There are specific tools that are indispensable for every type of builder or artisan. The chisel is one such tool for woodworkers because it is a multifaceted tool useful in so many ways. But do you know how to use a wood chisel?

From cutting mortises to chopping out corners, or shaving rough surfaces and scraping off extra glue, a wood chisel can come in handy when used the right way.

If you have never owned one before, or it’s been a really long time, then you may not know precisely how to use a wood chisel.

Why Do You Need to Learn How to Use a Wood Chisel

A wood chisel is not the kind of tool you may use often. However, when a need such as having to carve out a recess for a hinge presents itself, nothing will be as beneficial as a razor-sharp wood chisel.

That’s why any person that does any kind of occasional “handy work” should buy one and learn how to use a wood chisel.

If you do not have one, it is time you got yourself a wood chisel. A decent set of wood chisels doesn’t cost much, though like everything there are some really expensive sets out there. Besides, cost should not be the thing preventing you from having a handy tool that makes your work easier.

You can even get sets that come with the proper wooden mallet to use with them.

Do not go for the cheapest, though. Get one that is sturdy and has a lifetime warranty.

If you are interested in woodworker in one way or the other, there is information you need on how to use a wood chisel.

Getting the right information about how to use a wood chisel will go a long way in ensuring that you get the best one from the word go.

Basics of How to Use a Wood Chisel

First, let’s talk about how to sharpen your wood chisel before you learn how to use a wood chisel.

Even new ones require honing for a truly sharp edge. Old ones may have rounded or nicked tips which need reshaping, or sharpening. The nicks can be removed using a grinder or a belt sander.

In case you are using a grinder, make sure you dip the wood chisel in cold water after every 2 to 3 seconds to prevent it from overheating. You will know you are overheating it if it turns blue. In case this happens, it loses the capacity to hold an edge for a more extended period.

Once you finish sharpening, the next step is polishing the back of the wood chisel using finer and dry sandpaper by rubbing it back and forth progressively. For best results, do this by pressing its back flat to the sandpaper.

The progression of the sandpaper used to sharpen should have a grit of 120, 220, 400, and 600.

Finally, hold the chisel at an angle of 30 degrees and run it through the sandpaper. Begin with the 220 grit to create a “secondary bevel.”

Next, glue the sandpaper lightly to a 1/4-inch glass with smooth edges using a spray adhesive. Give it a few minutes to dry and then roll the chisel over the sandpaper back and forth continuously until you see a burr forming on the blade.

To remove the burr, turn the wood chisel over and keep stroking it on the sandpaper. Repeat this process using fine-grit sandpaper until the blade becomes razor-sharp with a shiny look.

The chisel is now ready for use. Now, this is how to use a wood chisel correctly.

The Best 10 Ways to Use a Wood Chisel the Right Way

There are several ways you can use a wood chisel depending on the cut or design you want to make. Learn these methods and become an expert in using a wood chisel.

1. Two-handed control

When using a wood chisel, always engage a two-handed grip for careful paring. Use one hand to guide its cutting edge to the required position and the other hand to provide the driving power.

For work that requires extreme precision, brace the hand guiding the cutting edge against the material being chiseled out. Adjust it in such a way that it acts as a fulcrum to pivot on and use the other hand to drive in the chisel gently.

Mastering this technique when learning how to use a wood chisel creates so much control and accuracy that you’ll be surprised at the results.

2. Using force

In instances requiring greater cutting force, use one hand to firmly hold the chisel by wrapping it around the handle and with the other hand, drive in the chisel using a mallet or hammer.

When using a wood-handled chisel, be extra careful when striking it because it is more likely to split.

Also, preferably use a wooden or hard plastic mallet or hammer instead of a metallic one because it is less likely to damage your chisel. There is also the probability of missing the chisel head when hitting.

Using a metal hammer or mallet for striking would do much more damage to your fingers and knuckles in case you miss the chisel head. Learning how to use a wood chisel can help you to prevent injuries.

3. Grain consideration

Always chisel out along the grain because when a wood chisel is cutting against the grain, its sharp edge ends up digging in and splitting the wood.

For an ideal cut, ensure that you flip the board or piece of wood over to orient the grain accurately before you begin to cut it.

One rule to never forget at any given moment when using a wood chisel is “always cut with the grain.”

However, you should also be extra careful while at it because sometimes chiseling with the grain can create disastrous results. Damage may happen because the grain always directs the chisel. In case the grain runs deep into the wood, the chisel will go into the same depth.

Know how to use a wood chisel so that in case it happens, you can stop and begin chiseling from the opposite direction.

4. Making light or heavy cuts

Light cuts are usually made with the chisel bevel up as it allows for better precision.

However, when making more substantial cuts or when cutting in confined spaces, you may be forced to use the chisel bevel down.

This situation may also force you to apply simple creative techniques such as holding the chisel at a greater angle. Doing this minimizes the chances of gauging.

5. Cutting a notch

Cutting a notch on wood requires optimal accuracy and knowing how to use a wood chisel.

To achieve this, first, point the chisel bevel towards the unwanted area and then make vertical cuts to define the perimeter.

Next, make slanted cuts on the incisions marking the perimeter with the chisel bevel facing inwards. That is how you can use the wood chisel to form notch walls.

6. Removing notch waste

Once you are done cutting the notch, remove the remaining wood waste through paring cuts.

While holding the chisel flat and keeping its bevel up, keep trimming carefully until you reach the desired depth. Removing the notch waste allows you to effectively mount the handle flush and hinge against the wood’s surface.

7. Paring end-grain

Sometimes you will need to pair thin slices from end-grain.

All you have to do is orient the bevel up and make a smooth cutting in a swiveling motion. In this process, it is much easier to use a wide chisel since it will allow for more stability. Also, this helps complete the task within a shorter period.

Paring end-grain also requires you to use a chisel that is extra sharp because a blunt one will have less traction on the cut, and this can cause damage.

8. Cutting rabbets

To trim the depth of a rabbet accurately, use a guide block that matches the lip of the rabbet. Clamp the block on a bench to provide the surface of resting the chisel on.

Rabbets are usually smooth cuts and are commonly used to strengthen the joints of cabinets and drawers.
When done right, they create a strong and rigid framework.

9. Deep mortises

The best way to make deep mortises using a wood chisel is by drilling overlapping holes on the wood first. The cavity you are making should be slightly larger than the drill bit for precise fitting.

With the chisel bevel facing the direction of the waste, use the chisel to remove the unwanted material.

The corners can be a bit challenging, but you can handle them appropriately by making cross-grain cuts first to prevent splitting of the long-grain.

10. Making concave cuts

Making concave cuts on wood is not as difficult as it might seem.

Use a wood chisel with a thickness that is slightly wider than that of the stock. With the bevel facing downwards, press the chisel handle downwards gently. Then let the blade cut through the wood to your desired dimension.

By doing all this, you will get a uniform curve as long as you apply steady pressure and movement throughout.

The Bottom Line: Learning How to Use a Wood Chisel

Knowing these necessary skills will go a long way in keeping you informed on how to use a wood chisel the right way.

In addition, a wood chisel is a tool that can take on a wide range of construction and building properties.

For instance, you can use it to remove and clean up waste wood as you construct a porch glider. You can also use it to pare away thin wood shavings to create a tight fit when putting up a fence.

A wood chisel comes in handy even in instances that you did not anticipate, and for this reason, it’s a must-have tool.

What is your first project with a chisel going to be? Let us know, down in the comments!


Featured Image: CC by ASA 3.0 Unported, by CEphoto-Uwe Aranas, via Wikimedia Commons

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