How to Use Butt Wood Chisels

What You'll Need
Carpenter's square
Marking gauge
Butt chisel
Vise grip

Wood chisels come in many forms, each for a specific application. Paring chisels and framing chisels have long blades. Butt chisels are much shorter than these two types of chisels. The compact size makes it ideal for use in confined spaces. Learning how to use a butt chisel properly will improve the quality of your projects. The chisel is used to shave and trim edges and clean fitted joints. It is also occasionally used to pry trim from doors, baseboard from walls, and crown molding from ceilings.

Step 1 - Select Butt Chisel Size

Determine the correct size tool to use for the task at hand. Butt chisel blades are usually 2.5 to 3 inches long, but always less than 4 inches long. The handles are elliptical, with highly rounded ends that fit snugly in the palm of the user's cupped hand. The blade either screws into a socket in the handle, or is firmly seated in a narrow channel. The width of the blade is an important variable. Common widths are 1/4 inch, 1/2 inch, 3/4 inch, and 1 inch. Some chisels have a metal striking cap on the handle so that you can hit it with a hammer to apply extra force. If your chisel does not have this, use a wooden or rubber mallet. Only use very sharp chisel blades. Sharpen them regularly. Dull blades can slip, splitting the wood or causing an injury.

Step 2 - Determine Where to Use Butt Chisel

Butt chisels are not as good for prying up trim carpentry as other chisels with longer blades. For the same reason, they are not as useful as paring chisels for cleaning joints and trimming mortises. However, the compact shape of a butt chisel allows the user to gain more leverage in a confined space. The beveled edges are easy to fit into tight or concealed corners. Butt chisels will make it much easier to clean joints when you are working on cabinets, wardrobes, bureaus, desks, and other complex furniture. They are good for trimming small edges on intricate wood work.

Step 3 - Measure and Cut

Mark any necessary measurements and begin cutting with the chisel. The butt chisel is best used with the blade down for shaving and cutting concave curves. Hold it at a 45 degree angle. Point the blade away from your body to prevent accidental injury. If you have space to do so, tap the head of the chisel with a mallet. For tight spaces, cup the handle in the palm of your hand while you rotate your wrist to push the blade.

Step 4 - Finish Cut

To prevent splits in the wood, cut across the grain first and with the grain second. Finish by hand with gradually lighter cuts. Shave down ridges and irregularities until all the surfaces are smooth and uniform.