Japanese Chisel Expectations vs Reality
Hi All,
I'm relatively new to hand tools, and in particular to Japanese hand tools. Having recently obtained a budget to splurge slightly after a windfall, I recently began the adventure of getting some chisels, which I've found to be fraught with danger. The language barrier, high cost of the tool and shipping, having to rely on other online experts, some of whom are no doubt experts but there are also some very non-experts, many with contradictory opinions. It's all very hard. Add to this, the list of trusted vendors have dramatically reduced, and many existing vendors are often short stocked.

Anyhoo. I recently received my first shipment of chisels for a not inconsiderable expense. I'm confused as to if I've been duped, or if there's something I'm missing or if I'm just prematurely concerned. I purchased a set of tools directly from a Japanese retailer. Specifically a pack of 3 cheaper/budget chisels and 3 chisels ostensibly made by Tasai (Kouetsu). I also got 2 mortise chisels by Fujihiro.

First, one of the cheaper chisels had a bend in the handle at the connection point. The handle has essentially be installed on an angle (towards the side). I'm not sure if this will rectify itself or if it's permanently crooked. Granted it's a cheaper chisel, but still, and considering my past experience with products out of Japan, it just seems shoddy.

The mortise chisels are not square. I can understand that the top surface doesn't need to be square, but the sides are off relative to the bottom. Or, at least if they're not square they should be less than 90 degrees. One side is more than 90 degrees which means it'll rubbing into the mortice as it cuts. They aren't off by a huge amount, but enough for them to be a little difficult in sharpening (I can't even use my Veritas jig on one of them, due to the slight off-square surface not clamping). I can't imagine this would be ideal in use.

One of the Tasai chisels isn't ground square. It's only on the top ground surface so I can fix it by grinding it down, but given how famous these are, I can't reconcile it with what I've received.

There's a small and very shallow chip on the side of the small mortise chisel. It wouldn't affect its function too much I don't think, but for the cost and the hand made stature of these tools I expect better.

The general fit/finish on the tools are OK but not amazing. The Tasai are better but they aren't "amazing" either. One of the Fujihiro had a bit of a burr left beside the ground surface. Again, not an issue I can't fix, but it's not exactly an artisanal product as many have described.

Most of the bench chisels have very small handles. I suppose this is the style, but gee, I would've gone for the slightly larger versions if I had known.

Anyway. I haven't set up, sharpened or done anything with these chisels so their performance may differ from my superficial impression (and may make it all worthwhile). But I'm rather surprised. I've got zero experience with these tools so please advise if I'm just being pedantic or if you think I should speak to the vendor at least with some of the faults.
  Re: Japanese Chisel Expectations vs Reality by doobiesim (Hi All, I'm relativ...)
I am not an expert on Japanese chisels, but I have a few from various makers, but only regularly use my Japanese dovetail chisels.  I would definitely contact the seller about the mortice chisel that is not square.  As you point out, having a side 89 degrees to the bottom you can live with, but 91 degrees would cause it to rotate as you chop, making the mortice wider than the chisel.  I have no problem buying used and modifying or correcting,  or even buying budget new ( like Harbor Freight ) understanding it may take work to get it to work right, but when buying at regular retail, it should be able to function correctly.

As to the handles -  I can't offer much other than that some like them.  I have rehandled every Japanese chisel I have - I find the originals far too short, and not wide enough for me to hold, but that is a personal preference.

Not sure what you mean here  One of the Tasai chisels isn't ground square.  -   If you mean the edges are not parallel, again I would complain to the seller.  If you are saying the top surface is not square to the sides, I don't think I have ever checked that on a chisel, and I don't think it would make a difference in use, other than that the bevel would look out of parallel when the cutting edge is ground square to the sides.

When you saw there is a  small and very shallow chip on the side of the small mortise chisel   If you think it will impact the use in any way, I would complain.  If it is just appearance, not so sure, depends how small.

Sorry your experience has not been very good so far.  I am a fan of Japanese saws,  and I like the chisels for paring - especially the Japanese dovetail chisels, I am not a big fan of them for chopping ,  though again, that may be personal preference.  I much prefer the LV PM chisels for chopping, though I admit I have rehandled a few of them as well. 
  Re: Japanese Chisel Expectations vs Reality by doobiesim (Hi All, I'm relativ...)
My running joke (not really a joke though) is that these master Japanese craftsmen were "nearing the age of 100, and retirement, so order now" and this was over 20 years ago. If you do the math, a lot of these guys are still supposedly beating steel at the age of 120+. A lot of these names sound very familiar to me from the old Knots forum, and these Japanese "masters" were decrepit way back then.

Overall, a whole lotta hype IMO.

Sorry you bought into it.

Or as an alternate theory, these guys really are in fact very, very old and that's part of the reason quality control is slipping.
  Re: Japanese Chisel Expectations vs Reality by doobiesim (Hi All, I'm relativ...)
Burn and recover...

Japanese tools are a niche market and one you never walk into unless you know more than the guy selling you the smoke. Ask me how I know. Lick your shame and move on. 

Secondly, Traditional tools are made by hand. The craftsmen who use their own laminated steel are at least 80 now. Their name is passed on to a skilled younger forger. That's where CStan's joke arises. Also, they are handmade, therefore subject to human skill, not CNC error. You may have very good tools and your expectations are too high. If it all hurts to much, try for a refund. A discount only reduces the western market markup to 3x actual value.

If you are still hot for Japanese, here is a good link: https://covingtonandsons.com/ Stan has been trying to educate the public about traditional Japanese tools for a few years. He lives in, and speaks Japanese. Support him if you are able. His stock is always hit and miss, subject to health and welfare of his two or three smiths. And, Stan's market is the world. I live in Puget Sound so when my funds clear, I have the purchase within two days.

If you have cooled to that tradition, you can literally make Harbor Freight tools as good as any of the better western tools. I won't go into that rabbit hole. Narex made are a good value. 

If you are like me, buy new Veritas tools and own any flaws you encounter. The tools are consistently good. Lee Valley is the company.
Heirlooms are self-important fiction so build what you like. Someone may find it useful.
  Re: Japanese Chisel Expectations vs Reality by doobiesim (Hi All, I'm relativ...)
I do not claim to be an expert, but I have and use regularly a number of Japanese chisels, including custom made bench chisels and slicks by Chutaro Imai, AKA "Fujihiro". I don't know about your bent, low-priced chisel, but if it were mine, I think I'd complain to the seller and demand a replacement. I don't know if you'll be successful, but it's worth a try.

Chutaro Imai, however is another story. He is a reputable smith and will almost certainly stand by his product. I would send the mortise chisel back to him and ask him to replace it with a properly forged one. They are expensive tools and he should be anxious to satisfy his customer. I would be surprised if he did not grant your request.

I don't think I would complain about the small chip on the side of the mortise chisel or the burr. These are hand made items so you can't expect the perfection you get from, machnine made, industrial grade tools. Moreover, Japanese tool tradition assumes the user will perform minor improvements and fittings on new artisan-made tools, as long as the basic form is correct. Japanese hand planes are a good example. They are not ready to use out of the box. It is up to the purchaser to flatten, shape and hone the iron's bevel, fit the iron to the kanna (body) and shape the sole of the kanna to the user's liking. These are not insignificant after-market tasks.

As for the Tasai chisel. I think you can expect a square bevel on such an expensive tool from a reputable maker. I would send it back and request that the bevel be corrected.

Most all Japanese chisels I've used have smaller handles than comparable Western chisels. I'm sure you could order custom chisels with larger handles, but it sounds like you purchased standard items that would come with the standard Japanese handles. I don't think you have grounds for a complaint here. It's just the nature of the beast. I have small hands, so I like the small chisel handles, especially for delicate work. I recommend that you use them for a while before you dive into replacing the handles. You may find you like them.

My $.02.

  Re: Japanese Chisel Expectations vs Reality by doobiesim (Hi All, I'm relativ...)
darn. I wish I came and posted here earlier.

It all seems pretty strange given the reputation these tools have on the net, particularly youtube, etc. and Japanese products as a whole. As a comparison, I've purchased kitchen knives from Japan directly and through the net, and it seems to be a totally different world. Almost every Japanese knife I've used is a superb piece of kit. Some are better fit/finish and there are differences in steel or design, which varies in cost and perhaps changes their cutting properties. But even the cheapest knives are engineered in a way to maximise their cutting performance while simplifying their manufacturing processes to keep costs down. There may be compromises at some price points but the compromises are "well designed" to achieve a minimum standard. Under no circumstances are knives so fundamentally flawed in design/grind that the knife has to be re-finished or re-engineered to get the best use. This just goes against the entire mantra of anything Japanese.

It seems that chisels are more of a gimmick. Perhaps this is why the industry has shrunk so much? I'll contact the vendor and see what they say. Thanks all for your thoughts.
  Re: Japanese Chisel Expectations vs Reality by doobiesim (Hi All, I'm relativ...)
I hate doing this. I am well acquainted with the customs and politeness of the Japanese so I really want to be sure before I complain. I've attached some pics of the issues and would love to hear your thoughts on whether these are legitimate issues or if my expectations are totally off:


In the process of taking these photos I've also noticed the supposed "Tasai" chisels have some flaws in the weld lines. I'm no metallurgist, but they just seem at odds with the master craftsmen that the Japanese steelworkers are renowned for.
  Re: Japanese Chisel Expectations vs Reality by doobiesim (Hi All, I'm relativ...)
There are cheap Japanese tools just as there are cheap Western tools. I'm not sure which chisel you showed in your pics, but that particular chisel is certainly well below the quality of any Japanese chisel I've seen. Definitely needs to be returned. I hope you have success returning the chisels you bought. I think it would be useful for you to identify where you got them - but only after you've contacted them about returns.. I am seriously wondering if you were scammed. The Japanese chisels I own (Iyoroi, Nishiki, Matsamura) are all high quality chisels without any of the issues you've cited.
Still Learning,

Allan Hill
  Re: Japanese Chisel Expectations vs Reality by doobiesim (Hi All, I'm relativ...)
I agree with AHill, the chisels pictured are well below the standard I would expect from a reputable dealer. The chip out of the side of the mortise chisel is more than just a cosmetic flaw. It will affect the performance of the chisel. I would return it along with the others.
  Re: Japanese Chisel Expectations vs Reality by doobiesim (Hi All, I'm relativ...)

Since you blew a ton of money for some suspect Japanese chisels, you may be poor but still want to wale away on some wood. Here's something really cheap, brought up on another  forum....


David, the OP of the post originated the Unicorn Method of tool sharpening, and has an article in the proper page of WoodCentral. These guys are from Harbor Freight and will set you back about $10 for 6.  Do note that he has reshaped the blades on them and will replace the handles. Has replaced at least one handle.

I am getting a couple sets to fill out the odd shape, and construction work that demands more abuse than my pricier chisels.
Heirlooms are self-important fiction so build what you like. Someone may find it useful.

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