The Best Way To Get Into The Japanese Chisel Realm

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Review by planeBill posted 11-28-2013 06:28 PM 32288 views 0 times favorited 10 comments Add to Favorites Watch
The Best Way To Get Into The Japanese Chisel Realm The Best Way To Get Into The Japanese Chisel Realm The Best Way To Get Into The Japanese Chisel Realm Click the pictures to enlarge them

After using a friends Japanese chisel one day my eyes were wide open to the performance possible from these most basic and very necessary woodworking tools. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing that these chisels can do that a 100 year old Witherby or Pexto chisel wont do, but the ease with which a good quality Japanese nomi will slice through your wood component is almost beyond belief. In fact, until only about a year ago, I used old Witherby’s and Pexto’s and Stanley’s with complete satisfaction and still own them and will probably always own them.
The problem I, and many others had with these Japanese chisels (J tools in general) was that they are too confusing to feel self assured that I was making a sound decision both monetarily and getting a quality tool. Considering the prices on many of these tools, both are major points.
Well, rest assured, buying your chisels from Koyamaichi, not Koyama, will net you all the quality and value to be had. I could not be happier.
I placed my order with Stuart Tierney, proprietor of Tools From Japan, and after a reasonable wait time of 7 weeks, I was rewarded with a set of these beautiful chisels. Yes, I said a wait time. These are not the regular chisels that are manufactured on a regular basis and sent to Koyamaichi’s network of distributors, they are made on an as-ordered basis. These chisels are a bit larger in all respects compared to the regular bench chisels, being thicker in both the blade and neck areas and slightly longer as well, both in the blade and neck and overall as well. They are made to take significantly more, I hate to say abuse but for lack of a better term, abuse. We all know not to “abuse” our tools. These are made for heavy work on larger scale works but have also served well on smaller scale projects as well.
Upon receiving them and opening the package I immediately noticed that they were very well packed and damage would be almost impossible. I unwrapped the first chisel and was very surprised by the heft, these are some very massive chisels but the balance is a thing of beauty. They don’t feel bulky or unwieldy at all, they very controlled in the hand, a good thing. The fit of the scant few parts was impeccable, the finish beautiful, making for an overall feeling and look of quality.
I chose the cored gumi, Japanese boxwood, handles. Each handle has the heart of the wood running right down the center of the handles and they are definitely meant to be pounded on and pounded on hard, without fear of splitting, and, I really like the color, a bright, light yellow that really contrasts with the black faceted, forged striking hoops. There are many handle/hoop options but I really liked this combination the best. You can get cored white oak, red oak, ebony, gumi, and witch hazel, a relative of gumi, which imparts a sort of dead blow effect. You can get bright hoops, black hoops and faceted hoops. They offer different blade profiles as well. You can have a traditional trapezoidal blade, a dovetail type blade, and a beveled edge type blade ( the one I chose ). So you can see, the opportunity for customization is definitely there.
These chisels come with a single hollow (ura) on the face of the blade that was very finely executed on each and every one of mine as I am sure they are on each chisel this very talented blacksmith puts out. Im sure a multiple hollow is a possibility.
The lamination line is beautiful and very well done. Each blade has a very even layer that comes up around the sides of the blades which serves to stiffen the blades and add much support and strength to the soft steel body of these chisels. The hard steel cutting edge is white steel and is recommended by the maker as the best choice for chisels meant to be struck with a mallet or hammer. I can not describe to you here, in words, the edge that is obtainable with this steel.
There was VERY little required in the way of set-up. There was almost no correction needed on most of the chisels and none required on 4 of them, meaning that 4 of them needed no flattening to the face to be flat, they came that way, the remainder needed very little to be made flat, a wonderful surprise as this steel is HARD! Is it brittle? Not too bad and the minor chipping I have witnessed I am attributing to the edges becoming a tad brittle due to the manufacturing process because the one that was exhibiting the most chipping has much decreased with a few sharpenings. Mortising in hardwoods like white oak and hard maple revealed the chipping which was really not a surprise, I think that would do it to most any chisel. Time will tell though.
Sharpening is not as easy as my old Stanley’s but its not too bad either, just different. I use an 800 King, a 1200 King or Bester 1200, a Suherio Rika 5000 and a Naniwa Snow White 8000 and these work fine. Ive since moved into the natural stone arena and can not give grit sizes for any of them, they are working well too. Better than synthetics? I don’t know, just different. They definitely leave a more beautiful surface appearance to the bevel.
I can not think of a way to relay the performance of these chisels in words but they definitely hold their edge much longer than any other chisel I have and I can certainly feel the increased sharpness of these compared to my other chisels. Other than those two attributes, they don’t do anything other chisels do. Is a much keener edge and keeping that edge way longer their only advantages? I guess so. Is that enough to justify the price difference? I don’t know. I guess it was enough for me, that and I think they are really nice looking.
Are these the best Japanese chisels to be had out there? Probably not, well, no, but they are definitely the leader in their price range by far. You also don’t have to worry that you are not getting a chisel by some no-name maker with questionable standards. There will be no surprises (bad ones anyway) when you buy chisels, any chisels, from Koyamaichi.
I hope this helps someone.

-- I was born at a very young age, as I grew up, I got older.

View planeBill's profile


506 posts in 3568 days

10 comments so far

View lurker's profile


4 posts in 3840 days

#1 posted 11-28-2013 09:50 PM

I ordered a pair of Koyamaichi paring chisels from Stu a couple weeks ago and now I’m even more anxious for them to arrive!

View ShaneA's profile


7085 posts in 3758 days

#2 posted 11-28-2013 10:01 PM

Nice looking set. A seven week wait will test a man’s patience, just knowing the goodies are coming would build tremendous anticipation.

View dahenley's profile


136 posts in 3253 days

#3 posted 11-29-2013 01:20 AM

How much are these? Just curious

-- David Henley

View Tim Dahn's profile

Tim Dahn

1626 posts in 4724 days

#4 posted 11-29-2013 02:13 AM

Nice write up Bill, very informative. I was wondering how the natural stones were working out.

-- Good judgement comes from experience and experience comes from poor judgement.

View planeBill's profile


506 posts in 3568 days

#5 posted 11-29-2013 04:16 PM

lurker I am sure you will like them. I also bought a 24mm paring chisel from him too and the fit and finish on it is a level above the tataki I bought. Plus, it has Koyamaichi’s two cross feather logo stamped on the blade.I like it. I plan on getting a few more.
Thanks shane, the wait was agonizing for sure.
dahenley, I bought a 9mm, 12mm, 18mm, 24mm 30mm, 36mm, 42mm, and 48mm. If you visit Tools From Japan you will see the prices for yourself.
Tim, the j-nats are just crazy. The speed with which they cut is just amazing given the finish they leave. If you are interested in maybe trying some for yourself, pm me and I will point you in the direction of where I have been getting mine. I assure you, you will not find a better deal.

-- I was born at a very young age, as I grew up, I got older.

View Planeman40's profile


1554 posts in 3920 days

#6 posted 11-30-2013 02:34 PM

I just went to the “Tools From Japan” website ( to have a look around and to price a few things and all items appear to be priced in yen. Out of curiosity, I priced a “6mm Koyama sculptor’s gouge” ( and used an online currency converter ( to convert the listed price of ¥5,895 to U.S. currency and it comes out to be ”516.83 US Dollar(s)”. Yikes!!!

Am I doing something wrong or is this really what they want for one Japanese carving gouge?


-- Always remember: It is a mathematical certainty that half the people in this country are below average in intelligence!

View KayBee's profile


1083 posts in 4406 days

#7 posted 11-30-2013 09:03 PM

$57.55 100 yen is about $0.98. Call it 100 to 1 and just move the decimal point 2 places to the left is easier.

Are these still hand made chisels? If so, then that’s a bargain.

-- Karen - a little bit of stupid goes a long way

View planeBill's profile


506 posts in 3568 days

#8 posted 11-30-2013 10:54 PM

There is also a place on the left side of each page on Stu’s site to switch currencies.
Koyama is mostlt if not completely machine made. Handmade, truly handmade Japanese tools are way beyond the means of most, well, most people I know. Koyamaichi chisels even use machine processes but from what Ive been told by Stu is that they are much closer to being handmade than any other commercially available and exported brand.

-- I was born at a very young age, as I grew up, I got older.

View darkone's profile


65 posts in 3115 days

#9 posted 12-02-2013 11:43 PM

Planeman, make sure you are looking at the Japanese Yen when doing the conversion. When I bought my stones from Stu at ToolsFromJapan, I did the same thing you did.

View jasonbyu75's profile


7 posts in 2277 days

#10 posted 07-26-2016 09:27 PM

Has anyone tried to contact stu from toolsfromjapan lately? I’m shooting 1/3 in getting a response from him. Then again, maybe my questions are just really annoying :) Like Koyamaichi (seems to be his preferred brand) white steel edge retention vs Lie Nielsen A2 when paring American hardwoods (Oak, Maple, Cherry). I was also looking for someone with actual experience in sharpening the Fujikawa Funmatsu Nezumi ‘HSS’ chisels. Is it practical to use anything but diamond plates?

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