Chisels?

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I noticed in a recent Fine Woodworking article you had many chisels in the window well chisel rack.  I would very much appreciate your describing what types you have, which chisels you use the most, and any other modifications you might have made for particular jobs (such as the chisels modified for dovetail work).  From the pictures in the Fine Woodworking article, it looked like you had sizes from 1/8 to 1 1/2.  It also looked like you had both butt chisel Stanley 750's and paring chisel 720's.  If it is not too much trouble I would greatly enjoy hearing your response. I greatly admire your work, your books and articles, and your videos. I hope to attend one or more of your classes in the future!


-Don B.

Clayton, MO

Our Expert


It's great to hear that you're enjoying the articles and videos. As you've noticed, I have two lengths of chisels in the rack at my bench. I use the longer style, Stanley 720's, for paring and carving. The long length, approximately 12", provides good leverage and control when making long, thin shavings. I typically grind the paring chisels at a low angle, such as 25 degrees. The low angle minimizes the cutting resistance which increases the ability to control the tool. However, I have a couple of paring chisels which I've ground to a steep 60 degree angle. The high angle on these chisels allows me to pare difficult wood such as tiger maple.


The shorter length and lighter weight of the Stanley 750's make them ideal for chopping such as when cutting the waste area between dovetails. When chopping I grip the chisel as you would a writing instrument and drive the chisel into the wood with a mallet. Because I use these chisels for chopping the acute angles between dovetails I bevel the sides in order to provide easy access into the sharp corners.


Although I have many planes in my kit the ones that I reach for most often are the smooth, block, and shoulder planes.


As the name implies, the smooth plane is an ideal tool for smoothing the wood in preparation for finishing. Once you learn to tune and use a sharp smooth plane you'll quit using sandpaper; planes are a pleasure to use and they are faster than using sandpaper, too.


Most smooth planes have a cutter that is mounted bevel down. However, I prefer bevel up smooth planes because by changing the grind angle on the cutter you can change the cutting angle of the plane. A high cutting angle, such as 60 degrees, works best for smoothing most hardwoods. The high cutting angle will easily smooth difficult grain such as tiger maple. But a high cutting angle is the best choice for smoothing most any hardwood because it will handle small pin knots, reversing grain, or any mild figure that may tear out when using a bevel-down plane.


I think of a block plane as a scaled down smooth plane. I use my block plane for smoothing and fitting whenever a full-sized smooth plane may be too large and awkward. And because the cutter is mounted bevel-up I can modify the cutting angle simple by changing the grind angle on the cutter.


As the name implies, shoulder planes are used for trimming and fitting the shoulders of tenons. But they are also useful for many other tasks. In fact, I sometimes use a shoulder plane for smoothing. For example, when constructing lipped doors I use my shoulder plane to smooth away the mill marks in the rabbet. Like the smooth and block planes, the bevel on the shoulder plane is facing upward which allows for changes to the cutting angle. I use a low angle when trimming end-grain shoulders and a high angle when smoothing a rabbet or other long-grain detail.


To avoid the time and expense of continually changing the angles on the cutters I suggest that you purchase additional cutters for each plane.

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