Even if you’re going to use power tools you’ll probably end up using some hand tools too, especially if you’re going to cut Dovetails or Mortises. If you don’t “Pony Up” the bucks for a Dovetail Router Jig or a Mortise machine, you’re going to have to call in the original tools for those jobs.
So, what was used to cut Dovetails and Mortises? Drills, Saws, and Chisels. Drills and saws were used to remove the bulk of the bulk of the wood and chisels were used to fine tune the joints.
Heck, chisels can be used in hand making a multitude of woodworking joints. How do you think past woodworkers did such fine work before affordable power tools came along? Yep, hand tools.
Since there’s a number of options in looking for woodworking chisels, our guide is here to help you figure out which will best suit you in your quest for those tight fitting, awe-inspiring hand cut wood joints.
The 3 Best Woodworking Chisels
Where To Use Woodworking Chisels?
Woodworking chisels are more versatile than you could imagine. These are the main areas where you can use your chisels.
Furniture and Cabinet Projects
As mentioned earlier, chisels are used in hand worked wood joinery, specifically mentioning the Dovetail and Mortise. Both of these joints are used in furniture and cabinet making, neither being of any mass, for the most part. Chisels are great for cutting and fitting in projects of this size.
Don’t have a router and a dovetail jig but want to make dovetail joints? Cut the waste out from between the tails and the pins with a saw, then use your chisels to clean the joints up for a tight fit.
Need to make a half-lap joint but don’t have a table saw or router? Scribe the shoulder line with a Marking knife then use your trusty chisel to remove the waste wood.
Construction and Renovation Projects
On the other hand, chisels also come in handy in Timber Framing. Timber Framing? Yep, the way homes and barns were built YEARS ago. Although you might find a Dovetail joint in Timber Framing, you’re more likely to find Mortise and Tenon joints. Mortises of this size require a different chisel than do those in cabinet and furniture projects.
How about setting hinges in doors without the aid of a router? Layout the hinge outline with a marking knife and remove the waste with a chisel.
How about wooden boat building? Yep, chisels come in hand for that kind of woodworking too. Ship Lap construction techniques utilize chisels for cutting and fitting framing joints. There are many other projects out there where chisels will come in handy.
So now that you have an understanding of how chisels can come in handy let’s take a look at choosing your woodworking chisels.
What To Consider When Buying Woodworking Chisels
Choosing your first woodworking chisels can be mind boggling, as there are many options to choose from. Picking the wrong chisels will provide for enjoyable woodworking, but rather frustration and strife.
To help streamline your chisel choosing, here’s a breakdown of what to look for when making your selection.
1. The Right Chisel For The Right Job
The most important thing to consider when buying any woodworking tool is the purpose for which you’re going to use it. A paring chisel will not serve as a general chisel as its purpose is making fine cuts. Mortise chisels also won’t serve well for general chisel work.
Beveled edge bench chisels are a great first choice for the new woodworker as they can be used for quite a number of tasks. A keenly sharp bench chisel can be used for paring but it won’t allow for the same precision of work as it won’t be as flexible.
Don’t expect to cut narrow and deep mortises with a bench chisels unless you pre-drill the bulk of the mortise out. Then, if the mortise is wide enough, you can clean it up with a bench chisel. If you want to cut a deep narrow mortise without drilling, you’ll need mortise and paring chisels.
Not much can be as frustrating as a cutting tool that won’t hold a sharp edge without frequent sharpening. With chisels, this is SO true. Quality steel is necessary for a quality chisel.
When purchasing chisels look for and indication that the blades are made of quality steel. High carbon steel holds up well and is fairly easy to sharpen, a necessity for keeping chisel edges sharp.
A dull cutting edge will reek havoc when trying to cut wood, tearing and crushing fibers instead of shearing them. Therefore it is imperative to keep the cutting edges sharp and high carbon blades will help you do so.
The same qualities in keeping an edge sharp also come into play in providing strength in the neck of the blade. This is necessary for chisels to withstand the repetitive blows of a carving let.
Handles can be made of many materials; wood, plastic, leather disks, and other materials. None are necessarily better than the other. Choose what you think will be best for you, but keep in mind that balance is more important than the material the handle is made of. Chisels that are too heavy on the handle end tend to be less comfortable to use.
The handle must be strong enough to take constant wacks from a carving mallet so look for crack free handles when buying those made from wood. Many plastic and leather handle chisels have a steel cap on the on end, thus taking transmitting the mallet force to the blade.
The Right Chisel For The Right Job
Even in buying chisels for joinery, there are things to consider. Are you planning to do timber joinery? If so, you’re going to need some stout chisels, designed to take a pounding and to hog out wood.
If you’re looking at cabinetry and furniture making then the chisels you’re looking for won’t need much mass, but they will definitely need to be balanced in fit well in your hand.
If you want to fine tune a joint with thin, precise cuts then there’s a chisel for that task too. Here’s a breakdown into chisels you can use in wood joinery.
Beveled Edge Bench Chisels
Beveled edge bench chisels are the most common chisel and are readily found at woodworking supply stores, in woodworkers’ tool cabinets, and in their took tool racks. These chisels are neither too long or too short. Comfortable fit in the woodworker’s hand is a necessity.
Bench chisels should hold a keen edge and be easy to sharpen. Quality should have a flat back that allows for ease in sharpening. Beveled edge chisels get their name from their beveled edges that allow for working tight in corners of joints.
Beveled edge bench chisels are THE first choice of chisels for any woodworker looking to perform hand joinery.
Heavy Duty Beveled Edge Chisels
Although not really used much in furniture making, these chisels are a fine choice for boat building, timber framing, or any application where the joinery is big and complicated. Although awesome chisels, these are too big and clumsy for cabinet and furniture joinery, unless you’re going to make some pretty large cabinets and furniture.
If you’re going to pre-drill deep mortises then you won’t need a mortise chisel. On the other hand, should you want to cut the entire chisel by hand, the mortise chisel is your tool. Mortise chisels are designed to be pounded into and then pry out wood. Bench chisels are not built for that kind of abuse.
The standard mortise chisel is designed to chisel out mortises used in furniture and cabinet work. If you’re looking to chisel out a sash mortise when reworking an old wooden window, then you’re going to need the narrower Sash Mortise chisel.
Paring chisels are used to make fine cuts when precisely fitting joints. These chisels are light, thin,long, and almost flexible. They are not to be driven with a mallet but instead are used only with the hand or hands. One hand provides the force for cutting and the second guides the long thin blade. Paring chisels are great for dressing the sides of mortises after the bulk of the waste is removed with a mortising chisel.
Review Of The Best Woodworking Chisels
Now that you have a general understanding of woodworking chisels, your next step is to pick a set to get you chiseling with the best.
So you won’t have to wade through all the options on the internet, below are three great chisel sets to choose from.
Stanley 16-791 Sweetheart 750 Series Socket Chisel Set
Stanley discontinued the 750 Series chisels more than 40 years ago, but revived the offering due to customer demand. The 750 Series chisels are manufactured in Sheffield, England, from high-carbon, chrome steel, which should provide for years of quality service. Quality chisels do not come cheaply. You know the saying, “You get what you pay for.” Well, the Stanley 750 Series offers a moderately priced, yet quality chisel. They are a great “bang for your buck.
As mentioned above, the blades are manufactured from high-carbon, chrome steel. The long blades are finely machined with clean and consistent 30° beveled edges. The backs could use some mild flattening, but for the new woodworker they should perform well.
The short and comfortable handles are made from Hornbeam Wood, a common material for chisel handles. The rounded handle ends will not dig into the woodworker’s palm when working without a mallet.
The Stanley 750 chisels are quality chisels, available at a reasonable price. Well made, with great form, these chisels will serve any woodworker well for years.
Narex Premium 8 pc Chisels Set With Hornbeam Handles
Narex also manufactures quality tools, garnering an excellent reputation as a tool manufacture. And where do Narex tools come from? The Czech Republic, which is not widely known for such quality offerings, but surely will in the future. This 8-piece set falls between the other two sets in price. In knowing the quality and in the number of chisels included in this set, it’s a great set for the cost.
Narex manufactures their blades from tempered chrome-manganese steel, hardened to a Rockwell hardness of 59. These finely beveled blades should provide long lasting sharp edges and quality cuts.
The Narex chisels also have Hornbeam wood handles, in a short and round shape. Narex takes their handles a little farther by offering them in a warm dark stain. These handles will be comfortable on the hands.
When comparing prices of each set, the Narex set offers the best cost-per-chisel value. In line with the other two manufacturers, Narex offers quality tools at reasonable prices. One can’t go wrong with this set of chisels.
Two Cherries 500-1561 6-Piece Chisel Set in Wooden Box
The Two Cherries chisel set is the most expensive of these three sets, but in addition to the chisels, the set also includes a wood storage case.This set of chisels is manufactured in Germany, also from quality high-carbon steel. As mentioned earlier, this is the most costly set of chisels presented. Although more expensive they are still not out of reach for many woodworkers. Six chisels and the storage case offset the higher cost.
These long blade chisels are heated to a Rockwell hardness of 61, which will provide for a long lasting edge. The bevels are finely cut, providing for necessary clearance in fine joinery.
The Two Cherries also have Hornbeam wood handles, but of a longer and straighter shape than the Stanley 750 Series. The Two Cherries chisels also have “Hooped” handles, which refers to the metal band affixed around the striking end of the handle.
Although costing a bit of coin, this is a quality set of chisels that should last beyond the lifetime of the average woodworker, making for a family heirloom someday.