Dave Jeske’s tool-making shop in Oregon City, Ore., is in exactly the same place as his new bench chisel: halfway between the islands and toolmaking traditions of Japan and England.
Like a Japanese chisel, the new Blue Spruce Toolworks bench chisel connects the blade and the handle using a combination of a socket and a tang. It also has a price tag that is more in line with a handmade Japanese tool (a set of five Blue Spruce chisels costs $435.)
But like a Western chisel, the chisel’s blade is long and flat on its face. And the handle is something else entirely. It has a Western feel, but it also has a high-tech secret (more on that in a minute).
This week I set up a 3/8″ Blue Spruce chisel and put it through its paces in the shop. It’s an impressive tool, and is different than competitors in many significant ways.
Blades for Chopping
The 5″-long blade is ideal for chopping out waste between dovetails. The sides of the blade are beveled perfectly to get the tool into the acute corners of dovetails without bruising your tails. The blade is A2 and comes with a 30Ã?Â° grind, also an ideal setup for chopping all day without having to rehone.
The unbeveled face of the tool I tested was fairly flat. It took about 20 minutes to polish it up from #1,000 up to #8,000. That time is a lot shorter than most garden-variety chisels from Germany but longer than the Lie-Nielsens, which are always delightfully flat right out of the wrapper.
The Tang and Socket
Many woodworkers will be delighted to see that Jeske adopted the tang-and-socket approach to attach the blade to the handle. This complex connection method gives you the best of both worlds. You get the durability of a socket and the secure connection offered by the tang. Pure tang chisels tend to split their handles after some abuse. Pure socket chisels tend to have their handles come loose when the weather changes.
Like all of Jeske’s tools, you can really see how he fusses over quality when you examine the transition between metal and wood. It’s a perfect mate.
The 4-1/2″-long handles are longer than the Lie-Nielsen handles, which some people will like. This is really a point of personal preference. The longer handle tends to add weight, which some woodworkers don’t like. And indeed, the Blue Spruce chisels are heavier than the Lie-Nielsens thanks to the longer blades and handles. But they aren’t ungainly. You can still wield the Blue Spruce like a pencil when you are chopping.
The most surprising thing about the handles is that they are figured maple that has been infused with acrylic. At Jeske’s insistence, I beat the handle with a 16 oz. steel hammer about 20 times and couldn’t see a single dent. Impressive.
In all, I think Jeske has a winner here. After I get some more experience with the tool in our shop, I’ll report back on its edge life and overall comfort.
– Christopher Schwarz
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