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Like power tools, chisels are always used in woodworking projects. They are essential, especially if you’re cutting mortises and dovetail joints. Chisels are even crucial when working on small corners and delicate shapes. Of course, there’s a wide array of chisels on the market. So, how do you go about choosing the best chisel for your home furniture projects?
The most important factor to consider when picking the best chisel is its grip. Does it comfortably fit in your hand? Moreover, check the quality of the blade so it can work on almost any type of wood. Another vital factor to consider is the ease of sharpening.
Chisels come in a wide range of options. As such, finding the right one for your woodworking projects can be a hassle. So, the following guide can help you pick the best chisel for your specific woodworking projects. From tight-fitting to hand-cut wood, there’s certainly a chisel for everyone.
Types of Woodworking Chisels
Chisels are available in many different makes and models, but just three kinds are often used by woodworkers; the mortise chisel, bench chisel, and paring chisel. These will complete most of your projects, so knowing what they’re used for is a vital first step in figuring out what you need.
These are the most common types of chisels due to their all-purpose functionality. They are highly versatile and can accomplish everything, including cutting out joints in wood cabinets and shaving lumber when it comes to rough framing.
In fact, the term “bench chisel” sprang up from the fact that they are permanently found on the benches of woodworkers ready for use. Bench chisels can have a beveled edge or straight edge, and the beveled-edged variety is the most common.
A beveled-edge bench chisel has a better balance overall and more easily carries the sidewall of various joints. The straight-edged version doesn’t have these qualities but is heavier and thicker, making it perfect for carving huge portions of tough material.
Both types of bench chisels come in sizes ranging from 0.0625 in to 3 in, but the most effective sizes are between 0.25 in and 1 in. These chisels can complete almost any project, provided you handle them well and use only a wooden mallet rather than a metal hammer.
These chisels are designed specifically for mortise and tenon joints, which are a common joinery style in cabinet making. While a bench chisel can produce these joints in theory, it can’t withstand the prying and pounding demands of frequent mortising.
In fact, mortising with a bench chisel can quickly mushroom the handle or chip the blade, which is why mortise chisels were created to begin with.
Mortise chisels are huge, heavy, and thick, making them perfect for carving out gaping mortises in the hardest hardwood. There are also smaller mortise chisels (known as “sash”) that can complete more complex mortise tasks than the regular bulky mortise chisel. Both types are available in different sizes ranging from 0.125 in to 0.5 in, but the most common size is 0.25 in.
While mortise chisels are effective at cutting bigger joints, paring chisels make smaller and more complex joints in finish woodworking. They have thin, long blades designed to access tight spaces.
Since they produce such precise cuts, the cutting power should only come from the power of your hand. That way, you won’t apply excessive pressure and remove too much material.
While paring chisels can work as separate joinery tools, they are usually used together with a mortise or bench chisel. In that case, a mortise chisel carves out a “ragged” joint that’s later refined with a paring chisel.
Where Are Woodworking Chisels Used?
Woodworking chisels are much more multipurpose than you can imagine. Below are the major areas where woodworking chisels are used.
Cabinet and furniture projects
Chisels help with handcrafted wood joineries, such as in mortise and dovetail joints. Both joints are applied in the cabinet and furniture making and, on the whole, neither have any mass. Chisels are perfect for cutting and integrating these kinds of projects.
Have no dovetail jig and router but want to create dovetail joints? Saw off the waste from between the pins and tails, then use chisels to clean up the joints for a snug fit.
Have no router or table saw but need to create a half-lap joint? Use a marking knife to sketch the shoulder line, then use your reliable chisel to dig out the waste wood.
Construction and repair projects
Chisels are also useful for timber framing. This is the way barns and homes were built in the past. Mortise and tenon joints are more likely to be found in timber framing than a dovetail joint. This size of mortises needs a different chisel to that used in furniture and cabinet projects.
How about fitting door hinges without a router? Sketch the hinge outline and use a chisel to remove the waste.
Chisels also come in handy when it comes to wooden boat building. They are used for cutting and adding framing joints.
Factors to Consider When Selecting the Best Woodworking Chisels
There are many factors to take into account when selecting the right wood chisel for your needs. It’s important to know the purpose of the chisels, the different types of handles and blades, as well as what accessories may be needed.
First of all, you need to figure out how you’ll mainly be using the chisel you buy. This will save you from buying the wrong chisel.
For instance, if your next project will need many mortises and tenon joints, getting bench chisels will probably lead to damaged blades and broken handles. But if you simply need an effective all-around chisel for any unforeseen needs of your project, it may be wise to buy a bench chisel set with multiple sizes.
To avoid buying the wrong chisels, understand the purpose of each kind of chisel. Here are some simple suggestions:
- If you know you need a chisel but aren’t sure of what you’ll be chiseling, get one or several bench chisels.
- If you intend to make multiple deep mortises (particularly in hardwood), buy a mortise chisel.
- If you’ll be working on cabinets or fine furniture that requires plenty of joints and detailed shaving, get a paring chisel.
A chisel’s handle can be made either from plastic or wood. Chisels with wood handles are sturdy, well-balanced, and beautiful. As such, they’re often the preferred choice of experienced woodworkers who don’t mind paying a little bit extra for their feel and look. The main drawback is that they are normally less durable and costlier than plastic handles.
Plastic handles boast either soft or hard-grip plastic. Soft-grip plastic handles are usually more comfortable to use, while hard-grip plastic handles are generally stronger.
Due to their low price and more comfortable nature, plastic chisel handles are usually preferred by new woodworkers who may benefit from a more resilient and affordable option.
The majority of chisels are either made from vanadium steel or carbon steel. Vanadium steel is a combination of steel and a little bit of vanadium to make the steel tougher and stronger than carbon steel.
The extra toughness helps vanadium steel maintain a sharper edge longer than carbon steel, which is why surgical tools are also made of vanadium steel because they require numerous precision cuts without blunting the edge.
Carbon steel, also known as “tool steel”, is a combination of iron and carbon to make the steel tougher than regular steel. In general, the toughness of a chisel’s blade determines how long it’ll remain sharp and how long it’ll take to re-sharpen it.
The size of the chisel you pick mainly depends on the kind of chisel you need and its purpose. In general, chisels come in different sizes, ranging from as tiny as 0.0625 in to as large as 3 in. Larger projects (such as framing) will require larger chisels (1.5 -3 in), while more detail-oriented projects would require smaller chisels.
In addition to the width of the blade, the length may also vary significantly. Longer blades provide the highest control and are perfect for working on flat, easily accessible surfaces. That’s why paring chisels feature long, thin blades for greater control.
On the other hand, shorter chisels are ideal for working in tight spaces that wouldn’t be possible with a longer blade. Ideally, you should get chisels of varying widths and lengths to handle every situation you face.
While you expend the time, money, and effort required to find the ideal chisel for your woodworking needs, it makes sense to invest in accessories that’ll keep them not only sharp for years but also safely stored. For this reason, a chisel sharpener and method of storage will help maintain and protect your investment.
Since most chisels aren’t pre-sharpened, you’ll need to sharpen your own set of chisels before you use them. There are many sharpening options, including:
- Bench grinder
- Sharpening stone: water stone, oil stone, or diamond stone
There are several storage options to think about, including:
- Storage racks: either bought or hand-made, free-standing or wall-mounted
- Storage cases: wooden box or canvas pouch
- Magnetic tool holders
Lastly, you’ll need a strong wooden mallet to use your chisels properly without causing them damage. You can buy one or even make your own.
Our Top 3 Picks
Having the right chisel set will create extra woodworking opportunities and allow you to achieve any goal you set yourself. But chisel sets are available in a wide range of types and prices that it’s hard to know exactly which set is worth your money and time.
We’ve broken down our best three chisel sets below to help you make your choice.
Best Overall: Stanley 16-150 Set
This chisel set has just three pieces—the bare minimum it needs to be called a set—but all chisels are truly excellent.
First off, its blades are made of lightweight and durable heat-tempered carbon steel. This ensures excellent sharpness and durability.
Better still, the blades are coated with an exceptional protective material that helps prevent rust. Therefore, the chisels will last for years with regular maintenance.
The Stanley 16-150 Chisel Set also features black polypropylene handles—which are incredibly durable plastic handles, even though they might not be as eye-catching as wooden handles.
Moreover, the handles do absorb quite a bit of shock, helping keep your hands safe during long woodworking projects.
The chisels, of course, come in different sizes with beveled edges. Some sizes include 0.5 in, 0.75 in, and 1 in. Better yet, the set is available at a nice asking price.
All things considered, it’s an excellent basic or starter chisel set that contains the few essential pieces required to get started with woodworking before you begin expanding your collection.
Best Value: WORKPRO 3-Piece Chisel Set
This chisel set from WORKPRO is an excellent option, featuring added value thanks to the type of steel used to make the blades.
The blades are made of chrome vanadium steel with special heat treatment, which ensures that WORKPRO 3-Piece Chisels should keep their edges for a long time, even with frequent use.
All the blades have beveled edges, so you can use them for many p2urposes and they’re perfect for a variety of woods and toughness levels.
You’ll also like the fact that the handles feature steel butts. This will let you use a mallet or hammer without causing any damage to the handle.
At the other end of the handle, there are blade guards to prevent your hands from slipping and getting cut when using a hammer or mallet.
Based on the design, it’s clear to see that this chisel set is meant for more intricate chiseling than the first set.
With an affordable price and ergonomic handles, it’s no surprise that WORKPRO 3-Piece Chisels are perfect for serious woodworking hobbyists and professional woodworkers who chisel more regularly.
Overall, this set is one of the best when it comes to value for money.
Premium Choice: Vonhaus 8-Piece Premium Chisel Set
This set of chisels is in the pricier range. It has a total of 8pieces at a higher price, but also comes with a beautiful and elegant wooden storage case.
Better still, the set contains a sharpening stone, giving you all you require to keep your blades sharp and working for years to come.
In the collection, there’s everything you need for an entire set, ranging from 0.25 in up to 2 in chisels. Additional accessories, including a honing manual, ensure that even new woodworkers will be able to properly sharpen their own chisels.
The blades are beveled edged and are all made of chrome vanadium steel. They have ergonomic rubberized handles, as well as metal caps that let you use mallets and hammers like the previous set. Basically, it’s a 8-piece variant of the previous set minus accessories.
The VonHaus 10-Piece Premium Chisel Set is the perfect premium option for professional woodworkers or hobbyists who hate having to pick up additional accessories as they hone their craft.
Answer: The best chisels for carving and woodworking include:
• The Best Bench Chisel: WORKPRO W0430011/2 Wood Chisel;
• The Best Paring Chisel: IRWIN Maples Woodworking Chisel;
• The Best Mortise Chisel: Narex 4-Piecee Mortise Chisel Set;
• The Best Upgrade of Chisel: VonHause 8-Piece Premium Woodworking Chisel Set;
• The Best Value for Money Chisel: Hurricane 4-Piece Chisel Set
Answer: The best bench chisels include Lie-Nelsen, Narex, and Matsumura Blue Steel. The first two are western-style chisels, while the latter is a Japanese-style chisel.
Answer: The best wood set of chisels include:
• The Best Mortise Chisel Set: Narex Mortise 4-Piece Chisels;
• The Best Short Blade Set of Chisels: DEWALT Short Wood 4-Piece Chisels;
• The Best Paring Set of Chisels: Narex Paring 5-Piece Chisels;
• The Best-Registered Set of Chisels: Narex-4 Piece Firmer Chisels
Answer: Narex Chisels are a mixed bag. When it comes to steel, the material and functioning are quite good. It takes and maintains an excellent edge and 8116 series chisels have very thin sides, which allow them to easily reach tight spaces.
With so many chisel options out there, it might be hard to choose the ones you actually need. But buying a couple of chisel sets can help you get ready for any project you want to undertake.
If you get into more detailed-oriented projects, later on, you can always go for more advanced and specialized chisels. Make sure to consider how many pieces of chisels you need and your budget before making a purchase. Good luck!