Photos by Rob Brown; Illustration by Len Churchill
A very simple tool, the chisel’s job is to accurately remove small amounts of wood from a workpiece. Sold in sets or individually, it’s great to have at least four different widths available as you work. Having a few cheaper ‘utility’ chisels around comes in handy when doing rougher tasks, but there’s no substitute for a proper, sharp chisel. There are many different types on the market, but a bevel-edged chisel is all the beginner woodworker needs, unless they’re focusing on hand tool-only woodworking. Less expensive chisels will work well; they just don’t get as sharp, retain their edge as well or look at nice as more expensive versions. Learning about the different bevel angles at which to sharpen chisels will allow you to fine-tune your chisels, depending on the work you’re doing.
Price / Chisel: $15 – $150
Common Types: Bevel-Edged, Paring, Butt, Mortising, Japanese
Common Widths: 1/4″, 3/8″, 1/2″, 3/4″, 1″ and 1-1/2″
Common Metals: A2, O1, PMV-11
A chisel is useless unless it’s sharp. Deciding what type of sharpening system you want to purchase is the first step to using chisels properly.
A chisel isn’t a hammer or pry bar, unless you have a dedicated chisel for that type of usage. Refrain from using a chisel in an inappropriate way, and it will treat you well in return.
Chisels without a safe home will easily get damaged and may even cause you harm. Whether it’s in a drawer, dedicated box or hanging on the wall, keep your chisels safe.
Resharpen a chisel at the first sign of it getting dull. A dull chisel is erratic and will cause damage to the user and workpiece. A few minutes is often enough to create a razor sharp edge.
Purists would disagree, but a honing guide is a great tool to assist with creating super-sharp tools, especially for the beginner to intermediate-level woodworker.