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What is a Firmer Chisel?

By Marlene Garcia
Updated May 17, 2024
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A firmer chisel is one of four main chisels used in woodworking projects. It has a thick, strong blade that allows removal of large pieces of wood in a single strike. In fact, this chisel's 4-inch (10.16-cm) blade is strong enough to form deep, large joints when the end is hit with a mallet. This type of chisel has a beveled edge, and is a good choice for general woodworking projects. One variation of a firmer chisel is called a beveled edge chisel, or butt chisel, with bevels on two sides of the cutting surface for more precise trimming.

This type of chisel is among the oldest types of chisels used. They may have evolved from the use of sharpened rocks in the Stone Age for cutting away unwanted material and trimming hides. Over time, wooden handles were added to provide comfort during use, and to allow the exertion of force by hitting the handle with the palm of the hand, a hammer, or a mallet. Different chisels are designed for specialized jobs, but the firmer chisel remains a good addition to a basic woodworking tool kit, especially for cutting grooves with sharp angles.

Although the chisel's blade is designed to withstand substantial raps with a mallet, its handle must be durable enough to prevent damage. A rugged, impact-resistant handle constructed of hardwood with a metal striking area is a suitable handle for a firmer chisel. Some chisels are made with plastic handles, but this option is not recommended for firmer chisels by expert woodworkers.

A firmer chisel, or any chisel, will not do the job it is designed for unless it is kept in good condition. If a chisel is not sharpened regularly, it produces ragged edges on the wood and more force must be applied to make cuts. Chisels should be stored so the cutting edge does not come in contact with other tools to avoid chipping. If a chisel is not used frequently, a light coat of oil will prevent rust.

Even though a chisel is not a power tool, that doesn't mean it cannot be dangerous. The cutting edge of the tool should not be pointed toward the body, and safety goggles should be worn when using it. Hands should be kept behind the cutting edge, using a clamp to hold the work surface firmly in place. Sandpaper can be used to smooth rough machine edges on a new firmer chisel to avoid accidental cuts and scrapes.

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Discussion Comments
By discographer — On Dec 09, 2011

@burcidi-- I personally think that the firmer chisel is way tougher than a framing because it has a thick blade that can cut easily into wood. It's harder to do that with thinner and narrower chisels like the bevel and paring chisels.

Obviously, they all serve a different purpose. I can make nice easy straight cuts with a firmer chisel but I can't get into corners.

There actually used to be more kinds of carving chisels before the industrial revolution. The types have really narrowed down since then because we've been relying on machines more and more to do this kind of work for us. But it's nice that there are still people who do this as a job or hobby and literally dote on their chisel collection.

By burcidi — On Dec 09, 2011

@burcinc-- Hey there. There are three different types of wood carving chisels: paring, firmer and framing. The firmer chisel is the medium one that you could do both light and heavy carving with it. It's actually the one I use most often and it can be used with or without a mallet depending on what you're trying to do. A paring chisel is only used with hands and a framing chisel always requires a mallet.

Of course there are many types of chisels under these categories but these are the three main ones. It's common for people who carve wood to have multiple ones of the same chisel. For example, I have five or six different firmer chisels. Some of them have a flat top to be used with a mallet, others are round to hit with the palm of my hand. They also come in different weights and slants.

And chisels are not only used for art, it's also used in carpentry, especially when making joints. It's not just used with wood either, there are also chisels for stone.

By burcinc — On Dec 08, 2011

My grandfather loved working with wood. He had a room in his house full of wood and various wood carving tools.

He had these slabs of wood that he would make shapes and portraits out of using chisels. He was really talented and I used to watch him work all the time when I was little.

I don't remember him using his hand with a chisel unless he wanted to make slight and subtle changes to the wood. He usually worked with a mallet. I'm not familiar with the different types of chisels so I can't say if it was a firmer chisel or not although I'm sure he had one in his collection.

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