Hida Tool

August 20, 2011 Comments Off on Hida Tool

 A little while back when visiting friends in the Bay Area we took the opportunity to stop by Hida Tool in Berkeley. Hida Tool is one of the most well known and respected purveyors of Japanese tools in the country. They sell tools for woodworking, gardening, cooking, as well as some specialty tools related to bonsai and bamboo. They are passionately committed to hand tool use – whether in the wood shop or the garden – to the point that they make a small apology on their website for carrying drill bits that will work in a power drill. (You know that you walk the hand tool walk when you have to apologize for carrying drill bits.)

The store is located on San Pablo Avenue, a rather busy commercial street down the hill from the University of California. If your significant other has no interest in looking at Japanese tools, there are other shops and cafes around that can grab their attention – including an REI directly across the street. We were there on a Friday, so street parking wasn’t bad. There is no lot, so bring plenty of change for the meter. On the weekends you may have to search for a parking spot. From the street, Hida Tool is a small, unassuming one-story building with a sign bearing their name, and a separate smaller sign that reads, “Japanese Tools”. Inside, the public portion of the store is modest, maybe all of 350 square feet. But it is packed with tools. Gardening tools climb up the wall the as you enter, and woodworking tools stuff the two narrow aisles as you move further back.

That gigantic plane on the top shelf is real, and for sale. The big saw on the wall is neither.

It is an impressive use of space, considering that every tool on their website is on display in this one small room. (It’s amazing what you can fit in when you don’t have to make room for table saws and jointers.)

I knew Japanese planes come in just as many varieties as their western counterparts, but it is impressive to see them all laid out at your fingertips. There were small smoothing , larger planes, rabbets, plows, small detail planes – the list goes on. The chisels are also especially eye-catching. As with the planes, it is rare in this country to see – in person – that many Japanese chisels of all shapes and sizes in one place. It’s all you can do to not load up your arms with a couple dozen of them and head for the cash register (which, by the way, is simply a person with a calculator). I should also mention that it is refreshing to see high quality tools merely sitting on a shelf waiting to be picked up and held, as opposed to being locked away behind a glass cabinet as if you were viewing 15th century artifacts at a museum.

 Besides woodworking, locally Hida Tool is equally popular for their kitchen and gardening tools. They do a brisk business in sharpening knives. In the 45 minutes we were in the store (yeah, that’s right), no fewer than four or five people came in to pick up their knives.

Unfortunately at the time we visited, my tool budget that month was small (thanks to Josh Clark and Walt Quadrato), so I didn’t come home with much. In fact, most of what I bought weren’t woodworking tools, and included two garden saws and a small kitchen knife. I also picked up a small Japanese nail set.

Judy - wondering what all the fuss is about.

If you find yourself in the Bay Area and you are a woodworker, a gardener, or just love to cook and are fed up with your dull, cheap kitchen knives, Hida Tool is a must-see. If you are flying, however, and you are one of those people (me) who never checks a bag, consider that very few things sold at Hida Tool will pass carry-on security. (I was literally walking around carrying that little nail set wondering if I could carry it on a plane. Once I accepted the fact that I would – horror! – check a bag, I grabbed the saws.) Of course, due to the magic of the World Wide Web, you can simply order all their tools from the convenience of your own home. (Though I don’t know this for sure, it seemed there were more tools in the store than on their website.) You will have to call, or if you order it through the website they will call you to complete the order. Either way you speak with a friendly voice, which I find to be a nicety in today’s world drowned with computer pixels and mouse clicks (yes, I see the irony in that sentence). We visit friends in the area at least once a year, so we’ll be back, and next time with more cash on hand.

All photographs were used with the permission of Hida Tool.

More:

The Fujihiro chisels, made by Chutaro Imai, that are sold at Hida Tool have an excellent reputation. Wilbur Pan has written about them often on his Giant Cypress blog, and Jameel Abraham recently praised them here.

If you really want to make a woodworking/gardening/kitchen tool trip of it, you can also visit The Japan Woodworker just a few miles south in Alameda. We didn’t make it there, but hope to in a future trip. Judging from their catalog and website, Japan Woodworker looks to be a larger operation than Hida Tool.

If you are interested in Japanese tools, you can also just go to the source and buy them straight from Japan. Without reservation, I would recommend Stuart Tierney and ToolsFromJapan.com. He has a terrific variety of high quality tools, and is very forthcoming with information. Everything I have purchased from him has been a pleasure to use.

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