Thursday, January 29, 2009
A Visit to Czeck Edge Hand Tool and the New Czech Edge Chisel
Cocobolo-handled marking knives from Czeck Edge Hand Tool
Earlier this month I had the opportunity, thanks to some airline mileage that was about to expire, to visit the headquarters of Czeck Edge Hand Tool, a small toolmaking company established by Bob Zajicek. Czeck Edge is located in Marietta, Georgia.
Czeck Edge specializes in marking tools, most recently the Kerf Kadet, which is getting rave reviews from Woodworking Magazine and Canadian Woodworking Magazine. Czeck Edge also just introduced a mid-sized marking knife called the Pattern Pilot. All three sizes of marking knives are pictured above, and below in rosewood.
Bob's attention to detail is quite evident in his tools. The handles, each individually turned by hand, are shaped with comfort and utility in mind, with a heavy nod towards the tool's aesthetic.
The closed-end bronze ferrules are not only beautiful, but also functional--keeping the blade rigid, and providing good engagement with your fingertips.
It's no surprise that these tools are so exquisite in looks and function. Bob is also an engineer with Lockheed Martin Aeronautic's F-22 fighter jet program.
But it's not Bob's exquisite marking knives that have me excited lately. The day I visited Bob is also the day he finished up the first production model prototype of a chisel that I designed last year.
I havn't cut many dovetails completely by hand over the years. Instead, I've used a combination of hand and power methods to accomplish the task. After making a Gramercy Tools Dovetail Saw Kit last year, I decided it was time to refine my method using that saw. The problem arose when it came time to chop the waste between tails. I like to hold the chisel near the cutting edge so I can register that edge in the scribed baseline with one hand, freeing up the other hand for the mallet. It's much quicker than using both hands to position the chisel, and less fatiguing as well. I also like to sit at the bench when chopping this waste out. This gets my eyes closer to the work, and it's easier on my back as well.
The problem with typical bench chisels in this application is their unwieldy length. Chopping dovetails typically doesn't require more than 3/8" depth penetration if you chop from both sides of a 3/4" thick case side. Even less if you're chopping drawer sides, which are typically 1/2" or under. So why use a tool designed for paring, with long blades and long handles? Holding a bench chisel like a pencil in this application means you have to balance a lot of steel and wood on a narrow edge, and use the strength of your fingers to keep all that top-heaviness in check while trying to keep a square or slightly undercut shoulder. Not a pleasant task to me.
So I set out to design a chisel that would combine the elements of a fine dovetailing chisel, with fine side grinding that terminates at the face (back) for getting into the corners of pin sockets without damaging the tails, a shorter than normal blade, and a stubby handle than wasn't too small to hold in close, one-handed paring operations--a task commonly encountered when cleaning the little stray bits from dovetail sockets--but also not so large as to become top-heavy when held near the edge.
After tossing around some dimensions and ideas on paper (my first sketch is below) Bob was able to refine some of my ideas with his toolmaking expertise.
We did away with the hooped handle, compensating with special handle materials and construction methods. We also lengthened the blade a bit to allow more purchase for holding the chisel.
I went right from this original drawing to a wood mock-up to check the ergonomics (as far as possible with wood) and aesthetics of the design. This tool also needs to look good, after all!
After nailing down some hard dimensions, a few test blades were produced. These were on display at the Woodworking in America conference last November, albeit without handles. Still, there was quite a bit of curiosity surrounding what appeared to be very fine butt chisel blades. And I hesitate to use that term, since typical butt chisels are about as far removed from our design as you can get.
Finally, after several months of development, Bob made the first working prototype, just a few hours before I arrive in Marietta.
When I first picked up the tool, I knew we were on to something.
Not only was the chisel a treat to look at, with it's steel blade, bronze closed-end ferrule, and polished, stabilized-wood handle (it's impregnated with resin for durability and stability), but it met all my expectations, visually at least, and most likely functionally as well. I have yet to test the chisel, and I will be updating the blog with my results in the near future. The chisel will be available in several widths, and most likely in a different wood than the one used for the prototype. The first production chisels are expected some time in March.
For more information on Czeck Edge Hand Tool, or the new chisel, email Bob at email@example.com