When attempting to purchase the best carving chisel, there are certain factors to consider. The type of steel that the chisel is made of is often the most critical factor. A soft steel will sharpen faster and easier; however, a high-carbon, hard steel will often hold its edge for a longer period. The style or type of carving chisel is the next consideration, with choices such as hand carving or mallet carving chisels. Price is also a deciding factor for many chisel buyers, with the chisel's handle material often being a primary factor in the cost.
The key to quality carving often lies in the ability of the carving chisel to remain sharp. Dull chisels will frequently result in poor cuts and can also damage the work as the craftsman attempts to force the dull chisel through the wood. The higher-quality steel found in top-of-the-line chisels is usually more expensive than the softer steel chisels. Many times, however, the softer steel is ground down excessively in an attempt to maintain a sharp carving chisel. This often makes the more expensive hardened steel chisel a better bargain due to its lack of requiring frequent sharpening and grinding.
The most common types of carving chisels are the hand- or palm-operated models and the mallet-operated style. The palm or push-type chisel is used by sculptors who simply push the carving chisel through the medium and remove small amounts of material with each cut. The mallet-type chisel is forced through the medium by hitting the handle with a mallet. If you are planning on creating large carvings, the mallet type of chisel may work best for your needs. If, however, you are planning on creating smaller and more intricate carvings, the hand or push model might better serve your needs.
Handle design is commonly wood or plastic, with the latter being the least expensive. Many carvers prefer the wooden handled carving chisel over the plastic due to the ease of shaping a wooden handle to fit the worker's hand. By sanding and profiling the wooden handle, the craftsman is able to fit the carving chisel to his hand and eliminate sore spots. The plastic handle is more durable in a mallet-type chisel and will commonly outlast a similarly-equipped wooden handle carving chisel. Examining the style and size of the work you anticipate carving will aid you in choosing the best chisel for your project.