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Getting Started with a Chisel

Ask This Old House general contractor Tom Silva explains basic chiseling techniques


  1. Buy a set of chisels of varying widths, made of high-quality steel.
  2. Chisels with wooden handles are meant for more delicate jobs and can only be hit with a rubber mallet or used by hand.
  3. Chisels with metal ends can be hit with a hammer.
  4. To make a basic cut, hold the chisel perpendicular to the surface being chiseled and tap it in to set the depth. Make a few cuts in this way across the entire section being chiseled.
  5. To actually chisel out the material, hold the chisel roughly parallel to the surface, bevel side down, and use the bevel against the surface to control how much is being taken out.
  6. To sharpen a chisel, hold it flat against a whetstone and drag it back and forth until it’s sharp.
  7. For seriously damaged chisels, a grinding wheel can be used with a sharpening jig attached to it.


Tom suggests buying a few chisels with a variety of different widths, all made of high-quality steel. These can be purchased at home centers and woodworking supply stores.

To sharpen a chisel, usually a honing stone or a whetstone can get the job done. Tom used a diamond whetstone, manufactured by DMT. For more serious sharpening jobs, a grinder with a chisel sharpening jig can be used. Those can found at lumberyards and specialty woodworking stores.