It’s more than likely you’re going to be using woodworking chisels in many of your projects and having the right chisel to do the job will make a neater job and decrease then time required to finish your projects.
Woodworking chisels come in a variety of sizes and styles for removing small amounts of wood and large chisels for removing more wood faster. In this article I’m going to look at the various types of chisels and what their main use is. I’m also going to cover how to take care and keep your chisels sharp.
The 6 Main Types of Woodworking Chisels
1] Beveled Edge Chisels… The beveled edge chisels are going to be a commonly used chisel with your woodworking projects. There are 2 types the “bench” and the “firmer” the bench chisel is a typical woodworking chisel that most woodworkers will use. This is a full-sized chisel that is the tang type.
The firmer chisel typically has the tang-type handle that use hoops over the handle to help reduce chipping and splitting. A good set of bevel chisels should be in your toolkit. When you’re buying your bevel chisels look at the overall length of the handle and the shape of it. Also look at the blade the type of steel it uses and how it feels in your hand.
Remember quality will cost more, consider your tools as an investment, and buy the best quality chisels you can afford. Also look for ones that will hold a good edge and be easily sharpened, check the back for a slight hollow which helps with sharpening.
2] Mortise Chisels… These are very heavy chisels, and you can easily pick them out because their thicker than they are wide. They also have large bolsters, and the wood is oval shaped and usually made from very hard woods like oak or beech and they can take a beating. Despite all that their easy and very comfortable to work with.
Most woodworkers only need a couple of the mortise chisels [3/8 inch the most common] to do all their mortise joints. The strength of the mortise and tenon joint is made strong by the glue and not how wide the tenon is. The mortise chisel is made to be slammed into the wood and then used as a lever to remove the excess wood quickly.
Normal chisels just can’t stand up to the pounding the mortise chisel goes thru. Mortise chisels also have a very acute angle which is used for levering and cutting out the waste material.
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3] Sash Mortise Chisels… These chisels are a lightweight version of the big brut mortise chisels; they were originally made to clean out the shallow mortises that were used in window mullions. These are great for light duty work and they’re very easy to use. Instead of having to drill out your mortises you can use a mortise chisel for heavy work and a sash mortise chisel for light work.
4] Paring Chisels… These types of chisels are long and thin and usually have the side beveled and are great for really fine woodworking. The blades are long and slim with the cutting-edge set at 15 degrees giving the smoothest finishing cuts. Them typically have tang handles and are used by hand, [don’t use a mallet on a paring chisel].
The main use of paring chisels is for removing thin layers when you’re fitting joints. Their thin blade makes them flexible, and the long length gives superior control. With one hand you push the chisel and with your other hand you the control the blade. There are also some paring chisels with an offset handle which helps with better control and hand placement for doing fine work.
5] Corner Chisels… This is a chisel that beginner woodworker won’t need but it’s worth mentioning and are mostly used by cabinet makers. What sets the corner chisel apart from the others is all the faces are used and are kept sharp using an oil stone.
6] Japanese Chisels… What sets these chisels apart from the others is there made from 2 types of metal. The main part of the chisel is made out of soft steel and the cutting edge is made out of high carbon hard steel. The Japanese woodworking chisels are forged and will hold a very sharp edge and are an excellent tool which will give excellent results especially when you’re paring.
The Japanese chisels are similar to the western chisels but are a bit thicker. The main differences between the 2 is the Japanese chisels use hallow backs that allows cutting thru wood a little easier and use laminated hardened steel. And they have hooped handles made out of wood that are resistance to mallet use.
Taking Care of and Sharpening Woodworking Chisels
Keeping your chisels sharp and protected will ensure you get to use them for many years, store your chisels in a rack or a box that will protect them from being chipped and the cutting edges from coming into contact with each other. Some chisel sets come in boxes or have protective caps on the cutting edge. You can even make your own storage rack for your chisels.
Sharpening Your Woodworking Chisels
Before you can sharpen your chisels, you’re going to need some supplies, I highly recommend you get a good quality sharpening stone. Get a stone that is doubled sided with a coarse side and a fine side for sharpening your chisels. You’re also going to need some honing oil to use on the sharpening stone to make the chisel move with ease while it’s being sharpened.
Trying to keep the chisel at the correct angle while sharpening is going to be hard to do, I recommend you get yourself a honing guide. The guide is used to position your chisel at the correct angle, so you get a perfect sharpening job every time.
How to Sharpen Your Chisels
Before you can begin to sharpen your chisels, you should have a sharpening stone and as I mentioned in the previous 2 paragraphs you should also use a honing guide.
Step 1] Setting up The Stone… Place your sharpening stone somewhere will it’s not going to be sliding around while you’re using it. Ideally have a shop vise to clamp it into would be the best solution, if not make a simple box that you can clamp to the workshop. Most stones will have 2 sides and you want to begin with the coarse side and then finish with the fine side.
Step 2] Apply the Lubricant to The Stone… It’s very important that you apply the lubricate to the stone before beginning to sharpen your chisel. This will make movements easier and reduce the friction and prevent any heat build-up.
Step 3] Setting up The Honing Guide… Having a honing guide is a great investment especially if you need to sharpen your chisels a lot. If you don’t have a honing guide, you can sharpen it by eye, but you’ll have a hard time keeping the angle correct while using the whole stone surface to prevent uneven wear.
Step 4] Sharpening… With steady and even movements move your chisel with the beveled side down, beginning on the coarse side of the stone and then finishing on the fine side of the stone.
Step 5] Get Rid of Burrs… Remove your honing guide if you’re using one and turn the chisel over to the flat back, make sure the back of the chisel is perfectly flat on the stone and then do some rubbing on the stone which will get rid of the burr caused by the sharpening process.
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Safety Tips for Woodworking Chisels
– Use the right chisel for the right job.
– Use safety glasses to protect your eyes.
– Choose the right size chisel for the job at hand.
– Use smooth rectangular shaped handles that are solidly attached.
– Keep your chisels sharp, using dull chisels will make the job harder to do.
– Make sure your wood is free from staples, nails before chiseling.
– Securely clamp your wood so it can’t move while chiseling.
– Always do your work with the blade pointing away from you.
– Keep your body and hands behind the chisels cutting edge.
– Don’t strike your woodworking chisels with a steel hammer, use a mallet.
– Make your finishing cuts using hand pressure only.
– Any chisels on your work bench store them bevel up.
– Put chisels away in their box when not in use.
– Don’t use a chisel if it’s bent or has chips.
– Replace any splintered or damaged handles before using.
Your woodworking chisels will last you a long time if you take care of them and use them for what they are designed for. I keep a couple older worn-out chisels around for any jobs that will not be good for my good chisels.
In this article I looked at the 6 main types of woodworking chisels, while there are many other types of chisels there not typically used by the average or beginner woodworker. If you’re going to get into more specialized woodworking there are other chisels you may want to consider.