How to Use a Wood Chisel

Do you know that there are a number of ways to use a chisel? You may not need a chisel in every project you undertake but it certainly pays to have one close by. With a chisel, you can carve of a recess to install a hinge or make a delicate mortise cut or a lovely dovetail. A chisel can also remove chunks of wood out of your workpiece and even pare delicate pieces of wood.

Chisels come in a set, usually a set of three consisting of a ½ inch, ¾ inch and a 1 – inch which is the ideal set to start. A ¾ inch is a good all-purpose chisel to cut almost everything; this chisel has to be very sharp and should have an impact-resistant handle so you can use a chisel hammer on it. There are a number of good chisel brands in the market; make sure to invest on a good set. This will give you years upon years of good use.

Chisel techniques

Here are a few chisel techniques that any woodworker must master. Learning these techniques will help you conquer almost any woodworking project in the future.

Chopping cuts with the chisel

You must have a sharp ½ inch chisel to make large chopping cuts. Remove large amounts of wood with a chisel and then clean the piece off by also using a chisel and some sandpaper.

  1. Place the workpiece on a vice to hold it in place. Make the appropriate markings to guide the chisel and hammer.
  2. Use a sharp ½ inch and aim its sharp edge directly on top of the area that you will be working on.
  3. Use a chisel hammer, strike the chisel with the hammer to chop down around ½ inch of wood from the piece.
  4. Continue to chisel downwards until you reach the end; remove the piece completely with a sharp twist.
  5. After removing a large piece, remove it and then start from the top again to remove another chunk of wood.
  6. After you are done chopping and removing large chunks, use the same ½ inch chisel or a smaller but sharper chisel to pare the surface to remove imperfections.
  7. Use a large grit sandpaper to finish off.

Making mortise cuts

Mortise cuts are used in a variety of ways in woodworking and among these is with a Tenon to make a clean and strong mortise and Tenon joint. To make a mortise cut, follow these steps.

  1. Attach the workpiece in a vice to secure it. Expose the surface that you will work on.
  2. Make the cut by striking the wood with the bevel down.
  3. Use a chisel hammer to tap on the chisel to remove thin slices on the workpiece.
  4. Control the chisel as you slowly make thin cuts by raising or lowering the handle of the tool.
  5. Continue until you have completely removed all the waste wood and have defined the mortise cut.
  6. Use a smaller and sharper chisel to clean the walls of the mortise cut. Use sandpaper with a large grit to make minute adjustments.

The wood grain can direct your chisel too deep so be sure to “feel” when you have gone too deep. If this happens, stop working and chisel from the opposite direction. It’s a good idea to define the mortise cut with a sharp utility knife. Make a knife wall to reduce mistakes and to help you chisel off large piece without hurting the grain.

Delicate paring cuts

From chopping large chunks to making delicate cuts, a chisel can be this versatile. Just make sure that the tool is very sharp at all times.

  1. Place the workpiece on a vice to secure it as you make delicate paring cuts.
  2. Mark the area that you will work on with a pencil and then make deeper cuts with a sharp utility knife.
  3. Keep the back of the chisel flat against the wood. Pivot the chisel as you move the blade to slice wood easier.
  4. If you are working on a hinge mortise, where the recess is open on one side, flatten the surface by paring off the surface using the unbeveled side of the chisel.
  5. As a general rule, if you are shaving into wood, bevel down. If you are flattening a cut with access from the side then face the bevel up.

Combination chop and pare

When cutting a groove, you can use a chisel to chop and pare waste wood to complete the part. Here are some quick steps to do it:

  1. Place the workpiece on a vice to secure it
  2. Measure and mark the area that you will need to cut.
  3. With a handsaw, saw off the edges of the groove to the desired depth.
  4. Use a sharp chisel to remove the wood in the middle. Make chopping cuts around ½ inches apart.
  5. Now cut the bottom of the groove by keeping the chisel flat at the bottom. Keep the chisel flat and strike with a chisel hammer to remove the wood. Work from one end to another until you meet at the center of the groove. Work at this manner to prevent splitting wood.
  6. Cut a little at a time, do not hurry. Use the heel of your hand if you are working on lighter cutting projects and use a mallet or a hammer if you are doing larger and deeper grooves.

Scraping with a chisel

Hardened glue, minute imperfections and even drops of paint can be removed with the use of a chisel. You can remove almost all nicks, mistakes along the surface of the wood with a chisel however; you need a very sharp and flat edge. Follow these steps.

  1. Secure the area that you will work on. if possible, place it on a vice to avoid movement
  2. Hold the chisel vertically or at a right angle so it can scrape the surface well. The back of the chisel should be facing you.
  3. Support the blade of the chisel with your fingers as you press down. Move the chisel towards you.
  4. Take note that you must move the chisel across the surface of the wood without damaging the wood.

Chisel maintenance and sharpening

Every now and then, sharpen your chisel set. Old chisels with nicked edges should be reshaped with the use of a grinder. The tip should be reshaped to a 25-degree angle. When sharpening with a grinder, make sure to dip the tip in water every two or three seconds to prevent turning the tip blue. If this happens, the chisel will become weak and won’t be able to hold an edge for a long time.

Use a wet and fine sandpaper to polish the back of the chisel. Rub the back on the sandpaper aggressively. Sharpen the edge of the chisel using sandpaper by progressing from a large grit of 120 then a 220, 400, until you are using a 600 grit paper.

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Newly sharpened chisels should be place in a sock or a thick canvass. Roll the chisels away in canvas to protect the newly sharpened edge.

Buying a chisel

There are many chisel brands and manufacturers out there and there are generic ones too. You must choose a chisel made of strong and durable metal with a strong and ergonomic handle. Chisel handles are mostly made of wood but there are chisels with hard plastic and even metal handles to absorb the blow of a heavy chisel hammer or a mallet. A set of chisels must have at least ½ inch, ¾ inch and a ¼ inch chisel to work on a variety of projects.

You will find chisels in varying prices. There are generic chisels for less than $10 and sets for $20, maybe even less. Expensive, high end chisels and chisel sets can be as costly as $50 or more. Be sure to read chisel and chisel set reviews before you make a purchase. Comparing brands will also give you a good value.


A chisel is a handy woodworking tool to have around. It can cut, shop, shave and scrape with ease; just make sure that you have a sharp edge at all times. A chisel set is an essential part of any woodworking kit; you must have a good sharp ½ inch, ¾ inch and ¼ inch chisel ready anytime. Chisels are perfect for creating mortise cuts, chopping large chunks of wood, paring small pieces of wood and scraping old paint, nicks and glue off a workpiece surface. Learning these techniques will help you manage different woodworking projects easily.

Caring for chisels is important. You must keep them clean and well-sharpened. You can sharpen chisels by using a grinder or sandpaper. In using sandpaper, moving from the roughest grit to the finest one can give a chisel its sharp edge. Make sure to keep newly sharpened chisels in a sock or in a clean canvas. These will protect newly sharpened chisels and keep them sharp for a long time.

Buying a chisel or a chisel set will be easier and more efficient when you read reviews and compare products. There are many good brands and manufacturers online and offline and checking these out can give you a good value for your money.

Do you have a few tips on how to use a chisel? Let us know from the comments section below. And if you like this article, please share it to your friends and family who you think would love these chisel technique tips.

  • October 13, 2017
  • DIY