Skip navigation

A pair of chisels reground with left and right skewed edges is almost essential for cleaning out the sockets of lap dovetails. These chisels are useful for other tasks as well – tidying up the inside of the pegbox of a violin or cello, for example. I’ve got several pairs in different sizes and, although I don’t use them everyday, there are jobs where no other tool will do.

Actually, that isn’t quite true. A fishtail chisel makes a good substitute and, because it can work into both left and right pointing corners, you only need one tool rather than a pair. Last Summer, visiting Mark Bennett in his workshop in Yorkshire (see below) I saw him using one made by Lie-Nielsen. It was such an attractive looking tool that, even though I didn’t really need it, I couldn’t resist buying one to try.

After it arrived, I honed it, maintaining the 25° angle of the original grind. Perhaps it was my lack of skill – keeping such a small bevel flat on the stone wasn’t easy – but I never managed to get it properly sharp. What’s more, the edge that I did achieve didn’t stand up to use on hardwoods.

Of course, there’s an obvious solution to both these problems: create a secondary bevel at a slightly steeper angle. Indeed, Lie-Nielsen recommend exactly that in the leaflet that comes with the chisel.

However, I was reluctant to do this freehand because, although I was sure that it would work well enough the first few times, I knew that in the long run I’d be unable to maintain the same angle. This would mean that I’d end up with a rounded secondary bevel that would require more and more honing with each sharpening to get a decent edge. And, quite apart from the extra time this would take, it’s a bad idea to hone or grind a fishtail more than absolutely necessary. There isn’t much metal there in the first place and with each grinding the cutting edge gets progressive narrower. 

A honing jig would have solved the problem, except for the fact that I couldn’t make  the conical shape of the shaft of the tool  fit securely into any of the jigs in my workshop.

In the end, I got around this difficulty by casting a mould out of the sort of two-part wood filler that sets hard in about 30 minutes. I’ve written about this technique for holding awkwardly shaped object before (scroll down in the Tools and Jigs section of the website) so I won’t go into it in detail here. But briefly, you mix a generous quantity of the filler, spread it on a board (in this case a thin piece of wood of a size that would fit into an Eclipse honing jig), cover with a layer of cling film, and press the object you want to mould into it, holding it place with a weight or a clamp until the filler sets. Then, of course, you can take it out and get rid of the cling film.

I’m hoping that the photographs below will the idea clear:

And it worked – at least for one of the objectives. The edge on the chisel was keen enough to slice soft paper towel and to pare endgrain.

Whether it will achieve the second objective of minimising attrition of the blade with repeated sharpenings is another matter. Time will tell.

Advertisements

One Comment

  1. That’s an excellent solutions. I have steered clear from obtaining tools for just this reason. What method do you employ to measure the angle you’re trying for, or is it by eye?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: