Need a chisel? It's a staple tool, especially for woodworkers. There are many different types of chisels. We classify each type here so that you can determine what chisel options you need in your tool collection.
A chisel is a cutting tool that is widely used in fields such as 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 chisel tool comes with a characteristic cutting edge blade on one end and a handle on the other end. The handle is typically made of wood, plastic or metal, and is struck by a mallet in order to cut the material.
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
- Chisel Frequently Asked Questions
- When And Where Was The Chisel Invented And By Whom?
- Can You Chisel MDF?
- Can You Chisel Concrete? If So, What Kind of Chisel Do You Need?
- Can You Chisel Plywood? What Type of Chisel Do You Need?
- Can You Chisel Granite? What Type of Chisel Do You Need?
- Can You Chisel Brick? What Type of Chisel Do You Need?
- Can You Chisel Asphalt? What Kind of Chisel Do You Need?
- How Do You Sharpen a Chisel?
- What Kind of Metal Are Chisels Made Of?
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 that crude forms of the chisel tool have been around since prehistoric times. The ancient Egyptians used copper and bronze chisels to work wood and stone. In fact, ancient inscriptions and carvings made using chisels have been found in 7th-century BC Egyptian tombs. Greeks also used chisels to carve marble 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 using large chisel tools and make their way down to smaller chisel tools for more fine detailing.
The term “firmer chisel” was used to refer to chisels made of hard substances, like solid steel. These tools are used in heavy-duty woodwork and have a blade with a rectangular cross-section, as well as hardwood handles.
Firmer chisels are one of the oldest chisel models and therefore are considered quite distinctive as well as truly extraordinary. This type of chisel is used to create incredibly sharp 90-degree corners.
Bevel Edge Chisel
Neither too long nor too short, the bevel edge chisel is the most common types of chisel tool used in the carpentry industry. As their name indicates, these chisel tools have a beveled side and straight edge. The beveled edge and straight edge of a bevel edge chisel allows them maximum access to dovetail joints. Some bevel edge chisels are hooped to prevent splitting and to strengthen the handle, but 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. A bench chisel usually has a five-inch blade and a five-inch handle. This type of chisel is the go-to choice for furniture- and cabinet-makers. Bench chisels are also ideal for chopping, trimming, paring, and joinery in carpentry.
Although there are several different kinds of chisels that work with wood, there are some chisels that are ideal to use with bricks, mortar, stones and other hard materials. One of these chisel types is known as masonry chisel.
To use a masonry chisel, you must first gently tap the blade on the brick or stone surface in order to score it. The reason you score the stone is that it will snap off along the scored line as you work. Masonry chisels are designed to be used on bricks and concrete blocks, as well as other types of stone. With the provided teeth, they can also work well with soft stone types.
The mortise chisel is so named because it is primarily used to cut mortise joints. These chisels are comprised of a heavy blade that is thicker than it is wide. The blade of a mortise chisel consists of huge forged bolsters, and it has a hardwood handle that can withstand much pressure and repeated heavy striking. Mortise chisels are usually capped, or have steel hoops on their handle. These additions help the mortise chisel withstand the blows of a mallet. The edge of a mortise chisel is typically cut to an angle between 30 and 40 degrees.
This type of chisel is much more durable than bench chisels, which do not have the thickness, strength, or length to lever out wood or stone. This durability also means that a mortise chisel can withstand the repeated blows of a mallet.
Sash Mortise Chisel
Sash mortise chisels are lighter versions of the heavier duty mortise chisels, so they are relatively thinner than a mortise chisel is. 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 even for deep mortises.
Originally, sash mortise chisels were available in a wide variety of styles. But now due to low demand, only a few sizes are widely available.
Paring chisels are long, thin, and flexible chisels often with beveled sides. The cutting edge of the blade of a paring chisel 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 more fine work. Paring chisels also have a long handle that is attached to a tang and allows the worker to exert maximum control over the tool.
Paring chisels are a type of wood chisel, which means that they are preferred when shaving off thin slivers of wood, which usually occurs when fitting joints.
Slick chisels are the oversized version of paring chisels. These chisels are made easily recognizable due to their distinctive baseball bat-shaped handle. This handle shape offers the user a comfortable grip. The blade of a slick chisel is broader than that of paring chisels and is 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 woodwork.
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Butt chisels are chisels with an uniquely short blade. Butt chisels are believed to have evolved from firmer or bench chisels, that were then reshaped and recut so considerably that these chisels ended up having blades of very few inches in length. The blades on a butt chisel come in both straight edge and bevel edge varieties.
As their name indicates, butt chisels are used to install butts and hinges. Carpenters find these short instruments so useful that their high demand has led to an increase in manufacturing of these hand tools.
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As their name indicates, dovetail chisels are specifically designed to create dovetails and to finish dovetail joints. These hand tools feature a long blade with beveled edges that have been honed to a 20- to 30-degree angle. Dovetail chisels are used to sharpen the interlocking parts of a dovetail joint. Since a dovetail chisel has a long and thin blade, it can also be used to clean out a joint.
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Corner chisels are comprised of a medium-length blade with a V-shaped cross-section. This chisel blade is increasingly popular among carpenters. A corner chisel is often used to make cabinets.
These hand tools are used for cutting deep corners into mortises and cleaning out square corners. Each chisel face is sharpened using an oil stone.
Japanese chisels, or “nomi”, are slightly thicker than Western bench chisels. These striking tools are made from two types of metal. The middle part of a Japanese chisel is made from relatively soft steel, while the blade, with its sharp cutting edge, is made of much harder high-carbon steel, typically on the Rockwell “C” 64 scale.
The blade of a Japanese chisel is forged, and it can retain a high and keen cutting edge for a long time. These tools are hooped, with hollow ground backs. Japanese chisels are also extremely fine-grained, so using one results in the creation of an incredibly fine edge. Fine edges prevent softwood from crumbling, and resist the abrasion of exotic woods.
Skew chisels are one of the most essential and everyday tools used by woodworkers. This type of chisel features a long, bevel-edged blade with an angled tip. The long point of the edge of the blade is called the toe, and the shortest edge of the blade is called the heel. For self-taught and DIY woodworkers, working with skew chisels can be quite challenging, as this type of striking tool requires the appropriate amount of pressure and digging in order to work properly. Skew chisels are used for creating V-cuts, tapering, beading, and smoothing.
A socket chisel is comprised of a cone-shaped handle. This handle sits on the metal socket of the chisel. Because of their socket-type handles, these chisels can withstand many strikes by a mallet, and do not crack under pressure. Socket chisels can be used in heavy-duty woodworking, due to the fact that they can withstand the striking of a mallet.
The blade of a framing chisel is longer, wider, and thicker than that of firmer chisels. These chisels can have a straight edge or a bevel edge blade. Because they are designed to withstand repeated mallet strikes, framing chisels also come with additional features such as sockets, loops, or capped handles. The cutting edge of a framing chisel is angled anywhere from 25 to 30 degrees. Framing chisels are commonly used in boat building, post-and-beam construction, and timber framing.
Concrete chisels are different from most other chisels in that they come with a sharp, pointed tip instead of a sharp edge. These chisels are used to break apart concrete surfaces, rather than fork 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 that the blade of the chisel is not in line with its handle. This type of chisel design allows the user to press the whole blade on a surface without their fingers coming between the surface and the handle.
These types of chisel handles are usually found on bench or paring chisels. Cranked handle chisels are ideal for shaving off wooden surfaces, a practice that requires that the blade be flat against the workpiece. A chisel with this type of handle is ideal for creating flush surfaces and for finishing joints.
The bolster chisel, also known as the brick chisel, is used to cut straight lines into bricks. Brick chisels should not be used with any other material, such as wood, stone or metal, because they may lose their sharpness if they are used with these materials. Although bolster chisels may not have as sharp an 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 from reinforced tempered steel that can cut any cold metal that is softer than itself. The name of this chisel comes from blacksmiths’ use of it to cut metals while the metals are cold, as opposed to when they are forged or heated.
Cold chisels are used to cut off rivets and rusted nuts, and were used massively before machine or power tools were invented. However, they are used by metalworkers even today.
Cape chisels are a variation of the cold chisel. These chisels taper towards the bottom into a narrow, arrowhead-like shape. Like cold chisels, a cape chisel is used to cut any metal that is softer than itself. Cape chisels are ideal for cutting keyways, creating horizontal groves, and for fine detailing on metal surfaces using their pointed tips.
Round chisels have a curved cutting edge that can make narrow channels in a work surface. These type of chisels also come in a half-rounded style. Round chisels are made of steel and come in varying tip sizes, hexes, and lengths. Round chisels work especially well with metal frameworks.
There are two types of curved chisels. One type comes with a straight blade but a curved gouge, and the other has a curved blade with a straight gouge. This U-shaped cutting edge is available in varying depths and degrees, but are all used in cutting larger pieces of sticks while woodworking, and for providing shapes in 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 do or as a hammer does, but these power tools are quicker and a lot more efficient than those. There is no certain type of blade you can use with power chisels. Instead, you can choose from a variety of options that come in sets of 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 job, you can give your DIY project a green light!
Chisel Frequently Asked Questions
When And Where Was The Chisel Invented And By Whom?
The chisel is one of the oldest known tools in existence. Common usage of this type of tool dates back to 8,000 B.C.E, and there is evidence that chisel-like tools made of bone were used as far back as 30,000 B.C.E.
While it’s impossible to know who exactly invented the first chisel, the flint chisels from 8,000 B.C.E. were invented by the ancient Egyptians. Copper and bronze chisels were developed soon after in the same region of the world.
Can You Chisel MDF?
Yes, but it shouldn’t be your first option. MDF is a material that is flaky and brittle, and taking a chisel to it can easily cause small pieces of MDF to break off that you didn’t intend to do. Instead, you should use a router or a plane for the bulk of the work, especially for smaller details. Use a very sharp chisel for squaring corners and cleaning up excess left behind from other tools.
Can You Chisel Concrete? If So, What Kind of Chisel Do You Need?
If you need to break up large pieces of concrete, or trim edges off slabs of concrete, a chisel can be used in these jobs. The best kind of chisel to use with concrete is a cold chisel. Although these chisel tools were designed for use with metals, cold chisels work wonderfully with concrete as well. Cold chisels have a wide, octagon-shaped handle that is resistant to mushrooming from hammer strikes, and they’re made from high carbon steel.
Can You Chisel Plywood? What Type of Chisel Do You Need?
Plywood is difficult to chisel, as like MDF, it can easily crack or flake, but it’s certainly possible. A sharp bench chisel or wood chisel is sufficient for carving into plywood, but a sculpting chisel might work best to help avoid chipping the wood.
Can You Chisel Granite? What Type of Chisel Do You Need?
Granite is known as the hardest stone to carve, but it can certainly still be chiseled. Chiseling granite is typically the first step in carving it to get a cut started. The rest of the work is completed using diamond-tipped saws. Bushing chisels are designed specifically for use with stone, which includes granite. A nine-point chisel is especially useful for granite in particular, since the design of this chisel makes it a more durable.
Can You Chisel Brick? What Type of Chisel Do You Need?
Many people use chisels with brick for the sake of removing bricks or cutting them for use in a new project. A cold chisel is commonly used for scoring a cut in bricks. A brick set chisel is much wider than other chisel types, and allows the user to make a clean cut along the scored line. Brick hammers also have their own chisel, useful for cleaning up any excess on a cut or for digging out brick.
Can You Chisel Asphalt? What Kind of Chisel Do You Need?
Chiseling asphalt is a common practice to get rid of run-off after filling a driveway or parking lot, or when you need to cut out a specific area for the sake of digging underneath it to fix a pipe or electrical line. Asphalt chisels are made specifically for use with asphalt, but cold chisels and masonry chisels also work well with this material.
How Do You Sharpen a Chisel?
Just as with knives, chisels become useless and even dangerous if they’re not kept sharp. To sharpen a chisel, you’ll need a sharpening stone, honing guide, safety glasses, leather gloves, and a dust mask. If the stone is an oil stone, prepare the sharpening stone by first coating it with a thin layer of oil. If the stone is a water stone, submerge the stone in water for several minutes to prepare it.
Flatten the back of the chisel by laying it down on the sharpening stone and swiping it back and forth until it’s perfectly smooth.
Sharpen the bevel by laying it down at the proper angle until the bevel is flat. Be careful not to tip it while sharpening.
Finally, hone the edge to a finer tip by taping or gluing a piece of fine sandpaper to a piece of glass and working the edge until it’s quite sharp. Use the honing guide to keep the chisel at the proper angle.
What Kind of Metal Are Chisels Made Of?
Almost all modern chisels are made from tempered steel. Cold chisel blades have a much higher carbon content than other chisel blade, which makes them more durable than other chisel blades. Some chisels are made from aluminum bronze or beryllium copper to cut down on sparks in workplaces where hazardous and flammable materials are present.