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How to chisel wood using a bench hook

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Chisels bench hook and workpiece A bench hook is often used as a stop or support for a workpiece when it is being cut by a woodworking chisel.
Woodworking chisel A woodworking chisel is a hand-held tool with a long steel blade that has a sharp cutting edge, and a handle usually made of wood or high impact plastic. It is used for cutting and shaping wood.
Chisel with wooden handle and steel cap The blade, made of hardened steel, is relatively narrow, typically from 6mm (1/4 inch) to 25mm (1 inch) wide, but can be narrower or wider.

The pressure for cutting can come from the woodworker’s hands, or the chisel’s handle can be struck with a wooden mallet.

Using a chisel on workpiece held in a bench hook Often, a chisel is used to straighten up parts of a workpiece that can’t be reached by a plane, such as the internal corners of the tenon part of a mortise and tenon joint.
Chiselling along the grain Chiselling a piece held in a bench hook can be done across the grain or along the grain.

This picture shows a workpiece being chiselled along the grain.

Workpiece marked out prior to chiselling

Step 1 – Mark workpiece

With a pencil, mark on the workpiece the area that is to be cut with the chisel.

Housing part of housing joint sawn ready for chiselling

Step 2 – Ready-made guide

Some workpieces might have been sawn prior to chiselling out a shape, in which case you should have a ready-made guide.

Place the workpiece up against the bench hook stop

Step 3 – Position workpiece

Place the workpiece against the stop of the bench hook.

Chiselling out a housing

Step 4 – Across grain

If you are chiselling across the grain, as in this picture, the grain must run across the bench hook.

Chiselling wood with the grain

Step 5 – With grain

For chiselling with the grain, place the workpiece so that the grain runs in a line from the hook to the stop.

Chiselling wood on a bench hook

Step 6 – Chisel towards stop

The chiselling action should be carried out in the direction of the stop, away from the woodworker, so that the hook always acts as an anchor. Applying pressure across the workpiece would simply move it instead of making a cut.

Hitting chisel with mallet

Step 7 – Hand pressure or mallet

Pressure to make a cut can be exerted by hand, or by holding the chisel in one hand and striking the end of the handle with a wooden mallet.

A mallet is more suitable than a hammer for this purpose as the harder hammer could damage the handle of a woodworking chisel.

Chiselling all the way to the stop

Step 8 – Work halfway

Cutting a workpiece all the way up to the stop of the bench hook can result in damage to the stop. You can avoid this in some instances by working half-way across the workpiece, then turning the workpiece around.

Or you can place a sacrificial piece of scrap wood in front of the stop.

Chiselling tenon with workpiece to one side of the bench hook stop

Step 9 – Chisel outside stop

For some jobs – for instance, when slightly reducing the width of the tenon part of a mortise and tenon joint – the part of the workpiece to be cut can be placed to the side of the stop.

The workpiece is held against the stop with one hand and the chisel is worked with the other. To avoid break-out damage to the unsupported edge of the tenon, work nearly to the edge, then finish by cutting from the end of the piece – that is, at 90 degrees to the previous cutting action.

Chiselling vertically

Step 10 – Chisel downwards

You can also use a bench hook to chisel downwards, for instance to support a workpiece while a mortise, or recess, is being cut for a tenon to be fitted into later.

In this case, the bench hook works simply as a protector for the workbench top.

Chiselling out a mortise

Step 11 – Protect bench hook

If a mortise is being cut all the way through the workpiece, there is a danger that the bench hook base could be damaged.

Although some damage to bench hooks is expected, you may prefer to used a flat scrap of wood under the workpiece.

Art produced by chiselling with workpiece held in bench hook

Step 12 – Reposition workpiece

For some jobs, you may need to work both across the grain and with the grain, and from different sides of the workpiece. To achieve this, the workpiece may have to be repositioned repeatedly.

For example, cutting this work of art with specialist chisels required repositioning of the workpiece many times.

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