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Complete Guide on the Different Types of Chisels & Gouges

Chisels and Gouges

Tools with narrow cutting edges were used for making mortices in the late stone, bronze, and early iron ages. Medevil carpenters also used the "former" chisel with a wide, flared blade, for rough shaping. From the sixteenth-century onwards, general-purpose chisels were made which were stouter and had parallel sides. These were called "firmer chisels", as they could also be used with a mallet. Carpenters also had longer, thinner tools called "paring chisels", for hand use only.

Special types such as the "bevelled edge" and "lock-mortice" chisels and the "bolting iron" were developed later by cabinet makers and other craftsmen for particular purposes. For turning work on pole lathes. A wide range of chisels and gouges has been available since the iron age.

Modern chisels are fitted with smoothly curved bulbous handles, usually round in section and domed at the end for a comfortable grip. These are made from boxwood or impact-resistant plastic, although traditional shaped handles such as the "London Pattern" are still available made in ash.

Chisels and Gouges

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Firmer Chisel

Size: blade width- 3mm to 50mm

Material: blade- steel, handle- ash, beech, boxwood

Use: to trim and chop wood

The firmer chisel is a general purpose wood-cutting tool with a blade approximately 100mm long and rectangular in section. The blade has parallel sides and tapers slightly from the bolster to the cutting edge.

Common widths of blade range from 3mm to 18mm increasing in 3mm steps; and 25mm to 37mm increasing in 6 steps. Chisels up to 50mm wide are also available. For most domestic uses, a selection including 6mm, 12mm, 18mm and 50mm widths should be sufficient.

Because the firmer chisel has a stout blade, it can be driven in with a mallet. Use only wooden or soft faced mallets on wooden handles; a hammer may be used on the plastic ones.

Firmer Chisel

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Bevelled Edge Firmer Chisel

Size: blade width- 3mm to 50mm

Material: blade- alloy steel, , handle- ash, beech, boxwood, plastic

Use: light general woodworking

The bevelled edge chisel is identical to the firmer chisel in all respects except that the blade is bevelled on the top face of the two long sides. This reduces the rigidity of the blade, making it suitable for only lighter wood-working. It is not intended for use with a mallet, but light tapping is tolerated. Because of the bevelled edge, the chisel can be used to work undercuts such as in dovetail housing.

Beveled Edge Firmer Chisel

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Paring Chisel

Size: blade width- 6mm to 37mm

Material: blade- alloy steel, , handle- boxwood

Use: to pare long housings

The paring chisel has a comparatively long blade, about 175mm, and can be either of the firmer or the bevelled edge type. It is used to trim long grooves such as those in stair or shelf construction

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Paring Chisel

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All-Steel Wood Chisel

Size: blade width- 12mm, 18mm, 25mm, 31mm

Material: steel

Use: carpentry work

The all-steel chisel has a short, bevelled edge blade and a hexagonal handle. The end of the handle is formed into a slightly domed mushroom shape, so it can be easily driven with a hammer. This is a very strong chisel, suitable for heavy carpentry work.

All-Steel Wood Chisel

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Firmer Gouge

Size: blade width- 6mm, 9mm, 12mm, 15mm

Material: blade- steel, , handle- boxwood, ash

Use: to cut hollow or curved shoulders

The firmer gouge is similar to the firmer chisel, but it has a blade that is curved at the cross section. The blade is usually about 100mm long and has parallel sides like its chisel counter part. The common sizes are 6mm to 25mm, although large sizes are made with standard curves.

There are two types of blade: those with the cutting bevel ground on the outside, known as out-canal, and those ground on the inside, known as in-canal. Both have square cutting edges, though the out-canal is sometimes rounded for deep hollow cutting.

Firmer Gouge

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Paring Gouge

Size: blade width- 6mm to 31mm

Material: blade- steel, , handle- boxwood

Use: to shape work

The paring gouge is a lighter, elongated version of the in cannel firmer gouge. The 175mm blade, which has parallel sides, is usually fitted with a carving pattern handle. The neck may be straight or cranked to raise the handle to let the hand clear the work surface.

The gouge is generally used for hand paring without the aid of a mallet, unlike the in-cannel firmer gouge. Its range of different curved sections for a given width gives it greater flexibility for cutting curved shapes of all kinds.

Paring Gouge

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Mortice Chisel

Size: blade width- 12mm, 15mm, and 18mm

Material: blade- steel, , handle- beech

Use: to cut large mortices

The mortice chisel has a thick, stiff blade for clearing out waste and wide side edges that help to keep the chisel square in the mortice, The bolster is oval as is the handle: a leather shock-absorbing washer is often fitted between them. The handle has a wide curved end specially designed to be hit with a mallet.

Mortice Chisel

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Sash Mortice Chisel

Size: blade width- 6mm, 7.5mm, 9mm and 12mm

Material: blade- steel, , handle- boxwood, ash, beech

Use: light carpentry work in softwood

The sash mortice chisel is similar in use to the mortice chisel but is intended for lighter work. It is usually fitted with a carved turning pattern handle with a single ferrule and a leather shock-absorbing washer between it and the bolster.