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How to Safely Use Your Chisel

Once you’ve polished the back of your chisel and sharpened it, it’s ready to be put to use. Here are some tips for making the different kinds of chisel cuts safely and effectively.


To prevent injury from a chisel cut, observe these basic rules:


  1. When the chisels are placed on the bench, keep them bevel-side up so the cutting edge isn’t exposed.

  2. Hold the work in a vise or with a clamp

  3. Always cut with the chisel pointing away from you, keeping both hands behind the cutting edge.

How Do I Use a Bench Chisel?

You can pare horizontally or vertically, depending on how the work is held. In horizontal paring, hold the chisel with your forward hand in an underhand grip for general cuts, or in an overhand grip when power strokes are desired.


Image left: Paring a tenon cheek with a chisel. Image right: Horizontal paring of the end of a board.

Image left: Paring a tenon cheek with a chisel. Image right: Horizontal paring of the end of a board.


To pare vertically, hold the handle close to your chest with an overhand grip, and guide the blade with the non-dominant hand. Lean down on the chisel to make cuts.

Use your chin or tuck your hand into the shoulder to give extra downward force when needed.


Vertical paring of the side of a board

Vertical paring of the side of a board

How Do I Chop With a Bench Chisel?

In general chopping, grab the chisel by its handle with an overhand grip. For precise chopping, hold the chisel by the blade.


Chopping dovetail joint with a chisel and mallet

Chopping dovetail joint with a chisel and mallet


Last, in chopping notches or mortises, always make the cross-grain cuts first to avoid splitting.


Chopping dovetail joint with a chisel

Chopping dovetail joint with a chisel

Should I Use the Chisel With Its Bevel Up or Down?

You can use a bench chisel either way depending on the task. In common cases, you use a chisel in a bevel-up fashion to pare or slice with its back resting on the work, or when you work on a convex surface.

For roughing cuts, waste removal, working corners or cutting on a concave surface, it is more effective to hold the chisel with its bevel down.

You can control the cutting depth by raising or lowering the handle.


Cutting a concave surface with a chisel and mallet

Cutting a concave surface with a chisel and mallet

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