Chisels have been around for centuries. With some of the oldest known chisel tools dating back between 5000 and 6000 years ago. By design a chisel is a sharp metal tool used to shape, remove or carve hard surfaces such as wood, steel and stone.

A hand chisel is not used alone. Instead it is used in combination with a hammer or mallet which provides the force to allow the chisel to enter, puncture, or gouge the material. Chisels come in various shapes, sizes and materials; the edges are also available in different sizes, widths, angles and shapes.

What is a Chisel?

A chisel is a single instrument with a handle and blade used to mar, cut, gouge or puncture materials. Stone and woodworking chisels are the most common types of chisels. Some chisels are a solid single piece of steel, iron or copper alloy with the blade edge flattened, shaped and sharpened.

The handle side will have a flat head used for striking either with the hand, hammer or mallet. Depending on its use the type of metal blade and type of striking will vary. Some chisels will have a wooden handle that will help alleviate strain and protect the hand from missed blows to the chisel head.

The blade is the workhorse end of the chisel, used to get into the material and reshape, remove or gouge the surface. One common example is to use a chisel to remove a small section of a door frame to allow the mounting of a hinge. Since you can’t make drastic cuts such as those from a saw, a chisel is used to fine tune the area where the hinge will be attached. This practice will make the area the right shape and depth without causing damage to the rest of the frame.

What Are Chisels Used For?

Chisels have a vast array of uses for different trades and craftsmen. Everything from stone work, woodworking and metal forging all make use of chisels.

Stone Work

Stone and masonry chisels are generally used for demolition and cutting and not for carving. Stones, bricks, mortar and rock are chiseled with a hammer or air chisel to crack, break and separate the stones.

Air chisels are chisels that instead of a handle are inserted into an electric air powered tool that supplies the force to pound the head. A jack hammer used to remove asphalt and concrete is a large air chisel, as an example.

Metal Working

Craftsmen in metal working, such as blacksmithing, will use two types of chisels: hot and cold. A cold chisel is a name given by blacksmiths to define the chisels used to manipulate metal that has not been heated in a forge or flame.

Cold chisels are generally used to remove waste or excess material from the finished product where the final work isn’t required to be perfectly smooth. Cold chisels also have special tips or blade shapes that are designed to get into corners or edges where other tools can’t reach or be used effectively.

Hot chisels, on the other hand are chisels designed to be used on metal that is heated; such as those on an anvil after being removed from the forge. Hot chisels are mostly used to remove large portions of the metal being worked by heating the metal and pounding the red-hot metal against the chisel tip until it breaks off.


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The most common modern use for a chisel is with wood working. In general, there are two types of wood chisels: Shaping and decorating.

Shaping chisels are used to remove large pieces of wood and to form wood into shapes for joining. Creating a dovetail joint, for example requires the use of a chisel. Wood chisels can be used with metal or heavy hammers, but because of the delicate nature of the wood a wooden hammer or mallet is preferred.

Decorating chisels are smaller chisels with varying blade edges, angles and shapes. These are used to create wooden inlays, designs and intricate detailing of the wood surface by removing wood shavings to leave behind designs.

Types of Projects Chisels Are Great For

Chisels have uses in many areas of trade work and can be used for various jobs. While most of the intricate and detailed uses are in woodworking, other areas have great uses for them as well.

Stone Carving

Much like the ancient Egyptians did, carving details into stone or mason is done with the careful touch of a stone chisel. Sometimes called a gouge, a stone chisel that is not used to break or remove masonry, brick or rock, is used to decorate stone, carve marble and is used in sculpting.

Most Roman era artisans used stone chisels to sculpt and shape stone slabs or marble blocks into statues and figures we still view in museums today.

Sculpting is still practiced today in all sorts of mediums. Wood, stone, marble and steel are all sculpting materials where chisels are needed. Creating works of art from bare materials with nothing but your imagination, a hammer and chisel set and time; you can create just about anything.

Wood sculpting is a hobby that many people enjoy to relieve stress, relax or just to create art in their free time.


Intricate detailing of wood, such as inlays on chair legs, around skirting of tables and the finished sides of cabinets, are done with wood chisels.

You can purchase a wood chisel set that will come complete with a mallet and several different sizes and shapes of chisels. These chisels will have rounded blades, curved blades and angled blades that will remove slivers of wood from the surface to leave behind delicate and detailed grooves.

One specific type of chisel is called a Slick. A slick is a chisel that is manually pushed and never struck. It has a long slender handle that reaches about two feet in length. The blade is two to four inches wide for large area chiseling.

You will find slicks being used in wooden ship building and construction framing, where large amounts of tedious detail work is needed.

Other types of wood chisels include:

  • Corner chisel; to clean square holes and 90 degree edges.
  • Bevel edge chisel; to create or clean angled corners.
  • Skew chisel; for trimming and finishing with a 60-degree angled blade.
  • Dovetail chisel; designed specifically for creating dovetail joints.
  • Butt chisel; a straight-edged blade for joint creation or larger area removal.
  • Groove chisel; a chisel blade with a grove to create different types of mars in wood surfaces.


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Hand carving wood is the intricate and delicate art of creating shapes, patterns and details in wood surfaces by using hand chisels. A hand chisel, as the name implies, is one that is raked into the surface by hand instead of pounding the handle with a hammer or mallet.

The act is similar to whittling wood with the exception that in carving you have the finished shape and are adding details to the wood surface. You can look around you now and most likely see wood carving all over your home. Cabinet doors, table and chair legs, end table skirting and even headboards have wood carving inlays.

Carving requires a specific wood chisel set that you can purchase. These sets will contain numerous wood chisels with different blades. V-shaped blades will create grooves with deep centers and U-shaped blades will leave behind a uniform shaped cut, for example.

Wood carving is an art form that is used by specialists, hobbyists and enthusiasts alike.


Chisels have been around for centuries. Ancient Egyptians used chisels to carve stone, create monuments and leave behind a story written in rock. Roman era sculptors and artists used chisels to create statues for emperors and lawns of the wealthy and to commemorate achievements and heroes.

Wooden boats were also carved using chisels and this practice is still in use today. Slicks were used to shape the hulls and were since used in construction framing to handle large pieces of lumber with ease.

Hobbyists enjoy hand carving wood and metal using specially crafted chisels for detail work and shaping. Woodworking chisels are used to make joints and joiners to join lumber together without the need for screws or nails.

Whatever the type of material, if it needs to be broken and removes, such as stone or rock, or finely detailed with intricate inlays and groove work, chisels are the go-to tool to get the job done.

Whether you need to hand chisel or pound with a hammer, the chisel is a versatile tool that can handle just about any type of work.

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