Restoring an Ash Mortise Chisel

To make the joinery in the stool project, I’m going to need a fatter mortise chisel than my W. Butcher “pigsticker.” Fortunately, while trolling eBay a while back, bidding cheaply on every pigsticker I saw (and losing all of them), I managed to pick up two for about $13 each. When the dust cleared, I had a 3/8″ William Ash and a 7/16″ Samuel Newbould. Both needed work to get back into usable shape, but at least I didn’t have to make a handle for either.

For whatever reason, I picked the Ash to restore now, which had a lot of rust. In retrospect, I have no idea why. The Newbould doesn’t have much rust, but it does have some pitting near the tip, as does the Ash. And of course, that’s the worst part, right? So no problem with the slightly smaller chisel, right?

Well, that is, unless that one has a tip that is about as sharp as a blunt screwdriver, which is exactly what the Ash had. But I’m pretty hardheaded, so I resolved to reshape the bevel. However, even though this type of chisel is laminated and most of the metal is pretty soft, the cutting edge is always ridiculously hard. I didn’t want to spend years trying to muscle that off. For salvation, I turned to…

The world’s most horrible grinder.

Hand-crank grinders look cute and all, but I bought this Wissota thing for about 50 cents a long time ago, and after fiddling around for a long time trying to make it turn even halfway reasonably, I put it aside. Some of its many features include:

  • Grotesquely misshapen, hot-burnin’ wheel
  • Mismatched bushing/arbor
  • Missing tool rest (although this might not be such a bad thing)
  • Bent crank handle
  • Frozen nuts
  • Broken clamp knob

But for whatever reason, instead of going out and getting something reasonable, I put it on the bench and started fooling around with it. I managed to get the nuts turning, and when I tightened everything up and turned the crank, it started spinning with a groan. For lack of a better idea, I squirted a little WD-40 into the oil hole, and to my surprise, the noise went away and it turned freely.

So I put on the safety glasses, got a jar of water for cooling the blade, and went to work, using a clamped board as a tool rest. This worked well enough (gotta love those high-carbon steel sparks), and before long, I had an actual bevel on the blade. Whee.

Then I turned my attention to the chisel’s face. There was a lot of pitting near the tip on this one after some flattening:

Oh, how I hate dealing with this mess. It was off to the surface plate and the 3X sandpaper to fix this problem:

The sandpaper doesn’t stay aggressive on this steel for very long. After switching sandpaper about 5 times (note to self: get some 60-grit paper next time), I had finally gotten through the pitting, so I finished smoothing the face, then turned my attention to the bevel side.

I started with an Eclipse-style honing guide at first, but this chisel is just too heavy for that, so I just did it freehand. This worked well, and before long, I had a sharp chisel. But it’s not truly sharp until you use it to make sure, so I did just that on some beech:

Yeah, I’d say it works. I might remove some of that black oxidation on the sides at some point, but for now, I don’t think I need to. Anyone want to take bets on how long the handle will last?

One question remains: What will become of the world’s most horrible grinder? I might be able to make it work reasonably well with a decent wheel and a little tuning. Or should I get a new one? Grinders are useful things, no doubt about it; I just hadn’t really needed to bother with one until now.

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