The Best Chisel Buying Guide

Chisel & Gouge Buying Guide

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With the wide variety of chisels and gouges available, it can be difficult to know which of the many styles is right for you. They are both available in a variety of sizes designed to achieve a unique look and feel to the project you are working on. Beginners tend to take the chisel for granted, they fail to realize the vast number of different chisel types available to them. Follow our simple guide to understand the difference between the most popular chisels and gouges.

Chisels vs Gouges

The biggest difference between the two is that chisels utilize a flat blade while the gouge uses a rounded or curved blade. Both are available in a variety of styles and with varying blade lengths and thicknesses.

To create a piece of work that is flat and straight, you will opt to use a chisel. If you prefer to cut curved features into the piece you are working on, then a gouge is better suited for you. Both chisels and gouges tend to use wood for the handles.

There are three common types of chisel design:

  • Tanged – A tanged chisel has a tang attached to the blade, the tang runs into a wooden handle.
  • Modern – The modern chisel utilizes a molded plastic handle with a short shaft at the end of the blade.
  • Socket – The socket chisel is comprised of a wooden handle paired to a socket.

While these differences may not seem all that important, the length and structure of a chisel as well as the way the blade interfaces with the handle dictates the quality and durability of the tool.

Closer Look at Chisels

Chisels come with two edges: outcannel and incannel. The outcannel chisel is ground on the outside and has a convex surface. When you use this to gouge out the wood, you’ll be left with a concave depression. The incannel edge is ground so the bevel is on the inside. Using this will produce a round, over-raised portion to the work. There are several chisel varieties that are popular in modern woodworking. They include:

Back Bent Chisel
This chisel has a bend in the blade so you can get into difficult areas. Normally, this is used for woodcarving projects.

Cabinet or Bench Chisel
The top of this chisel is beveled on the sides and the blade is relatively thin. These can be used to work on dovetails for furniture or cabinet makers. The bench chisel comes with a 5-inch blade and a 5-inch handle, while the cabinet chisel is available in a variety of sizes from 1/8-inch to 2-inches.

Butt Chisel
This is a smaller version of the bench chisel that is ideal for installing hardware.

Firmer Chisel
This is also similar to a bench chisel but it doesn’t contain bevels on the side. The blades are thicker and the handles are joined with a socket so it can be used for heavy-duty mallet work.

Firmer Chisels are good for woodworking while larger versions are called framing versions. The cutting edge on a firmer chisel is at a 20-degree angle to prevent the blade from chipping.

Dogleg Chisel
The low cutting angel on this chisel provides a smoother and easier cut. This is ideal for working on the bottom of shallow mortises.

Corner Chisel
A corner chisel is used for cabinet work, building and boat construction. Sizes from ¼-inch to 1 and ½-inches are available. The blade forms a right angle and the chisel is ground flat on the outside with bevels on the inside leading edges.

Mortise Chisel
The mortise chisel is a heavy, straight-edged blade that is tapered from the front to the back. This type of chisel is commonly used for chopping mortises and holes and are intended for heavy work. The handle can often take repeated blows from a mallet while the leather ring acts as a cushion to soften the feedback to the woodworker.

Mortise chisels also have four of their own individual types, these are:

  • Joiner’s Mortise Chisel – Thick blade and a heavy wooden handle, this chisel should be used for chopping wide, deep mortises. It’s also great for cutting large holes into hardwood.
  • Sash Mortise Chisel – The sash mortise chisel is narrower than the Joiner’s and has a much more delicate wooden handle. This chisel should be used for lighter work; small holes are easy to cut into softwoods with this chisel.
  • Registered Mortise Chisel – Flat blade and a wooden handle, this chisel is designed exclusively for cutting hardwood.
  • Swan-neck Mortise Chisel – The swan-neck chisel features a thick blade with a hooked, swan-like neck. This chisel should be used primarily to cut and scoop out the end grain of cross rail tenon.

Chisel Techniques

There are three main types of chisel cut, the vertical paring, horizontal paring, and the mallet-driven cut. We’ll detail these techniques and some other good to know cuts below.

Vertical paring – With a clamped workpiece, grip the chisel with your right hand so that it forms a right angle with your forearm. Place your left hand palm up onto the workpiece and place your forefinger behind your cut mark. Place the cutting edge of the blade to your mark and then using a controlled motion, push the chisel down into the workpiece.

Horizontal paring – As the name implies, horizontal paring is very similar to vertical paring but performed horizontally. To secure your work piece, either clamp it to your workbench or place it into a vise. Place your chisel in your right hand so that the handle presses against your palm. With your other hand, place the blade of the chisel along the pads of your finger. Use a forward motion with your right hand to cut into your workpiece.

Mallet cut – This technique should always be performed with a well clamped workpiece. Place the chisel with your hand onto your cutting mark. Using your opposite hand, firmly strike the top of the chisel’s handle with your mallet. The most important part of this technique is taking the time to accurately position your blade.

Secondary Techniques
  • Mortise Cut – While facing the bevel down, simply push or tap on the back of the chisel. This will remove thin slices from the wood. You can control the depth by lowering and raising the handle.
  • Paring Cut – Keep the back of the chisel flat and pare thin slices on the wood. You can also pivot the chisel while cutting to maneuver the blade in an arc.
  • Chopping Cut – Strike the chisel with a hammer to remove chunks of wood. The chisel must be sharp and you want to chop down about ½-inch.
  • Scrapping – Glue joints and other imperfections can be scraped while holding the blade at a right angle to the wood. The back of the chisel should be facing toward you while you support the blade with your fingers. Apply pressure to the wood while you draw the chisel toward you.

Closer Look at Gouges

Gouges are available in varying degrees of curvatures. Each manufacturer uses a different classification system to the degree of curvature. Gouges can be grouped into two categories: Firmer and Paring. The firmer gouge is heavy-duty and made to be beaten with a mallet. The paring gouge is meant for delicate woodworking tasks.

There are several gouge varieties that are popular in modern woodworking. They include:

Back Bent Gouge
This offers a short blade with a reverse bend. It is used when working with tricky grain and rounded undercuts. The long angle also provides easy use during shaping and modeling.

Bench and Cabinet Gouge
This light-duty gouge is ideal for hallowing work with coves and moldings.

Fishtail Gouge
Often called a fantail gouge, this is a small and lighter-duty tool. It is best for maneuvering in tight spaces.

Bowl Gouge
This short, stout and wide blade offers the ability to make a hollow inside of a bowl. The blade tends to be curved along the entire length and the short handle allows for working inside bowls or trenches.

Paring Gouge
This long, thin blade should not be hit with a mallet. It is ideal for fine carving work and pattern making.

Spoon Gouge
The spoon is bent along the blade in the same direction as the curve of the gouge. You can use these inside concave surfaces, deep carvings and bowls.

Firmer Gouge
This heavy-duty thick-bladed tool offers the ability to do large-scale construction projects like building ships, millwork and tool making.

Gouge Techniques

Here are some of the main gouge techniques used in woodworking.

  • Proper Hold – Hold the gouge like a dagger in either hand.
  • Using a Mallet – Using one hand to control the gouge, use the mallet to provide gentle taps on the end of the handle.
  • Cutting Wood – You can cut across the long direction of the grain, right angles to the grain or at an oblique angle along the grain.
  • Roughing Out – Use varying sweeps to remove the bulk of waste wood from the carving.
  • Shaping – Use the gouge in a vertical position to take off the shavings down to ground level.


Using the wrong tool for your woodworking project can have disastrous consequences on the outcome you are trying to achieve. By choosing the proper chisel or gouge for your job, you are setting yourself up for success in woodworking.

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