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Hello,

For the past week I've been trying to teach myself traditional wood working methods, and I've been having a difficult time trying to use bench chisels. I've watched plenty of videos on how to hold them and sharpen them, but I was wondering if there are certain kinds of wood that are easier to work on than others when it comes to using chisels. I'm currently working on a project that requires hand cut dove tail joints using oak from home depot.

I understand It takes a long time to become proficient at using hand tools, but I was hoping I could get some tips that can put me in the right direction.

Thank you
 

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where's my table saw?
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Oak is very tough to chisel

You need to remove as much material as possible using the fret or scroll saw to minimize the chiseling involved:
 

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The village amadán.
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First off, welcome to the forum!

When working with chisels, especially with dove tails, slow and steady and shallow cuts will yield the best results. Start with the layout of the cuts using a marking knife or marking tool for the base line and then cut your lines with a dove tail or other thin bladed saw (band saws work well, too). When it comes time to use the chisel, hold it firmly in the scribe line and be gentle with the mallet for the first couple of strikes on the waste line. Don't try to cut too deep at all and then use the chisel to cut out the waste material with the beveled edge riding the waste. Again, easy does it and you'll be rewarded with some nice fitting dove tails.

That said, grab some softer wood to practice on before moving on to your project wood and practice on it as well before cutting the dove tails on your project. As for wood, I find the harder the wood, the better the dove tails come out, but I don't do too many by hand anyways.

Good luck and let us know how you do with it.
 

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Yes some woods are more difficult than others. Generally the harder the wood the harder it's going to be to use a chisel. Using oak even the angle of the chisel is ground different. I've folded the edge of a chisel before using it on oak when the chisel was sharpened for soft wood. It was just ground to a too thin edge for wood that hard.

It would help you to get a round woodcarvers mallet. With a round mallet you can concentrate on what you are doing instead of aiming a hammer. Try to find one made out of ironwood so it's a little heavy.
 

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Your choice of wood makes a big difference when working with hand tools.
The softer the wood, the easier to cut and shape. Oaks of all types are hard.
Spruce, Pine, Hemlock and of course Balsa are among the easier woods to shape with hand tools.
 

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Village Idiot
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There are woods easier to practice chiseling in than others. What you really want is something soft enough to cut easy, but hard enough to cut instead of compress. Oak wouldnt be my first choice, its pretty hard but more importantly it splinters easy, least the stuff ive used does. On the other hand of the scale, a soft wood like pine or fir is a nightmare without super razor sharp chisels because it likes to compress and deflect, doesnt tent to cut as clean as a hardwood does. Personally, i like cherry and walnut. Both respond pretty well to hand tools, at least in my experience. Soft maple isnt a bad choice either, just dont confuse soft maple with roock or sugar maple. Those last two are a pain
 

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I don't know what Home Depot does to their oak, but at the stores around me it's horribly brittle. I finally worked with a piece from a WoodCraft store, and it was completely different.

We can also give better advice if we know exactly what problem you're having. Is the wood splintering? Do they not cut? Are they wandering off the line?

That said, here's some advice:

1) Make sure your chisels are sharp. This is hard. I've been freehand sharpening for five years, and every time I sharpen my tools they get better than the last time. Practice will help, as will finding a sharpening method that works for you.

2) Do most of the work with a saw. I started playing with a coping saw blade, and twisted it 90 degrees near one end. Now I can run the "front" end down to the bottom of the cut, and start cutting sideways by pushing it through. (I claim no credit... I saw the technique in a video on YouTube somewhere, being used with a larger frame saw.)

3) Undercut the end grain. When I'm cutting dovetails, I try to make a very slight downward slope from the faces of the board to the center of the dovetail. That part is all end-grain, so it doesn't add much strength in a glue-up, and having it slightly cut in means no gaps at the faces of the board.


Again, though, give us more details and we can help more!
 
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