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    How to Use Chisels

    There are a few types of chisels, but you’ll use the garden-variety wood chisel (called a bench chisel) 95% of the time. The first thing you need to know about any hand tool is that it must be razor sharp to work well. Be sure to check out our step-by-step video on How to Sharpen Handplanes and Chisels, and practice a bit. A chisel has one unique requirement: Its back must be perfectly flat for it to slice a straight path through wood.

    You can do two valuable things with a bench chisel, chop and pare, and often you’ll do them in tandem.

    Paring cuts (second photo above) are thin slices along the grain lines. Your back hand provides all the power you need, and your front hand guides the edge of the tool. 

    Chopping cuts (first photo above) are made across the grain, usually straight down into the face of a board. As you might guess, cutting across the grain is tougher sledding, so you’ll often tap or even smack the end of the handle with a wood mallet.

    A typical move is to chop down where you want a cut to stop, usually at a layout or scribe line, and then to pare up to that point to remove a chunk of wood in a very controlled way. This is how carvers work, too.