So what type of tool is this?

David Conley

Well-known member
I received it in an Ebay lot with a bunch of carving gouges about 10 years ago.  I could not figure it out.  So, I put it on the wall with the rest of my chisels hoping that some day I would finally know what it is.

I think in a previous life, it started out as an 1/2-inch Sorby (Cast Steel) firmer chisel that somehow got broken.  The owner then reshaped it to have round corners at the tip and a bevel that lacked coming to a sharp point (cutting edge) by about 1/16-inch.

I presented this at an Ohio River Valley Chapter Meeting, so you guy already know the answer.  This is for those who enjoy the guessing game.



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Well it's clearly a beer bottle opener...
....or a butter knife.  One or the other.

Just kidding; I have no idea, but looking forward to the answer.

I agree with your thinking about the origin of the tool. It appears to have been repurposed into some sort of chopping tool, like maybe an ice pick?
I think it was used for removing the waste in the recess for rounded inlay.  The curved end would prevent breaking out the wood.  I just use regular square chisels for this, but could see a specialist wanting a better tool for the job.
It is a burnisher.  Or at least, that is what I use it for.  With a little work, you could sharpen it up and use it as a lathe scraper.  But, the edges are rounded.  I think that was by design.  The real burnishing power is at the top of the bevel.  It is slightly rounded and does not come to a sharp break line.  Also, notice the glossy area on the board under the burnisher.

So, here is the back story.  At a mid-year conference, I watched Don Williams talk about applying a period correct finish.  Part of that presentation was about preparing the surface by burnishing it with his Roubo’s Polissoir.  It had a smooth polish look to it.  It looked great!!!  I really liked the final result and decided to use it on my next major project.  I bought both  styles that he offered. 

A couple of years later, I was finishing a major mahogany project.  Burnishing it with Don’s Roubo Polissoirs was going to be part of the process.  After about the fifth set of burnishing repetition (yea, it was like weight lifting), I was getting tired.  The finish was not developing that smooth silky look that Don was getting.  Mine was a little uneven.  It was not bad, but not what I was looking for.  If I applied a lot of pressure, I could get it that smooth look that Don was getting.  But, it was a lot harder and going a lot slower than I was expecting.  Something was different.  While resting between reps, I was trying to figure out what is going on between what Don did and what I was doing.  My mahogany was high quality.  It was at least 40 years old.  Was it too hard?  Was that why it was not developing the smooth, flat burnished look that Don was able to achieve?  What about the Polissoir?  What is the psi that it’s applying?  Do I just need to apply more pressure?  About that time, I was staring off in space at my chisels and my eyes came across this tool.  I still had not figured out what it was, or what it was used for.  But, I took a closer look.  The top of the bevel did not have a sharp edge where the two planes intersected.  It was slightly rounded.  If I used that as a burnisher, it would also have a much smaller contact area.  I could increase the psi being applied to the board with a lot less pressure.  I started to really look at it.  It fit perfectly in my hand with my index finger on top of the steel.  I tried it out.  It worked great!  It developed that smooth Don Williams’ burnished look that I was going for.  If I wanted to adjust the pressure, I would just rock the chisel’s contact point.  Because of it’s smaller contact surface, it did not require a lot of effort to use.  Sweet!  I was able to finish the rest of the entire piece without having to take another break.

I am still not sure if this is the previous owner’s intent for this tool, but it clearly excels at burnishing. 


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