You Are The Jig

I was reading one of the forums today and saw a post that said a flat back on a parring chisel is absolutely necessary in order to pare without the chisel digging into the surface of the work. This idea is diametrically opposed to what I believe and do. I regularly use chisels with varying degrees of back bevel. While chopping a back bevel causes the chisel to go down into the wood straighter, when chopping with a single bevel chisel, the chisel wants to move away from the bevel. While parring, a back bevel raises the handle of the chisel allowing you to pare in the middle of large work without turning the chisel over, it gets the handle out of the way. This is more sensitive than turning the chisel over and riding the bevel. Riding the bevel raises the handle too high and you are unable to anchor the the work as well. A back bevel allows you to lower the handle while making a cut which turns the cut into a slicing cut which is more efficient.  When using edge tools it is much easier to slice the cutting edge thru the stuff than to just force the edge straight thru, it also give you more control of the cut. The trick to this is to anchor yourself to the work with the sides of you hand and your arms like a carver does. You must become the jig instead of the tool being the jig. It’s like holding a pencil and using your fingers to slide along an edge as marking gauge, or using your thumb as a stop for starting a saw cut.

A Slicing Cut

In some cases jigs are very helpful, but in some cases they are just a crutch that keeps you from developing skill. Watch this Mary May video and see how she is always anchored to the work, this is relevant to more than just carving, you can also see her rotate the chisels while making a cut, which makes it a slicing cut.

About millcrek

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3 Responses to You Are The Jig

  1. Ethan Liou says:

    I want to thank you for this post. The first time I saw it, I feel it differs from everything I read or learned about the back of a chisel. That is, the back of a chisel must be flat. I have to admit that I didn’t quite understand what you are saying. After that I came back from time to time, read this over and over. I have to say that you opened my eyes, probably change the way I think of a chisel.

    Thank you!

  2. millcrek says:

    Ethan, After reading your comment I reread the post myself. I am sorry I am not a better writer, it is hard to understand what I have tried to say. I am glad you got something out of it and thank you for your kind comment.

  3. Ethan Liou says:

    I am sure it’s not your writing. Sometimes it’s hard to change what a man believes. The message in this post is clear enough. I think people tend to ignore the evidences or reasons that go against their belief. Well, by people I mean myself.

    Now I don’t worry too much about the back of my chisels. If it’s flat, good. If it’s not, I am not going to spend ridiculous hours getting it dead flat. Instead, I focus on developing the skill.

    Thank you for sharing your experience. I really appreciate it.

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