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basic basic basic chisel making

kristopher skelton

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I know I got in late on this subject, but back to the original topic, I've got a different take once again. Instead of forging chisels, I've made my metal carving chisels out of high speed tool steel, and ground it to shape. It gives a superior cutting edge to anything else I've used. The 5% cobalt is the best. It's available at mscdirect.com under lathe tools, and comes in 1/4" x 6" size. The only other type of tool I use is tungsten carbide, and I use that for my magnagraver only. The best hand tools (gravers) for carving metal are high speed as well, although I use lots of tool steel gravers. When I make new ones though I use HS. No heat treatment needed! :D

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thanks for the suggestions on this topic. I wonder whether you could elaborate a little bit more for those with minimal experience in making tools. Specifically I was wondering:

1. what tools would be necessary? Would a benchgrinder suffice?

2. If a bench grinder is the way to go, then whats the best process? In other words, what kind of stones would you take the blank tool bit through in order to achieve the basic shape, polish, sharpen etc...

3. Anything to look out for in terms of overheating the metal, or burning one's whiskers? :D


Once again, cheers for the info


-t (prospect of home-made tools smiley)

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A bench grinder will work for high speed steel, although a belt sander works better. I've used bench grinders to grind high speed. Use the coursest stone available (like a 36 grit). I do the complete shaping on the grinder, and then do the finish work with hand stones, depending on how fine a finish you need to get. For my chisels, I just sharpen them on the grinder, or belt sander. I don't need a polished finish, because I'm not making bright cuts like an engraver might. If you need to though, use whatever stones you need to get that finish (ie. hard arkansas etc.).

As to the shape of the chisel, that depends on what it's to be used for. The basic shapes are flat, round and v, or knife shape, but that's a whole other topic.

The nice thing about high speed tool steel is it's forgiving nature. It has a quality known as "red hardness", which means it wont lose it's temper even if you get it red hot (it needs to white hot to forge). My personal experience with it is you can get it blue without destroying the edge. If it gets much hotter than that, it may become a little brittle. But when you're grinding a fine point on a cutting tool, it's very easy to overheat it, and the fudge factor is much higher with high speed steel. The thing you can't do with high speed steel is file it to shape.That is unless you buy it from a manufacturer in it's anealed state. I don't recommend this, as the hardening process is beyond my capabillities, and I suspect yours as well. I wouldn't even attempt it.

If you need info on gravers, let me know.

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Kristopher and Robert,

thanks both for the pointers. I should be able to get hold of a bench grinder next weekend (Berkeley tool lending library :) ) so I'll give it a go (of course I hope the tool bits are here by then B)).

I'll try to document the whole process of making sth that cuts, scrapes or engraves (who knows what will come out!) and post it here.


Till then, make mine a large G+T


t :blink:

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  • 4 months later...


please! :angry: , yet again we see the tendancy to get lost in technology. All this talk of thermal shock and grain realignment etc etc, is not really of much use to anyone. If your readers have has the slightest comprehension what you are talking about then is's highly probable that your diatribe is superflous. If on the other hand you intend to advise anyone who has no or little experience of the finer points of metal treatment you've chosen to explain the process in Klingon <_<


Remember the KISS principle," keep it simple, stupid" ;)


If this response appears somewhat harsh it's probably because that's the nature of steel B)


right , I'm off, more sake to eliminate :rolleyes:


minasamma wo oyasumi nasai B)


Ford ( tsubaman )

Ford, you remind me of another person on Don's other site who was all touchy-feely, work naked in the dark under full moon type. What makes you think technology cannot be beautiful? You are limiting your vision when you must only "see" art. The mastery of the elements is a valid and essential component in craftsmanship and to dismiss the technology as something that only gets in the way of art is an insult to those who DO use the technology to enhance their art. Dismiss the technology with enough honesty to admit you just don't understand it and we can live with that. To sit upon a high horse and accuse people of of speaking in "Klingon" and calling them "stupid" serves only to convince us that your art is bereft of a master's understanding and you are intent upon dragging the rest of us down to your level. Our host is a highly respected artist AND very competant when it comes to understanding the metallurgy involved in blade making. The metallurgy is visible only occasionally and can easily be hidden from igorant eyes. The work of people lacking in understanding is called "a Wallhanger". This is only a thin reflection of what a blade must be. First and foremost, it must be functional and that requires the highest level of understanding to achieve the highest level of performance. So go drain your Sake and don't forget to zip up. <_<

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There is no need to be insulting on The Carving Path! Nor is there need to resume any testy feelings. This topic made its way through the issues four months ago. Let us move forward with positive and helpful contributions. Please.


As for you RKNichols, welcome to The Carving Path! For your benefit, here is a description of this forum:


The Carving Path welcomes carvers from many disciplines, whose work involves small scale carving. We hope that this forum will provide a friendly, informative and accessible place for communication and learning.


Underline friendly!


I look forward to learning more about what you do RK. Thanks for joining TCP! Welcome aboard. Do you have any images of your work that you wish to share with us in the Who's Who when you introduce ourself to us? Some members may know you from Bladesmiths, others of us do not, like me!


Warmest regards,



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Janel, I am a regular on the other site, Dfoggknives. I went through a lot of grief from one individual who went out of his way to discredit any technological influence in the "true art" of bladesmithing. That individual was so divisive, he was banned from the site. I just went off the deep end when Mr. Hallem was espousing the same philosophy.


For the record, I have a masters degree in metallurgical engineering, do wood carving and blacksmithing. I got started in blacksmithing by making many of my own carving tools,


If I offended anyone, please accept my apologies. This topic is a hot button with me and regretably, it gets pushed a lot. You are right, there is no need to be insulting. Mr. Hallem would agree I am sure.


No, I have no photos I care to share at this time.


And with that, I will make my exit.

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Seems like two distinct viewpoints at work here. Hewing to the egalitarian nature of the forum, there should be room for all. Some will be interested in metallurgy and some not(to varying degrees). I do have to say that it's not necessary to understand the molecular processes to get a kick-a** functional tool, but if you're fascinated by that knowledge, more power to you. It's a mysterious and fascinating world. However, I wouldn't want a neophyte to get discouraged thinking they had to grasp all the theory just to get out of the tool-hardening gate.


Ford, how's the chokin goin'?  (envious smiley)

I completely enjoy the repartee. Just a question of "some antics mixed with semantics" No? Though I personally prefer the simple as opposed to the techno. It all peaks my interest even if beyond my simple, un-educated, comprehension. I know that sooner or later, I will get the version that my limited intellectual and technical skills can accept. cooch

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  • 1 year later...
Guest ford hallam

Hi Mr Nichols,


I hope you'll excuse my somewhat belated response to your passionate outrage. I must admit I'm flattered that the thought of me working naked in the moon-light has so inflamed your passions. :)B) .


I'm afraid that you may have gained a very inaccurate impression of who I am and what I may be about, but I suppose if you'd only read that one post it is to be expected. My second post on this thread went further in explaining my stance and intent, evidently you didnt get that far.

What makes you think technology cannot be beautiful?

Why do you think I don't? and while we're about it lets be clear....just because something is beautiful doesnt make it art.

You are limiting your vision when you must only "see" art.

I'm not really sure what you actually mean here, perhaps you could elaborate.

The mastery of the elements is a valid and essential component in craftsmanship and to dismiss the technology as something that only gets in the way of art is an insult to those who DO use the technology to enhance their art.

I agree wholeheartedly, however as this forum is, hopefully, an inspiration and useful resource for many novices I was simply expressing my opinion that information that is too technical may actually be a barrier to some. If you'd taken the time to read some of my other posts on this forum you would have perhaps learned that my stance with regard to skill and technique has been consistent, and I suspect one you would probably agree with. I happen to carve steel. I make my own chisels and use only a hammer. I think I know enough to make a serviceable tool. I'd dare say that the stresses placed on wood , ivory, horn or antler etc are a little less than those my chisels are subjected too. It may surprise you to learn that I don't rely on purely aesthetic values in making them. :D


accuse people of of speaking in "Klingon" and calling them "stupid" serves only to convince us that your art is bereft of a master's understanding

I said; one might as well have spoken in Klingon, I didnt accuse anyone! neither did I actually intend to call any individual "stupid", I referred to a well know acronym in jest and had never imagined that quoting it would be taken as a direct insult. Certainly none was intended. If I did offend anyone then I unreservedly apologise for any hurt I may have caused.


and don't forget to zip up. :)

your last quip seems to suggest that if I disagree with you I should not express my opinion, isn't that just a little fascist of you? Doesn't your own constitution ( excellent idea, btw, wish we had one too :( ) enshrine the right to free speech?


I note that you have not revisited this forum for some time so I will alert you to my comments so that, If you care to, you may respond.


very best regards, Ford


now where have my helper elves got too? it's so hard to get decent magical help these days. :D

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1. Your second post did not appreciably alter my opinion.

2. Your distain for technology is a clear indication that you do not percieve it as beautiful. It must be assumed you prefer not to be burdened with it.

3. What cannot be seen is the microscopic structure of the metal. These structures are the subject of competitions for the most unique and beautiful in various alloy systems. Additionally, achieving the structure that you intended is more than just getting it past non-magnetic and quenching it. Many more structures are desireable and achievable if you know how to do it.

4. What is too technical to you may be only the basics to others who have mastered more of the technology. Why not let others be the judge of what is too technical for themselves?

5. No you didn't actually accuse others of speaking Klingon or being stupid but you are splitting hairs, sir. Your intent was clear.

6. Drain your Sake, ie, uriniate and do not forget to zip your trousers. Nothing facist about that, is there? I just did not want others to point and laugh.


The heat treatment of chisels is usually one of the first lessons a new blacksmith learns. There is considerably more to the craft of heat treating than that and I would recommend your mastery should not end there. Mr. Skelton has done the community a service by providing his tutorial and your derision of it was inappropriate. As I said in my apology to this community, I grow weary of those who feel understanding the technology of metalworking is an impediment to true art.

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Guest ford hallam

Mr Nichols,


thanks for taking the time to respond. It would seem however, that you still don't get it.. This forum is ostensibly for small scale carvers and while a certain amount of technical knowledge and understanding is helpful there is a point at which it becomes superfluous. You talk of the beauty of the microcrystalline structure of steel, but ultimately, how does that help a contemporary netsuke carver? There are far more important considerations which an artist must work with than getting side-tracked by the inner working of their tools.


Most of the people using this forum do not have access to precicely controlled kilns to help them make their tools, nor do they need them. For hundreds of years artists have utilised basic heat treatment to make perfectly suitable tools with which they made their art. The masterpieces they have left us would not have been enhanced in any way by the the use of technologically superior tools.


Despite what you seem to want to "assume", I have an extremely high regard for advanced technology and I do often find a great deal of beauty there. You still don't seem to understand the "job" of art though. No doubt that wasn't covered in your masters degree in metallurgical engineering. :D


You are probably right though, to have a go at me for being so dismissive of Mr Skeltons efforts. It was churlish of me and I ought to have been a little more gracious. B) I think I did send him a pm at the time by way of an apology. If I didnt, then I'll offer one now to Mr Skelton, sorry. :)


I hope that after all this my point is clear.


cheers, Ford


p.s. I was very touched by your concern that I preserve my modesty when drinking sake but there's no zip in my kimono. :)

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Ooohhh, my goodness. :) I`m just a poor minimalist carver and must leave the hyper-intellectualism to others and must needs agree with all. To each his own. Micro-crystaline or piece of stone. It is all of individual beauty. Don`t you think? cooch

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Knowledge is power.


Who is more right than another is not a point that needs establishing.


Contribute knowledge for hungry minds.


The contributor does not need to pre-judge the level of understanding of the audience.


When a reader needs help with information, please ask for further explanation.


Knowledge is power, and hungry minds want to know.

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Mr. Hallam,

The post over which we are debating is not on carving, it is on tool making. The art of metalworking is as much 'art" as small scale carving. If you should doubt that, visit one of your Japanese swordsmiths and observe.


Hark! I smell incense! I hear the gentle bells in the Temple....Uh...nope, just the sound of egos rattling around in a hollow shell. :)

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Guest ford hallam

I reckon I've said all I need to on this topic but here are a few words from others.


"Knowing is not enough, we must apply"; Goethe


"a little knowledge that acts is worth infinitely more than much knowledge that is idle"; Khalil Gibran


and my favourite :)


"Knowledge is a process of piling up facts; wisdom lies in their simplification"; Martin Fischer


so long and thanks for the fish :D

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"When an art is so poor that it lacks metals, it is not of much importance, for nothing is made without tools"

Georgius Agricola, De Re Metallica


"By hammer and hand, all arts do stand"

The Worshipful Company of Blacksmiths of the City of London



sorry to say so Mr Nichols, but those quotes seem largely irrelevant to this discussion.

it never seemed to me that Mr Hallam ever dismissed tools or metals.

if nothing else (and from my very limited knowledge of the man, through his contributions here) he has great respect for both.



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Just seems to me that Mr. Nichols doesn't know the meaning of letting go of the bone when there's not even any bone left.


I think we can live with appreciating Mr. Nichols metallurgical knowledge and anyone else's knowledge without it having to come to this.

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We all find beauty, joy and peace where we will, whether it's in the stars, a utilitarian chisel, or the mystery of microcrystaline structure. It seems to me a very dangerous business to make judgements about what's necessary or desirable for someone else. I'm sure each of us takes our own path as something special, which well we should, but how about a little more respect for the other guy (or gal)maybe having put in just as much or perhaps even more blood, sweat and tears into their work.

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