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Restoring Chisels, Turning Gouges and Other Edge Tools

  Handles with Leather Washers by Bob Smalser 1 of 4  

Some time ago I did an article on minimalist rehabilitation of old chisels for the benefit of tight-budget newcomers in need of high-quality tools.

Those newbies have undoubtedly progressed some since then, so today we’ll rehab even more old chisels using more advanced techniques on the lathe.

Another 30-dollar lot of eBay treasures in need of a hug.  Some of the Lie Nielsen’s of their day are in there… Witherby, Gillespie, Swan, Peck Stowe and Wilcox, Buck, Greenlee, Barton… and arguably, these cast steel beauties are better chisels than today’s prestige models, because they hold their edges almost as long but are much easier to re-sharpen than modern, A2 tool steel. 

In the era these were made, from 1880 to 1940, every tradesman knew and used hand tools, there were wood crafts with attendant specialty tools such as sash making, pattern making and coach making we don’t remember much of today… and there were dozens and dozens of American manufacturers… not one or two… competing hard with each other in quality and value for the tradesman’s favor. 

In their day, one of these cost a day’s pay or more.  Today I routinely pick them up as shown in the 2-5 dollar range…. yes, even the odd sizes.  I even like the well-worn shorties… they are easily ground into great butt chisels for those tight spots.

So new handles are in order, and as rehabbing old tools is my favorite way of introducing newcomers to the craft, all the lathe work today will be done by a 16-year-old with me standing over his shoulder.  I rehab the steel, first… and that’s covered in detail in the previous article.  Then we prepare the stock:

Turning squares of tight-grained, old growth Pacific Madrone are cut to length and center marked. Note the severe shrinkage across the grain of what came off the sawmill as a nicely square 2X2… fortunately, this species is quite stable once it is dry.  I could resurface and 8-side this stock before mounting it in the lathe… and I recommend you do for your first efforts… but teaching how to deal with lopsided stock is a training objective for today.

We also prepare leather striking buttons for the handles, using up all our odd leather scraps. I’d prefer a ground punch for this, but I don’t own one large enough and the hole saw works almost as well.

Then we prepare the tool... the lathe is checked for perfect alignment of headstock and tailstock with the tailstock locked down, the lathe chisels are honed and stropped.

Woodworker's Guide to Wood Collection only $79.99 at Shop Woodworking
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D. R. Barton

L. & I. J. White


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