Toolsday: Chisels

One of my favorite purchases of the last year, my wood chisels.

Six widths of wood chisel

After taking my first class with Mr. Arimoto I felt confident enough in the use and maintenance of chisels to finally purchase my own set. Luckily for me, this six-pieces set was on clearance at the store for just $25! That's insane, because these chisels are normally about $10 each. Anyway, I bought them.

If you can't find good chisels on sale anywhere, and can't afford a big set, the two sizes I use most are the one quarter inch and three quarter inch chisels. The small one is needed for detail work and cleanup, and the medium one is a good balance between power and control. Any wider, and you'll have to hit it pretty hard with the hammer to get it to cut. With narrower chisels, unless you're working with hard wood or trying to remove too much at once, you should be able to cut with firm hand pressure on the handle.

I highly recommend a class or something before you use chisels. They're tricky, and dangerous, and you need to know what you're doing before you start. They really need to be sharp, and they really need to be used properly, but once you have that down there are things you can achieve quickly with hammer and chisel that are difficult and slow with power tools. Now that I have them, I use them all the time for little things and for big things.

This set is very rugged. See how the "tang" of the blade goes all the way through the handle, so that taps on the back cap with the hammer transmit force directly to the blade edge? See the nice thick blades so that the edge has more metal backing it up and stays sharp longer? I love these chisels. I've tried using traditional Japanese chisels, but the higher quality blades are actually a bit more brittle than these manufactured ones. I've actually ruined the edge on a couple of good chisels, and they've needed to be re-sharpened from scratch. Until I clean up my technique, I'm better off using these cheap ones.

The above photo is for illustration only, by the way. You should never place your chisels "bevel up" on the table like that. Always place them bevel down to protect the edge and corners. Trivia: in Japanese, the corners are called mimi or "ears".

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2010.07.06 at 12:00am EDT