Why is it that whenever I read an article that describes using a chisel for
something, the chisel always has to be "sharp"? "Clean out the mortise with
a sharp chisel." "Square up the corners with a sharp chisel". Why does
everyone, it seems, single out chisels as the only tool that needs to be
I never see them say or write, "rip into strips on the table saw using a
sharp blade." "Flatten the boards on the jointer using sharp knives.",
"Run them through the planer with sharp knives installed.", "Use a block
plane, with a sharp blade, to clean up the edges."
It has always struck me as odd that writers and authors always mention
"sharp" when discussing the use of chisels and not other tools. Is it
really more important for a chisel to be sharp than any other tool?
Just an observation.
Back in the days before carbide blades became so prevalent, people said
always to cut your wood with a sharp blade. People also still remind us to
use sharp jointer blades because carbide blades are not very common.
The most important reason is that a dull chisel will hurt you quicker
than a sharp chisel.
That may seem to be counterintuitive but the reasoning is that a great
deal of force will have to be used on a dullish chisel and that force
may be redirected at you, rather than towards the work.
Good point. I understand that dull tools are more dangerous (ax comes to
mind), and I didn't think of the safety issue. My point wasn't so much that
a chisel must be sharp, but rather that the chisel seems to be singled out
exclusively. Like I said though, I probably didn't think of the safety
Okay, back to work now...
OK, how about this:
chisels *look* a bit like screwdrivers, or paint scrapers, or pry
bars, or flower garden digging tools... and sometimes get used for
those things, especially by beginners. so in beginner level tutorials,
it makes a lot of sense to *specify* that a chisel needs to be sharp,
where it's not so necessary to specify that jointer blades need to be
nah, that couldn't be it.....
Yes. Bench planes. Card scrapers. Files. Handsaws.
Hatchets. ESPECIALLY hatchets. They're not sharp enough
to bite, they glance, sometimes into pieces of meat belonging
to say, you. Jerry Garcia lost one finger this way. Tony
Iommi from Black Sabbath lost two.
Doesn't leave much else besides hammers.
Slightly harder feed, mostly. I'm still using the Systimatic 50
tooth combo that came with my saw 12 years ago, never
My best friend is constantly using my screwdrivers for chisels (cold
chisels) whenever he is working on something in my garage. On top of that -
everything he uses, he sticks in his pocket. Not because he's trying to
make off with it, but that's just his holding area for tools. Every time I
go to grab a screwdriver it seems I find the tips broken - or the damned
screwdriver is missing. Call Jim - sure enough, it's in his pocket. So...
around here we've come to refer to screwdrivers as Jim's pocket chisels.
But, Jim is one of those friends who just can't do anything wrong. You know
the type - they are such a good friend that they just can't do anything
Okay, you guys are missing the point. Never did I say or imply that it's
not important for other items to be sharp (shovels included I guess. I'm
not sure I would classify a shovel as a woodworking tool. Maybe if your
chainsaw won't start though ;-) ). My point was that nobody states that
they need to be sharp in order to use them with the same regularity and zeal
that they do chisels. Of course a scraper and plane iron need to be sharp,
but it's never mentioned explicitly. It's implied.
Mr. Haskell said that I obviously don't read enough. Yet, I still don't see
any examples of anything to suggest I'm missing something.
For example, how many times have you watched NYW, Woodworks or something and
the host squares up a hinge mortise or something and says "use a sharp
chisel to square up the corners". But, when they use a block plane to put a
slight chamfer on something, they don't say, "use a block plane with a sharp
blade". It's just implied that the block plane blade should be sharp.
However, with a chisel, it's not. They will explicitly state that the
chisel needs to be sharp.
This is not a serious issue. Having sharp tools is serious, but the fact
that it's only mentioned explicitly when using chisels and implied with
seemingly everything else is just curious to me. That's all.
Tom Watson made a good point that because you hold a chisel in your hand,
it's more dangerous than say a dull plane blade. I don't use a lathe, and
others have said that it is common to mention "sharp" when using lathe tools
and I can understand that too. I probably just never picked up on it
because I haven't used a lathe.
Ya know something ... when you use a dull chisel, you just whack it
harder. And the next time you use it, you whack it still harder. And
harder and harder.
Long past the point of cutting, you've been pinching and yanking fibers
free for quite a while.
It's very difficult to leave a clean edge when you do that. Your control
has been marginal (at best) for quite a while. And still the tendency is
to just whack it a little harder because you only need to make two more
A plane will FORCE you to sharpen it. A dull circular saw blade will
send up smoke signals. A dull hand saw blade will work your tail ragged
and give you nothing much in return. And who can be certain how the
shovel was supposed to feel with that particular load of dirt, anyways?
But a chisel will keep making cut-shaped marks in the wood as long as
you can keep whacking it harder and harder.
Of course, when you lay aside the mallet and try to make a hand-powered
paring cut, that dull chisel is gonna look at you and just grin.
Use a sharp chisel. ;-)
I am disillusioned enough to know that no man's opinion on any subject
is worth a **** unless backed up with enough genuine information to make
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