The simplest tool in your chest is also the most sensitive and versatile; here’s how to set up a chisel to a high level and wield it like a maestro.
by Christopher Schwarz
It’s almost impossible to build furniture without a chisel, yet most woodworkers I’ve met (even professionals) have chisels that are unbalanced, the wrong shape and poorly sharpened.
Before you despair, this article is not a commercial to convince you to buy an expensive set of boutique chisels. You cannot just throw money at this problem. Instead, my hope is that after reading this article you will fetch the 1⁄2″ chisel you have in your set – no matter the brand or the vintage – and set it up for a high level of work.
Once you see what a proper and perfect chisel is capable of – and how to wield it – you’ll quickly discover that the chisel you have is (most likely) perfectly adequate, or that it could be better. Either way, you’ll know exactly why that is the case.
Warning: If you are a tool collector or have beliefs that tools should not be radically altered, you definitely want to stop reading now.
Types of Chisels & What You Need
Most woodworkers have far more chisels than necessary. Years ago I sure did. The downside to being chisel-rich is the downside to having a dozen children: You have to take care of them all. I’d much rather have a small set of perfect and sharp tools than a menagerie of misfits that I’m always poring over to find a decent one.
Article: Read an article about rehandling a chisel from Roger Holmes.
Blog: Read about rehandling a mortise chisel.
Blog: Learn a different way to mortise by hand.
Store: “Using the Versatile Chisel with Jeff Miller” video.