woodworking chisel types

Woodworking chisel types – Which should you choose?

Types of chisels and their uses

There are many chisels that are used for Woodworking.  I know that most woodworkers only use a modest selection of carpenters chisels but there are so many more to enjoy. Woodworking chisels  are a far cry from the modest cows cannon bone tools used by ancient man.

Whether you’re working on-site or in the workshop there is a sensible array of Woodworking chisels that you should own.  In this article, I will try to explain all the types of woodworking chisels. Most of the chisels in this blog are available today but I will also cover some of the older chisel patterns. 

List of woodworking chisel categories

Woodworking categories of chisels can be separated into chisel types. Here is a list of the most common woodworking chisel patterns

List of woodworking chisel types

The firmer chisel

The firmer chisel is the staple mate of any woodworker.  Can be classed as a bench chisel for general purpose work. For instance: chopping, pairing or levering.

The firmer woodworking chisel is a heavy-duty chisel with it’s thicker rectangle cross profile. The firmer chisel pattern has evolved over centuries into all other chisel patterns.

Ward cast steel of Norwich firmer chisel 640 360 Best chisel sets for woodworking
Ward Cast Steel of Norwich Firmer Chisel

Bevel edged chisel

These bevel edged chisels are like a firmer chisel but with bevelled edges, so they can get close to the side of a joint. Bevel Edged chisels evolved from firmer chisels. 

Sorby bevel edged chisel 640 360 Best chisel sets for woodworking
‘Sorby’ Bevel edged Chisel

The mortise chisel

When chopping out a mortise you sometimes have to give your chisel a bit of welly! Your Bashing you’re pulling and you’re leaving. This puts immense strain on your chisel and Such your chisel has to be built to withstand the abuse.

The mortise chisel has a thick blade with sides of a slight taper. The handle of the mortise chisel is often mounted onto a thick tang or even into a socket to handle.

Sorby mortise chisel 640 360 Best chisel sets for woodworking
Sorby Mortise chisel

The drawer lock chisel

Old antique furniture such as a Bureau would have drawers furnished with a key-operated lock. The drawer lock can be classed as a mortice lock. The mortice for the drawer lock is very narrow requiring a  narrow chisel. Because the chisel is so narrow it can easily bend so it is important that the Chisel has a deep taper. The drawer lock chisel is a type of mortise chisel. 

The Paring Chisel

Technically the paring chisel is a group of chisels.  What defines the paring chisel is a chisel that can be pushed using your body without the aid of a mallet. If you want to prevent developing carpal tunnel syndrome pay Close attention to the paring chisel handle.  The handles of a paring chisel must not have any metal components that fall into the palm of the hand or anything used to reinforce the handle. The Paring chisel should have a long flexible blade which helps with controlling the chisel during intricate paring tasks.

I have a selection of paring chisels but my favourite is an old vintage  ‘Ward’ chisel which has a lovely thin blade with very shallow bevels. This chisel pares timber beautifully and ideal for making small adjustments to a joint. 

For my liking many modern paring chisels are a little rigid this includes my Robert Sorby.

paring chisel 640 360 Best chisel sets for woodworking
Paring Chisel

The Corner Chisel

Another chisel that is great if you have the repetitive task of squaring the corner of a mortice. I do own one but frankly, I prefer to use my vintage bevel-edged chisel.

Trend Corner Chisel

A handy tool for the squaring of router cut hinge mortises. When you cut a hinge mortice with a router you will be left with round corners a radius combination of jig, guide and cutter.  The Trend pattern corner chisel has a simple alignment system which makes it easy quickly and accurately remove the radius left by the router.

Butt Chisel

Butt chisels are a great addition to any tool kit. These but chisels are great for joint work.  Sometimes with large palm handles allowing you to trim joints with ease without the need of a mallet. 

Skew Chisel

Skew chisels are used to pare away wood from dovetail joints. Because the skew chisel has a slicing cutting action it makes light work of paring end grain. If you are considering a Skew chisel make note that you will need a left and right-handed version.

Types of woodworking chisel handle

  • wooden handle
  • plastic handle

Wooden chisel handles

Chisel handles made of wood are not only the traditionalists choice but woodies prefer the feel of timber over plastic. There are a few prefered kinds of wood for the construction of a chisel handle.  

The wood used for making wooden chisel handles

  • Boxwood (Buxus)
  • Ash (Fraxinus Americana)
  • Beech (Fagus)
  • Hornbeam (Carpinus)
  • Hard Maple (Acer)

Plastic Chisel Handles

Chisel handles that are made from plastic are often considered the budget option but plastic handles are great on the construction site. Hi-impact plastics can be struck with a hammer making the need to carry a mallet in the toolkit unnecessary. I have a selection of hi-impact plastic handles on some of my chisels and yet I still have not managed to shatter one. Maybe ‘Shatterproof is a thing?’. If I had to take a plastic preference I do love the old Stanley translucent cellulose acetate.

wooden mallet 640 360 Best chisel sets for woodworking
Wooden Mallet

Methods of mounting the handle to chisel

  • socket mount
  • tang mount
  • Moulded (Plastic Handles)

Chisel handle patterns

Ultimately the chisel handle needs to fit the hand. The shape of the chisel handle is also influenced by the job the chisel is intended by. When your chisel is used for chopping then the design of the chisel handle has to capable of being struck by a mallet. If you intend to work purely by hand as you may do with a paring chisel then a palm-shaped handle would be best. If woodturning is your thing long chisel handles give you the leverage needed to safely hold your chisel.

Types of Steel Used for making woodworking chisels

01 carbon steel is a great hi-carbon steel that does not cost a fortune. Yes, there are good and bad 01 tool  steel but on the whole most 01 steel is fine. 

Cast steel chisels

My ancient Ward “cast steel” chisels or “crucible steel” was the brainchild of Benjamin Huntsman of England, era 1740s. These cast steels are hard and maintain a good edge but can take a little longer to hone

I have written an article on tool steels which you can read here

So what chisels should you choose?

Which chisels you should choose depends on what you intend to do with them. If you are new to woodworking you should probably consider a set of five. Which set or type will be influenced by your budget. You could delve deep in your pockets and invest in a set of Japanese chisels but I don’t recommend that unless you want to explore Waterstone sharpening. I have been using chisels ever since I discovered woodworking in the eighties so if I had to make a practical choice on what my chisels should be made from would be a high carbon bevel edge set. You can explore the selection we have put together for you in our new article.


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