Last month, while poking around my local swap meet / flea market, I came across a rusty old chisel. I suppose I really should stop buying this stuff as I have more chisels than I could ever need, but… I am to old tools, what hobos are to cheap whisky. I just don’t seem to be able to say no. The seller asked for $4 and I handed it over.
I almost didn’t buy the chisel as it appeared to have a slight bend at the neck. I don’t mind the surface rust or the messed up cutting edge, these are both easily fixed, but the bend in the neck gave me pause. However, I figured that I could heat up and bend the neck back and if it didn’t work, I would only be out $4.
The logo on the chisel was hard to read at first, but I was able to make out “Greenlee” and “USA”. I guess that it was intended to be a 1 – inch chisel, but it measures more than that. It’s not a full 1/8″ over, but it is definitely 1/16″.
First, I removed the wooden handle from the tool and then used my propane torch to heat up the neck of the chisel. In hind sight, a propane torch probably isn’t hot enough to do this. I might have to get a MAPP torch for future use. In any case, I clamped the chisel in my metal bench vise while heating it. I used my largest longest screwdriver and inserted it in the chisel socket for leverage. I then tried bending the socket in the direction it needed to go while the neck was hot. The metal never got hot enough to glow, but I succeeded in getting rid of most of the bend. I don’t think that it is perfect, but the bend was almost eliminated. I do think that a hotter torch would have helped.
When the metal had cooled, I set about removing the rust. My favorite way of doing this is at the wire wheel on my bench grinder.
I have two bench grinders. One is a slow speed and is set-up with both coarse and fine stone wheels. The other grinder (and the one that sees far more use) is set-up with a soft wire wheel on one side and a cloth buffing wheel on the other. Once I had removed all the rust with the wire wheel, I started to polish the metal with the buffing wheel.
The next task to be tackled was fixing the chewed up cutting edge. At the grinder, I ground back the chisel until I had a clean square edge. While doing this, I paid no attention to the bevel, instead grinding a deliberate blunt tip to the chisel. This helps avoid overheating the steel and creates a good starting point. The bevel will be added later.
I then slowly ground a bevel, being careful not to completely remove the blunt tip. I don’t have a very good rest on my grinder and didn’t get great results. I tried to approximate 25 degrees, but again, didn’t do so well. I’ll fix this later with a sharpening jig.
I turned my attention to flattening the back of the chisel. This took a long time, but I eventually ended up with the bottom 2-3 inches of the chisel polished up to my 8000 grit Norton waterstone.
I mounted the chisel in my Veritas Mk.II sharpening jig. I recently added the side-clamping head to the set up. I set the jig for a 25 degree angle and tried it on the stones. This is where I realized that I had messed up the bevel angle at the grinder and would have to correct it in the jig.
I put some sticky-backed sandpaper on my reference slab and started to re-grind the bevel. It always surprises me how much heat can build up in the tool, even working on just sandpaper. I keep a glass of cold water handy for the occasional dunk.
I was happily grinding away with the jig at the sandpaper, and thought “This seems to be going quickly”. The jig felt odd so I placed the set-up guide back onto the jig. This clearly showed that the chisel had shifted while in use. I guess I didn’t have the side clamping knob tight enough and the chisel had slid back into the jig. You can see in the below picture how far the chisel had moved. The chisel had started at the set-up tab on the guide. I re-set the chisel in the jig and finally ground a decent 25 degree bevel. I sharpened the chisel up to my 8000 grit waterstone.
With all the metal work done, I turned my attention to the handle. This chisel didn’t really need a new handle, but I wanted to continue with the turning experiment from my last post. In that post, London Pattern Chisel Handle, I turned a new handle for an old Craftsman chisel that I have had for some time. I used Pacific Madrone (Arbutus menziesii) and milled it to 1 1/2 inches before turning. I think that the handle tuned out beautifully, but that it was a little too large. Go have a look at the above post and you’ll see what I mean.
In any case, I took some more Madrone and milled it into a 1-inch thick octagon before turning. The below is the resulting handle. Again, I like it, but… This one is too small. I’m starting to feel like Goldilocks and the three
bears chisel handles.
Clearly my experiment with London Pattern Chisel Handles is going to have to continue.
While turning this chisel handle, I also milled up several more octagonal blanks at 1-inch thick. Now that I have decided that this dimension is too small for a chisel handle, I think I might have to make some file handles.
– Jonathan White