A good set of woodworking chisels will allow you almost all the freedom you need in fashioning a piece of wood into whatever you want. Although the standard bevel-edged chisel can be found in most tool kits, owning a complete set of chisels and knowing the purpose of each type will allow you to do much more.
This is the most common and versatile type of chisel. If you cannot afford a full set of chisels then at least get yourself a set of four different sized bevel-edged ones. They are mainly used to finish joints with. The straight edge and bevelled sides allow you to reach into corners with ease.
A corner chisel does exactly what its name alludes to. It is the most effective tool to use in corners because it features two cutting edges in an L-shape configuration.
Paring chisels are very long and thin and thus gives a great amount of control. They are designed to be used for precise work in very tight spaces.
Although a regular bevel-edged chisel can be used to make dovetail joints, a dovetail chisel features a triangular cross-section which makes it more suitable and easier to work with.
This features a rectangular cross-section that is thicker than usual for greater strength. It is used to removed larger pieces of waste and is often struck with a mallet.
The mortise chisel removes large amounts of waste wood and is designed to be hit with a mallet. It features straight sides but is bevelled on one edge. It is of course especially useful for making mortise joints. Be sure to accurately measure up and mark the area to be cut before you start to ensure precise cuts.
This features a cutting edge with a 60 degree angle. It is good for planing and finishing surfaces, especially cylindrical pieces. Usually rectangular in section, you can also get oval shaped versions.
How To Choose A Good Set Of Chisels
A good set of chisels should last a lifetime. Although they do need periodic sharpening they should otherwise not fail or break, even after repeated use with a mallet. It is well worth the extra money to find a set of quality chisels. Probably the most important factor is the quality of the steel from which they are made. The higher the quality, the less likely they are to break and the longer you can wait until the next sharpening.
Imported Japanese chisels, although slightly different shaped, are well known for their quality and are widely available. They cost a bit more but they are much better made than western chisels. For example, they are usually made of two pieces of laminated steel which means that they will keep their edge for longer. However, they are also liable to chipping more easily.