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    

(6) Vintage Stanley's 1/4" To 1" ChiselsVintage Lot Wood Chisels Buck Brothers Taylor Woodworking Tools Carving AntiqueJapanese Set 5 Lot Vintage Carpenter Chisel Wood Working Old Japan IronCharnley Forest Very Old Natural Rock Sharpening/honing Oilstone Chisels/razorsStanley No. 750...754 Chisels 4 Pc. Set W/orig. Box (3) Vintage Stanley Chisels(5) Vintage Stanley Socket Chisels 1/4" To 1"Stanley No. 740 1/4" Wood Chisel & No.720 1" Wood ChiselStanley No. 750 Chisel Set 7 PiecesVintage Huge Gouge 1" S.j. Addis Sheffield England #7 W London Style Handle+++Vintage Huge #16 Curved Gouge 3/4" S.j. Addis Cast Steel England Very Fine+++Old Th Witherby 2" Wide Socket Chisel Very Good Condition!Lie Nielsen 1/2" Mortise Chisel, 1-c-m-1-2, With Box17 Blacksmith/metal Working Tools Hammers/chisels (rr & Warren)/drifts/punches9 Wood Carving Tool. 4 Swiss 1 German 4???10 Lot Antique Wood Chisels Addis Barton Witherby Berg Greenlee Old Vtg Tools2 Wood Turning Bowl Gouges By Robt Sorby Of Sheffield,Trimming Chisel / Usu Nomi / Slick / Japanese Carpentry / VintageStanley No. 720 Size Chisel Set 10 PiecesVintage 5/8" Stanley No. 750 Socket Chisel - Made In UsaGroup Of Woodworking Tools. Planes, Spoke Shave, Scarper, Square, ChiselSet Of 3 Pfeil Swiss Made #12 Sweep V-parting Carving Tools(3) Vintage Stanley 3/4" Socket Chisels (1) Second No.750Stanley #720 Socket Chisels, 7/8", "fine" ConditionVintage Witherby 2" Socket Chisel With Wood Handle - Woodworking Carpentry Tool(3) Vintage Stanley 1/2" Chisels & (1) Usa 1/2"Set Of Ten Japanese Dovetail Bench Chisels/shinogi Oire Nomi "kunitoshi" Vintage Wood Carving Tools Chisels Set In Case Rare Pewiso Germany(2) Vintage Witherby Socket Chisels (1) 1-1/2" (1) 1-1/4"Massive 2 1/2 Inch Wide Chisel By Kenyon Old Chisel Old Woodworking Tool Old 2 In. Socket Firmer ChiselVintage Stanley ChiselPair Of Small Tapered Round Slip Stones For Tool Sharpening, Medium GritsOld Pexto 1 3/4" Wide Framing/firmer Socket Chisel Heavy Iron!1 1/2" Wide Bevel Edged Chisel By Robert Sorby.Vintage 3.5" Wide Witherby Winstead Carpenter's Slick Chisel, Free Ship!Lot 3 Lakeside Wood Chisels 1" 3/4" & 1/2" SocketVintage Wood Chisel Lot Hand Forged Chisels Socket Style Chisels W/ Wood HandlesSet Of 12 Smaller Slip / Sharpening Stones, Slipstones, Fine / Med / Coarse GritJ.a. Henckels Carving Chisels, Set Of 15Lot Four Paring Chisels Eskilstuna, Sweden Birch Handles Incl. Aweco & E.a. Berg3 Unused Graduated Cranked Paring Gouges By Marples - Chisel - Vintage Old ToolsHenry Taylor Diamic Hs60 1/2 In Oval Skew Wood Turning Chisel7 Pc.vintage Craftsman,stanley,crescent Chisels For Restoration Antique Usa1" Vintage Stanley Everlast ChiselHb4 Hard Arkansas Sharpening Stone By Norton - Vintage Old ToolVintage 29 Greenlee 3" Timber Slick With Handle Socket Chisel Timber Framing Lot Of 23 Vintage Wood Chisels, Tool, Shop, Cabinet, CarpenterPs&w Co. 1 1/2 In. Socket Framing ChiselVintage Wood Carving Chisel Lathe Gouges Tools UsaE.a. Berg + Jernbolaget Chisels Eskilstuna Steel, Sweden ChiselsVintage Japanese Chisel Nomi 48mm Old Woodworking Carpentry Tool From Japan #12(2) Vintage Stanley Chisels (1) Sw Logo (1) 3/4" (1) 1"Super Lie-nielsen 5 Long Beechwood Chisel Handles, Unused - Not SetVintage Stanley Usa 1/4" Beveled Edge Socket Chisel, Good Length With HandleStanley 1" Everlast Sweetheart Chisel & 6" Stanley Caliper Rule, 08 & 09 Pat.Canvas Chisel Case / Japanese / VintageAntique T.h. Witherby 2" Framing Paring Chisel New Ipe HandleVintage Lot Of 6 Socket Wood Chisels Pexto,butcher,samson, Germany 1/8" - 1 1/4"8 Vintage English Woodcarvers Gouges By Henry Taylor Sheffield.