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

what is a chisel
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A chisel is a long, flat piece of steel of certain thickness with a cutting edge at one end and a tang or a socket at the other end to which a handle is attached.

The cutting edge is formed at the end of the steel piece by creating a bevel from the thickness of the steel down to a very narrow edge, it is this very narrow edge which is the sharp edge of a chisel.

A chisel is used to shave, slice and chop wood by pushing the cutting edge into the wood at a certain angle with a certain amount of force.

Depending on the job the angle and the force will differ. Some jobs only require force to be applied by pushing the handle/chisel by hand, some require striking the handle with a mallet.

Various types of chisels and chisel sizes are common place in a woodworkers / carpenters tool kit.

The most common type of chisel found in a tool-kit is a firmer chisel / bevel edge firmer chisel. Mortice chisels are also very commonly found in a tool-kit.

The chisel has been used for centuries in this form and still remains today, a perfect tool for its purpose.

What Material Does A Chisel Cut?

A chisel is in most instances designed to cut wood.

There are also chisels designed for use with stone and masonry.

What Different Types Of Chisels Are There?

Through time there have evolved a number of different chisel types including:

tanged chisel

These chisels can be of tang design or socketed design.

These two types of design are basically how the handle is fitted to the chisel blade:

  • Tanged Chisel - A chisel with a tang design has a hidden metal rod which runs internally from the rear end of the blade into the handle.
  • Socketed Chisel - A chisel with a socket design has effectively a metal cup joined onto the rear end of the blade in which a handle is lodged.

socket chisel

Which Is Better, a Tanged Chisel Or a Socket Chisel?

On the basis both chisels have exactly the same blade and both fitted to the handle well:

The first thing to say is both types of chisel will do the same job perfectly well.

A tanged chisel is by far the most common type of chisel design which in part I would imagine is because it is usually the more cost effective design which does not affect functionality.

A socketed design, provided made to a good standard offers extra strength, it also makes it easier on fitting a handle; with a tanged handle a central hole in a perfect straight line needs to be drilled and fitted, if it is off centre at any point the blade will end up being set at an angle.

Chisel Manufacturers Past and Present

There have been hundreds of recognised chisel manufacturers over the centuries including chisel manufacturers of today with some of the most prolific chisel makers being:

Old Chisel Makers:

  • Buck & Hickman
  • Howarth
  • Marples
  • Mathieson
  • Sorby
  • Ward

New Chisel Makers:

  • Ashley Iles
  • Henry Taylor
  • Narex
  • Robert Sorby
  • Stanley

From the old chisel makers, I think it is fair to say by far the most prolific chisel manufacturers were Marples and Sorby (many Sorby family names / members have been involved in making chisels over hundreds of years and still do today).

Chisels by these two makers are still cherished and sought after today.


(i) This review/article may give warning(s) / advisory notes / cautions / guidelines given in good faith, any such information should not be solely relied upon and seen as the exhaustive list of warnings / advisory notes / cautions / guidelines. Refer to good safety practices for the safety of you and others. Refer to good practices for the good health of your tool and property.
(ii) The details here are given in good faith, the details are constantly growing and evolving, there is scope for error and shouldn't be fully relied upon, please confirm any details for yourself by performing additional research from reliable sources.

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