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What is a Chisel?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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A chisel is a type of metal tool which has a sharp beveled edge designed for cutting, gouging, and shaping. Chisels are used in woodworking, stone working, and metalworking, and there are a wide range of styles and designs available for specific tasks. Specialty stores which cater to all of these fields typically carry a wide array of chisels, sometimes in starter sets for people who are just learning their craft. Some artisans view chisels as their most important tools, and they take excellent care of them as a result.

The earliest form of the chisel began to appear around 8,000 BCE, and it was made out of flint, rather than metal. Archaeological sites have uncovered numerous examples of early chisels, along with evidence of their use. Much like modern chisels, ancient chisels could be used independently or in combination with a hammer or mallet which drives the chisel into the material being worked.

Steel is one of the most common construction materials for chisels, since it is is durable, corrosion resistant, and very strong. Other metals may be employed for specific types of chisels. Typically, the metal is cast into a bar with a sharp beveled edge on one side. The bar can be attached to a handle made from metal, wood, or plastic, and in some cases the handle is cast as part of the chisel to make the tool stronger.

A wide range of sizes and styles of chisels are available, from very small chisels designed for the fine details of woodworking to heavy chisels designed for working cold metals. Learning to select the right chisel for a task can take years of experience. Stone masons in particular may struggle in their early years of training with chisels, as the wrong chisel can cause a piece of stone to crack or break, making it unusable.

In woodworking, chisels are used extensively for everything from carving fine details to roughing out slots in pieces of wood which will be fit together. Because chisels are such critical tools, some woodworkers build specialized cabinets for them which are designed to keep the chisels organized and safe; chisels can also be wrapped in insulating material and stored in toolboxes. Woodworkers are also familiar with the consequences of using the wrong chisel, as wood can split or be heavily gouged by a poorly chosen chisel.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By TurtleeyMC — On Mar 23, 2014

A skilled sculptor or woodworker will most likely have a very delicate touch and a sixth sense, so to speak, on how best to chisel stone or wood to avoid breaking and splitting.

Also, it probably doesn't take an artist long to know what type of chisel they prefer.

Of course, mistakes are made even by the best artists, but it is amazing to watch those who have honed their craft for a long time.

While sculpting or working with the wood, they seem to be able to block out everything around them for hours on end, focusing just on the very intricate work they are doing.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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