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For every type of builder, there are very few indispensable tools. For the woodworkers, the chisel is the simple, multifaceted tool you just can't live without.

Here are some basic techniques on making the most of the chisel, a tool that can take on everything from cleaning up large chunks of waste wood when constructing a porch glider, to carefully paring away thin shavings for a tight fit when you're, say, building a fence.

A few tips before you get started: Make sure to keep your chisel sharp, have a few chisels of varying sizes (if you're getting only one, make it a 3/4"), and, finally, don't go for the cheapest tools --always buy sturdy, solid chisels with life-time warranties.
 
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Step 1: Two-handed control

For careful paring, use a 2-handed grip. One hand guides the cutting edge while the other hand provides driving power.

For extremely precise work, brace your guide hand up against the material and use it as a fulcrum to pivot on throughout the motion. You'll be surprised at how much control and accuracy you gain using this method.

Step 2: With force

When greater cutting force is required, wrap one hand around the handle and use a mallet to drive the chisel. Be careful when striking older, wood handled chisels, as a wood handle is much more likely to split than a plastic one. Also, avoid using a metal hammer for striking --a hard plastic mallet will do less damage to your chisels, and if you happened to miss the chisel head, less damage to your fingers and knuckles.

Step 3: With the grain

Cutting against the grain will cause the chisel edge to dig in and split the wood. This is due to the combination of downward sloping grain and the downward sloping beveled edge of the chisel. To make an ideal cut, in this case, you would flip the board over to orient the grain properly. Quite simply, always cut with the grain.
nancyjohns9 months ago

Thanks.

Sharad7 years ago
Can anybody make mistakes after reading such perfect instructions for chiseling. Please teach us more. Sharad
yes, everybody can make mistakes after reading this
I.E… Don't cut like we are in the photo?!

I also notice that your chisel is not sharpened — it looks as if it has just been ground, or brought.

But, good advice. Chisels are widely misunderstood by people trying to work wood, and your advice will make the whole process a lot easier and safer for people.
Broom4 years ago
In step 3, "With the grain", your picture actually depicts cutting into the grain, not with the grain, which (as you note in the text) is BAD, and will lead to gouging.
travw Broom3 years ago
*Ahem*

That is with the grain, not against the grain. In other words, he knows what he's talking about.
Broom travw3 years ago
Not sure why you've taken such a smart-assed tone, but nonetheless:

"Grain" isn't a bidirectional line. Grain goes in one direction (as in, North, not North-&-South).

And in his picture, he is cutting into the grain, which is bad.
Tom Ali6 years ago
Thanks a lot for such a good and professional guide. Hope to find more on other topics on using hand tools.
Dinerro946 years ago
its a very good instructable BUT i bet that the person who was chiseling was a professional and not a beginner, it takes years to be good at chiseling... But it is a very good intructable.
dataphool7 years ago
Good Instructable; you have captured the basic principles involved for a carpenter and his chisel. You could, and I think, should have added a section on sharpening chisels; or considering the complexity, throw in an extra instuctable of that step. A section on cold chisels and their use, and you will have the chisel family. Thanks.
theRIAA7 years ago
chisels are used too rarely today whenever I'm working and ask someone for a chisel, they give me that "What the hell would you want a chisel for??" look, and hand me a saw.
crapflinger7 years ago
make sure you keep your chisels sharp too... a dull chisel is about as good as tits on a bull...and pretty dangerous too
Incidentally, sharpening chisels is a cakewalk, assuming you have a grinder and a stone... Simply cut a hollow on the bevel side (be sure not to overheat!) and then lay the hollow flat against the stone with a circular motion to hone to a nice razor edge, occasionally honing the flat side to dispose of burrs...
Azzazal7 years ago
Very nicely done Instruction
singingfish7 years ago
Thanks, I inherited a stack of chisels when my grandfather died, and now I know what to do with them :-)
mikesty7 years ago
Fo' chisel my nizzle :) Good to see PM and posting as well :)