Chisels: What I Wish I Would Have Known

I always thought chisels were chisels.  So long as you had good steel, you had a good chisel.

No, I wasn’t confused by all the different types of chisels.  Yes, I know the difference between skew chisels and fishtail chisels.  That’s not my issue.

My lack of knowledge centered around the lands.

photo 4 (1)

That flat area where the side bevels meet the back are called lands or shoulders.  For most tasks, the lands don’t make a dang bit of difference, but for dovetails, they can make an already tricky task dang near impossible!

For most work where a chisel is used for chopping or paring, the lands don’t interfere with the work at all, so it doesn’t matter how thick they are.  However, cutting dovetails can pose very difficult if you don’t have a chisel that can work into the tight corner where the tail meets the baseline.

The solution is finding a chisel that has minimal lands, or grinding the lands down on your existing chisels.

photo 2 (2)

The top chisel here is a  stock cheap bench chisel, the bottom has seen the grinder and will now fit into the tight corners of dovetails.  This grinding solution works, but it isn’t ideal.

If you’re in the market for new chisels, it’s best to get your hands on a chisel before you buy.  If that’s not possible, check the specs.  If the manufacturer doesn’t mention the lands or shoulders, then look elsewhere.

Yes, tool steel and hardness are important, but if you can’t get the tool to do the job you need it to do, it’s nothing more than a paperweight.

-Mike Russo

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