Japanese tools #3: Eight old Japanese chisels NOMI get back to life.

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Blog entry by mafe posted 08-17-2011 02:20 AM 34993 reads 4 times favorited 22 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 2: Japanese chisel NOMI setup Part 3 of Japanese tools series Part 4: Japanese chisel box (urban recycle project) gift... »

Eight old Japanese chisels NOMI get back to life.
A little travel from trash to treasure…

If you want tools that do not need some sweat before using them forget about old used Japanese nomi (chisels)!
This blog is for those who want to understand their tools, to trim, adjust and become the master of your tool by understanding it to the full.

In the last part of this blog series you can read a lot more about Japanese chisels, in this blog I will only show my restore of a handful of old Japanese chisels that I bought from a guy on the Japanese E-bay (No I speak no Japanese).

Why do this?
To try and understand these Japanese chisels, to see the different types, to try and use different types – yes I am curious and want to learn and this was the only force for this. And since I could not go to a flee marked, this was the second best solution.

Nothing like boxes in the mail, I had boxes from many counties these last year’s where I have played with tools and it is not the first from Japan, but the first with old tools and this made me kind of exited.

So what did I buy?
At E-bay I found some sets of four Japanese carpenter tools… Three sets to be exact, the first set were three chisels and a file, the next three chisels and a cutter and the last was four chisels.
They all seemed to be different, both of shape, type, age, makers and quality, also together they could become a set since the sizes was different too, so it was just what I was looking for.

The seller was a nice guy that also wrote English and this made life easier for me…
He had also this old plane (to restore) that he could throw in on the deal and gave me a fair price on the shipping so we landed just over a hounded dollar in total, what I found fair so I accepted the deal.

Back to the chisels.
I will not start to guess on the quality, not either which of them that are hand forged and which are factory made, for this my knowledge are too limited, but it is obvious that some of them are stamped with maker and that one are for sure send out of a production line (that might still mean hand forged).

They are all except for the widest one with no bevel edge on the sides, this was normal for Japanese chisels.

A single one seems to be quite new, and have a flashy label with ‘superior gold quality’ on it.
What this means time and use will tell.

The little cutting tool looks like so.
I have restored it and given it a sharp edge, if it will find a use…

The file might be handy one day, a fine little Japanese saw file.

The way you can see it is a saw file is by the slim profile that are needed to sharpen Japanese saws.

We can’t win them all…
These two was after my judgment not to be a part of the final set.
As you can see the top one is bend, and the lower is of doubtful finish.

A crack in the steel on the cutting side will be trouble.

A ferrule that is this open in the joint might be trouble.

A blade where the meeting between the softer top layer of steel and the hard cutting steel under (lamination) is this bad made could be a sign of low quality.

A broken handle could be replaced.
But a ferrule that are made of an extra washer and seem to need love might also be trouble.

And finally a hoop that is broken might break on a good punch.
So I decide that those two chisels will end their story here.

A handle that have been shortened for some reason, perhaps wear, is for me just a charm.
A handle that have taken an ugly striped patina, and with a strange gold sticker, this can be fixed.

Two chisels where the wood has been dried out so bad that the surface can be a problem, so perhaps I will need to make new handles.
I actually expected that I needed to make new handles to all of them…

Here you see the wood that are really, really tired.

First step is to clean and sand the four chisels where the wood looks fine, I end with grain 120.
Then stick them in linseed or Danish oil for at least twenty-four hours.

Wipe them of and this is what emerged from the past.
What do you think?
I think beautiful!

Look at the details, the patina and not at least at the name engraved in this handle here.
Do I really need to say more?

Four handles passed the first step – four to go.

Off goes the gold label, I hate stickers even when gold.
Acetone is good for this.
The hoop also goes off (look at my last chisel blog to see how).

Then the handle was sanded down and this left it even uglier, and for sure with stains from rust (probably why the seller had cleaned it so much that the steel shines).
And it is time to dye the thing so that it will blend in with the others, I used three tones, red brown, dark brown and black.

Now time for some sharpening to take a break from the handles.
First step here is a flat back. Yes the Japanese chisels are famous for their hollow backs, but several of these old ones did not have this, and this was another way to read the age of the chisels.
This one had some pits, and as you can see needed some flattening.

Time for serious moves on a sharpening stone, here on my diamond stone (not a good one) since this one takes of some steel quite fast.

As you can see it hollows by the point so it will need a little more, it is especially at the cutting edge it needs to be dead flat.

This is good, flat and ready to go to next grid.

I give it some rubs on sandpaper 600 and then 1200.
This makes it as smooth as I want it.

So here the first six Japanese chisels can get a rest in the little Japanese toolbox I made in Paris a long time ago.
(Perhaps it was written in the stars).

The two bad boys with the dry wood, I decide to try and rescue also, this for the reason that the other handles now are such a beautiful bunch that two new handles could become strangers.
So first I sand of the bad wood in the surface after taking the hoops off.
Then dye the handles a little so the surface becomes homogeneous after the sanding.
Then leave them in linseed oil for another twenty-four hours and cross my fingers.

And this is what rises up from the ashes.
It feels hard and seems strong, so yes I might be lucky.
(Notice I marked the hoops not to mistake up and down).

Cleaning up the inside of the hoop from loose rust.

Here my way of mounting the hoops, I use a piece of pipe to secure an even blow when I gently with a heavy hammer bang it back in place.

Like so, 1-2 mm under the end grain.

And then time to drive the wood out so it holds the hoop.

What do you think?
I sharpened them all in the angles they came except one that was all the way down on nineteen degrees, this one I sharpened to 25 degrees, the others was between 25 and 33. This because I will like to try and use them as they has been used before I change anything.
They all gets really sharp and all seems to hold a good edge, I will get back to this at one point when I have used them for a while.

So here they are, all with their own charms.

I smile!

Gave them all a tour on the buffing wheel with a paste to polish and after one with gloss.
(Just as I do with my knifes).

And I think it is time we send a warm thought to Japan and those guys that have used these chisels, they will be in my mind when I use them, and I thank them for giving them the life that I have now brought back to the surface.

Before we end this blog I need to give them shelter, a place where they can be protected and the edges can stay sharp – a chisel rack.

And this is where they will stand and bring me not only the ability to use them, but also the chance to enjoy their beauty while I work and let my eyes wander over the table.
Yes I am a lucky man – thank you!

Hope this blog can bring some help or inspiration to others that want to play with Japanese chisels, perhaps it will even bring life to some more chisels that seemed to have outlived their life’s.

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.

22 comments so far

View kenn's profile


813 posts in 4774 days

#1 posted 08-17-2011 02:34 AM

Sweet save of some nice chisels. I haven’t used any Japanese chisels … yet… so it will be interesting to hear your impressions. It look like that wide one is just a nub but it makes the set look complete. Amazing what a bit of linseed oil can do to wood.

-- Every cloud has a silver lining

View blackcherry's profile


3345 posts in 4878 days

#2 posted 08-17-2011 02:39 AM

Tear of Joy , these are wonderful looking tool…I will be planing my own restoration of these same type chisel…thanks for the inspiration….BC

View WayneC's profile


14359 posts in 5152 days

#3 posted 08-17-2011 02:49 AM

Very nice Mads. I am green with envy. :)

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

View bko's profile


118 posts in 4072 days

#4 posted 08-17-2011 03:20 AM

These look wonderful! You have a gift for turning your small projects into inspiration to us all!

—Brian in Boston

View Chelios's profile


568 posts in 4121 days

#5 posted 08-17-2011 03:26 AM

What a wonderful set you ended up with. I can only imagine all those chisels have been through. Well done!

View SamuelP's profile


793 posts in 3701 days

#6 posted 08-17-2011 03:28 AM

Is that just plane linseed oil you are using on the handles? Then a polish compound and a wheel?

Very nice finish.

-- -Sam - FL- "A man who carries a cat by the tail learns somthing he can in no other way" -Mark Twain

View ShopTinker's profile


884 posts in 3823 days

#7 posted 08-17-2011 03:49 AM

That was an amazing restoration. When I saw how dry those handles were I didn’t think there was any point in trying saw them. They drank that oil up and seem to be rejuvenated. That is another very nice set of chisels you have there. Thanks for sharing their rebirth. Their original masters would be pleased by your work.

-- Dan - Valparaiso, Indiana, "A smart man changes his mind, a fool never does."

View Don W's profile

Don W

19988 posts in 3622 days

#8 posted 08-17-2011 05:47 AM

very interesting chisels and as usual, I love your blog.

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

View Lars Öhlin's profile

Lars Öhlin

83 posts in 4412 days

#9 posted 08-17-2011 06:43 AM

As always you offer us an exciting journey in to the world of woodworking tools!

I asked one of my Japanese colleges what the flashy label said: mount Fuji star.
Star can be read as hero. So it really spells: The Hero of mount Fuji.

-- Lars Öhlin [Sweden - Helsingborg - Domsten]

View PurpLev's profile


8652 posts in 4703 days

#10 posted 08-17-2011 06:54 AM

beautiful journey back to life.

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View Beginningwoodworker's profile


13345 posts in 4728 days

#11 posted 08-17-2011 03:34 PM

Great save!

View 58j35bonanza's profile


395 posts in 3747 days

#12 posted 08-17-2011 06:26 PM

Beautiful job!
The journey these chisels have taken would be quite a story, if they could tell it.
You just add 1 more chapter.

-- Chuck

View DaddyZ's profile


2475 posts in 4095 days

#13 posted 08-17-2011 07:09 PM

Nice Set !!!

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

View stefang's profile


17040 posts in 4389 days

#14 posted 08-17-2011 07:52 PM

I am surprised and impressed at how nice those handles look after the oil treatment. Good work on the restoration too.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View mafe's profile


13089 posts in 4144 days

#15 posted 08-17-2011 10:03 PM

Hi guys,

Mike, so nice to have you back, I acually missed you. I was also happy that the handles became so beautiful after the restore, the only problem is that now my new Japanese chisels look really borring and lifeless compared, but that is a luxury problem that use will take care of, in thirty years they will also have a soul.

Some people like new stuff, I love when it have a life.

DaddyZ, I smile here.

Chuck, yes it is also what I think when I hold them, and I promise I will treat them well in this chapter.

CJIII, ;-)

PurpLev, a second chance, life is sweet.

Lars, that was interesting. I think I will call the set ‘mount Fuji star’ I love the sound of that, and it will bring me beautiful pictures in my mind of Japanese landscapes. Thank you.

Don, as usually I am touched by your words.

ShopTinker, my grandfather learned me a life lesson I try to live by. ‘If you borrow something, diliver it back better than when you got it’, I belive this set now is brought back to life, and so I borrow it, since one day it will hopefully pass on to another soul that will use it. Yes I have too many chisels… I’m guilty. lol.

sprevratil, I soaked them in linseedoil yes, but also gave them a tour with Danish oil since this gives a better glow to the wood. This subject is of many meanings, some thin their oils to make them penetrate better, in Denmark our goverment restoration unit say this has nothing to it and that the terpentine people normally use to thin it with acually dry out the wood, but this is a subject with many answers arround. I belive that it is better to use the oil pure and then give it the time it need.
Yes, then a polish compound on a cotton wheel.

Chelios, yes the thoughts can easy go travel with one of these in the hand.

Brian, for me to be able to inspire are a gift from you to me also.

Wayne, my green friend, you get a warm tought from me here.

BC, I will look forward to se your restore, and it makes me smile just to think of it. Nothing is as revarding as making some old tools come back to life, no new purchase can bring me even a fragment of joy.

kenn, the wide Japanese chisels are usually not so long, so it looks worse than it is, this chisel will due to the hardness of the steal outlive me. I have used my new Japanese chisels for a while now, and I love them, I love the crisp edge, and the ability to hold it. I’m sure you will love yours to.

If the original masters sit up there on a sky and smile… We do not know, but I do love the thought.

Thank you all, and all my best thoughts,

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

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