I don't know if anyone really knows when the first chisel was invented but it has it's roots in simple stone-age tools. A chisel is really just a modified knife designed for a variety of both light and heavy duty jobs. The largest chisels are those used in timber framing and log house construction and can have very wide blades. Woodworking chisel blades generally vary between 1" and 1/4" wide blades, but their are wider and narrower for specialized jobs.

There are many different kinds of wood chisels but they basically fall into 2 main groups, bevel sided chisels and flat sided chisels. Currently the bevel sided chisels are easily the most popular because of their ability to get into areas that most flat sided chisel just cannot reach. Because of the design of beveled chisels, some people suggest they are easier to bend when prying that will flat sided chisels. This may be the case, but often bend chisel blades are created because the chisel is being used for something other than what it was designed for.

Many flat sided wood chisels are also called mortise chisels as that is what they were designed to do. These chisels come in a variety of widths and shapes, and by themselves, a woodworker can cut out a quality mortise in a few minutes, using no other tools than the mortise chisel and a mallet. With today's wealth of power tools there are many other different ways of making moritises, but in the days before power tools, the mortise chisel was the main tool for this.

In the world of chisels, bevel sided chisels are the more recent, and have gained in popularity in recent generations because the mortise chisel and many shops has been replaced with some other types of machinery for making mortises. The bevel chisel will typically do everything a flat sided chisel will do, but slightly more care needs to used to ensure it not bent by over zealous prying. And if a chisel is sharp, excessive prying should not be required.

One of the best things about using a chisel is how it helps the woodworker to "read the grain" as we call it. Chiseling in some instances is not different than planing or jointing. In all these cases you need to know which way the grain is running to make a quality cut. Anyone who has ever cut notches for hinges, and found that when you began to clean out the wood and found that when you hammered the chisel in a certain direction and notch all of a sudden became a big crack in the wood - will understand what I am saying.


Bevel Edged and Flat Sided or Mortise Chisel


We all know woods have grains and depending on how the tree was cut and how the grain runs, jamming a chisel into when the grain is running "up hill" will at the least, often create a crumbly type of shaving and at the worst will open up a bit crack in the wood.

Wood that needs to be chiseled along the grain of the wood, needs to be chiseled "down hill" just as we do with a hand plane, a power joint and a power planer. All of these devices will produce a far better cut when the blades are cutting in the proper direction. Boards planed or jointed "up hill" produce cuts with tear-out, streaks and chatter.

It's very easy to see when you are chiseling wood in the proper direction, the chisel flows more evenly, is much easier to control, doesn't take of huge chunks of wood and often the wood curls off the end of the chisel just like it does on a hand plane.

Using a chisel is really all about common sense. Chisels need to be very sharp, otherwise they are harder to use and because of their sharpness they can cause a wicked cut. The best way to use a chisel is to make sure either both hands are on the chisel, which also gives you better control, or that if you are hammering a chisel one hand is hammering while the other is holding chisel. Trying to hold your work while chiseling is BAD idea, chisels slip all the time and if any part of your body is in the way, there is good chance you will injure yourself. just as you do with any sharp cutting tool like a knife, always work away from your body. Not only is this safer, it gives you better control of your chisel.

Chisels are one of those tools we often don't give a lot of thought to, but try and work in your shop without one and you will soon learn just how invaluable they are ... keep them sharp, work safely and you will get a lifetime of great results from your chisels.

Copyright - Colin Knecht