OK this is too weird guys.
Remember the Chinese chisels?
My friend Mathew was in the middle of nowhere mainland China. And went
to the market in the town square, where they had hundreds and hundreds
of woodcarving chisels for sale.
Like nothing I ever saw, and nobody recognized anything when I showed
All forge rough. Seemingly not even that finely forged.
Unhandled, but dirt cheap, to the edge of practically free. heheheh.
So he bought a bunch.
Super super weird shapes. Radically skewed gouges and wide paper thin
Long skinny shanks on all of them. Unwelded sockets.
Back in China that day, they weren't exactly welcoming him to stand
and watch the work they were doing nearby. You know, repairs on those
giant unreal carved wooden bridges, and monster wooden temples all over
the place. That kind of stuff. There is wholesale wood carving in
But they weren't welcoming distractions so much.
Matthew didn't see anything except the rough chisels for sale. No clue
how they were using them. He just grabbed a sack. As much he could get
He brought them to me of course. I had a handle one, get one deal going,
except I deserved a few extra, and besides there was more than either of
us needed then.
I made him some handles and kept some chisels.
First thing I noticed is, I think the unwelded sockets are spring
tempered. I think they leave them open because if they don't pound them
in use, being springs, they bite into the handle like a piranha and
don't let go.
I tried the chisels. Tried them and wasn't thrilled. I made some
short handles and regular western sausage handles. Couldn't get the
hang of it. The balance was off. Or something. Mallet or hand work
I sent some to Jim Thompson. He tried them too. Various handle
methods and carving techniques and just never could get the point either.
Best I found to work with were short fat handles for small details.
Still not a favorite.
Eventually we both kind of gave up.
So, how long has it been? Several years?
One day I was perusing ebay, and down near the bottom of the screen,
"you might be interested ads"? Was an ad for Chinese chisels, finished.
First I had seen finished. I tried to buy them but they were already
Look at that long handle? Are you kidding me? Is that a carving
chisel or a pool cue?
What in the world do you do with this? Guess you could poke a mad dog
It looks like a lathe chisel.
I made one.
I grabbed some scrap wood and tried to make the proportional lengths
the same as the chisels I had seen in the photograph. More or less.
I tried it and it something about it worked. Balance was good. It
was now a tool in your hand.
You knew it. I was unsure on technique. You can lean your belly on the
pad and push if you want. Teriffic power that way. Seemed like some
possibilities. But something was still just a little wrong.
I had an idea. (slaps forehead) these guys are a foot shorter than me.
I could put on some lumber.
So I made the next one a few inches longer. It did feel better.
I picked up another piece of firewood off the floor. On its way to
I sharpened up the tools and clamped my firewood in the vise.
I was kind of fumbly for a while. It was working but not that easy. I
was used to pushing a carving tool forward much of the time. It's how I
always did it. You push the tool forward, and do your best to control
its progress. Read the grain and often straight ahead. Experts are
terrifically better. But basically this is how its done. Mallet and hand
pushing, and away you go.
Well these don't work that way. I mean they -can- work that way (and
But mostly, they work on leverage. You don't need thick steel
anymore. You don't need to push hard to cut wide chips. Or cut deep.
Instead, you slip the corner of the tool into the wood, with your
forward hand, and swing your other arm on that long handle.
Take a pivot point, dig in, and swing.
Whazeeeeee, the wood just evaporates!
It just gives up. And curls away with the greatest of ease. Big
chips, little ones, you pick. And it happens fast.
When you have a good read on the grain, it falls away leaving a shiny
If I was worth a crap at drawing?
Well you can get up and draw with the sharp corner of the chisel!
Like it was a pencil.
And make that your stake in cut. The extra leverage and thinly forged
tool makes it all feel like childsplay. It's freaky.
I mean guys, this is like a drawknife in moist wood.
Except its seasoned dry firewood, and douglas fir besides, which no
one in their right mind would choose to carve offered anything else.
This is straight from the tool, and not even much in the way of
"finishing" cuts. Just straight work.
I just scratched some lines, no layout, just lines
and tried to see what and if I could follow. All I had were two
In minutes flat it started becoming fun. So much faster and easier
that I had ever done before.
Easy to clean up tearout when I didn't read the grain right. Wide
relatively flat surfaces, check.
Its a little weird to switch swings for the "other side" but I'm
gettin' there. You have these big movements. Not like carving with your
elbows down and powering though. This is standing back, kind of steering
the boat. "Diva a cou" as my granddaughter used to say when she was 2
1/2. If it was going and it was easy it was drive a car.
Paddling a canoe actually comes closer to the movement. You are
shearing the wood without chopping so much.
And this is with tools still rough as a cob, for chisels. The handles
were literally firewood off the floor. Made in haste. All just for
trial purposes. Some fairly serious grinding, shaping the cutting
ends, were necessary.
I wondered how they did all those monstrous wood carvings all over
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