Friday, March 29, 2019

Rehabing Orvil's Chisels, Part 1

Ever since I became the new caretaker of Orvil's chisels, I wanted to clean them up and make new handles for them.  And having made my lathe recently, I could finally do it.
Orvil's chisels
These chisels had gone through some rough use.  All the handles were reinforced with steel ferrules at the back end.  The ferrules were heavily peened over from who-knows-how-many steel hammer blows.  Many of the handles were cracked or broken.

The thing I don't understand is that Orvil Heft was a carver and painter of wooden birds.  It's hard for me to imagine that he needed these heavy-use chisels.  Perhaps he collected them and didn't use them.  Or maybe he had other woodworking interests besides birds.  But whatever the case, I wanted to make them nice again to be used every day.
The three largest - 1 1/2", 1" and 7/8" - are Greenlee bevel edged chisels
The five smaller chisels - 3/4", 5/8", 1/2", 3/8" and 1/4" (last two not shown) - are D. R. Barton firmer chisels
The five largest chisels' handles
Right three handles are the remainder
To keep this post from getting too long, I'll go over the rework of the metal parts.  Next time I'll write about re-handling the chisels.

Removing the old handles was fairly easy.  Some were already loose, but some needed several raps on the benchtop to loosen them.  I took sandpaper to the metal - 180 grit and 220 grit.
Four cleaned, four to go
I was careful to go lightly over the logos.  I learned that lesson a couple years ago on a saw that I cleaned up and almost obliterated the etch.  Never again ...

When they were clean enough, I flattened the backs.  This went faster than I thought it might, thanks in part to the extra-coarse diamond stone that I got last year.  But it did take a fair amount of time, especially for the wide chisels.  Every one had low spots at the edges, possible due to being flattened on dished stones earlier in life.
Flattening the 7/8" chisel - note the oval scratch pattern,
showing sides and leading edge were low
Every one of these chisels was severely dull.  The 7/8" chisel had a big chip off one corner.  The 1/2" chisel had been rounded at the cutting edge.  And I'll get into the 1/4" chisel a little later.  All needed to be ground back to get past the rounded-over corners of the cutting edge.
Chip out of the 7/8" chisel
7/8" chisel ground straight across ...
... but this came at a price - there was a lot of material to remove to grind a new edge
OK, about that 1/4" chisel.  The leading edge had been ground to be 3/16" wide and the grinding started about 3/4" back from the leading edge.  I thought for a long time about what to do.  I really didn't want to remove 3/4" of usable metal and throw the length out of whack with the rest of the chisels.  My other option was to make this chisel into a 3/16" chisel.  I didn't have a 3/16" chisel, so that's what I did.

I'm not set up to do metal work.  But I went for it anyway.  Lacking layout fluid, I used a Sharpie marker to blacken the flat side and the bevel side near one edge.
Using Sharpie to lay out the metal to be removed
Then used a marking gauge set to about 1/32" to mark a line on the black ink
Used a round chainsaw file to cut in to the gauge line as far back as I would remove metal.
This was just shy of the D.R. Barton logo, which is on the side of the 1/4" chisel
(the logo is on the bevel side of all other sizes)
Filed to the line
On the first side I did, I tried to file straight across.  But on the second side, I filed "skyward" from both directions to leave a peak in the middle.
Peak in middle after filing from both directions to the layout line
Then I marked the edges and filed the middle, trying not to remove the black marker all the way to the edges.
 After the filing, I took the sides to the diamond stones, getting progressively finer with each stone.  This gave a much better finish to the sides, but I had over-filed a few spots that will stay looking not-so-good.
Here's the result: from 1/4" wide to 3/16" wide (flat side shown)
Side view: logo untouched, but over-filed a bit near the start of the step-down
This worked out pretty well.  I got within a few thousandths of 3/16" at the business end and I'm a few more thousandths over as I go further from the cutting edge.  I can live with that.

Next time I'll write about the re-handling.


  1. What diamond stones and grits did you use for this? I find my diamond stones aren't suited for coarse metal removal/shaping but are ok for polishing.

    1. Ralph, for flattening the backs I started on the extra coarse stone (it says "120 micron" - I don't know how that relates to grit), then through coarse, fine and extra fine. For working on the sides of the 3/16" chisel, I started with coarse files, then finer files, then worked through the coarse, fine and extra fine diamond stones to smooth out the file marks. It did take a bit of time.