A chisel is a cutting tool that is widely used in carpentry, masonry and other types of construction works. These tools are used to shape, carve, and sharpen materials like wood, cement, bricks, stone, and metal.
The tool comes with a characteristic cutting edge blade on one end and a handle on the other hand, typically made of wood, plastic or metal, which is struck by a mallet.
Table of Contents
- History of the Chisel
- Types of Chisels
- Firmer Chisel
- Bevel Edge Chisel
- Bench Chisel
- Masonry Chisel
- Mortise Chisel
- Sash Mortise Chisel
- Paring Chisel
- Slick Chisel
- Butt Chisel
- Dovetail Chisel
- Corner Chisel
- Japanese Chisel
- Skew Chisel
- Socket Chisel
- Framing Chisel
- Concrete Chisel
- Chisels with Cranked Handles
- Bolster Chisel
- Cold Chisel
- Cape Chisels
- Round Chisels
- Curved Chisels
- Power Chisels
History of the Chisel
The word “chisel” is believed to have come either from the Latin word “seco,” which means “I cut” or the French word “ciseau,” which means “scissors.”
Archaeologists believe crude forms of chisel have been around since prehistoric times. The ancient Egyptians used copper and bronze chisels to work wood and stone. In fact, ancient inscriptions made from chisels have been found in 7th-century BC Egyptian tombs. Greeks also used chisels to carve marbles in as early as the 6th century.
Types of Chisels
Chisels can range from small handheld tools that can be used to work tiny details to large tools used to remove sections of wood and stone. In woodcarving, workers start from large tools and make their way down to small tools for fine detailing.
The term “firmer chisel” was used to refer to chisels made of hard substances like solid steel. They were used in heavy-duty woodwork and had a blade with a rectangular cross-section and hardwood handles.
Firmer chisels are one of the oldest models of chisels and hence are considered very distinctive and extraordinary. They are used to create very sharp, 90-degree corners.
Bevel Edge Chisel
Neither too long nor too short, these chisels are the most common types of tool used in the carpentry industry. As the name indicates, they have a beveled side and straight edge, which allows them maximum access to dovetail joints. Some beveled edge chisels are hooped to prevent splitting and strengthen the handle. However, this isn’t strictly necessary.
Bench chisels are shorter than bevel edge chisels and are usually fitted with a tang or socket that features a hoop at the top. It usually has a 5-inch blade and a 5-inch handle and is the go-to choice for furniture and cabinet makers. This type of chisel is ideal for chopping, trimming, paring, and joinery.
Although there are several different kinds of chisels which work with wood, there are some chisels which are ideal to be used for bricks, mortar, stones and even harder materials. One of the types is known as masonry chisel.
To use a masonry chisel, you need to gently tap the blade on the brick or stone surface to score it. Stone snaps off along the scored line as you work. These masonry chisels are designed to be used on bricks and concrete blocks. With the provided teeth, they can also work well with soft stone.
The mortise chisel is named so because it is primarily used to cut mortise joints. These chisels comprise of a heavy blade which is thicker than it is wide. It consists of huge forged bolsters and a hardwood handle that can take a lot of pounding. They are usually capped or have steel hoops on their handle that help them withstand the blows of a mallet. The chisel is edged to an angle between 30 and 40 degrees.
This percussion instrument is much more durable than bench chisels, which do not have the thickness, strength or length to lever out wood or stone and take the abuse of the repeated blows of a mallet.
Sash Mortise Chisel
Sash mortise chisels are lighter versions of the heavy-duty mortise chisels and are relatively thinner. These chisels are designed for working on shallow mortises found in muntins or mullions of windows. If you drill out the waste while mortising, these chisels can work well for even deep mortises.
Originally, mortise chisels were available in a wide variety of styles, but now, due to low demand, only a few sizes are usually available.
Paring chisels are long, thin, and flexible chisels with often beveled sides. The cutting edge of the blade is sharpened to 15 to 20 degrees to enable smooth cutting. Paring chisels are designed to be moved by hand and should never be hit with a mallet since they are delicate instruments designed for fine work. They have a long handle that is attached to a tang and allows the worker maximum control.
Paring chisels are preferred when shaving off thin slivers of wood when fitting joints.
Slick chisels are the oversized versions of paring chisels. They can be recognized by their distinctive baseball-shaped handle which offers a very comfortable grip. The blade is broader than paring chisels and rather straight, with a cutting edge that is sharpened to wide angles of about 20 to 25 degrees.
Like paring chisels, slick chisels are also used to pare off thin pieces of wood from the woodwork.
Butt chisels are chisels with an unusually short blade. Butt chisels are believed to have evolved from firmer or bench chisels that have been reshaped and recut so much that they ended up with only a few inches of blade. These blades come in both straight-edged and bevel-edged variety.
As the name indicates, butt chisels are used to install butts and hinges. Carpenters find these short instruments so useful that they are now manufactured separately and are in high demand.
As their name indicates, dovetail chisels are specifically designed to create dovetail and finish off dovetail joints. These chisels feature a long blade with beveled edges, which have been honed to a 20 to 30 degrees angle. Dovetail chisels are used to sharpen the interlocking parts of a dovetail joint. Since it has a long and thin blade, it can also be used to clean out the joint.
Corner chisels comprise of a medium-length blade that has a V-shaped cross-section. This blade is very popular amongst carpenters and is generally used to make cabinets.
Corner chisels are used for cutting deep corners into mortises and cleaning out square corners. Each face is sharpened with an oil stone.
Japanese chisels or “nomi” are slightly thicker than Western bench chisels. They are made of two types of metal. The middle part of the tool is made of relatively soft steel while the blade, with a sharp cutting edge, is made of very hard, high-carbon steel, typically on the Rockwell “C” 64 scale.
The blades are forged and retain a very high and keen cutting edge and the tools are hoped with hollow ground backs. They are also extremely fine-grained and result in a very fine edge that prevents softwood from crumbling and resist the abrasion of exotic woods.
Skew chisels are one of the most essential tools used by woodworkers every day. This chisel features a long, bevel-edged blade which has an angled tip. The long point of the edge is called the toe and the shortest edge is called the heel. For DIY woodworkers, working with skew chisels can be very challenging as they require the appropriate amount of pressure and digging to work. Skew chisels are used for creating V-cuts, tapering, beading and smoothing.
A socket chisel comprises of a cone-shaped handle which sits on the metal socket of the chisel. Because of these socket-type handles, these chisels can take a lot of beating by the mallet and do not crack with pressure. Socket chisels can be used in heavy-duty woodworking as they can withstand the abuse of the mallet.
A framing chisel is longer, wider and thicker than firmer chisels. These chisels can have a straight-edged or a beveled-edged blade. Since they are designed to withstand repeated mallet strikes, they also come with additional features like sockets, loops, or capped handles. Their cutting edge is angled to 25 to 30 degrees. Framing chisels are used in boat building, post-and-beam construction, and timber framing.
Concrete chisels are different from most chisels as they come with a sharp, pointed tip instead of a sharp edge. These chisels break apart concrete surfaces, rather than sharpening or reshaping them. They are ideal for removing small portions of concrete from bigger objects, which a jackhammer or a hammer drill may be ineffective in doing.
Chisels with Cranked Handles
Some chisels are designed with cranked handles which means the blade is not in line with the handle. This type of design allows you to press the whole blade on a surface without your fingers getting in between the surface and the handle.
These types of handles are usually found on bench or paring chisels. They are ideal for shaving off wooden surfaces which require the blade to be flat against the workpiece. It is ideal for creating flush surfaces and finishing joints.
Bolster chisel, also known as brick chisel, is used to cut straight lines into bricks. These chisels should not be used with any other material like wood, stone or metal; otherwise, they are liable to lose their sharpness. Although they may not have a sharp edge as some other tools, they are still very useful in creating sides and surfaces on brick walls.
A cold chisel is a tool made of reinforced tempered steel, which can cut any cold metal softer than itself. The name of the chisel comes from the fact that blacksmiths use it to cut metals when they are cold as opposed to when they are forged or heated.
These cold chisels are used to cut off rivets and rusted nuts and were used massively when machine tools were not invented. Even today, they are used by metalworkers.
Cape chisels are variations of cold chisels. They taper towards the bottom into a narrow arrowhead-like shape. Like cold chisels, it is used to cut any metal that is softer than itself. They are great for cutting keyways, creating horizontal groves, and fine detailing on metal surfaces with the pointed tip.
Round chisels have a curved cutting edge that can make narrow channels into the work surface. They also come in half-rounded style. Round chisels are made of steel and come with varying tip size, hex, and length. Round chisels work very well with metal frameworks.
There are two types of curved chisels – one that comes with a straight blade but a curved gouge and the other having a curved blade with a straight gouge. The U-shaped cutting edge is available in varying depths and degrees but they are all for cutting out larger pieces of sticks while woodworking and providing shapes to complicated wooden structures.
As the name suggests, these chisels are powered by an electrical grinder motor. Power chisels do the same work as traditional hand-held chisels or hammer but they are quicker and a lot more efficient. There are no certain types of blade you can use with power chisels. Instead, you can pick from a variety of options that come in a set of the blades.
Although there are several other types of variations when it comes to chisels, the above list covers the most commonly used types that are preferred by carpenters, masons, and metalworkers. Once you have a good idea what type of chisel is required for each work, you can give your DIY project a green light!