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.

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