Taiwan: Final Tool Survey

Here’s an inchannel gouge I got in Taipei. This is how all of the “local” carving tools there I saw were designed:

It’s fairly long, maybe about 9″ or so. But that’s not the first thing you notice about it–the lack of a handle is. They typically aren’t used without mallets.

These things are struck with a long, rectangular mallet made of a single piece of wood. They are somewhere around 2x2x9″, with one end rounded so that it’s comfortable. Due to the small hard area that they hit, the mallets quickly form concavities on their faces. So soon after you start using a new mallet, it tends not to slip.

Although it looks cheap, this gouge was not particularly cheap. The red at the end means that it’s made with “quality steel,” and I think the cost was about $8. I’ve tried it out and it works fine, but I think I’d prefer to make an appropriate mallet before doing too much with it.

The plane below is a little block-esque plane made by “Hsieh Hsing:”

This one actually came with packaging, which advertised it as “Japanese-style,” despite the fact that it’s no different than any Taiwanese plane I’ve seen. It’s short (maybe about 4″ long), and has a thick, quality blade that was very easy to flatten. Its throat is rather wide open, which lends it to uses of more rough block plane, but it does a good job and I can’t complain about that.

The final Taiwanese tool I’ll describe is a little special due to the person who gave it to me. One of the reasons for this whole trip was to meet my future inlaws, and as scary as that may sound, it turns out that they were all really great. One uncle in particular is also interested in building stuff, so I showed him this blog and we talked a bit on the subject. He’s also the one who took me to the store where I got most of these tools; it would have been difficult to find without him. And finally, he gave me this little smoothing plane:

Thanks, Uncle!

I think I’m finally mostly caught up with updates from the trip, so it’s time to get focused back on my various projects; I’ve already got some stuff started and can’t wait to get back to business on that. I’ll have some updates shortly. In the meantime, enjoy this view from Mugumuyu near Hualien (those rocks are marble):

Taiwan: More Tools, Sitou

Continuing with the survey of tools that I got in Taiwan, here’s a funky rabbet plane:

The body is pretty clearly some sort of white oak, the only such example that I picked up. The blade is laminated and decently thick. This was one of the more expensive tools that I got; I think the cost was about $15.

The big characters on the blade and on the red part of the sticker comprise the brand name. On the rest of the sticker, it says something like, “very good quality,” and it seems to hold true. Everything mates perfectly, the mouth is tight, and it produces good, smooth shavings. I managed to do some panel-raising with it.

Next up is this wooden spokeshave:

This is a little larger than most western wooden shaves (maybe about 60% larger), and it was not their biggest model, which was enormous. The “37” is the production number (apparently out of a run of 100). The blade is hand-forged and decently easy to hone; you can straddle a 2.5″ stone with it. It works well. Cost was about $8.

Next up is a rounding plane. We’ve seen a bunch of similar tools under the brand Mujingfang, but this Taiwanese version uses a metal plate rather than the wooden wedge found in most of the others (I didn’t see a single wooden wedge in any Taiwanese-made plane while I was there):

The size is printed on the top near the toe. As with all of the other tools I bought, it works spendidly. I think the cost was about $10.

So switching away from tools, let’s look at some tree stuff. One of the places we went was Sitou, which is home to the Sitou Forest Recreation/Nature Education Area. It’s an experimental forest run by National Taiwan University, and you can see many different kinds of trees that they’re playing around with. They even have a California redwood or two there, which is kind of fitting, since we have a Dawn redwood in Henry Cowell Redwoods Park here.

In any case, there are a bunch of things you can look at, and one of the most interesting is the Skywalk, a walkway on a trestle that extends from the side of a hill that goes right into the forest canopy. It’s not every day that you can just walk around the middle of a bunch of Japanese Red Cedars:

(Yes, there are birds, bugs, spiders, and all sorts of stuff up there.)

The forest is hardly old-growth, though. It was once dominated by the Formosan Cypress (Chamaecyparis formosensis), but like so many good trees, it grows slowly and is far too valuable for people to actually want to conserve in any reasonable fashion until all of the trees are gone. But there’s one cypress of note there, a giant 2800-year-old cypress considered a “sacred tree:”

Of course, the only real reason it was spared is because it is too hollow and crummy to be used for timber, so they called it “sacred” instead. Hmph. In any case, it’s pretty amazing.

Somewhat Interesting Uninteresting Chisel

When tool-hunting in Taiwan, I expected that I’d find a few western tools with mostly Asian-style ones. The reality for most places was a pile of power tools that look the same everywhere, but we generally don’t do that kind of naughty talk around here.

I’ll start with what is likely the most uninteresting of the lot. One of the larger tool/hardware shops in Taipei had a western chisel that I felt compelled to buy because there were a lot of things about it that seemed strange to me. (That it cost a little less than $10 didn’t hurt, either.)

What first caught my eye were:

  • Made in Japan.
  • Wooden handle. Seems like some sort of ring-porous thing like ash or hickory, with medium-sized pores.
  • Wide (I didn’t have anything 1.5″ wide).

Well, when I got it home, there were a few more things that I noticed:

  • Unknown manufacturer. The backing card (see below) says “Quality is Approved by Sygma U.S.A.,” but I have no idea what this means. Searches have returned no results for a manufacturer of that name here. It might be an ISO certification company or something, because it says ISO 9002 at the bottom. Or it just may be completely made up.
  • No UPC code that I can see.
  • Hooped handle, which is very much like the Japanese style.
  • Instructions on the back of the card (see below) are actually halfway decent (“A dull chisel is difficult to guide and dangerous to use”).

And then I sharpened it last night. The grinding was really good–it took only a couple of minutes to flatten the face, and there is a perfect little hollow in the center that starts about a centimeter from the edge. There were no jaggies. Once honed, it easily pared shavings off of Douglas-fir endgrain and didn’t seem to lose its edge, but only time will tell to see how good this steel is.

So here are the pics. If anyone’s ever seen one of these before…

Taiwan: Sanyi Wood Sculpture Museum

I’ve been in Taiwan for the last couple of weeks, so I haven’t been in the shop. However, I got to see a lot of stuff on the trip, and now that I’m back, I can start to post about some of the wood-related things I did.

First up was a trip to Sanyi Village to see the Wood Sculpture Musuem (三義木雕博物館):

Sorry about the lack of photos inside the museum. They don’t allow photos.

If you’re into sculpture or carving at all, this museum is pretty much a must-see for the island. It contains stuff from ancient times, to the Formosan aborigines, to the Han and Hakka sculptors, to contemporary pieces from their annual contest. There are also galleries containing temporary exhibitions. Make sure you get the audio tour, especially if you can’t read Chinese characters–there is an English one available. There’s quite a lot of information in the audio tour and it takes quite a while to go through it all.

There’s also a studio inside the museum where you can see and talk to a sculptor at work with traditional carving tools. I’ll try to explain this in a later post, but I think I need to do a little more research on the matter.

The village itself is full of shops containing lots and lots of pieces for sale. A lot of this consists of the garden variety happy/laughing Buddha sculptures and carved fruit (sometimes made from cypress; take off the cap and smell inside for the effect), but there are some interesting pieces as well.

By this point, you’re probably wondering if I went tool hunting during this trip. The answer to that question is, “yes,” the answer to the next question is, “quite a bit,” and here is a sampler:

This rabbet/shoulder plane was handmade in Taiwan, somewhere in the south. I’m guessing that the wood shaping was done by machine, but the finish looks handplaned, and the blades are hand-forged. The iron is laminated. I’ll have more on this plane later, when I have a chance to play with it.

And, no, Dan, I don’t know why we both posted about weird rabbet planes on the same day.