What Is A Mortice Chisel? What Is A Mortice Chisel Used For?

mortice chisels
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A mortice chisel is a tool used to cut and chop out wood, usually with the intention of creating a mortice.

A mortice chisel consists of a blade with a cutting edge at one end and a handle for striking with a mallet at the other end. The user places the sharp cutting edge in position on a piece of wood and then strikes the end of the handle with a mallet to cut the wood.

Mortice chisels are fitted with a blade of greater thickness than a standard firmer chisel. This extra thickness allows the chisel to resist shock and carry out morticing and heavy duty work more efficiently.

The most commonly used mortice chisels are often fitted with a wooden handle, usually made from Ash, with an extra strong steel ferrule at the striking end of the handle. This ferrule helps prevent the end ‘splitting out’ from the extra forces often exerted with these tools. These types of chisels (as seen on the left-side of the top image) are sometimes referred to as a general purpose mortice chisel, or registered chisel, however most of the time they are just referred to as a mortice chisel.

Mortice chisels also often have a leather washer fitted between the bolster and the handle to help absorb shock to the hand.

Some mortice chisels are fitted with a manmade composite handle such as those by William Marples & Sons, and Stanley. These composites are usually very hard and are often described as indestructible.

There are a few different types of mortice chisel, the most popular type used is the general purpose mortice chisel. The other types include:

  • Sash Mortice Chisel
  • Oval Bolster Mortice Chisel
  • Swan Neck Mortice Chisel

What is a General Purpose Mortice Chisel? What is a Registered Chisel?

registered chisels

A general purpose mortice chisel or registered mortice chisel, is fitted with a blade of greater thickness than a firmer chisel. This type of chisel is also often fitted with a wooden handle with an extra steel hoop fitted to the striking end of the handle. The handle can however be of any kind, including hard composite plastic handles.

What is a Sash Mortice Chisel?

sash mortice chisel

A sash mortice chisel, sometimes known as a ‘London Pattern’ mortice chisel, is fitted with a blade of greater thickness and slightly longer than a standard mortice chisel. This extra thickness and length gives the ability of the tool be used on deeper morticing work than the standard general purpose mortice chisel.

What is an Oval Bolster Mortice Chisel?

traditional oval bolster mortice chisel

An oval bolster mortice chisel is the oldest type of mortice chisel. These chisels are fitted with a chunky oval shaped wooden handle and a chunky, stout blade of greater thickness than the general purpose mortice chisels and sash mortice chisels.

What is a Swan Neck Mortice Chisel?

swan neck mortice chisel

An swan neck mortice chisel is a distinctive chisel with a curved blade which roughly resembles the shape of a swan's neck or a goose's neck. This specially designed tool is used to clean the bottom of mortices.

Mortice Chisel Parts

A typical mortice chisel consists of the following parts:

mortice chisel parts

  • A - Steel Striking Hoop
  • B - Handle
  • C - Ferrule
  • D - Leather Washer
  • E - Bolster
  • F - Blade
  • G - Cutting Edge

What Material Does A Mortice Chisel Cut?

A mortice chisel is designed to cut wood.

Mortice Chisel Also Known As:

  • General Purpose Chisel
  • Registered Chisel
  • Heavy Duty Chisel

What to look for when buying a mortice chisel?

  • Check the blade is the correct width for the job in hand.
  • Check the blade is the correct length for the intended use.
  • Check the tool is made is made from good steel - if the tool is made in the UK then the steel will almost certainly be of good quality - good quality steel will result in the tool holding it's sharp edge for longer and allow you to easily sharpen when needed.

Extra things to look out for when buying a secondhand mortice chisel

  • Make sure the handle is not infested with woodworm – if there are worm holes in the handle, these should be treated to prevent infestation of other tools and neighbouring wood. If there are lots of worm holes, the strength and structure of the handle could be compromised which can be dangerous when using this tool.
  • Make sure the blade is fitted to the handle tightly with no movement – if it moves/wobbles you will loose some control of the tool, it will also mean there is higher risk the blade may separate from the handle while in use.
  • Ideally make sure there are no large splits in the handle – if the handle has a large split(s) there is increased chance the blade will start to moves/wobble. There is also risk the handle could break while in use. Of course a new handle can be refitted.
  • Check the cutting face for pitting and faults – if the cutting edge area is full of holes and divots, it will make sharpening the tool to a good edge much more difficult and if the pitting is really bad the tool may be unusable. The reason being, when these pitting holes correspond with the edge of the blade being sharpened it will result in the cutting edge having nibbles and not having a complete uninterrupted sharp edge. If the cutting edge has nibbles then the mortice chisel will not cut effectively.

There have been numerous makers of mortice chisels in the past, and still a few present makers. Below are a list of a few well known mortice chisels makers:

Old Mortice Chisel Makers:

  • Greaves
  • Ibbotson (Thos)
  • Marples & Sons (William)
  • Mathieson
  • Mawhood
  • Sorby (I)
  • Sorby (Robert)

New Mortice Chisel Makers:

  • Henry Taylor
  • Robert Sorby

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