Getting an Old Pigsticker Ready for Work

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paulc

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Hello,

I’ve recently invested in a few old pigsticker mortice chisels. The blades are all trapezoidal in profile - wider at the back of the blade than at the front. Am I right in thinking this is the correct form for these?

However, the largest of them – 15.5mm at the cutting edge, the one I’m hoping to use soonest, is more trapezoidal than the others and is also wider from top to bottom?

It tapers suddenly from the tip down 40mm and then more gradually for the rest of the stock. Is this normal?

What steps do I need to take to get this chisel where it should be for good, accurate work?

Here are its details : Hope it’s OK in metric.

Cutting egde = 15.5mm / Blade length = 185mm

Width at Back of blade:

20mm down from tip = 15mm

40mm down from tip = 14.5mm

60mm down from tip = 14.3mm

100mm down from tip = 13.8mm

140mm down from tip = 13.2mm (2.3mm narrower than cutting edge)

Width at front of blade:

20mm down from tip = 14.8mm (0.2mm narrower)

40mm down from tip = 14mm (0.5mm narrower)

60mm down from tip = 13.8mm (0.5mm narrower)

100mm down from tip = 13mm (0.8mm narrower)

140mm down from tip = 12.3mm (0.9mm narrower)


Appreciate your advice.

Thanks, Paul
 

Eric R

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The explanation I've seen is that the top to bottom difference helps prevent the chisel twisting as you chop so that the walls are straight. In my limited experience using pig stickers with this shape, I am able to chop to the mortice and keep the walls straight.
 

D_W

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You'd never get them out of a mortise if they had straight sides. here's where they create a uniform width -you use a chisel like this riding the tip of the bevel (not the whole bevel, but rather a steepened tip). As you're riding the bevel down the stock side of the mortise, the chisel isn't going straight in, it's operating somewhere around the bevel angle and the bottom of the chisel is scraping the sides as the chisel penetrates.

It's worth learning to ride the bevel if you don't do that when mortising. The tall cross section of these chisels is for slipping the chisel in a heavy cut in a deep mortise - it's a little awkward if a mortise is shallow (even 1 1/2-2 inches deep is a bit shallow to make use of the way a pigsticker is intended).

This idea of slipping the chisel in a heavy cut is something you can experiment - as you get deeper in a mortise cleaning the ends, you can take a larger and larger cut (instead of the cabinetmaker type cut of 1/8th or so, you can start to take big bits, rotate the chisel (this won't work with a chisel that's not as tall bottom to top) and a fairly large chunk will split from the stock in the mortise. You tap the chisel a few strikes deeper and rotate again and you can take another chunk it. IT's a little less accurate, but for fast work (like deep mortises in lumber that's not that dry anyway in a lot of cases) it's very fast. This deep rotation is also where the rounding on the top of the bevel comes in - to slip the chisel deeper and pull it back out of a deep mortise, it's far easier dealing with the top rounding than a single flat bevel with a crisp angle at the top.

If you have a lot of mortising to do, you may wish to wax the bevel side of the chisel - especially if it's a laminated chisel (there will be more bevel friction than with hardened steel. I mentioned the friction at one point and someone who's a fan of reading historical texts mentioned that - was it roubo? Never read it - sometimes used or said others used fats to reduce bevel friction when mortising).
 

D_W

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by the way, I'm describing why the chisel is tapered in its thickness. It's tapered in its length for the same reason - to prevent getting stuck.

Plus, if you're making a chisel out of steel that can warp, it's in your favor to taper a chisel in its length a little bit). A double tapered mortise chisel for large work is superior to one that's equal width and tapered in thickness and the latter is superior to a square and evenly machined sash mortise chisel (which doesn't have any of that stuff since sash mortises are shallow).
 

dannyr

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Hello,

I’ve recently invested in a few old pigsticker mortice chisels. The blades are all trapezoidal in profile - wider at the back of the blade than at the front. Am I right in thinking this is the correct form for these?

However, the largest of them – 15.5mm at the cutting edge, the one I’m hoping to use soonest, is more trapezoidal than the others and is also wider from top to bottom?

It tapers suddenly from the tip down 40mm and then more gradually for the rest of the stock. Is this normal?

What steps do I need to take to get this chisel where it should be for good, accurate work?

Here are its details : Hope it’s OK in metric.

Cutting egde = 15.5mm / Blade length = 185mm

Width at Back of blade:

20mm down from tip = 15mm

40mm down from tip = 14.5mm

60mm down from tip = 14.3mm

100mm down from tip = 13.8mm

140mm down from tip = 13.2mm (2.3mm narrower than cutting edge)

Width at front of blade:

20mm down from tip = 14.8mm (0.2mm narrower)

40mm down from tip = 14mm (0.5mm narrower)

60mm down from tip = 13.8mm (0.5mm narrower)

100mm down from tip = 13mm (0.8mm narrower)

140mm down from tip = 12.3mm (0.9mm narrower)


Appreciate your advice.

Thanks, Paul
Hello,

I’ve recently invested in a few old pigsticker mortice chisels. The blades are all trapezoidal in profile - wider at the back of the blade than at the front. Am I right in thinking this is the correct form for these?

However, the largest of them – 15.5mm at the cutting edge, the one I’m hoping to use soonest, is more trapezoidal than the others and is also wider from top to bottom?

It tapers suddenly from the tip down 40mm and then more gradually for the rest of the stock. Is this normal?

What steps do I need to take to get this chisel where it should be for good, accurate work?

Here are its details : Hope it’s OK in metric.

Cutting egde = 15.5mm / Blade length = 185mm

Width at Back of blade:

20mm down from tip = 15mm

40mm down from tip = 14.5mm

60mm down from tip = 14.3mm

100mm down from tip = 13.8mm

140mm down from tip = 13.2mm (2.3mm narrower than cutting edge)

Width at front of blade:

20mm down from tip = 14.8mm (0.2mm narrower)

40mm down from tip = 14mm (0.5mm narrower)

60mm down from tip = 13.8mm (0.5mm narrower)

100mm down from tip = 13mm (0.8mm narrower)

140mm down from tip = 12.3mm (0.9mm narrower)


Appreciate your advice.

Thanks, Paul

And handle? The majority seemed to have been sold with a beech handle, occasionally with ash, but the user rehandled pigstick chisels one finds are almost always with ash or sometimes hickory -- two reasons, I think, one that a length of broken pick axe handle (mostly hickory) makes a great nearly fully ready shaped handle of this type, the other is that if you are tempted to clout it with a steel headed hammer, a beech handle really won't like it, leather washer or no.

As I know I could never guarantee that I wouldn't mistreat it if I couldn't see my wooden mallet, I'd go for ash every time. On the other hand if you find a set with the original beech handles in good nick, you know they've been looked after by a well trained craftsperson.
 

paulc

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Thanks for the replies, really informative and interesting.

Only mortice chisels I've used have had parallel sides so great to get confirmation on the back to front and the top to bottom taper. Really pleased, as it looks a great tool. Not in the workshop now but fairly certain that it actually has an oak handle dannyr, which I've not seen before but looks original.
 

D_W

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When you start cutting deep mortises with one, and you fit a tenon and pin or glue it well, the thought of tapers causing inaccuracy will go away quickly.

Years ago, I had a set of japanse mortise chisels made by a fairly expensive maker (I found them cheap used, but they were supposedly $150 per chisel). They didn't have enough taper on the sides and were extremely tight to deal with in mortises. One day, making M&T face frames, one of them broke at the lamination. I boxed up the other three and sold them on ebay, disclosing that I broke one and they'd be trouble in deep mortises - enough of that nonsense. They sold reasonably well.

I never looked further at the brand, but it's often the case that a mid-level japanese chisel in europe and the US is half the price in japan.

FWIW, I bought them for about $50 each and sold them for about $60 each (three sold vs. four bought, of course). They were branded "miyanaga" and a quick look shows bench chisels to be around $70-80 from japan - very typical of what we get in the west as a penalty for not being able to speak or read japanese).

AT any rate, I've only seen sloppiness in rough mortising with exaggerated taper tools (nothing like this - think chinese chisels where the width at the tang is just over half of the width at the blade), and even then, the results aren't that bad - the taper allows really rough work to be done without a chisel sticking - sides of the mortise in that case are cleaned later.
 

D_W

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And handle? The majority seemed to have been sold with a beech handle, occasionally with ash, but the user rehandled pigstick chisels one finds are almost always with ash or sometimes hickory -- two reasons, I think, one that a length of broken pick axe handle (mostly hickory) makes a great nearly fully ready shaped handle of this type, the other is that if you are tempted to clout it with a steel headed hammer, a beech handle really won't like it, leather washer or no.

As I know I could never guarantee that I wouldn't mistreat it if I couldn't see my wooden mallet, I'd go for ash every time. On the other hand if you find a set with the original beech handles in good nick, you know they've been looked after by a well trained craftsperson.

I have a set of sorby (I. Sorby or IH, I'd have to look) laminated pigstickers that all have ash handles. I think three of them were unused (two were used sparingly - and I set up and used one of the unused).

Though just because they were originally handed with ash doesn't mean they were done by the manufacturer or dealer. I don't know the english oaks that well, so I also can't ensure they're ash. All of the handles have tight small radius grain, though - one has the core of what's probably a branch in the handle, but the others don't.

If anyone is worried about breaking handles (i'm guessing this happened often), a big urethane mallet should be reasonably easy on them without resorting to something awkward like a dead blow). They're hit harder than a typical bench chisel, but it's not necessary to swing them like a blacksmith would hammer steel to retain the heat.
 

dannyr

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I have a set of sorby (I. Sorby or IH, I'd have to look) laminated pigstickers that all have ash handles. I think three of them were unused (two were used sparingly - and I set up and used one of the unused).

Though just because they were originally handed with ash doesn't mean they were done by the manufacturer or dealer. I don't know the english oaks that well, so I also can't ensure they're ash. All of the handles have tight small radius grain, though - one has the core of what's probably a branch in the handle, but the others don't.

If anyone is worried about breaking handles (i'm guessing this happened often), a big urethane mallet should be reasonably easy on them without resorting to something awkward like a dead blow). They're hit harder than a typical bench chisel, but it's not necessary to swing them like a blacksmith would hammer steel to retain the heat.

mmm, interesting - although I used to think slow growth was always the best wood (I'm obviously not an expert), apparently the toughest ash is very fast growth and the ash handle chisels I have are very wide grain, and certainly not small branch wood, although they could have been fast grown coppice of, say, 9in plus diam. Unlike softwood, which seems denser the closer the rings, as far as I can tell, as one of my ash handles is off, it's not only very hard (age?), but also maybe denser than average ash (or is that the linseed oil?).

I do like the look and ovality of those ps handles, but I do wonder whether something like a big registered handle (note, these were always ash) wouldn't be better, not that I'm doing that to mine. But then I have been lucky enough to also put together a set of laminated blade socket mortise chisels of the old Sheffield type with big socket that doesn't fall off and has a top steel ferrule around the (always ash) handle. Below the socket these have the same blade type and geometry as the pig sticker.

I know these are just handles, but it's a pain if they don't feel or look right, and especially if they break.

Unlike some countries, we never used oak as a chisel or tool handle here in UK, don't know enough to say why - certainly some very old English oak I have is very hard and seems tough as could be.
 
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Jacob

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Yes the wider face/flat side taper is functional. You bang the thing in vertically and if it doesn't come out easily you tweak it back a little then tweak it forwards again and it will be looser.
There's a very specific technique for chopping the mortice efficiently - you have the chisel vertical all the time (except for the aforementioned tweak) and you cut a thin slice off the face of the previous cut, which will then be deeper. Work towards one end face forwards and stop a little short, turn and work back again face forwards. Chippings take care of themselves and no levering or other fiddling is required. If they haven't already fallen out you just carry on chopping through them.
You may need to clear them from the bottom of a blind mortice and this is where the other MT chisel feature comes into play - the rounded bevel enables better leverage into the corners - it works the same as other curved levering tools such as claw hammer.
Handle needs to be straight grained (cleft) knot free hardwood with the grain well in line with the blade. Ash or beech commonly used. Small branch wood is handy as it's not much use for anything else except knobs and tool handles.
 
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Jacob

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I have a sash mortice chisel from a good maker that so badly rhomboid in section it can only have been deliberate. I wonder what on earth the reason for it is.
For cutting rhomboid shaped mortices in glazing bars. It's a particular design of glazing bar which has a plain bevel on both sides (no moulding) but no flat sector in the middle. The resulting tenon will be rhomboid. It's a very neat design and looks trim, but best of all it will let condensation run off more easily and you wont get little puddles on the top of horizontal glazing bars.
PS begs the question - would you need two with opposite angles or cut the mortice from one side and then the other? Dunno!
 
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dannyr

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I have a sash mortice chisel from a good maker that so badly rhomboid in section it can only have been deliberate. I wonder what on earth the reason for it is.

Yeah, I have one like that, which is also longer than usual - assumed it was a reject.
 

D_W

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The tops of the oval bolstered mortise chisels wouldn't be rounded if they were intended to be used with bevel toward the waste side. I don't know why anyone would use them vertically straight down the grain - they literally do not scrape the sides of the mortise unless they're used with bevel facing the stock to be cut.

The cut is also easier to make if it is up the grain (with the bevel, chisel working into the wood vertically, but essentially cutting at the angle of the bevel) than if straight across it.
 

dannyr

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Yes the wider face/flat side taper is functional. You bang the thing in vertically and if it doesn't come out easily you tweak it back a little then tweak it forwards again and it will be looser.
There's a very specific technique for chopping the mortice efficiently - you have the chisel vertical all the time (except for the aforementioned tweak) and you cut a thin slice off the face of the previous cut, which will then be deeper. Work towards one end face forwards and stop a little short, turn and work back again face forwards. Chippings take care of themselves and no levering or other fiddling is required. If they haven't already fallen out you just carry on chopping through them.
You may need to clear them from the bottom of a blind mortice and this is where the other MT chisel feature comes into play - the rounded bevel enables better leverage into the corners - it works the same as other curved levering tools such as claw hammer.
Handle needs to be straight grained (cleft) knot free hardwood with the grain well in line with the blade. Ash or beech commonly used.

Ever use swan neck?
 

D_W

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mmm, interesting - although I used to think slow growth was always the best wood (I'm obviously not an expert), apparently the toughest ash is very fast growth and the ash handle chisels I have are very wide grain, and certainly not small branch wood, although they could have been fast grown coppice of, say, 9in plus diam. Unlike softwood, which seems denser the closer the rings, as far as I can tell, as one of my ash handles is off, it's not only very hard (age?), but also maybe denser than average ash (or is that the linseed oil?).

I do like the look and ovality of those ps handles, but I do wonder whether something like a big registered handle (note, these were always ash) wouldn't be better, not that I'm doing that to mine. But then I have been lucky enough to also put together a set of laminated blade socket mortise chisels of the old Sheffield type with big socket that doesn't fall off and has a top steel ferrule around the (always ash) handle. Below the socket these have the same blade type and geometry as the pig sticker.

I know these are just handles, but it's a pain if they don't feel or look right, and especially if they break.

Unlike some countries, we never used oak as a chisel or tool handle here in UK, don't know enough to say why - certainly some very old English oak I have is very hard and seems tough as could be.

Oak in the US is also stiffer if it's faster growing (the rings being the weak part) - as well as harder. As far as the center being in a handle, it's generally the least easy to split. I'm guessing if a wide flat area with wide rings were used, parts of the handle can split off more easily.

Japanese chisels are often branch wood with pith somewhere in the handle (the wood is dense and resiliant there.

I don't know if there's any significance to the wood being limb wood other than the fact that limb wood isn't stable doesn't matter much in a chisel handle and that it's easy to get limb wood off of a live tree in sizes that don't need to much working.
 

Jacob

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PS forgot to add - the ideal clamp for holding a piece you are morticing is your bum. You sit astride it on a saw horse, or even a purpose made mortice stool. Ergonomically perfect for malletting a vertical chisel between your knees. (careful o_O ). Much easier than doing it bench height and it's hard repetitive work so the easier the better, sitting down all day! Also you don't need to clamp it or hold it down.
 
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Jacob

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.......

What steps do I need to take to get this chisel where it should be for good, accurate work?
Sharpen it.
A rounded bevel is useful as well as making sharpening easier.
n.b. the chisel is designed to cut mortices at the full width of the chisel, hence 5/8", 1/2", 3/8" etc down to 1/8", are common.
Your 15.5mm is 5/8" near enough.
 
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