The Sculpture Channel

The Flat Chisel

The Flat Chisel

The flat chisel is a very important tool when it comes to finishing a sculpture. While for letter carving, it is arguably the only chisel you’ll ever need – to be precise, you’ll need a collection of many flat chisels in different sizes.

Purpose

In previous posts, we looked at the point chisel and the toothed chisel which are used respectively for roughing out the stone and for getting closer to the final shapes of the sculpture.

The flat chisel is used to remove the marks left by the tooth chisels. Therefore it is generally regarded as a finishing tool.

Description

Like any other chisel this is a metal handheld tool, and it is both available in hardened steel or fitted with a carbide cutting edge. Hardened steel flat chisels are more suited for soft limestones while carbide tipped flat chisels are recommended for harder stone such as marble. The length of the chisels can vary between 20 to 25 centimeters and their diameter between one and two cm.

The width of the cutting edge varies greatly in size. It can go from a couple of millimeters up to 10 or even 12 centimeters – the wider ones are generally used for stone masonry purposes.

The shape of the cutting edge of the flat chisel must be perfectly square and perfectly sharp – although not as razor-sharp as woodcarving chisels. This is of extreme importance when it comes to carving letters, but it is also very helpful when carving the finer details sculpture.

Things to watch out for

An issue that you might encounter when working with such sharp corners is that if not used with extreme delicacy, they might leave scratches on the surface of the stone. To avoid this problem, you can slightly round off the corners of the cutting edge so that it won’t bite too much into the stone.
But do this very subtly. There is a difference between a flat chisel with rounded edges and a roundel, which is a chisel with a completely round cutting edge.

Read about the Roundel here.

How to Use

When carving with flat chisel we would advise you to use either small steel, copper or brass round mallets or synthetic round ones. The height at which you hold the mallet greatly affects the delicacy of the strike: a strong grip at the lower end of the handle will result in a stronger blow, while holding the hammer at its head will produce a gentler blow.

Generally speaking, if you want to smooth down the surface of a stone, you should hold the chisel at a low angle and strike it carefully whereas if you want to remove more material you should hold the chisel at a wider angle.

Images


Examples of traces.

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