Yesterday, I was working on a small sculpture and used the only straight handled butcher I have suitable for use on the anvil. I came across it and some other set tools early in my blacksmith experience. I was still doing woodworking at that time but as I searched flea markets for woodworking tools I occasionally picked up blacksmith tools too.
What I remember particularly is that I noticed that some of the tools had a handle fit so loosely that the head could readily be slipped off. At that time I didn’t understand that the loose fit was an intentional feature. It is probably seen mostly on butchers but also on other set tools such as side sets or odd-shaped punches. Anytime the face of the tool is asymmetrical in a way that renders it useful in either right-hand or left-hand orientation the reversibility is handy.
In my case I needed to establish a shoulder on the right side and the left side of a vertical raised area. Ken held the workpiece steady on the anvil while I set the butcher in place and struck it about four times with a hand sledge then knocked off the butcher and turned it 180º and tapped it back onto the handle and used it on the other side.
There doesn’t seem to be much information about set tools on the web. The Wikipedia article could use some help from someone. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Set_tool I found one reference which explained that the butcher, straight or curved, was used to start the shoulder. The side set had a less steeply inclined face and was used to set off more of the mass from the shoulder and the set hammer was used to square the shoulder. It performs the same function as a flatter but has a smaller face. I have one of those which is rectangular and another which has three straight sides and one convex side to the face.
I found one image of a handled side set here http://brisbaneblacksmithsupplies.com/anvil_tools but I would call the tool a butcher because of the steep angle of the face. Decoding the jargon can be difficult for beginners. Experienced smiths have largely just forgotten the parsing issues and have learned to live with the inconsistencies.
Actually, I don’t use the butchering technique much and when I do it is usually with the smithing magician. I do have a set of dies for the fly press but have used them just a few times. Mostly I have used the technique when making tenons. In the smithing magician guillotine tool the butcher dies can be reversed to create “near” and “far” offsets. I saw a drawing of a die that was a combination, “near” on one half and “far” on the other half.
Yesterday’s work required a butcher with a straight edge. When making tenons on a square bar a curved butcher has the advantage of cutting deeper at the corners making the line easier to see when the bar is rotated for the next strike. Once again, the terminology seems a bit confusing. The “curved” refers to an arc relief in the cutting face rather than to a bend in the blade which would essentially make it a curved chisel or gouge. I’ll have more to say about that soon when I show some chisels I made recently.