What is a Woodworking Chisel?

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  • Written By: Lori Kilchermann
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 08 November 2019
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A woodworking chisel is a tool used to carve and shape wood. With a high carbon steel blade attached to a handle made of wood or a composite material, the woodworking chisel can be honed to a razor-sharp edge. Used in both lathe turning as well as free hand carving, the woodworking chisel is capable of creating elaborately detailed work in the hands of a skilled craftsman. Unlike a metal cutting cold chisel which is hammered through a bolt, the woodworking chisel is more like a knife in that it slices and carves its way through the wood.

While available individually, the typical woodworking chisel used by the layman is purchased in a set. Comprised of varying widths and profiles, woodworking chisel sets include a variety of tools to roughly begin and finely finish most woodworking projects. Master craftsmen will usually purchase their woodworking chisel sets as individual chisels, spending as much on a single chisel as most amateur woodworkers will spend on an entire shop full of tools. The upper end chisels are often crafted by the same companies that manufacture fine culinary utensils, such as chefs' knives.


Woodworking chisels that are correctly sharpened can slice through paper or shave hair. This high level of sharpening allows the tool to slice through the grain of the wood without creating splinters or rough edges. As the craftsman uses the chisel to slice and gouge a shape into a wooden block, the varying sizes and shapes of the chisels used create the delicate lines of a sculpture. Each chisel creates its own distinctive line.

Tools used on wood-turning lathes are not as critical as the carving tools used in wood sculpting. The lathe uses high speed to smooth the wood as the chisel cuts through it. No matter the final design, the lathe work piece is typically sanded to its final finish prior to being removed from the lathe. Lathe chisels are also purchased in sets comprised of chisels, gouges and parting tools.

Not all woodworking chisel sets are used to create works of art. Some chisels are used by carpenters to help with tasks such as providing clearance on a door for hinges. The chisel used by a carpenter is more utilitarian than the version used by woodworking artists. While still very sharp, this construction tool is often helped through the wood by a few blows from a carpenter's hammer. Used to trim corners and cut out mortises for locks, the carpenter's woodworking chisel is a not-so-distant cousin of the wood sculptor's chisel.


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