4 Chisel Tricks
From chamfering to shaping curved parts, a flat bench chisel is all you need.
Synopsis: You can do so many things with a simple, flat bench chisel: chamfer a tenon and pare its cheeks and shoulders so it fits into the mortise more easily, mortise a hinge for a perfect fit, shape curved parts like a cabriole leg, and much more. Learn Philip Lowe’s chisel tricks and learn to love this uncomplicated, versatile tool.
From Fine Woodworking #221
It is often faster to make do with the tool in hand than to hunt for the perfect one and check that it is sharp and adjusted correctly. That’s why I do so many things with a normal, flat bench chisel. Just a handle and a blade, the chisel is an uncomplicated tool, but wonderfully versatile, capable of both rough and refined work. Chisels are also fast and efficient. I always have a one or two within reach. Here is why.
Quick chamfers I chamfer the ends of tenons so they fit into their mortises more easily, and no tool does this faster than a chisel.
However, if you cut a 45° chamfer by pushing the chisel straight across the width of the tenon, you’ll leave behind a rough surface and most likely will blow out the far edge. To avoid those problems, lower the handle of the chisel so that the cutting edge is skewed as it makes the cut. Then, as you reach the far edge of the tenon, slide the chisel up to cut with the grain rather than across it. That prevents tearout as the chisel leaves the cut. The edges of the tenon are a cinch. With the workpiece clamped vertically in a vise, come from beneath, so you’re cutting with the grain. Skew the chisel slightly and give it a quick, firm pop with the palm of your hand.
Cut layout lines for precise paring Nothing is faster at paring tenon cheeks and shoulders down to the layout lines than a chisel. From there, you can do the final fitting with a shoulder plane. Here’s how I get it done.
First, I lay out the tenon with cutting tools: a marking knife for the shoulders and a cutting gauge for the cheeks. The crisp cut lines left behind in the wood become the perfect guides for your chisel.
I remove the bulk of the waste with a saw, leaving about 1⁄32 in. for paring, so little that it won’t force the chisel into the cheek or shoulder. For the cheeks, I use the layout lines on the edges and end grain. The bevel goes into the line on the edge and is guided by the one on the end grain. I also use two cuts to pare a cheek, working from both edges into the middle to avoid blowing out the edge grain.
I’ve found it easier and more accurate to pare the shoulders if I work perpendicular to the tenon cheek. I start by paring just a narrow strip on the edge of the shoulder, about 1⁄8 in. wide.
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There's nothing more satisfying than a super sharp chisel doing its job.
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