The Primary Difference Between a Japanese Dovetail and Bench Chisel

I was asked recently what the difference is between a Japanese bench and dovetail chisel.

If you look at the first image you can see the dovetail chisel makes an angled cut to a point, and the bench chisel more of a square cut when they’re both driven in a bit.

Angled corner vs square corner

The second image shows you why. The dovetail chisel blade comes to a point along the edge, where as the bench chisel has a ‘ledge’ or taper that is almost vertical.

Dovetail (left) vs Bench (right)

It doesn’t mean you can’t use a bench chisel for dovetails, you just have to be mindful of that fact or what will happen is image 3.

The third image shows in the right dovetail what happens when you’re using a bench chisel and drive a bit too deep. You’ll nick the corner of the tail and leave a gap. The left dovetail is made with the dovetail chisel. No such issues.

Squared tail corner on the right.

Having said that, the ‘square’ result on the edge of the bench chisel is desirable because you want to use it for mortises, dados and such and that is a good reference surface to give you a nice finish.

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