Chisels are mechanical instruments that you typically use for a range of processes, including shaping, cutting, carving, and chipping away at several different materials. Various chisel types are very useful tools, and they have a broad usage range from woodworking to metal work, and more. They’re one of the most versatile instruments you’ll have in your arsenal, and it’s important that you know that having only a single chisel won’t be enough to tackle every project you have. So, depending on your specific needs, you can find a specific chisel type to suit whatever project you have on hand.
Now, the real question is, how can you find the specific chisel type that will suit your project needs? We can help. In this guide, we’ll outline 25 of the most popular chisel types on the market, touch on the history, and go over how to sharpen and use them to ensure you get the most use out of your investment.
There are several chisel types available on the market, but some are meant for special projects while others are multi-use.
The word “chisel” is thought to come from a Latin word called “seco,” that means “I cut” or it came from the French word “ciseau,” that translates into “scissors.” Many archeologists believe that there are crude forms of various chisel types that date back to prehistoric times. The ancient Egyptians used bronze and copper chisels to work with stone or wood. In fact, they used these chisel types to make ancient carvings and inscriptions around the 7th-century BC in tombs. Greeks also utilized chisels to help them carve marble dating back to the 6th century.
25 Common Chisel Types
Although there are hundreds of chisel types available on the market, some are much more well-known than others. We’ve rounded up to 25 most popular chisel types and outlined them for you below.
1. Bench Chisel
Bench chisel types are shorter than most bevel edge chisels, and you typically fit them with a socket or tang that has a hoop on the top. A bench chisel comes with a five-inch blade and a five-inch handle on it. This chisel type is very popular for cabinet and furniture making. They also work very well for when you trim, chop, pare, or work on joinery in carpentry.
2. Bevel Edge Chisel
Coming in neither too short or too long, this chisel type is one of the most common options used in the carpentry industry. As the name may indicate, this particular chisel has a design that includes a straight edge and a beveled edge. The straight edge and beveled edge of this chisel gives you the best access to dovetail joints. Some of these chisels are also hooped to help prevent splitting and to straighten the handle, but this isn’t always necessary.
3. Bolster Chisel
The bolster chisel is used to cut straight lines in masonry projects. Unlike some chisel types where you can use them on a range of materials, this one is specifically meant for masonry materials instead of wood or metal. This is because they’ll quickly lose their sharpness if you use them on other materials. Although these chisels may not have as sharp of an edge as other options on the list, they are still very useful in helping you create surfaces and sides on masonry materials.
4. Brick Chisel
You use brick chisel types to crack items instead of cutting through harder materials. This is why they come outfitted with a wide blade that gives you an effective cracking tool of wide surfaces like bricks. These chisels are very easy to use, as long as you make a point to keep the blade flare during the cracking process. Although this isn’t always the case, this chisel is very commonly outfitted with molded handguards. These guards allow you to hold them securely while you use them, and it prevents slipping.
Generally speaking, any masonry chisel is going to be much more hardy and heavy-duty than others as it has to work through tougher materials.
5. Butt Chisel
Butt chisel types come with an oddly short blade on them. These chisels are widely believed to have evolved from bench or firmer chisels that were reshaped and recut to drastically that this chisel type ended up having a blade that is only a few inches long. The blades on this chisel come in bevel or straight edge varieties. As the name indicates, you’d use this chisel to install hinges and butts. Carpenters find these shorter tools very useful, and the higher demand has led to an increase in the manufacturing process of this hand tool.
6. Cape Chisel
This is a variation of the cold chisel types. These chisels tend to taper down towards the bottom to create an arrowhead-like, narrow shape. Like many cold chisels, this one gets used to cut any material that is softer than the chisel itself. They’re great for helping cut keyways, forming fine detailing on metal surfaces using the pointed tip, or for creating horizontal grooves.
7. Cold Chisel
A cold chisel is a chisel type made out of reinforced tempered steel that can cut any cold metal that is softer than it is. The name for this chisel type comes from the fact that the blacksmith used it to cut metals while the metals were cold, instead of when they were heated or forged. Cold chisels are great for cutting off rusted bolts, nuts, or rivets, and they were very popular before power tools or machines were invented. However, metalworkers continue to use them today.
8. Concrete Chisel
Concrete chisels are different from most of the chisel types on the list because they come outfitted with a pointed, sharp tip instead of having a sharp edge. You use these chisels to break apart concrete surfaces instead of using them for reshaping or sharpening them. They are great for helping you remove small portions of concrete from bigger structures where a drill or jackhammer can be ineffective.
9. Corner Chisel
Corner chisel types come with a medium-length blade that is outfitted with a V-shaped cross section. This chisel blade is very popular with carpenters, and a corner chisel helps people make cabinets. This hand tool is used to cut deeper corners into mortises and for cleaning out square corners. Each chisel face gets sharpened using an oil stone.
10. Cranked Handle Chisel
Some chisels come with cranked handles with the design, and this means that the blade isn’t in line with the handle. This chisel type lets the user push the whole blade on a surface without them worrying about their fingers coming between the handle and the surface. These chisel handles are very popular in paring or bench chisel types. You typically use cranked handle chisels to shave off wooden surfaces, and the blade has to lie flat on the workpiece. A chisel with this handle type is great for finishing joints and creating flush surfaces.
These chisel types allow you to easily shave off layers of wood from a surface without overstraining your wrists.
11. Curved Chisel
There are two types of curved chisels available. One comes with a straight blade that has a curved gouge, and the other blade is curved with a straight gouge. This is a U-shaped chisel type that comes with varying degrees and depths, but you use them to cut bigger pieces of sticks while you do your woodworking. They also help provide the shapes in complicated wooden furniture or structures.
12. Dovetail Chisel
As you can tell by the name, this chisel type comes specifically designed to finish dovetail joints or create dovetails. This hand tool has a longer blade with beveled edges that get honed to a 20 or 30-degree angle. You use this chisel to sharpen the interlocking portions of a dovetail joint. Since this chisel comes with a thin and long blade, you can also use it to clean out the joint.
13. Firmer Chisel
When people talked about firmer chisels, they were talking about chisels that were made out of harder substances, like solid steel. These tools were originally used for heavy-duty woodwork projects and they come with a blade that has a rectangular cross-section, and they have hardwood handles. Firmer chisels are one of the oldest chisel types on the market, so they’re very distinctive. You use this chisel type to help create very sharp 90-degree angles.
14. Framing Chisel
The framing chisel blade is wider, longer, and thicker than firmer chisels. This chisel comes with a straight edge or a bevel edge blade. Because this chisel type comes designed to withstand various strikes of the mallet, these chisels come with additional features like loops, sockets, and capped handles. The cutting edge on this chisel has an angle between 25-degrees and 30-degrees. You’ll commonly use this chisel in post-and-beam construction, boat building, and timber framing.
15. Japanese Chisel
Nomi or Japanese chisels are slightly thicker than Western bench chisels. This is a striking tool that comes made out of two metal types. The middle part of the Japanese chisel is made from a softer steel while the blade comes with a sharper cutting edge that is made out of a high-carbon steel. Typically, this steel is on the Rockwell “C” 64 scale.
The blade of this chisel type is forged, and this allows you to create a keen cutting edge for years. These tools come hooped with hollow ground backs. Japanese chisels are also very fine grained, so you’ll get a very fine edge when you use it. Fine edges stop softwood from crumbling, and it helps resist abrasion when you use it on exotic woods.
These chisels are very popular, and they’re slightly thicker than most Western-style chisels you find, and they last for years.
16. Masonry Chisel
Although there are many chisel types that work well with wood, there are some chisels that work with mortar, bricks, stones, or hard materials. One of these chisels is the masonry chisel. To use this particular chisel, you must tap the blade gently on the stone or brick surface to score it. The reason you have to score the stone first is that it will snap along the scored line as you work. Masonry chisel types work best on concrete blocks, bricks, and other stone types. They can also work well on soft stone if you use the provided teeth.
17. Mortise Chisel
The mortise chisel type gets the name because it gets used to cut mortise joints. These chisels have a heavy blade that is actually thicker than it is wide. The blade also has large forged bolstes, and it comes with a hardwood handle that can withstand a lot of pressure and repeated heavy hits. These chisels usually come capped, or they have steel hoops built into the handle.
These additional allow this chisel type to withstand mallet blows. The edge of the chisel usually gets cut to an angle between 30-degrees and 40-degrees. This chisel is also much more durable than bench chisels as they don’t have the same thickness, length, or strength to lever out stone or wood. The durability also means that this chisel will stand up to heavy use over the years.
18. Paring Chisel
Paring chisels are flexible, thin, and long that typically come with beveled sides. The cutting edge on this chisel type’s blade gets sharpened to 15-degrees to 20-degrees to enable very smooth cuts. Paring chisels get designed to be moved by hand and never hit with a mallet since they are delicate and designed for fine work. They also come with a longer handle that attaches to a tang and allows you to exert maximum control over the tool. Paring chisels are a wood chisel type that you use to shave off thin slivers of wood that usually happens when you fit joints.
19. Power Chisel
As the name would lead you to believe, these chisel types use an electrical grinder motor for power. They do the same work you do with a traditional hand-held chisel or a hammer does, but they are quicker and work more efficiently. There is no specific blade you can use with this chisel. Instead, you get the freedom to choose from several options that come in sets of blades.
20. Round Chisel
Round chisels come with a curved cutting edge that can make narrow channels in whatever surface you’re working with. These chisel types come with a half-rounded style, and they are made out of steel. You can get different hexes, tip sizes, and lengths. They work very well with metal framework.
21. Sash Mortise Chisel
This is a much lighter chisel type than the heavy-duty mortise chisels, so they’re also thinner than a mortise chisel. These chisels get designed to work on shallow mortises that you find in mullions or muntins of windows. If you drill out the waste while you mortise, these chisels can work very well in deeper mortises. Originally, these chisels came in a broad range of styles. However, due to low demand, there are only a few sizes widely available to the current market.
Mortise chisels allow you to work on deeper grooves around windows.
22. Skew Chisel
Skew chisels are one of the most important tools a woodworker has on hand. This chisel type has a bevel-edged, long blade with a slightly angled tip. The long point on the blade’s edge is called the toe, and the shortest edge is the heel. For DIY and self-taught woodworkers, working with this chisel can be a real challenge because this striking tool requires that you apply the correct amount of pressure by digging in to work correctly. You can use this chisel to create beading, v-cuts, tapering, and smoothing.
23. Slick Chisel
This is an oversized version of the paring chisel. They are made to be very easy to recognize at a glance since they have a handle that has a baseball-bat shape. This handle gives you a very comfortable grip, and the blade is much broader than a paring chisel. Also, instead of being straight, the cutting edge gets sharpened to wider angles of roughly 20-degrees or 25-degrees. You use this chisel to pare of thin pieces of wood from your project, just like paring chisels.
24. Socket Chisel
A socket chisel comes with a cone-shaped handle on it, and this handle sits on the metal socket with this chisel type. Due to the socket-like handles, these chisels can withstand mallet strikes while not cracking under pressure. You can use them for heavy-duty woodworking projects since they can handle a lot of work without any damage.
25. Wood Carving Chisel
The final chisel type on the list falls under the category of the gouge. A gouge is a chisel that has a cutting edge that is curved instead of a straight one. Each carving chisel gets the name from the cutting edge. While the whole range of wood carving chisels is expansive, you have several types to choose from, depending on the scope of the project.
How to Use Chisels
It’s essential that you pick out the chisel type that is best suited to whatever project you have coming up. Blade shape and the size of the chisel are also two things that you want to keep in mind when you shop. You should start your work with a general inspection of your chisel type to ensure that it’s in good shape. You can use a square to check the blade’s flatness, and you may have to sharpen the chisel to ensure that it’s protected throughout the process.
Once your chisel type is ready to go, you can use a carpenter’s square or a rule measure the surface area and depth you want to remove during your chiseling process. You should then clamp the wood to ensure it stays stable when you work on it. To make a small indentation when you work with the wood, you should position your chisel at a 90-degree angle. A wooden mallet can strike the chisel and carve out your desired amount of wood. You should hold the chisel with the beveled edge closest to the wood.
Next, you want to run the chisel following the wood grain. You should chip away at the scored area until the wood inside the outline is extracted to the correct level. Take great care to strike away from your body and only take out a small amount of wood with each mallet strike.
Paring chisels are great for woodworking tasks that require a highly intricate level of work and precision. The paring process uses gradual smoothing and removal of each surface layer. Once you secure the wood to the workbench with a vice, you want to keep one hand on the blade and one on the handle. It’s also possible to use your non–dominant hand to guide your chisel and secure it. Keep the bottom of the chisel in contact with the wood throughout the process. You want to repeat the cuts at a gradual rate until you extract the desired amount of wood.
You use masonry chisels to trim, score, and shape materials like stone or brick. It is essential that you pick out the correct masonry chisel in the correct shape and width for your specific task. Before you start, you want to mark your material that you’re going to chisel with paver’s chalk or a pencil. Scoring marks can then go along this line before you chisel anything. You want to set your masonry chisel perpendicular roughly 90-degrees to ensure it enters the stone or brick correctly. You can use the mallet to firmly strike the center of your scoreline, repeating until you get a clean break.
Most chisels come with a learning curve, but they can be invaluable tools once you get the hang of it.
How to Sharpen a Chisel
To sharpen the bevel edge, you want to spray auto-glass cleaner onto steel sharpening plates, and one pump in each plate is enough. You use this instead of water as water can leave rust residue on the plates.
Put the chisel with the bevel of the chisel face down on the coarse steel sharpening plate. Carefully apply even pressure on the bevel end of your chisel and put and pull it along the plate over and over. The goal is to move it across the width of your sharpening plant roughly 10 times lengthwise in each stroke. Start your stroke at 30-degrees and end each stroke between 20-degrees to 25-degrees. This will create a nice camber from the cutting edge of the bevel to the heel.
Repeat the steps on the mid-level, finer plate, and then again on a super-fine plate. This will keep rubbing the abrasions away and a burr will slowly form on the cutting edge of the bevel. You can feel the burr on the flat side of the blade. To remove it, turn your chisel type over so that the flat side is now against the sharpening plate. Apply pressure to the top of your chisel, and pull the chisel back from the cutting edge toward you using a single pull.
Pinch the burr using your fingertips and the waste steel should come off in a very small strip. Use the leather side of the strop that you charged with a buffing compound, and put the chisel with the bevel down. Pull back 30 times very firmly to polish and remove any abrasions. Be careful and ensure you only pull the chisel across the strop’s surface, trailed by the cutting edge because pushing it away will cut the leather. Finish by using a cloth to carefully remove any wax residue.
Terminology to Know
There are a few terms you should learn when you’re learning about chisel types so the descriptions make sense. They include:
- Bevel Edge – If you look on each side of the blade, you’ll see two angled edges. These are the beveled edges.
- Bevel – This is found at the end of your chisel type, and it’s the angled face that forms the cutting edge.
- Bolster – This is the neck of the steel blade that comes before the ferrule.
- Camber – The camber is the curved surface that forms the cutting bevel.
- Ferrule – The ferrule is a short metal tubing section that surrounds the handle where the blade fits into the handle. It minimizes the risk of the handle splitting.
- Metal Capped – Some chisel types with plastic handles have a metal cover or inner rod that gets formed to the end of the handle to protect it from damage when you use heavier mallets.
- Tang – Finally, the tang is the thinner tapered part of the blade that goes into the handle to connect them.
You now know 25 different chisel types that you can consider to add to your tool collection for woodworking or masonry projects. Each one can help your project move faster, so you will want more than one type to round out your collection.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.