The Millwright’s Apprentice

Tools of the Trade: Chisels
25
Jul

Tools of the Trade: Chisels

We’ve been overlooking some of the most important tools in our chest: chisels. Like today, chisels were an indispensable tool for 18th century millwrights and woodworkers. Let’s take a look at these tools and how they were used in our period.

What are chisels?

Like most woodworking tools, they’re a piece of metal on the end of a stick. But let’s take a look at period definitions and descriptions:

According to the 1756 A Dictionary of the English Language by Samuel Johnson, a chisel is “an instrument with which wood or stone is pared away.” [1]

Again this doesn’t give us much insight into their appearance or the different styles around at the time, but it is at least a basic introduction.

Moxon provides us with some better descriptions, along with images and the different styles of chisel.

chisels from MoxonThese are Moxon’s joiner’s chisels.[2]

Former (C.1)
A coarser tool used before the paring chisel, its helve (handle) is struck with a mallet to drive it into the work and remove large amounts of stock.[3]

Paring (C.2)
A very finely ground, extremely sharp chisel used to clean up any irregularities left by the former. It’s pushed into the work, rather than having its helve struck by a mallet. [4]

Mortise (C.5)
A narrower chisel with a thicker blade. It’s used to chop out the waist inside of a mortise. [5]

Gouge (C.6)
A chisel with a round blade, which cuts rounded hollows into the wood. They come in a variety of sizes and shapes depending on the work. [6]Socket chiselAnd here is Moxon’s illustration of a socket chisel, the helve is separated (shown on the left). [7] Socket chisels are used to do more common, or heavier, work. The top of the chisel is an open socket, into which the helve rests; this lets the user strike it with a mallet with more force. [8]

How do we use them today?

Chopping mortises

Chopping mortises (this is a reproduction socket chisel made by Steve Mankowksi)
Chopping saddle joints
Chopping saddle joints
Pairing saddle jointsPairing saddle joints (here you can see a vintage paring chisel; this one is likely a 19th century example, but the style and use didn’t significantly change).

Chisels are some of the most important tools available to us as we rebuild the water wheel and flume. Just as in the 18th century, there are still a variety of styles and sizes, each with its own purpose.

As always, I would normally invite everyone to come visit us in the Millwright Shop, but it’s currently closed due to COVID-19. We will be continuing to post here on the blog, and we’ll be doing more Facebook Live videos, so be sure to follow us on Facebook. Stay safe and check back here next week!

If you’d like to take the next step and get involved in the shop once this has all calmed, please contact us at:
Email: info@newlingristmill.org
Find us on Instagram @newlingristmill1704
Look for us on Facebook @newlingristmill

Notes:

[1] Johnson, Samuel, A Dictionary of the English Language, Oxford University, 1756. “Chisel,” Google E-book, accessed July 16, 2020
[2] Moxon, Joseph. Mechanick Exercises: Or, The Doctrine of Handy-works. London: D. Midwinter and T. Leigh, 1703. Plate 4. Digitized by University of Michigan, Accessed July 16, 2020
[3] Ibid. Pg. 76
[4] Ibid. Pgs. 76-77
[5] Ibid. Pgs. 76-77
[6] Ibid. Pg. 78
[7] Ibid. Plate 8
[8] Ibid. Pgs. 120-121

Bibliography:

Johnson, Samuel, A Dictionary of the English Language, Oxford University, 1756. Google E-book, accessed, 16 July, 2020 https://www.google.com/books/edition/A_Dictionary_of_the_English_Language/DgcUAAAAQAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=0

Moxon, Joseph. Mechanick Exercises: Or, The Doctrine of Handy-works. London: D. Midwinter and T. Leigh, 1703. Digitized by University of Michigan, Accessed July 16, 2020 https://hdl.handle.net/2027/mdp.39015028306002

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