They’re one of the oldest tools around and a pretty familiar sight, yet you may not have any in your toolbox. Maybe it’s because you’re not quite sure what to use them for, how to buy them, how to hold them, or how to hit them (and when not to). Read on.
Basically, chisels remove excess wood by rough shaping, paring and trimming. They’re also used in mortise and tenon joinery, to ensure a tight fit in these kinds of joints.
If you don’t do a lot of fine cabinetry work, a small set of firmer (or general purpose woodworking) chisels are handy to have around: a quarter-inch, half-inch, 3/4 inch and inch should do the trick.
Tips on use
Spend some time getting used to the feel of the chisel with some scrap wood. Start by using your hand only; don’t hit them.
Chisels are sharp. Don’t slide them toward your hand, as a little slip can leave you with a nasty gash.
While firmer chisels can be hit, avoid using a steel hammer unless the chisel handle is special impact-resistant plastic. Otherwise, use a wooden mallet. You can do a more precise job with lots of little taps rather than one forceful hit.
Shave only small, thin slivers as a time. If you take a big chunk, you can end up splitting the wood and gouging out more than you want. In other words, keep the chisel flat to the wood when shaving