What are the different types of wood chisel?
There are many types of wood chisel and each has been specifically designed for a particular task. Below is a guide to the most common types of wood chisel and their uses.
The definition of a firmer chisel has changed over the years. It seems that “firmer” once referred to the way in which the chisels were made. Firmer (as the name suggests) meant any chisel blade that was made from a solid steel construction, as opposed to a steel laminate (iron with a steel coating). These chisels typically had square edges and hardwood handles and were used for heavy-duty woodworking tasks. In later years, as nearly all chisel blades became manufactured from a solid steel construction, the definition “firmer” became synonymous with a flat blade with square edges (without a bevel). This is generally considered the oldest type of modern chisel and it is particularly adept at creating joints where you need to maintain sharp, 90-degree corners.
Bench chisels are the first port of call with wood chisels. They are the all-rounders of the family; the general-purpose chisel. They typically consist of a medium length blade with either bevelled or straight edges (ones with bevelled edges tend to be more common as they have a wider range of applications) and an impact-resistant handle.
Bench chisels may have a tang- or socket-style fitting and usually have a cutting edge angled between 25 and 30 degrees.
Butt chisels are so named because of their primary application: installing butts and hinges to doors. They are easily recognised by the distinctive shortness of their blade. Traditionally, a butt chisel may have been a bench or firmer chisel that has been resharpened so much that only a few inches of its blade remains.
Carpenters found these shorter chisels so useful with certain applications that they became manufactured in their own right. There are both bevel-edged and straight-edged varieties.
Paring chisels typically have a long thin blade connected to its handle via a tang. They are designed to be manipulated by hand (never struck) and pushed across a work surface to remove small amounts of wood when finishing or neatening up joints. Their cutting edge is usually at an angle between 20 and 25 degrees and they are available with both bevelled and straight edges.
A mortise chisel has a thick blade that is designed to withstand prying. They get their name because they are chiefly used to cut mortise joints. They are typically capped or have a steel hoop on their handle to withstand repeated mallet blows. The cutting edge of a mortise chisel is usually ground to an angle between 30 and 40 degrees.
Dovetail chisels are designed specifically for the finishing of dovetail joints. They typically have a long thin blade with bevelled edges and a honed cutting edge of between 20 and 30 degrees.
These types of chisel are particularly useful when cleaning out and sharpening up the edges of the interlocking parts of a dovetail joint.
Corner chisels typically have a medium length blade that has a cross-section shaped like a right-angled “V”. These types of chisel are used for cutting grooves and tidying up square corners.
A framing chisel is essentially a wider, longer and thicker-bladed firmer chisel. These chisels are available with bevelled and straight edges and are more commonly found with sockets and sturdy capped handles to withstand repeated strikes from a mallet. They typically have a cutting edge of between 25 and 30 degrees and are chiefly used in boat building and timber framing applications.
Slick chisels are essentially oversized paring chisels. They are recognisable by their size and distinctive baseball-bat shaped handle. The slick chisel is used to pare off thin slivers of wood from a workpiece and typically has a long, wide, straight-edged blade and a cutting edge of 20-25 degrees.
Chisels with Cranked a Handel
Some chisels have what is known as a cranked handle. This means that the handle is offset from the line of the blade. This offset angle allows you to hold the entire blade flat on a work surface without your fingers getting in the way.
Cranked handles are most often found on paring and bench chisels. This design is beneficial to making shaving motions where the blade of the chisel needs to be flat against the workpiece, commonly seen when finishing joints and creating flush surfaces (typically were the use of a plane would be impractical).