A Humble Nomi Rescue

by Bernard LaVie

This article first appeared as a thread on theWoodnet Forum. It was compiled and reproduced here for easier public consumption. All Text and Images are the property of Bernard LaVie.

Here's the rehab tale of a sad set of rusty japanese chisels, sprinkled with a bit of eye candy and a couple of tricks. With many thanks to Soatoz and Tools for Working Wood for their invaluable guidance.

The set of 10 chisels was found at a second-hand tool store, wrapped in a sturdy leather roll. They looked quite a bit worse than they do in the pictures, taken after much handling. They seemed to be of humble origin with no branding (mei) and run of the mill hoops, but the price was OK, a cheap and safe introduction to prepping and using nomis.

After a serious de-rusting session (wd-40, steel wool and elbow grease), the first job was to flatten the backs and get back to healthy metal. I used DMTs extra-coarse then fine, and shaptons 2, 5, and 12k. This was surprisingly fast, the 10 chisels taking just under an hour. The hollow backs sure made a difference here.

Next step was to clean the hoops, prep the handles, set the hoops, and mushroom the handles. Here a couple of tips I found useful. A small sanding drum set in a drill press is a great way to hold and rotate the hoop. Several grits were used at slow speed and they came out like chrome.

Next step was removing the dirty lacquer on the handles. Took a couple of baths in lacquer-thinner and a lot of scratching with steel wool. I was happy to see that the warm brown hue of the red oak was not just a dye job.

I had already decided on a rubbed lemon oil finish on the handles. The handles were rough to the touch and quite a bit of sanding was still to come. I went through four grits on each handle: 320, 600, 1200, 2000. Possibly excessive, but just like chisel backs this is a one time chore. Result is a beautiful smooth feel and warm luster. Tip: I wet the strips of sandpaper with the lemon oil to eliminate dust while sanding. Works a treat.

Finally time came to set the hoops. Some advice I could have done with before starting: do not sharpen the chisel before setting the hoop and do not use a piece of softwood to pound into. The first chisel went down 1 inch in the wood and it took much effort to get it out of there. After that I used birch and things were "nearly" fine. For one thing, it takes quite severe pounding to drive the hoops down on the handles, even after crushing the wood fibers. At least I know these chisels can take a beating... I used a cat's paw to drive the hoops but wasn't careful enough and managed to marr some of them (fixed with a fine file).

I tried mushrooming the handles with a standard hammer, but it didn't seem to go anywhere. I switched to a shingling hammer and the textured face made short work of that.

All in all, the above tasks were the worst part of rehabing the chisels. Glad I had this cheap set of chisels to practice on. I would not have dared treat a new set of Imais like this. Now I know it's par for the course.

At last, time for shaping the bevels, and the pleasure of extracting a razor edge from the pitted surface of the metal. Usual routine here, diamond disk, diamond plates and shaptons.

And there it is, the complete set. The edges have held up pretty well up to now, no rolling or chipping.



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