The manufacture of wood chisels took off in the United States in the late 1800s, when tool companies such as Buck Brothers, James Swan, Stanley, and Keen Kutter (Simmons) rose to prominence. J.B. Addis & Sons, Henry Taylor, and Robert Sorby are among the renowned U.K. chisel makers from this era.

In general, the chisels produced by these and other manufacturers are divided into two groups. Most long chisels were socket-fitted to their handles while shorter ones were forged with a tang that extended deep into the handle. In the 19th century, it was not uncommon to purchase chisels without handles, or to buy replacement handles for ones that had cracked due to the repeated whacks of a mallet.

When assessing the quality of an antique or vintage socket-fitted chisel that lacks a handle, look carefully at the chisel’s cuff, which is the opening at the bottom of the chisel. If it's banged up, it was probably hammered for a period of time without the protection of its handle.

Beyond their handles, chisels can be further divided into three basic categories: firmer, mortise, and pairing. The firmer chisel, which is probably the most common type found in a novice woodworker’s tool box, has a square end and beveled sides, making it good for getting into corners. For example, a firmer chisel could be used to square up a mortise that has been partially formed by drilling.

A mortise chisel, on the other hand, is used to create a mortise without drilling, although it is often used to shape a mortise that has been predrilled. Its sides are at right-angles to its flat back—only the tip of the chisel is beveled. In theory, one could make a mortise with only a mortise chisel, but many woodworkers use corner chisels to square up the corners and a curved, goose-neck chisel to smooth out the bottom of the mortise hole.

Both mortise and firmer chisels are meant to be struck, but pairing chisels, which are often long and slender and come in numerous sizes, are designed to be used by hand. As such, they are only suitable for fine woodworking. Many are damaged by weekend warriors who don’t know any better. The largest kind of pairing chisel is called a slick—some of these tools are almost three feet long.

One of Stanley’s most popular chisels of the last 100 years has been its Everlasting chisel, which has a shorter blade and a reinforced handle. The handle is a useful touch, but ...

Gouges are often lumped in with chisels, but they are actually a different type of tool. Most have curves, known in the trade as sweeps, that create convex cuts in a piece of wood.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Alloy Artifacts

Alloy Artifacts

A tool collectors’ dream, this site is a deep repository of photos and info on 20th century hand tools and the co… [read review or visit site]

Vintage Machinery

Vintage Machinery

This collective website, which started as an online discussion forum, also includes a large database of manufacture… [read review or visit site]

Drainspotting

Drainspotting

Josh and Cam Larios have created this site enabling people to upload and 'tag' photos of historic or artistic manho… [read review or visit site]

A Millers Falls Home Page

A Millers Falls Home Page

Randy Roeder has carved out a niche for himself with his fine website devoted to the history of the Millers Falls C… [read review or visit site]



Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Set Of 4 Marples Boxwood Handle Bevel Chisels 1" 3/4" 5/8" And 1/2" WdeSet Of 5 Carving Chisels By J B Addis, Sheffield, Vgc.Stanley Wood Chisel, 720-750, CollectibleLie-nielsen Chisel PlaneCollection Vintage Chisels Erik Berg Sweden And Stanley And Cluthe3 Vintage Spoon Gouge Chisel- Wood Working Tools, Germany, Estate Find8 Vintage Carving Chisels Gouges 6 S J Addis & 2 Henry Taylor Good User ToolsMarples Woodcarving Tool Chisel Set -includes 13 Chisels - Lot A7Antique S. J. Addis Woodworking Chisels Gouge & Lathe Tools 216 Carving Chisels By Various Makers Addis, Herring Etc.Set Of Six Marples Hand Forged Chisels Made In Sheffield England Boxed Set6 X Marples No 152 Boxed Set Woodcarving Chisels - Hardly Used - ExcellentVintage Wood Chisels Lot (3) Greenlee Sizes 1/2", 3/4", 1", Socket Handle Type Amt Curved Coopers Barrel Making Scorp Scraper Wood Plane Shave WhiskeyVintage 27" Samson Union Hardware Co 3" Timber Slick Socket Chisel Log Cabin Eric Anton Berg Eskilstuna Sweden Chisel SetL1617 Antique P S & W Co No 1 Ex 3" Large Wood Framing Socket Chisel Slick ToolJapanese Old Craftsman Chisel Nomi , Lot Of 10 F/sVintage Wood Carving Chisels Tool Lot (3) Marples Sizes 1/4", 3/4", 1", Unused Natural Razor / Tool Honing Stone, Green Colour With Unusual PatterningTrend Fast Track Hand Operated Diamond Sharpening System For Chisels/plane IronsAntique Wood Handled Chisel (9 Woodcarving Tools) Sweden.sollden.made In SwedenAntique 11 7/8" Buck Bros. 2" Timber Slick Socket Chisel Head Log Cabin ToolVintage Carpenter Wood Chisels Tool Lot (2) Ulmia 5/8" & 1" Sizes W. GermanyVintage 28 3/4" Shapleigh Diamond Edge 3" Timber Slick Socket Chisel Log Cabin L1608- Antique Timber Framing Slick 2 1/2 Inch Wide - Marked. Stanley Rule & Level Co # 750 Socket Chisel 1/2"L1603- Lot Of Antique Wood Chisels Nice Vintage Set Of Henckels German Woodworking Tools With Original Box !!Old Ohio Tool Co. 7/8" Corner Socket Chisel Vg!4 Vintage Wood Chisels Gouges, D.r BartonRare Mitchell No 16 Curved Gouge 1/2" Wood Carving Chisel Antique Vintage ToolVintage Robert Sorby Wood Turning Chisel 1/4" Gouge 15 1/2 Inches LongGood Long Hss Wood Turning Gouge By Ashley IlesVintage Stone Mason Carving Tools - Masonry Cold Chisels 30 Pc. Lot HammersVintage Lot 4 Buck Brothers Cast Steel Spoon Gouches Chisels Woodworking ToolsVintage Stanley Everlasting 1/8" Wood Chisel, Patent 5-6-24, Nice No ReserveUlmia Marke Spannsage 10 Piece Chisel Set West Germany Excellent ConditionVintage 1 3/8" Wide J B. Addis & Son No8 Carving GougeStanley Bailey 5 Pc Wood Chisel Set With Leather Pouch Made In England #16-4019 Vintage Wood Carving Tools,gouge, Chisels,knife, Parting Tools,buck Brothers, 10 Vintage English Woodcarvers Gouges By Frost, Ward, Addis, Marsden Etc.5 Vintage German Woodworkers Bowl ,gouge, Tools Estate FindOld Vintage 2" Timber Framing Slick Chisel J Wilcox Old Wood Carving Tools 2 James Swan Co. Bevel Edge Socket Chisels 1" & 2"Vintage S.j.addis 1" Curved Gouge Chisel, #16 Carving Chisel, EnglandVintage Millers Falls Tools 1434 4 Pc. Wood Chisel SetVery Heavy Professional Wood Turning Curved Round Scraper Tool7 Vintage Wood Carving Tools,gouge, Chisels,estate Find,otto Bergmann7 Ulma Wood Chisels W GermanyStanley Rule & Level Co # 750 Socket Chisel 3/4"Antique Sargent V.b.m. Socket Firmer Gouge Chisel W Wood Dovetailed Box W LabelNew Ray Iles 7/16" English Mortising ChiselVintage 2" Underhill Slick Socket Chisel VgcDastra Tools No 5 Straight Gouge 1" Wood Carving Chisel Antique Vintage ToolVintage Stanley Wood Chisels Set Of 10 & Defiance Nice No Reserve(3) Vintage Stanley Long Socket Chisels 2" 7/8" & 5/8" Wood Handle EverlastAntique Semi Beaver Tail Slick 2 7/8 Boatbuilder Timber Frame Antique Tool 2 Large Old Timber Framing Chisels 1 Slick Early T Benjamin Ohio Unknown ToolStanley 750 Chisel 1/4"