Accessibility Statement


At the top is shown the standard type mortise chisel; below it is shown a swan’s neck mortise chisel

In the above photo, two variations of the larger style lock mortise chisel for working in timber are shown. The top one, which is often found, is a standard type produced by Marples of Sheffield. It has a sweeping arc to allow for a digging action to lever out waste at the bottom of a slot. The second chisel is what caught my attention and initiated this article. Was it not for the stamped maker’s mark (and a very reputable maker at that), this chisel would have been relegated to the interesting-but-definitely-artisan pile.

Often called a lock mortise chisel, it is most notably identified as a swan’s neck pattern. It is used to create a blind mortise – one that does not go through the member it is being cut into and has a finite length. An example is the stretchers on a table or a panel frame in which the intersecting sides and end pieces do not fully penetrate and are pegged to hold their position. Another example is the recess cut into the main keel area members of a sailing vessel to bed a mast, often chopped out using a masting axe and further refined at the bottom using a chisel such as the one shown. The blind mortise is not commonly used in post-and-beam timber framing, as the tenon is drawn through a fully chopped mortise or slot and then pegged internally to draw the two pieces tightly together. This requires a straight framing chisel of a much sturdier construction.

Swan’s neck mortise chise

The chisel shown above is specific in its application – it is designed to lever out irregularities and chips in the sides and bottom of a blind mortise or recess. The swan’s neck style allows for ease in levelling the mortise bottom using only hand power. Almost all chisels of this type have a laminated steel edge along the bottom of the sweep.

The Ward marking on the chisel

Stamped with the Ward name (1824 – 1860) and what looks to be some sort of trademark, this example is most unusual with its added bump to facilitate leverage when digging out chips. The bump was not an added piece but was forged out when the chisel was made. I have never encountered this variation before and suspect it was an early entry into the marketplace.

Somewhat scarce, this style of mortise chisel was never popular in North America. Most that are found either came in toolboxes or were sold by English tool dealers in the last 40 – 50 years.

D.S. Orr

D.S. Orr has been a collector, user and student of woodworking and metalworking tools and practices for more than 40 years.