In January I became the very proud owner of an 18 mm pairing chisel made by the legendary Master Akio Tasai from Sanjo, Niigata. I have been eager to get my hands on one of these ever since I saw David Charlesworth discussing it on one of his Lie-Nielsen videos. He said something along the lines of: “This is a chisel made by a gentle by the name of Tasai and it gives me tremendous pleasure each time I look at it.” In that regard I cannot agree more with David, it is an absolute joy to use and look at.
Due to their considerable price and an unfavourable exchange rate, I have been confined to dreaming about one rather than buying one for several years. That made it so much more special when I finally got to handle a Tasai. As you can see, it comes in a pretty box decorated with Japanese gibberish (to the bovine amongst us anyway).
I have not come across a better made tool in all of my woodworking journey. As per usual for traditional Japanese chisels, it is made up of two distinct metal components. The back (or so-called mirror side) is composed of extremely hard blue steel that is especially made for Master Tasai. The rest of the chisel is made up of a much softer multi laminated steel. It is this Damascus style laminate steel that creates the aesthetic appeal of these chisels.
Unfortunately, I did not take a picture of the so-called “Ura” on the mirror side, but it is basically a very slight hollow that is meant to decrease the time spent on sharpening the chisel. Given this nifty design element I thought it would be a breeze to sharpen. That turned out to be a fantasy. It actually took a lot more effort to polish the back that anticipated, but I am sure the ura will speed up subsequent sharpening sessions.
As I said, this chisel looks impressive, but it’s true worth comes to the fore when it engages with wood. I made a few test cuts on the shoulders of these huge tenons. The shoulder lines were marked out with a knife so it was simply a case of feeling the cutting edge into these tracks and leaning on the chisel. It literally glided through the wood and left a superior polished surface in the end grain.
I have since used the chisel on African hardwood and it does not seem to shy away from the confrontation. If anything, it performed better in the hard stuff.
That then concludes my review of this work of art that happens to be quite a useful tool at the same time. I would say it is worth a lot more than what you find on the price tag.
Master Tasai, I am not worthy!