I have this beautiful Sorby 10″ dovetail saw for sale. NOW SOLD!!
Last week I had the pleasure of going back to the Midlands, the place where I was born, to meet an excellent fellow named Robert who had some wooden planes for sale. I’ve been hunting for a nice half, or full-set of moulding planes for a while. These Routledge planes were particularly attractive to me, being born in the Midlands, and Routledge was an excellent planemaker from the area.
Robert was passing on a collection of planes from his grandfather, who had been a cabinet maker. Rob turned out to be a very good salesman. As well as agreeing a deal on an extra bunch of planes and miscellaneous tools, I went back home with a bit more weight than I anticipated!
By the time I left, the planes were joined by some lovely Thos Ibbotson ‘pig-sticker’ mortise chisels, some Sorby and Marples carving chisels, too many awls and screwdrivers to list, and one other thing. Robert made me a deal which included also taking away his grandfathers home-made tool chest. A wondrous great mahogany beast, which will take a bit of work, but will be a nice piece when I’ve finished it. The Volvo was nearly doing a wheelie all the way back to London.
Chisels come in a variety of guises. Bevelled, mortise, gouges, cranked gouges, cranked bevelled, paring, , the list goes on and on.
Two things I love about vintage chisels though, are beautiful boxwood handles and the fact most of the good makes were made from ‘carbon steel’, or what was known as ‘forged’ or ‘crucible steel’. Meaning the blades were forged, ie hammered under heat, and the resulting edges and steel composition reflected that in the quality of the blade and the edge it can hold. And these old chisels really do hold their edge. Put a standard bevel of approximately 25 degrees on them, with a further honed edge, and they are sharp!
There are many different modern varieties of chisel out there now, some of them excellent, like the Lie Nielsen range. The debate over A2 steel or O-1 steel really comes down to whether you want to sharpen your blades more or less often. O-1 steel can be sharpened to a higher degree, with a more shallow bevel, but you will have to sharpen more often.
I’ve started here collecting decent English makes with boxwood handles. Basic bevelled chisels will be good for the majority of jobs, and various sizes will allow you to work on variously sized work, such as finer dovetails. If you really want to get specialized, you can get special ‘dovetail chisels’ which have almost non-existent shoulders, ie the narrow flat along the edges of the chisel. This allows you get right into the dovetails to pare very cleanly. If you’re really smart, you can make your own!
There are a million videos about creating your own dovetails on the web if you want to experiment. I’ll be doing a long post on this at some point when I start making my own. However, here’s a decent video on ‘Woodtreks’ of Craig Vandall Stevens doing a decent job.
Paring chisels are, well, for paring. They are much flatter in profile, which allows you to run flatly along the workpiece much more easily, paring away small amounts of stock.
Mortice chisels are obviously for making mortices. Here’s Frank Klausz, doing it properly. They are designed to be hammered, they’re much more solid, with a square section blade, rather than flattened.
For the time being, I’m collecting bevelled and mortise chisels, the types and sizes I think I’ll use the most for my particular work. From then I’ll move onto a couple of in-cannel gouges, for cutting out small curved sections, such as overlapping mouldings.
I spent so long looking for a good, unadulterated, original one of these, that in the end I bought one from a dealer. The Stanley #112 is a scraper plane, basically a mixture of the Stanley #12 and a Stanley No.4 smoother. It’s used to scrape a fine finish over stock and has no other uses. And of course, there are new models out there, and obviously Lie Nielsen has a pretty much exact copy for sale. However, if you know me, you’ll know I always prefer to go ‘old-skool’, so I wanted to find an original Stanley.
The performance of the plane very much rests on setting and adjusting the angle of the blade. Not getting it right will produce a teeth-grinding chatter, akin to the kid drawing his fingernails across a blackboard. Correctly setting a ‘burr’ on the cutting edge is also very important. This is known as ‘burnishing the blade’. You’ll need a hard steel rod (or proper burnishing tool) and a vise. Basically, you’re trying to create a small sharp hook all the way along the bottom of the blade. This sharp hook is the fine edge that scrapes the stock, when held at the correct angle in the plane.
When it comes to fine-tuning the blade, some people will swear by the original Stanley blades, which are markedly thinner that some new production replacements out there today. However, the excellent Hock Tools, who make a new, thicker blade, have a good write up on their site about how to create that all-important burr.
I recently came across a wonderfully well-researched page on tyzack.net, describing Henry Tyzack’s move to Hackney from Sheffield. Not only do I live in Hackney, I’ve worked in and around it for a decade or so. I’m very familiar with all the addresses mentioned and the author’s descriptions give a wonderful colour and reality to what life must have been like as a 19th century tool maker in the East End. Well worth reading this fascinating page and other pages from the site. I’m now looking at my Tyzack tenon saw in a completely