Starting with Woodwork Hand Tools – Chisels

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Chisels are absolutely necessary for woodwork. They are effective, efficient and enjoyable to use.

Due to their practical results there are many types of chisels. We will cover the three most popular types here as well as discuss quality, edge angles & tool steel.

Bench chisels


Western Bench Chisels can have flat edges or bevel edges. Bevel edges are good for getting into corners like you find in dovetails. They are a far better universal use than flat sided bench chisels. Of course there are many sizes, but three sizes is a good place to start. Suggest 6mm(1/4″), 12mm(1/2″) & 19mm(3/4″).
Japanese bench chisels usually have bevel edges. They are often thicker than western bench chisels. We recommend you seek out thinner, (or not bulky), bench chisels, better for tight spots and still not lacking in strength.

Mortise Chisels

Mortise chisels are a special purpose chisel. They are much thicker than all other chisels we generally use. They need this lateral strength for levering timber out of a mortise slot. Tenon & mortise joints are certainly worth mastering. You will use a mortise chisel for taking out layers of wood in the mortise and often a bench chisel for straightening and cleaning up the sides and ends of the mortise slot.
Sizes similar to bench chisels. A mortise gauge can use the chisel width for setting the width of a mortise marking out.

Paring Chisels

We love paring chisels. They are long, thin and elegant. They are used to flatten or straighten a slot, edge or rebate and many other types of joints. They are the chisel version of a long jointing plane. Long & flat sliding across the workpiece! Can be considered a finishing clean up chisel…
Sizes would be similar to bench chisels above, but you may only need one or two smaller sizes to start off.

Tool Steel & Edge Angles

This is probably the most important part of chisel choice. Modern tool steels, O1, A2, PM -10V have greatly improved chisel performance. Simply put, they are strong and hence reduce chipping as well as having good abrasive qualities which allows them to stay sharper longer. There have been many chisel tool steels over the years, high speed carbon etc. Some are good, some are not, bit of a lottery. Japanese chisels often have very good steel, laminated as well as blue & white paper steel. These are usually very good, price seems to dictate quality.

There are lots of comments and opinions regarding the angle of the chisel cutting edge. Chisel edges do get some tough work during woodwork sometimes, as a general rule we would recommend a micro or secondary bevel of 35°. This angle cuts very well but importantly has a little more ‘meat’ to give the edge more strength. A paring chisel can be a finer angle of 25° or 30° due to its type of work.

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