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Chisel is a popular type of hand tool, one that you always you want to keep around in your home. Available in varying shapes and sizes, the origin of the chisel goes back to prehistoric times when sharp rocks were used to carve wood. Even today,the chisel remains one of the most competent tools for any carpenter.

What is a chisel?
A chisel is a hand tool with a flexible shaped cutting edge blade on its end. A chisel is used for carving or cutting material like wood, metal or stone. The handles of most chisels are made from beech, ash, hickory, box wood or plastic.

How is a chisel used?
There are hundreds of different types, shapes and uses for chisels but the basic operating principle is the same for all chisels-a cutting blade is guided through the object with a handle that is specifically designed to aid the chisel's cutting task. In other words, for cutting any material, the chisel is forced into the material. The driving force to cut is done manually by using a mallet or a hammer. For industrial usage, a hydraulic ram or falling weight is used to drive the chisel into the material to be cut.

Chisel Profiles
  • Bevel edged chisels: These type of chisels are little undercut which makes them easy to be pushed into corners and used for finishing dovetail joints.

  • Firmer chisels: These chisels have a blade with a rectangular cross-section. They are strong and can be used for heavier work.

  • Paring chisels: Its a longer chisel but a thinner one which can be pushed into long joints. Such a chisel can be used for cleaning up the joint and to make it appropriate for a correct fit.

Types of Chisels
There are different types of chisels, each specially designed to do a specific task. Some of the common ones are as follows:
  • Woodworking chisels: Typically used for carpentry work from wood carving to remove big sections of wood to wood finishing, including timber frame construction and wooden shipbuilding, there are chisels of different shapes and sizes. Different varieties of woodworking chisels are as follows:
    • Butt chisel: A short length chisel having beveled sides and straight edge and used for creating joints.

    • Carving chisels: There are many cutting edges for this type of chisel like as gouge, parting, straight, skew, paring, and V-groove and are typically used for intricate designs and sculpting.

    • Corner chisel: This type has an L-shaped cutting edge which is used to clean out mortises, corners, square holes.

    • Flooring chisel: Ideal for tongue-and-groove flooring, this chisel is also used for cutting and lifting flooring materials for removal and repair.

    • Framing chisel: It has a longer, slightly flexible blade, compared to a butt chisel.

    • Slick: This is a large sized chisel worked by manual pressure but never struck.

    • Skew chisel: The chisel is used for trimming and finishing and has a 60 degree cutting angle.

  • Metalworking chisels: The chisels are specially designed to work on metals and are classified into the following categories:
    • Hot chisel: This is used to cut those metals which have been heated in a forge to make the metal soft.

    • Cold chisel: Made of tempered steel, it is used for cutting 'cold' metals. That is, they are not used in conjunction with heating torches, forges, etc. They come in a variety of sizes. Cold chisels are used only for cutting and chipping cold metals such as unhardened steel, cast and wrought iron, aluminum, brass, copper, etc.

    • Hardy chisel: A hot chisel with a square shank and it is held in such a way that the cutting edge face upwards by placing it in an anvil's Hardy hole and the object is placed over the hardy and struck with a hammer. The hammer forces the chisel inside the hot metal which snap off with a pair of tongs.

  • Stone chisels: As the name suggests, the stone chisels carve or cut stone, bricks or concrete slabs. To increase the force, they are hit with club hammers, a heavier type of hammer.

  • Masonry chisels: These chisels are heavy, having a relatively dull head that wedges and breaks, rather than cuts. They can be mounted on a hammer-drill, jack hammer and considered to be a demolition tool. Some of these types are:
    • Brick Chisels: For cutting brick.
    • Brick Tooth Chisels: For cutting soft stone such as Bedford limestone.
    • Bull-point Concrete Chisels: For breaking and drilling concrete.
Features of quality woodworking chisels
  • Large, ergonomically shaped handles for a comfortable, sure grip and better control.
  • Blades should be of high-quality carbon, heat-treated steel with precision ground cutting edge.
  • Crowned steel strike caps to help center the blow.
  • Chisel size is etched or stamped into the blade.
  • Tip guards with built-in sharpening guide to help protect the blade.
Buying tips
For buying chisels, the important considerations are its blade and the gripping factor of the handle.

Steel blade
It is necessary to know about the quality of the blade in the chisel which is made of steel. The quality of steel blade of the chisel used in carving is known by three factors:
  • How easy they are to sharpen?
  • How they hold an edge?
  • How much they cost?

It is to be noted that the softer the steel, the more easy it is to sharpen. There are many steel alloys and mixtures available in the market which balance hardness against brittleness with sharpening ease. The cheaper chisels use the softer carbon steel and are heat treated over the edges to improve the durability. The more expensive chisels use the complex alloys which are hard in the edge and still are not too brittle.

Chisels come in either plastic or wooden handles. For basic chisels the handle, should be such that it can stand up to use with a hammer. The best ones available today are the split proof high tech plastic ones, which are preferred by professionals. The handles usually get misshapen over repeated use as they are continuously struck by hammers. The basic plastic and wooden handles without ferrules should only be used with a mallet and not with a claw hammer. The wooden handles with steel or metal ferrules are designed mainly for mallet use but can also stand up for sometime with a hammer. For many, the chisel handles that are preferred are not quite round but either squared or octagon in profile.

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