How to make your own chisel for delicate detail work
Even the smallest chisel you can buy is sometimes too big for inlay and stringing, so make your own, using jeweler’s files for the blades.
The small size of most inlay and stringing can require delicate tools to do tasks like cleaning and squaring up routed corners and edges. Even a 1⁄8-in. chisel is often too big, so I make my own small chisels, using jeweler’s files for the blades.
The inlay I use, called ZipFlex, is typically 0.055 in. thick, and because it should be inlaid slightly proud of the surface, I rout grooves that are a hair shallower than that. To set the bit, I place the router on top of two strips of inlay and lower the bit until it’s just above the benchtop. With the bit’s cutting depth set, I rout the grooves. For grooves along straight edges, a simple wooden straightedge attached to the router base is all it takes to guide the router. When routing along curved edges, I make a fence shaped to match the edge. The bit leaves round corners, so square them with a small shopmade chisel
The two I use the most are a 1⁄16-in.-thick by 1⁄4-in.-wide flat chisel and a 1⁄8-in.-square chisel. Their diminutive size allows me to pare inside narrow grooves for stringing without damaging the walls of the grooves. These chisels are not difficult to make. All you need is a grinder to remove the teeth from the file, shorten its length, and create a cutting bevel that is then honed on waterstones. Like all chisels, these shopmade ones need handles. Any small piece of hardwood will do. After drilling a hole for the chisel tang and shaping the handle, I secure the chisel in the handle with cyanoacrylate glue. I do not bother hardening and tempering the blade, because the work these tools do isn’t demanding. But if you decide to do so, make sure to do it before…