A Chisel Primer
Issue: Issue 4.05
Posted Date: 3/11/2003
There's a new forum for online woodworkers at sawmillcreek.org. It's already attracted a good number of participants and the discussions are lively and informative. Here's an especially good one we ran across.
The lesson for today is on chisels. A woodworker noticed that the set he'd inherited from his dad (flat handle ends, apparently made for whacking with a hammer) were different from his other set (longer, thinner handles, with more pointy ends probably not made for pounding). It got him thinking about the different kinds of chisels he'd heard of -- bench chisels, paring chisels and mortise chisels -- and then wondering how many kinds there were and how to tell them apart. So he asked the Neanderthal Haven forum.
Though one poster first declared there were only two kinds of chisels -- sharp and dull -- he then more helpfully joined other posters in identifying a few chisel distinctions:
- Mortising chisels have a very thick blade that's used to lever out the wood after striking.
- Bench chisels, like the inherited set, are the workhorses of the shop and can be hit with a hammer or mallet without damage.
- Paring chisels, like the other set mentioned, are usually longer than bench chisels, with a longer, thinner blade that's sharpened with a lower bevel angle. Hand pressure is all the force used on them and they should not be struck with a mallet.
- Spare chisels can be ground into unusual shapes and angles for dovetail work, glue removal, etc.
- Other chisels included but not described include socket chisels, registered mortise chisels, carving chisels, slicks, butt chisels, and skew chisels.
Getting a bit off track, another poster noted that a cache of inherited tools could be just tools or real treasures ... but chances are they're probably all dull. So the first step toward enjoying the inheritance should be to put a razor sharp edge on everything. And if he didn't know how to do that, he should learn the "scary sharp" method.
Or if they are in really bad condition, another contributor suggested having the edges straightened and correct cutting angle put back by a local sharpening shop. After that, it'll be easier to maintain them at home. But an earlier poster disagreed with that approach, declaring it was important to learn how to sharpen them by yourself. Noting all the articles, books, and videos on sharpening found on web sites, and in magazines and books, this poster singled out the Museum of Woodworking Tools site as a good place to start. Beyond that he explained that the basics of sharpening are simple, straightforward, and inexpensive. All you need to begin is a piece of plate glass and some wet and dry sandpaper. And sharpening jigs, he noted, make reshaping bevels almost foolproof.
Though not ungrateful for the above effort, the original poster replied that his chisels were sharp, and he really only needed to know about the different handles and uses. Somewhat chagrined, the previous poster suggested browsing the chisel departments of online tool sellers such as Garrett-Wade and Highland Hardware.