilled creativity. This particular yellow fit the bill, and it was on brand for YelloWax.

Baby yellow.

Finally after a good cleanup my electrician came back out to finish the electrical wiring. Every wall as at least one combination of 100/220 plugs. the 220 is European style and works with my bandsaw as well as my Hold Heet glue pot.

220/110

He did quite the clean job on the panel wiring too.

16 breakers for the whole shop

The main incoming is also protected by gfci, which is not only required by code but also a good idea given the lightning storms we get here.

Top is for hvac. Bottom feeds the walls.

Last but not least: The floors. I re-used the floors we had in our basement. They click together so are fairly easy to remove and install. Under the floors I added a moisture barrier that also served as a sound dampening layer. I also decided to use the floors as a baseboard. Why? Because why not. It saved me money and it looked pretty good.

Floors complete.

At this point I need to finish the trim around the door and add the baseboards under the windows. I am leaving the window trim for after my tools are in the shop. Some of the rip cuts I want to make need my bandsaw. I don’t have a table saw so I use my bandsaw to rip.

Next weekend I have a couple of mover guys coming to help me for two hours to move the biggest and heaviest stuff from the shop, starting with my Roubo bench and my bandsaw, followed by anything else they can move within the allotted time.

Insulating the roof of the workshop

Unlike the roof of a home where you will find a 2×8 or 2×12, TuffShed builds their roof with 2×4. Given that the city is requiring me to use R-38 type insulation, the 2×4 joists pose a real challenge because the insulation is 8″ thick. Solving that problem took a bit of trial, error and research before I figured out the correct and clean solution to get it done.

Well I did a different kind of wood working this past weekend. It started pretty badly but then in conversation with my wife and a friend came to the right solution. Of course now my wife gets to say: you see if you’d listened to what I was saying in the first place, then you’d be done earlier…yep she’s right.

So this weekend involved putting up insulation into the roof of the shed. Unfortunately the shed has joists that are 2×4, and the city is requiring me to put in R38 insulation which is 8″ thick. So my first attempt trying to use straps and then testing with spare fence boards looked like this

Insulation too thick to even try to compress in.

Not only does this reduce the efficiency of the insulation, that wasn’t going to work for me from how it looked. I was getting super annoyed about it because finishing the roof wasn’t in the cards right now, and the solution needed to be clean.

After much discussion, I tested out to see how deep I really needed to go by attaching 2x2s on top of each other to see if 6″ will work or if I have to have 8″

Testing the thickness.

No matter what I needed 8″… this is where my wife got to say: I told you so, you need to just add a 2×4 and then you can put some furring strips and all will be fine. Brand recommended some type of strong tie and I landed on getting the RTU 18-Gauge Galvanized Rigid Tie Connector for 2x Nominal Lumber.

The Galvanized Rigid Tie Connector.

and of course being a wood worker I took care of matching the wall angle and as much as possible the angle to the roof joist. You can also see that I added the initial furring strips to keep the insulation in place while I installed the second row. Once I had the insulation up and stapled though, things stayed in nicely while I worked.

All the 2×4 extensions are in.

After that I added the second strip to make sure things would go as expected and they did. You can see how thick this stuff is.

Side complete and fitting nicely.

Then moved one more layer to the top part

Side and middle complete.

I then let it rip across the whole thing

Roof insulation completed.

All in all it was about 6 hours of work, and then some trips to Home Depot for more things I needed to get. I need 2 more 1×2 for the center so it looks right, though it won’t have any effect on it staying up. Great side effect is that it is currently 78 outside and 68 in the shop with the Mini Split off. So clearly it’s working.

I called for the inspection today and will pass tomorrow, after which it’s dry wall time.

Building and moving to a shop in the yard

Ever since I’ve taken up woodworking and started a small business with it, I’ve contently worked in our house basement. The space is a cozy 14×17 and suits my mostly hand tools approach to my work, with a couple of recently-added power tools to help me thickness and rough-out parts.

Our basement was only half finished. Because of the pandemic, and the nature of my day job shifting, we decided to remodel the basement, add a room for my wife’s craft room, a media room, and bathroom. That in turn would free up the TV/playroom for my office space. but what about the shop?

After much consideration, we’ve decided to build a shop in our back yard. The shop is really a large shed made by TuffTurf. A really well constructed space that feels and looks more like a tiny house than a shed.

I spent the past few months chowing designs, creating the site, getting permits, and finding the right contractors to do the work. The shop would be limited to a budget we were OK with, and one that would benefit the business over time. It would then be 12×20, which is slightly narrower and longer than my current space, have electrical power, a mini split, insulation and dry walls as per code requirements from my city.

The site was marked and flattened, big tree stumps removed (over 30” wide) and I then laid some gravel as a base.

Leveled site
Gravel down

The day of the install the shed showed up flat on a truck. This thing is a bit like a giant IKEA project.

Flattened shed

The speed at which this was built by two men was impressive. The whole thing was done in 10 hours. I setup an iPad upstairs and did a timelapse. You can also see the crew of 4 digging the electrical trench in the lovely Georgia clay.

By the end of the weekend the shed looked like this. Painted in two colors and ready for a rough out of the mechanical (mini split) and electrical.

YelloWax workshop

At this stage the electrical and mechanical are rouged in. The electrical has 1 220v circuit and 5 115v 20amp circuits. I had to think through an initial layout which I drew on my iPad to figure out the possibilities. I landed on a first setup that will look like the one below. The two cabinets under the window will get a thick wood surface. The intent is to use the surface as a way for the kids to do some woodworking, as well as assembly or additional gluing areas for larger projects.

For the mini split I chose a DIY Mr. Cool unit at 12k btus that should be plenty for the shop.

Electric Rough In and Indoor unit.

Next week I go through my first inspection and then it’s time to put in the insulation. R15 for the walls, and r38 for the roof.

I never apologize for the value of my work, and neither should you.

I often discuss with friends and colleagues in the woodworking community how we choose to price our work. It’s an interesting debate that never results in an answer. The reality is that there is no one universal answer for: What is my work worth?

The Reality Of Our Consumption-Driven Society.

We live in a high consumption society, IKEA is nearly the norm. The likes of Crate and Barrel or West Elm make fairly good mass produced furniture, and they set the people’s expectations for what a piece of furniture costs. But what about one-of-a-kind craftsmanship-level furniture? Unique furniture made of high-quality hardwood, and sometimes exotic wood, created with hand tools only or a mixed approach of power tools and hand tools, take time to make. Handmade furniture always results in unique texture, wood grain, attention to detail, and fits your space perfectly. Why, then, do people associate the cost of those masterpieces to those at big high production store?

The Lesson In Setting Expectations

A good friend of mine approaches me and asks if I could build two heirloom quality blanket chests. I draw a couple of ideas of what I envision them to look like. She loves it and immediately discusses price. I quote her the cost of each without context. Not only was it out of the budget, but I unintentionally made her feel uncomfortable because she doesn’t expect the cost. I would not be surprised if she initially thought I was out of my mind. I feel the need to explain myself, something like this: When I build a piece, I choose the wood myself at a lumberyard. I match the color of the wood, the flow of the grain, and look for defects. I then proceed to carefully mill the wood by hand, with a hand plane. I cut the pieces to size with a hand saw. Sometimes for longer cuts, I use my table saw to get through it faster and with more accuracy. The chests uses dovetails which I cut by hand. Rabbets for the bottom and I shape the feet by hand using chisels, rasps, and a spokeshave. Once glued, I painstakingly finish the wood with multiple coats of french polish and shellac, followed by paste wax to protect the whole thing; an extremely labor-intensive process. My lesson here is: Explain how I work before discussing a price. When I do, the potential client won’t ask for a price because they realize this is not something they want to afford, and when they do it’s because they’re ready to.

Tools Are No Exception

The same thing applies to the tools I and others make. When you consider the quality of smaller production artisan shops like Blue Spruce Tools, Bad Axe Tool Works, Vesper Tools, Red Rose Productions, or even smaller like Caleb James all have incredibly fine tools, with quality beyond what you get from the top of the line larger productions from Lie-Nielsen or Veritas, and let’s not even mention big box stores. We pay for those tools because they are made with such high attention to detail. Because someone, usually a one or two people shop, has looked at every tool that makes it out of their shop. The same is true with my tools. They’re not cheap, and there’s a good reason for that.

Conclusion.

Take pride in your work and consider your work quality and value. If someone thinks it’s too expensive, then they don’t really understand the value you’re offering; and that’s totally OK. I don’t support starting out with low prices then raising them gradually as you gain popularity or skill. That sets the wrong expectations. If your price is low the expectation is that either your quality is low, or your price will always be low. Bringing the price up over time is tedious, and you slowly lose your original customer base because they can’t afford you. So what is my work worth? I believe it’s: What won’t make me feel like crap because I didn’t charge enough for my hard work, regardless of whether I sell one or thousands of the things I make.

My Evolution In Sharpening My Tools: Evolution #7 & 8 – Oil Stones and Freehand

Evolution #7: Two Oil Stones and a Strop.

At his point, I want to get closer to what Maguire does. When I look at the Soft Arkansas Stone it is not as expensive as the Black Stone, and I order one. I fully vest into oil stones and sell the diamond stones. Selling the diamond stones covers for the cost of the soft oil stone and leaves me with a chunk of cash for future tool investments – Because in woodworking, we all have a Tool Acquisition Disorder (TAD). To my big surprise, the soft stone cuts faster and more consistently than my diamond stone. People may argue that it’s a style issue, maybe I didn’t use the diamond stones right, or perhaps use a different liquid, or freehand, or voodoo dolls. Look… I know that diamond stones don’t work as well for me. Let’s just leave it at that. The soft stone reset the small secondary bevel quickly. I move to the black stone, 5-6 strokes and I have my burr. Hit the strop and go to work. No mess, and no fuss, only a smooth super fast sharpening workflow.

Still getting jig-y with it.

To me, this is as close to super sharp, efficient, and mess-free as I am going to get. Or is it? I was still using a jig. I know I need to figure out a way to get comfortable with freehand sharpening to see what kind of results I get. To this point, I am still leaning heavily on the jig, and various posts I read from experts differ in the benefit (or lack thereof) of using a jig. One school of thought professes that the precision of the secondary bevel in sharpening is so important to precision in woodworking, that preparing it any other way is foolish and would yield sloppy work. The second school of thought professes that sharpening freehand is faster, produces just as much precision in woodworking, wastes a lot less iron during sharpening, and using a jig merely gets in the way of the flow of the work. Off I go back to the Maguire’s videos because to this point his simple logic proves to be right and easy to follow.

Evolution #8: Hello Freehand Sharpening.

Maguire is right. Period. I’m not going to argue with you if you don’t agree. Don’t really care to be honest, but here is what I learned: Getting rid of the jig, is like getting rid of a crutch. Sharpening with the freehand ‘Maguire Method’, not worrying about how flat a bevel is, or how precise a secondary bevel is will create just as sharp a tool. It generates an edge that lasts just as long as anything else I’ve tried. It encourages me to sharpen more regularly, instead of waiting until the edge is not performing – because I didn’t want to stop to get back into the jig to sharpen. Since the oil doesn’t leave a mess everywhere, and certainly no water to risk rusting your tools, it means that I can leave my stones on my bench, and the moment I stop in my flow to think or go to the next step in my work, I just hit the black stone a couple of times, strop lightly 5-6 times, and get back to work. Freedom!

Today

  • I have sharp tools.
  • I have two stones and a strop. (see blog post picture)
  • I use oil over water (or windex, or honerite or… you choose your poison).
  • It takes me 30 seconds to a fresh edge.
  • It takes me 10 seconds to a refreshed secondary bevel.
  • I don’t use a jig unless I want to refresh the whole bevel.
  • I use a grinder to reset the iron’s primary bevel from scratch.
  • And most importantly: I sharpen often.

Sharpening is now fun, it’s easy, simple, not rocket science, doesn’t need to be emotional, cause a big debate, or cost an arm and a leg, and it makes me a better woodworker.

So what’s the point of this journey?

The point is not to have a really pretty shiny edge that lasts forever. It is not about sandpaper, water, diamond, or oil stones being better or worse, or the level of grit those accessories are. The point is not to use the highest possible stone grit to show all your friends how shiny the edge of your tool is, nor is the point that you must use a jig to create primary, secondary and tertiary bevels (sorry, Mr. Charlesworth), to be a precise and awesome woodworker. The point is to sharpen regularly as you work. Find the flow that works for you and your stones. Most importantly, give your edges a consistency that is predictable over time, all the time. The point is to never let the edge get anywhere near dull, regardless of the method. The point is that the harder we make it on ourselves to sharpen, the less we sharpen, the more our work quality suffers, and the more we get tense and frustrated in a craft that is supposed to free our minds. Sharpen more often and your tools are always really sharp. That, my friends, is the point of sharpening while woodworking. Not the stones, or the pretty shiny edge.

Evolution 9

My Evolution In Sharpening My Tools: Evolution #5 & 6 – Strop and Diamond Paste

Evolution #5: Re-Introducing the strop.

I decide it is time for me to stop resisting the strop, and learn to use it right. Sharpening through a completely unnecessary number of stones to get sharp, and diamond paste makes re-adding the strop a clear option. Learning to use the strop properly is the key to getting good results. The mistake I make is to apply a ton of pressure on the iron and into the strop, which isn’t necessary, passing the edge of the tool 30+ times on the strop. There are countless videos showing people doing that, so clearly it must be the right thing to do. It is very laborious but is still faster than going back to the jig to sharpen on the diamond paste, because I am doing this work freehanded. This approach works, and am able to keep working while stropping, though over time the edge just isn’t as sharp, or doesn’t stay as sharp with continuous stropping. I notice a difference over time when I chop away the waste of the back wall of dovetails. Some folks get different results and can keep stropping til the cows come home somehow, but not me. My sequence to this point is to keep stropping until the tool no longer feels right, go back to the diamond stone plus diamond paste sequence, then strop and work. I clearly need to simplify my life here. I start believing that sharpening shouldn’t be this complex. After all, I get good results from all of the previous approaches; I get to sharp every single time, and the tool performs really well. It almost doesn’t matter which approach and stone combination I use, the tools are sharp. I am clearly making things much more complex than is necessary.

Evolution #6: Swapping Diamond Paste For A True Arkansas Oil Stone.

While reading blogs and discussing my sharpening adventures with woodworking friends, someone pointed me to another Schwartz article on oil stones. The article was simple enough to understand and got me thinking: Oil stones don’t use water. They’re pretty hard and only rarely need to be made flat. They give an amazing edge. They’ve been in use for 100’s of years. Clearly, someone knew something the rest of us mere mortals new to woodworking don’t know or understand about these stones. While researching, reading and watching videos I am reminded of an English Woodworker video on sharpening involving oil stones and freehand techniques. Oy! Another sharpening video and method. A friend encourages me to give it and look. Maguire’s approach is simple, rooted in tradition, and gimmick-free. His video series is enlightening, and right there the simplest way to sharpen is revealed. It involves a two-sided stone, a strop, and one DMT lapping plate to reset the iron’s bevel. There is no mess, fuss or jigs. Yes, it is highly likely I’ve seen a simple approach before, Maguire is clearly not the only one, but for whatever reason, it didn’t really click, and Maguire’s did.

Hello, Oil Stones.

Into the next sinkhole, I go! I invest in a Black Arkansas oil stone from Dan’s Whetsones – I can’t speak for other stone makers here, I followed Schwartz’s recommendation. I sell all my water stones, I’m done with that mess, and that covers the cost of the Black Arkansas 8×3″ oil stone. When I get the stone, I stick to my base sharpening technique before diving into Maguire’s. This time though I go from the extra-fine diamond to the oil stone, skipping the xx-fine diamond, to the strop, and I still use the jig. The difference here is a bur and shiny edge forming off the oil stone in a mere 5-6 strokes. I am shocked! That stone cuts the Lie-Nielsen irons without any problem. I hit the strop and go to work. I am now at the simplest approach to sharpening yet, and I get back to work quickly. Not only that, but I also notice that I don’t have to strop as often. Somehow the blade’s edge off the oil stone is holding up better. I don’t know why. I’m not a scientist, nor do I run specific experiments to prove it. I just know that I work with fewer interruptions caused by a dull tool.

Some things to keep in mind.

I should note here that Maguire says that oil stones don’t work on modern irons. He’s probably right that in most cases they don’t because of the stones themselves. In the case of Dan’s Water Stones’ True Arkansas Oil Stones, it’s different. The quality of the stone is such that they work very effectively on modern irons. Again, I didn’t try it on the exotic PMV-11 iron from Veritas, nor do I care to, so you’ll have to find out for yourself (or not). What is left in this evolution? The water spray on the diamond stone, and the fact that diamond stones wear unevenly still, and hence cut differently across the surface of the plate over time. Yes, be careful to use the whole surface properly. I know, and that is a fact for all stones.

Next Evolution

Evolution 1