How to get a 1/2" chisel to make a 3/4" one swipe!!!

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Blog entry by A Slice of Wood Workshop posted 03-26-2012 09:44 PM 1949 reads 0 times favorited 9 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Well last night I was doing to mortises by hand. This was the first attempt I was making at these. At first they were a little bit tough. I couldn’t get a good amount removed and it seemed like it was taking forever, just like anything for the first time. I was determined to learn and not just give up. It would be nice to have an additional skill added to the woodworking bank. It was right around 10:30 or 11pm and I was getting a little tired (I’ll deal with that point later). I was making my 5th mortise and they were finally starting to move a little quicker and looking a little nicer, lots of improvement still needed though. I like how they were coming along. I had just got finished with one mortise and decided to test it with the matching tenon. It was a no go, the tenon was just a little too wide for it. Instead of messing with the mortise anymore I decided that I would shave a little bit off the tenon and get it fit. That was my second mistake. I should have just chipped a little bit more out of the mortise. Now I said that was my second mistake, so where is the first? It was being tired. I thought around 10 that I should have stopped, but I felt that I was on a roll and decided to push it. As I started to shave the tenon a little bit I felt some resistance, so what did I do? Pushed a little harder (sleepiness doesn’t help with judgement). All of a sudden I felt the chisel push through the little bit of resistance and then an extreme pain in my hand. Rule of thumb is that when using chisels you always keep both hands occupied, either both on the chisel or one on the chisel and one on the mallet. I was doing the first one, with carelessness. I had both hands on the chisel, but hand my point finger out in front for some “added stability”. After the chisel slipped through I looked and saw a about a 3/4” gash in my pointer finger/palm joining area, blood was pouring out of my hand. I grabbed a rag and wrapped it up quick. Headed to the bathroom and washed it the best I could. I got it bandaged up and after getting the blood to stop, it isn’t as bad as once thought (no stitches needed). I learned, and hope you learn from my mistake, that stop once you get tired. That’s the best time to make costly mistakes that can take fingers and maybe even arms. Also be very mindful of where your hands are. I’m brand new to hand mortises and have already learned a very valuable lesson. Take it easy and go get in the shop!!

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9 comments so far

View andyboy's profile


565 posts in 3355 days

#1 posted 03-26-2012 10:15 PM

Hey Tim, I’m with you on mastering the mortice chopping, but I had to resortt to this machine in the end. I must say I love it. I love mortice over dowels too. I seemed to have done a full circle in this area.


-- Andy Halewoodworker. You can't finish if you don't finish. So finish it, because finish is everything.

View StumpyNubs's profile


7636 posts in 2882 days

#2 posted 03-26-2012 10:21 PM

The worst accidents I have ever had were with chisels. They are a lot more dangerous that you’d think. One slip and you may never have full movement of your hand again. It is imperative that you never have any part of your body in front of that blade!

A while back I put a 1/4” chisel through my hand. Hurt like a son-of-a-gun. But what hurt even more was doing my own stitches with a sewing needle. It’s hard to push a dull needle through flesh, let me tell you. But I refused to let my stupidity cost me an emergency room visit!

-- Subscribe to "Stumpy Nubs Woodworking Journal"- One of the crafts' most unique publications:

View DS's profile


2967 posts in 2502 days

#3 posted 03-26-2012 10:27 PM

They don’t call him Stumpynubs for nuthin’... heheh
(Be careful, or Stumpy might start calling you “Mini-me”....)

When my new Swiss Made carving chisels and I first got aquainted, there was plenty of blood spilt.
Fortunately, there were no serious injuries. Turns out when you have really, really, sharp steel, they can cut you just by brushing up to them.

When I show off my carving tools, inevitably, guys try to swipe it along thier finger to test how sharp they are. I am constantly stopping them from doing that. Bloodwood and bloody wood aren’t quite the same thing.

Glad you’re okay.

-- "Hard work is not defined by the difficulty of the task as much as a person's desire to perform it.", DS251

View A Slice of Wood Workshop's profile

A Slice of Wood Workshop

1073 posts in 3255 days

#4 posted 03-26-2012 10:53 PM

I added an image for all to enjoy!

-- Follow me on YouTube-

View jeepturner's profile


939 posts in 2874 days

#5 posted 03-26-2012 11:03 PM

Your hand does not look happy Tim. I am right handed also, so that when I slip it is lefty who always gets the sharp end of the deal. My left thumb nail grows out in two pieces from a chisel wound. After I stuck the chisel into my thumb it didn’t hurt all that much. When I had to wiggle it to get it out of the bone is when it hurt the most. It’s been twenty years and now the nail grows out and covers the entire nail bed, but it is still split in two.
Hope you don’t have any lasting damage.

-- Mel,

View JakeS's profile


5 posts in 2379 days

#6 posted 03-26-2012 11:54 PM

I idiotically did this recently too. I cut into the joint crease before the fingertip on my pointer finger. Instantly the top half of my finger went numb, so it didn’t hurt too bad. I guess I did a real number on my nerve, but the vessel wasn’t nicked to badly. Three months later it is still a bit numb, but the feeling is coming back slowly. And now Instead of half of my finger tip being numb only a third is, so maybe in a couple years it will be back to 100%. I am used to it now, but still kind of weird. Definitely taught me a lesson about the dangers of hand tools.

View A Slice of Wood Workshop's profile

A Slice of Wood Workshop

1073 posts in 3255 days

#7 posted 03-27-2012 12:12 AM

I felt like an idiot when I had this first happen. I’m glad I’m not the only one in this boat. I don’t think there will be any real damage. Looks like it only went about 1/4” deep if that. I was worried about my finger going numb, but so far everything is fine, just a little tenderness. I hate that others have had this happen too, it hurts.

-- Follow me on YouTube-

View Cleveland's profile


15 posts in 2437 days

#8 posted 03-27-2012 02:36 AM

pushed a 3/4” chisel into the “crotch” between the thumb and forefinger… Lots-o-Blood followed… still can’t open pickle jars or pick my nose with that pointer finger… but like an old forman told me once…. “It’s not a jobsite with out a blood trail”

-- Clevo

View stefang's profile


15881 posts in 3416 days

#9 posted 03-27-2012 09:14 PM

Hi Tim, I posted a blog awhile back about how to hand chisel a mortise quickly, and accurately as shown in the link below. I hope you will find some useful info there.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

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