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Thursday, 28 October 2010

Supersize Me!

The new 12mm, 14mm and 16mm Narex mortice chisels arrived the other day (along with some new sizes of the Narex bevel edged chisels) and being an inquisitive sort I had to have a play!

I had expected the 16mm mortice chisel to be a bit of a brute to wield, it is after all an enormous chunk of steel, but in its working position the weight is all borne by the workpiece. Making the initial cuts with the blade pinched low down between thumb and forefinger, you can feel the chisel start to 'swoon' if you get too far from vertical, when it feels weightless, you know it's perpendicular.

The intial cuts suggested that making progress wasn't going to be a problem, 3mm at a time into English walnut with nothing more substantial than a sharp tap with the mallet.

Having cleaned out the first layer of chips to create the shoulders of the mortice I moved on to heavier blows and the chisel just ate its way in. A handy tip I picked up from Jacob Butler is to chop through the waste rather than trying to clear it as you go. This saves a bunch of time and preserves the shoulder as all the force is going downwards. The chips gradually get more and more finely chopped too, so most of them will fall out when you turn the workpiece over and give it a sharp tap on the bench, especially if you made a cut lengthwise through the middle of the waste with a broad bevel edged chisel first. What little did need levering out at the end was done by using the kevlar reinforced head of the clamp as a fulcrum, again to preserve the crisp finish.

Considering that this was all done with the factory finish on the cutting edges I was pleasantly surprised and impressed with both the efficacy of the tool and the results. A little judicious honing of the primary cutting edge and the first inch or so of the sides will no doubt yield further performance.

If you haven't tried cutting mortices by hand I can thoroughly recommend it. Morticing machines have their place and if you are doing production work they are invaluable, but if you are only doing a few slots to cut then chiselling them is a quick, inexpensive and rewarding alternative.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Sneak Previews

Our New Continental Hand Stitched Rasps will be available shortly, there has been a minor delay as we altered the handle design slightly at the last minute. That said the results will be beautiful and it's better to get them absolutely spot on from the outset than rush them through and have to make changes later.

The new range of Narex Cabinetmakers Chisels are in production and will be available shortly. The edges are finer than the originals and the backs are correctly hollowed by around 6 thou in the length so they are very quick to prepare using 100 micron film and rapidly come into tolerance for fine work. The steel is the same bainitic chrome manganese steel used on the originals, austempered to RC59 for a deep even hardness and very high strength. The handles will be hornbeam, stained black with gold lettering and brassed ferrules.

Coming soon - the new Quangsheng Low Angle Jack! This is the first photo we have of this new addition to the Quangsheng range and although it's unlikely to be here in time for Christmas, I'm sure it will prove to be a very popular tool.

The mouth is adjustable by means of a movable front sole, and depth of cut adjustment comes courtesy of a smooth and precise V2 mechanism similar to that found on the new Quangsheng block planes.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

New Quangsheng Bench Planes

Please click to enlarge

The new Quangsheng bench planes are now available and will completely replace the original versions once existing stocks run out. The pressed steel lateral adjuster has been replaced with a fabricted one made from steel and brass with a guide bearing. The yoke that advances the iron is a little more meaty and we have switched from grasstree handles to Chinese rosewood. The lever cap is cast stainless with a fine brushed finish. We have stuck with the original 40cr cast steel bodies and T10 cutting irons as we believe that they are more highly specified than any of the alternatives.

Please click to enlarge

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Time well spent

Time spent with good friends around a fire is invariably some of the higest quality time you will spend in your life. If you happen to poke a few bars of really nice steel into the fire and then bash them around - well, lemmetelya, it just gets better and better.

We popped in to visit custom knifemaker Chris Grant on the edge of the Cairngorms this week and once we had got over the spectacular scenery:

We settled into a couple of evenings of hard but rewarding prototyping. This is both enjoyable and really hard work at the same time. Commercial decisions need to be made on the spot and although the results can be seen almost immediately, time is very limited so the pressure to get those decisions right every time goes through the roof. It's a mentally demanding process but the results are well worth a thousand mile round trip and a spot of pressurised thinking.

First up was an idea that I have been mulling over for some time - a marking knife that can be presented perfectly flush to a left or right corner and naturally balances correctly in either position, can be rolled or drawn over an edge or surface and is possibly the wierdest looking but simultaneously the most 'now why didn't anyone else figure this one out before' idea that my twisted mind has ever wrought. Can it be made commercially? I have no idea as yet, but seeing the idea fleshed out in both O1, piano wire and cut-throat razor steel certainly brings things a step closer.

Yes, the photo doesn't give much away - but at this stage of production it would be foolish to do so. Suffice to say I am very excited about bringing this product to market.

Next was a forged carving knife for green woodworking - we used the same razor steel for this and it takes probably twice the effort to forge that O1 would (guess who was swinging the hammer to get this one from round to flat) - "s'your spec pal, you've tae bash tha bugger oot!!!" People talk about steel 'flowing under the hammer' well this stuff flows like a glacier on a cold day, even at 900 degrees C, but it was well worth breaking a sweat over - I have seen edges that would slice free hanging tissue paper before but it's still very impressive. The next step would be ball bearing steel which is only just forgable by hand if you've got really big arms and a chip on your shoulder, but may just be viable under mechanised production. I've gone for the longest blade I thought was viable on the principle that you can always make things shorter, but we will see how it goes once it's handled.

While we were at it, I thought that the most ultimate, ultra-gucci spoon knife in the world would be a lovely thing to do, so here we have a differentially hardened white paper steel (which I also learned began as mass produced tamahagane) spoon knife blade, complete with hamon line. It was a right little tinker to make and took hours to get right but if your smith can knock one of these out you know you are dealing with someone who really knows their business, £125 a pop unhandled if anyone feels the need. Here it is roughed out and quickly etched to find the hamon, once fully polished I have no doubt that this will become one of my my most treasured posessions. I went for a longer shank than usual as this allows you to swoop in for the really low cuts that enable you to hollow oval shapes as well as circular ones.

Last of all was something for Her indoors, a stock removal Santoku from AE 1095/15N20 Damascus which turned out better than any of us could have imagined.

Stock removal is a cheaper manufacturing method than forging but more wasteful in terms of raw materials, forging would however have produced a larger blade. Nonetheless, this little chap will see some serious testing once it is handled and it will be enlightening to see how it performs as an everyday kitchen knife. Updates to follow.

Chris is shortly going to be moving workshops, so if you want anything made it's probably best to be both quick in placing your order and prepared to wait a while for it. I can however give my personal guarantee that he will stop at nothing to ensure that the quality of your finished item is second to none in the world.