How To Use Hand Chisels To Clean And Cut Joints

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Many key hand techniques in woodworking have been replaced for most part, by power and machine tools. Chiseling the wood by hand is one such skill. Tools like routers are able to quickly and accurately do job that were earlier reserved for chisels, jobs like making mortise and tenor joints. 

However, chisels are still a primary hand tool in any woodshop. Believe me when I tell you that you will have many uses for the tool. And as it the case with many hand tools, you will find it easier and faster to use them for a quick fix than their machine counterparts. 

Chisels are also useful tools for cleaning up rough lumber, such as removing knots, evening the board edges etc. As with planes there are a few variations to the kind of chisels available to you, each meant for a different use. Here they are: 

  • Butt Chisels: These are the most popular kind of chisels and ideal for most any use. You can use them only by hand or with a wooden mallet. (Never use an iron hammer with chisels for woodworking. It’s completely uncalled for.) A regular butt chisel has a blade that’s about 6 inches long with a comfortable hand sized wooden handle. 

The width of the blade varies from 1/4th of an inch to one inch, with a bevel on the tip and along the sides. If you are buying your first chisel, buy the butt chisel. They usually come in a set of 4-5 chisels of different blade sizes. That is all you need to get started. 

  • Paring Chisels: If you want to work with hand exclusively with your chisels, get a set of paring chisels as well. These chisels have a longer blade and handle and are therefore more susceptible to pressure. Using a mallet with a paring chisel can easily bend them out of shape.

How To Use Chisels By Hand

The shaving of wood by a chisel is known as ‘paring.’ There are 2 ways to hold a chisel depending on whether you are paring more horizontally or vertically. 

The Horizontal Hold

When paring in a horizontal direction hold the handle with your index finger extended towards the blade. Use the other hand, either the thumb or a few fingers, to press down on the blade close to the tip. 

Exert pressure in the forward direction by leaning into the chisel. 

If you need or prefer to use a mallet, hold the handle with your fingers well clear of the top. Tap with the mallet on top of the chisel. 

You can even tap the chisel with the heel of your hand. Remember to always work with a sharp edge on the chisel. If you ever find yourself having to exert a lot of pressure or having to pound very hard with a mallet, you are probably working with a blunt chisel. 

Sharpen it before you continue. A blunt chisel can cause injury when you are using extra force, and or spoil your work by making unclean cuts.

The Vertical Hold

When you need to hold a chisel vertically, hold the handle with your thumb on top of it. Press down with your body weight. If you are using a mallet, get your hand well away from the top of the handle. You can even use the other hand to hold and guide the blade in the straight direction.

“If you are chiseling along any mark of measurement, always remember to put the flat side of the blade on the outside of the mark.”

Chisels are an important and useful tools to have in your wood shop. Always have a sharpened set at hand ready to use. The extent you use them will depend on your projects and your other tools.

how to use chisels in woodworking

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