Chisels and Gouges

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Safety in the workshop is YOUR RESPONSIBILITY alone; I make no warranty as to the safety of any technique or tool shown or described on this site.  Before beginning any project, you must understand woodshop safety, know how to safely operate any machinery that is to be used in the project, and understand the safe use and any potential safety hazards involved in the use of all materials to be used in the project.  See the General Safety Notice and the Chemical Safety Note for additional information.

Bevel Edged Chisel:

    This is the most common variety.  The beveled edge was introduced to allow the chisel to get into tight places, especially dovetails.  Many handle styles are available, including wooden, plastic which may be hit with a hammer; and a variety of shapes.  Faceted handles, such as octagonal, reduce the likelihood of the tool rolling off the bench.  Chisels are available in many sizes, from 1/8" to 2" in width, and 4" to 12"+ in length.

Paring Chisels

    Paring chisels, sometimes known as patternmaker's chisels, have a very long blade to reach farther into a piece while still using it with the bevel up, for paring cuts.

Butt Chisels

    These are the opposite of paring chisels, with a short, stubby blade and handle to reach into tight places.

Dog Leg Chisels

    These have a shank bent into a dog leg, or a sort of s-curve, so they may be used with the bevel up, even in the middle of a large panel.

Skew Chisels

    These chisels have the blade ground at a 45° skew angle, rather than straight across, as is usual.  The skewed edge cuts much more easily and cleanly, and the sharp point can reach into very tight corners.  These have an advantage at being able to cut with the grain in places other chisels can't even reach, much less cut cleanly.

Mortise Chisel:

    These are very heavily built, with a stout, square edged blade with a slightly blunt cutting angle for toughness, a heavy ferrule with a leather washer to absorb shock, a tough hardwood handle, and a steel ring around the business end of the handle to prevent splitting.  These are the tools of choice for heavy duty mortising, especially in hard woods, such as when building with timber frame construction.

Carving Chisels & Gouges:

    There are hundreds of shapes, sizes, and styles of carving tools, and many old european craftsmen would start their careers as masters with no less than three hundred tools in their collections.  The basic shapes are the gouge, with a semi-circular shape; the V- or parting tool, with a V-shaped cutting profile; the veiner, with a U-shape; straight and skew chisels.  Variations on these basic shapes include long-bent and short-bent or spoon styles, for getting into various concave areas.  There are also specialty gouges, called out-cannel gouges, with the bevel on the outside for getting at convex surfaces.  Sharpening and use of carving tools is best left to a book on the subject, as it is too extensive a topic for discussion here.

Japanese Chisels:

    Having stubby blades made of laminated steel with hollow ground backs, Japanese chisels are very different and easily recognized from western style chisels.  The blades are made from laminated steel, with a thin layer of hard steel forming the cutting edge, and a thick layer of soft, tough steel backing up the brittle hard steel.  The hollow ground back and layer of soft steel make for quick sharpening, as the soft steel cuts quickly, and the hollow back means less area to hone on that side.

Special Purpose Chisels:

Drawer Lock Chisel
    This is a roughly Z-shaped tool with cutting edges on either end, designed to be hit with a hammer to clean out drawer lock mortises.

Corner Chisel
    Having a cutting edge bent at right angles makes for easy cleaning up of mortise corners in one stroke.

Double Bent, Dog Leg, or Crank-Neck 
    The shank of a double bent chisel is bent upward to allow clearance for the handle above a flat surface while keeping it aligned with the blade, giving a better line of force.  These are used for paring cuts in the middle of large flat surfaces.


    A scorp consists of a handle and long shank with a sharpened ring at the end, very similar in design to the wood turner's ring tool.  It is designed to reach deep into a mortise and scoop out shavings.  The cutting action takes place perpendicular to the shank, allowing it to reach into very deep and narrow spaces.

Socket Firmer:

    Similar to a heavy duty mortise chisel, the wood handle fits into a tapered socket on the blade.  The blade is tapered in thickness from the shank to the edge, and there is a ferrule on the striking end of the handle.  These chisels are even bigger and heavier than mortise chisels, and are designed for the heavy work of timber framing.


    This is the largest of the chisels, with a blade 2"-4" wide and 10" long.  It is used for cleaning up hand hewn surfaces, very large mortises, and other big cleanup jobs.  Used mostly in timber framing and boat building.

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