Japanese tools #2: Japanese chisel NOMI setup

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Blog entry by mafe posted 08-05-2011 10:43 PM 24281 reads 5 times favorited 23 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 1: Japanese hand plane KANNA setup Part 2 of Japanese tools series Part 3: Eight old Japanese chisels NOMI get back to life. »

Japanese chisel NOMI setup
preparing, fitting the hoop and sharpening.

If you are looking for ‘ready out of the box’ just leave this blog now, and forget about Japanese chisels!
This blog is for those who want to understand their tools, to trim, adjust and become the master of your tool.
Traditionally new Japanese chisels will need a setup before they can be used, for us in the west it might sound strange, to buy new that need setup… But the truth is that after you have done this process you will be familiar with your chisels and you can trim them the way you prefer.

When this is said it is no rocket science, just a few easy steps before you use the chisels, and the reason why I make this blog is to show all that it is easy.

Reading Toshio Odate’s inspire ring words in his book ‘Japanese woodworking tools their tradition spirit and use’ gave me the knowledge to get started on the Japanese chisels my sister bought me when she was in Korea by the help of our friend here Poisson – thank you all three.

And so this blog begins.

Before we really start I will tell a little of what I have read about the Japanese chisels;
If we travel to Japan we might find a little old blacksmith that can make us some hand forged wonderful chisels, perhaps even only the metal, we can have them made of blue or white steel for the perfect cutting edge, he will hammer for days on this one chisel turning the metal again and again to make it more and more compressed, with softer old anchor chain steel as the softer front part, and our smith might come from a family of Samurai sword smiths that was without a job since 1870 when swords became illegal to wear and own, he would have had to start making tools in the days where the samurais became forbidden, many weapon smiths ended like that – this is the wonderful dream.
We might also get some from a respected dealer who makes more than one chisel a week, and friends if we buy chisels from a western dealer that can get us as many as we want no Samurai smith has been involved… Be realistic please.

So what do we get? We get what we pay for!

High quality chisels, hand forged by a master smith, dead expensive, and you need to go to Japan, and you need someone to recommend the smith.
High quality chisels, hand forged by smiths in different little workshops but sold as one brand just like in England in the good old days, this is the safe way for a western to find good Japanese tools in Japan or at a respected dealer of Japanese tools in the west.
Medium – High quality chisels factory made by smiths and under strict control of quality of work and materials, it is most likely these we get here in the west, and trust me this is nothing to be sad about, this is quality at its best.
Medium quality chisels from small shops or factories, these might varies in hardness and finish, so you need to test to feel sure of the quality – these we also get here and often so cheap that we should be worried.
Finally there is crap, no reason to talk about this.

Mine is factory made and was with brand stickers on the wood that are a sure sign of factory, the quality seems excellent since the steel holds a excellent edge and can become razor sharp, the finish more on the fabrication side than ‘hand made’, and the finish from machinery still visible.
So are you happy MaFe? Yabadooo yes, I love them.

Bevel edge, three or four hollow grinds on the back and so on is all new inventions in Japan, probably from western influence so this has nothing to do with ‘traditional’ Japanese chisels even I would never buy new chisels without bevel edge, the number of hollows on the back is pure taste, more will give more support but also more sharpening.

Here is what started my interest, the gift from my wonderful sister.
Six chisels recommended by our LJ fellow Poissons woodworking teacher in Korea.
A little wonderful Japanese Kanna (Plane).
A Korean mallet and marking knife so Korea would also be represented in my work shop.

The first thing I did was to split it into pieces so I could see how it was made, and become familiar with the parts of the chisel. To do this you hold the blade and bang the handle into the side of a flat piece of wood until it will fall off, use the whole surface so you do not make dings into the handles wood.
The blade HOSAKI on Japanese chisels are of laminated steel, a layer of high quality hard steel on the back to be able to make a sharp edge, this is hardened to RC 64 normally and then a softer front that are supposed to shock absorb, I am not sure I believe in this, I believe it could give some flex on a sword, but on a chisel I think it is simply tradition because it was easier to work with the softer steal, and the fact that the softer steel was less expensive, especially when I hear they used to use old anchor chains for this part (but this is my personal thoughts).
The shank (first part of tang) KUBI, Ferrule KUCHIGANE, The handle ‘Eh’ (thank you)..., Iron ring, KATSURA.
Notice the Japanese chisels today have both the tang and the socket in form of the ferrule, in this way the handle should have an optimal shock absobtion when you beat it.

The first thing I did was to sand down the handles, this because I think they had given them lacquer.

I prefer linseed oil and wax.

To get the hoop of, place the end of the handle on top of a flat surface, I used a bolt head, then used a small hammer top tap down the hoop while turning the chisel around slow.
Hoops might be custom for each chisel so keep then separate, and they might have an upside and a down side so pay attention and mark them when you take them of.

Like this it will come of easy.
Some can be all loose from birth.

To fit the hoop and shape the top for beating you must soften the wood and turn it out (kind of like making a rivet). This can be done by beating the wood sides on the end while the hoop is off or by beating with a wedge shape at the top to split the fibers slightly so they can be worked.

Place the chisel on a piece of wood while doing this so you do not damage the blade.

Well prepared now soft.

Now work the end to create a flat slightly rounded surface that grasp over the steel ring.

Here you see the steps.

And the whole bunch done.

Now drip some oil on the tops.

And you might want to hammer a little while they are wet to make them smooth.

So here we are at the back of the blade this is hollowed out so you will need a minimum of honing each time you sharpen. It is not supposed to be a mirror shine here so if you are one of those who can’t have a tool where you can’t see your own reflection just forget about Japanese chisels.

First take a cloth with some acetone or alcohol to remove grease and rust preventing lacquer.

Then wax or perhaps camellia oil if you prefer the Japanese way of rust prevention.

Time to sharpen.
We start with the back, I use here the sandpaper on glass method, but of course Japanese water stones are more the thing…
Start by flattening the back and go all the way up to mirror polish, I went 320-400-600-800-1200.
If you use Japanese stones start with 1000-6000-10000 later you just need to touch up with the last two.

Then sharpen the bevel the same tour.

And I finish as always with a tour on honing compound on a leather strap, this gives the final touch to the razor edge and a mirror shine.
Back first.

Then bevel.

Bad photo sorry but you can see the two layers of steel.

And the shiny flat back.

Now wax or oil.

And check for sharpness – youuuhooo this is wonderful sharp.
I get so excited I need to make waves – lol.

And this is where the story ends.
The chisels right at hand in their fine new rack, what more can you ask for?
(Except a set of Iles right behind…).
Life is sweet, and full of surprises.
(Notice a little new one on the table…).

This is the end of the chisel setup blog in the Japanese tools series.

Hope this blog can bring some help or inspiration to others that want to play with Japanese chisels.

My Japanese style scraper plane:
My blog on setting up Japanese planes:
My post on the chisel rack:
Read about the Japanese tools:

Best thoughts,


-- MAD F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect. Democraticwoodworking.

23 comments so far

View hObOmOnk's profile


1381 posts in 4690 days

#1 posted 08-05-2011 11:07 PM

Ichi ban!
Here’s a picture of some Oire-Nomi that I recently setup.
The one in the middle is complete.
I add the burnt lattice pattern to both improve the grip and for decoration.
I also “tap-out” the edge with a hammer (fenate gennou) to slightly push back the soft steel layer from the hard steel layer.

Bro. Tenzin

-- 温故知新

View llwynog's profile


288 posts in 3141 days

#2 posted 08-05-2011 11:07 PM

Hi Mads,
Since you say you could not find it anywhere, the handle itself is called “柄” which is pronounced “Eh” (or “É” as I think that you can read French)

Thanks for the post.

PS, another great way to get good chisels in Japan for cheap is like in every country : flea markets.

-- Fabrice - "On est bien bête mais on sent bien quand on se fait mal" - my grandfather

View WayneC's profile


14358 posts in 4660 days

#3 posted 08-05-2011 11:34 PM

Great write-up Mads. So…..

Depends on the task?

-- We must guard our enthusiasm as we would our life - James Krenov

View ksSlim's profile


1303 posts in 3452 days

#4 posted 08-06-2011 12:14 AM

Excellent Instruction. I’m envious of your tool kit.

-- Sawdust and shavings are therapeutic

View Randy63's profile


252 posts in 3454 days

#5 posted 08-06-2011 03:00 AM

Your blogs on Japanese tools has been very interesting. I have over a period of time assembled a collection of various Japanese tools, chisels, saws, and waterstones for sharpening. I actually use them in combination with my standard tools but find I tend to favor the japanese. I don’t actually have any Japanese planes but I have used them and find them to be very effecient. My Krenov style plane I made many years ago is a modified plane that uses a Japanese laminated blade that can take paper thin shavings. Again, really have enjoyed your blogs, the scaper plane, plane set up, and the setting up and sharpening of chisels.

-- Randy, Oakdale, Ca.

View lanwater's profile


3113 posts in 3497 days

#6 posted 08-06-2011 06:41 AM

I left your blog within 3 seconds.
I decided to come back and read it fully.

I figure it does not hurt to learn something new. Boy I love the worksharp :)

Thanks Mafe always interesting stuff.

-- Abbas, Castro Valley, CA

View mafe's profile


12170 posts in 3652 days

#7 posted 08-06-2011 02:16 PM


Ian, You are just wonderful. Yes I am the same, the workshop is such a wonderful chance to learn new, and there are nothing like learning. Wonderful if you come back to read.

Randy, I have the same bug, this wonderful little Japanese bug that opens and becomes a butterfly when we use the tools, it is hard to describe, but a metal plane cant give me the same pleasure, the same feel with the wood, perhaps it is zen, perhaps it is the fact that not all are given, that we are in the elements, not just ‘adjust the latheral adjuster and turn the adjustment screw one third’ and try again… I love all my planes for each their reason, but it is only in the wooden and especially the japanese that I find this feeling of melting in with the tool… I might need a good doctor – lol. And I think the Krenov style planes when made with the heart they offer the same feeling.
KsSlim, as you write in the sub text: ‘Sawdust and shavings are therapeutic’, I have a good bunch of tools, so I must need a lot of therapi.

Wayne, spot on! Yes it depends on the task, it depends of the mood, the long Iles chisels with the ultra low sides are exelent for cleaning up, making a plane like cut, for getting super sharp cornors and so. The Japanese are another feel where your hand needs to be more the control, and they have high sides so they are not ‘dovetail’ chisels (you can buy Japanese dovetail chisels, they are usually for parring). I sharpen them with a app. 25 degrees bevel for the Iles and a 30 degrees for the Japanese, then the Iles are ready for parring and the Japanese for some beating with a hammer.

Fabrice, thank you I have added the Eh in the text now (know it is not fully correct). Since I have not been in Japan and my budget is low I will not be able to get to a Japanese flee marked. But I just bought ten old used Japanese chisels and a hand plane from a guy in Japan, all old and hand forged, all really is in need for a loving hand, and of various shapes and sizes so I might be lucky that there are one or two nice ones that will be working with me in my workshop, but this is like a lottery so time will tell. The reason I bought these were to see how they were put together, to see how they were used, to try and get a understanding of the Japanese chisels.
(I did not pay too much so no harm done).

hobomonk, wonderful chisels, that is a sweet pattern you have made, really ‘buddist’, is Tenzin not also the name of the Dali? I like it.
Why do you tap out the steel, and what is the process, I know tapping the back on the plane irons (even I fear when I have to…), but tapping the chisels… As I understand it is the meeting between the soft and hard steel yes? Hmmm can you pls explain.
Beautiful chisels.

Best thoughts from my heart guys, full of wooden zen,

-- MAD F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect. Democraticwoodworking.

View Don W's profile

Don W

19383 posts in 3130 days

#8 posted 08-06-2011 03:04 PM

Mads, you are so inspiring. I have a drawer full of chisels that need to be reworked. Your post always makes me want to just get to it. Thanks for the motivation.

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

View DocSavage45's profile


8874 posts in 3405 days

#9 posted 08-06-2011 04:18 PM

Konichiwa! ( afternoon or good day in Japanese) Sounds and looks as if you are “in the spirit” ( Odata) Enjoy the journey, moment to moment. I find it hard to do. LOL Check out “The tea ceremony” relates, And “WabiSabi”.

Being originally a “Norm” wanna be I was more power all the way? Emory on a flat surface and worksarp are great. Japanes waterstones are in the tradition…”Takai desu, ney!” (expensive yes?)

Great book that changed my thinking in addition to others is “The Complete Japanese Joinery” by Yasuo Nakahara.

Have another text in my library. Not handy at present. Blew my away..Half the book is a text translated to english regarding Japanese carpenty. Started out by instructing me to find a 6 tsubo by 6 tsubo ( a size used in Japan) place under a tree. Huh? And I said “but I just built a shop out of my barn”

Wabi Sabi!

-- Cau Haus Designs, Thomas J. Tieffenbacher

View Beginningwoodworker's profile


13345 posts in 4235 days

#10 posted 08-06-2011 06:24 PM

Great write up, Mad.

View SASmith               's profile


1850 posts in 3550 days

#11 posted 08-06-2011 07:56 PM

Wonderful blog Mads. Thank you for sharing.

-- Scott Smith, Southern Illinois

View hObOmOnk's profile


1381 posts in 4690 days

#12 posted 08-08-2011 03:07 PM

”Why do you tap out the steel, and what is the process, I know tapping the back on the plane irons (even I fear when I have to…), but tapping the chisels… As I understand it is the meeting between the soft and hard steel yes? Hmmm can you pls explain.”

I use a tapping technique to slightly compress the soft steel at the point where it meets the hard steel, about in the center of the bevel. The hammer strikes are made lightly and they are angled inward away from the bevel. The hammer indentations are no greater than about the thickness of a thumb nail. This has a similar effect like hollow grinding a western style chisel. It makes resharpening faster. Also, subsequent sharpening will remove less of the precious hard steel.

Of course this process must be done carefully. A nail set or a punch can also be used to create the indentations with precision.

Hope this helps.
Bro. Tenzin

-- 温故知新

View mafe's profile


12170 posts in 3652 days

#13 posted 08-08-2011 05:41 PM

Bro. Tenzin, I think I got it, but I will not do this with out seeing some one doing it first, my nerves and wallet are to thin. Thank you for the info.

Scott, ,-)

CJIII, ;-)

DocSavage45, Konichiwa! WabiSabi is my nature, and I have a wish to learn the tea ceremony for a long time, so yes we are on the same wave perhaps one of Hokusai.
Wabi Sabi

Don, we are two now…

Here are the vintage Japanese chisels, they arrived today – look wonderful so I smile big time.

Best thoughts,

-- MAD F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect. Democraticwoodworking.

View DaddyZ's profile


2475 posts in 3603 days

#14 posted 08-08-2011 05:58 PM

Nice, You have the best toys !!!

-- Pat - Worker of Wood, Collector of Tools, Father of one

View mafe's profile


12170 posts in 3652 days

#15 posted 08-08-2011 07:01 PM

DaddyZ, Smile here, yes I am a child.

Here is a cool link about the parts and words of Japanese tools:

Best thoughts,

-- MAD F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect. Democraticwoodworking.

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