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What is a Framing Chisel?

CW Deziel
CW Deziel

A framing chisel is a wood chisel with a wider blade than one used for carving or cabinetry. Together with the wooden mallet used for hitting it, it is an essential tool for timber construction and is also useful in conventional wooden frame construction. Framing chisels are used to gouge wood, make notches and fashion mortise and tenon joints. Common framing chisel blades sizes are 1.5 inches (3.81 cm) and 2 inches (5.08 cm).

There are two types of framing chisels. A tang chisel has a beveled end that is wedged into the wooden handle, and a socket chisel has a squared-off end that fits into a socket in the handle and is held in place by clamps or wires. The repeated blows of a mallet are less likely to break the handle of a socket chisel, and if it does break, it is more easily replaceable than the handle of a tang chisel. Furthermore, a socket chisel is easier to work with than a tang chisel because it transfers less vibration to the user's hands.

Man with a drill
Man with a drill

The mallet for a framing chisel can be a block of hardwood attached to a wooden handle, or it can be turned from a single piece of hardwood. A heavier mallet is more effective than a light one, but it should be light enough to swing repeatedly without causing fatigue. A framing chisel should never be struck with an ordinary hammer, because the wooden handle is more likely to break.

Like all tools, framing chisels come in various grades. A high-quality framing chisel is recognizable by a thin cross-section, signifying a higher grade of steel in its construction. A heavier cross-section usually indicates a lamination of low-carbon steel around a core of higher-grade material. A chisel with the imprint "cast steel" probably was made by a craftsman before 1860, during a time when chisel-making was an art. Although the quality of these older chisels can vary, some are the best ever made.

Keeping the blade of a framing chisel sharp is critical to maintaining its usefulness. This can be done by periodically grinding it on a moist waterstone or a lubricated sheet of fine-grit wet/dry sandpaper laid on a flat surface. If the chisel is used where nails are present, care should be taken to avoid them. A framing chisel can be a precision tool if it is used correctly and only for its intended purpose.

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      Man with a drill