Cutting Iron(y)

The classroom at Lie-Nielsen Toolworks in Warren, Maine, is adjacent to the showroom; to access it, one must pass through the room of shiny temptations. I left Cincinnati to teach a weekend class there with an empty slot in my chisel roll, but returned with it full.

I am now the proud (but chagrined) owner of a newly blooded 1″ chisel.

In that class, and just this weekend during a sawbench class at Lost Art Press, I mentioned that every new chisel – no matter the brand – is out to get you with the razor-sharp long edges (or “lands”). I’ve often joked that on some makes, the lands are sharper than the business end (which is true for some hardware-store offerings, though not for premium tools).

No matter the make, the chisel edges are easily sharp enough to cut flesh, if not wood. So during classes when I see a student wielding brand-new chisels, I typically grab a piece of #220 (or thereabouts) sandpaper and run it a few times over those edges, particularly in the regions one might grip while paring. (Yes, I know they’re sharp to get into corners…but you have to be able to hold them!)

So this Saturday, I gave my usual “don’t cut yourself” spiel, eased a few student chisel edges, then we carried on with the work. On Sunday, I grabbed my new chisel out of my chest to pare the bottom of a dado, forgetting I’d not yet followed my own (oft-repeated) advice.

While the cuts don’t look too bad after cleaning, bandaging and 26 hours, my new sawbench will forever be DNA-identifiable. And I am embarrassed to have let blood – and a fair amount thereof – in such a manner after preaching against it.

Although those chisel edges are now eased, I fear it’s too late. My 1″ chisel – like my flesh-cut saw – has a taste for blood.

About fitz

Woodworker, writer, editor, teacher, ailurophile, Shakespearean. Will write for air-dried walnut.
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11 Responses to Cutting Iron(y)

  1. Paul B. says:

    My most memorable ‘baptism by blood letting’ was when I was trying to remove a little bit of 100+ year old threshold, because time and house settling had made the door stick. I had just sharpened the ‘business end’ and forgot to ease the sides. A good wack from the joiners mallet while holding on too tightly to the sharp sides and I had sliced into fingers and thumb. Shallow cuts–no stitches needed–but painful and embarrassing, all the same. Comforting to know this happens at all levels of skill and experience.

  2. gchpaco says:

    As St. Roy has taught us if you haven’t bled on it it isn’t done yet.

  3. One Big Marine says:

    Hey Fitz, no job can be any good without a little blood, sweat and tears in it.

  4. You pulled a Roy! That’s great!

  5. Chris Becksvoort says:

    Don’t feel bad, I’m routinely attacked by a freshly planed edge. Even the wood is out to get you if you’re not careful.

  6. Steve Jones says:

    In 1968 I had a job as a stage carpenter at a small summer stock theater on Long Island. When the spring on the blade guard of our portable circular saw broke, it fell to me to explain the danger to the apprentices (unpaid, starry-eyed college students). After warning them of the risk of severed fingers, I showed them how to safely return the blade guard to its safe position when they finished a cut. My very next act was to cut a 2×4 to length and set the saw down. Before I could let go of it, the spinning blade bit into the stage floor and propelled the saw back across my foot. It sliced cleanly through the shoe leather but missed the flesh below. I immediately told my audience that I was deliberately illustrating the danger for them. Nobody bought it but they did enjoy laughing at me. The next day, the tech director bought us a new saw.

  7. davelehardt says:

    I joke with my wife that a project isn’t really mine till I bleed or bleed on it.

  8. Lory Henning says:


    Let’s decide the 1″ chisel hated what happened and is very sorry for what she did. Her parents didn’t raise her properly. But now that you’ve schooled her and eased her edges, she sees all too well the dangers of her childhood and only wants to cut non-bleed-able objects for the rest of her life. She has a touch of OCD, and she repeats the story of her rough childhood and how she became so focused on productive and meaningful work to the other chisels in the roll every night. She whispers it. The smallest chisel thinks it’s creepy, but also comforting.

  9. tsstahl says:

    I thought blood sacrifice was an essential step to every woodworking project. My world view is in jeopardy. =<

  10. ctdahle says:

    May I suggest a title? _The Magic of Blood_ by Dagoberto Gilb, is a collection of stories about making a living in the trades, including the necessity of a bit of blood sacrifice now and again. It’s a bit difficult to find, but I’d recommend you obtain a copy, exchange your normal whiskey for a healthy glass of Patrone, and settle in for an evening.

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