I over-designed this workbench and ended up with this terrible piece of wood. Don't ask - let's just play: 'how would you cut this?'

Best idea I have is to chisel it out with a moderately sharp Dewalt 1" chisel. However, given that I don't have a great way to support this piece, that will likely end up mostly bad.

What would you do?

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  • What is plan B ? :)
    – Volfram K
    Mar 19, 2022 at 8:13
  • OP have you abandoned your Question?
    – Graphus
    Mar 29, 2022 at 16:32

3 Answers 3


Best idea I have is to chisel it out with a moderately sharp dewalt 1" chisel.

This is primarily a chiselling job, all such shaping is. And a 1" chisel would be a sane choice for the work, guessing the dimensions of the piece1. Moderately sharp though, not so much — you want to give chisels your absolute best sharpening efforts. Lots of prior Q&As here if you need help upping your sharpening game.

You can saw off the majority of the waste if you can or want (simply because it reduces the amount of work needing to be done by chiselling) but this could be done entirely by chisel if preferred. I would however recommend mostly establishing the bottom or shoulder with a saw cut. If you happen to have an oscillating multi-tool this could be one of those rare opportunities to use it for its unique plunge-cutting action!

After that you can split/chop the bulk off and then carefully pare the last of the wood away. Pay attention to the run of grain as you work so the chisel doesn't 'dive'.

In case it does need to be emphasised job #1 here is careful marking out! You need accurate layout lines to pare towards, very very much so if this needs to be a close fit to mating pieces.

However, given that I don't have a great way to support this piece, that will likely end up mostly bad.

You've got to arrange some kind of solid workholding to do this sort of thing. If you're doing the initial sawing by hand just the vertical saw cuts would be challenging to complete if the workpiece can't be held firmly, but it will be an absolute nightmare trying to chisel into a piece that's moving around on you, and you could easily cut yourself as a result.

I presume you have some clamps already, so just try to figure out a clamping arrangement that fixes this to something reasonably sturdy2. This could even be something like a chair, and you can kneel on the seat to help keep the chair from moving as you work, or possibly push it into the corner of the room so it can't move away from you at all.

If you don't have any clamps yet don't despair, if necessary you can use a twist of rope or strong cord, along with a stick for winding and/or some wedges to take up slack, to provide good clamping.

Does it really need to be this shape?
Doing this would certainly be a good exercise in chisel work, which you might relish as a learning experience. But obviously it's needlessly complex for what is in essence a utility piece — a workbench.

Just be sure you can't redesign whatever joint this forms a part of, to be a more sensible, straightforward joint that won't potentially form a stumbling block in the middle of construction.

1 It's always best to use the largest chisel available for any given job, which is why I bought an inexpensive 2" chisel when I had the chance..... this remains the only chisel I bought new :-)

2 When I first started out and didn't have a vice, I would regularly clamp a substantial piece of wood to the top of my Workmate and then clamp to that, to provide as close to a vice-like grip as I could get on vertical pieces.

  • 1
    Plus 100 to a sharp, not moderately sharp, chisel. Robert Wearing's Essential Woodworker has a great illustration of cutting along the line on two sides, I just couldn't find any FOS images of it. But if you've got a good joinery saw you should be able to do 70+% of the work with 5 saw cuts. If you've got hand screws they work well in combination with some other clamps to hold your work. Hand screw on the work piece, clamp the screw to the bench/table/whatever. Mar 19, 2022 at 19:27
  • @EricAnderson, I just recommended that to the OP on the left/right shooting board Q. Archive.org have a copy of it. Unfortunately not a great scan but hey, it's free so can't be too fussy! If you don't know of them or haven't read them yet they also have copies of Wearing's excellent books on jigs and other workshop appliances.
    – Graphus
    Mar 20, 2022 at 8:40
  • 1
    Best advice I aver received was to not buy a set of chisels, but rather buy the best chisel you need for the job right now and add to your set over time. Sometimes I think the mark of a true carpenter is a mismatched collection of chisels collected over time. (I am not a true carpenter! I received the advice after I bought a set of paring chisels, and then was too cheap to buy a mortising set so also bought another set I can use with a mallet and not feel bad. I should have bought the single mortising chisel I needed then!)
    – user5572
    Mar 21, 2022 at 15:21
  • @jdv, not getting a supplied set is becoming more frequent advice (I saw it most recently in a Mortise & Tenon YT video) and depending on where the person is I completely agree, with exceptions. The chisels that Paul Sellers was plugging for so many years (from Aldi) were so cheap it made no sense not to get the set. One or more of the sets from HF were at some point an acceptable equivalent. Then after that if you wanted/needed better or different chisels the buy-as-you-need kicked in, assuming buying new — if you live in the right places the 2ndhand market could really change that picture.
    – Graphus
    Mar 21, 2022 at 17:41
  • You aren't wrong. Similar chisels from Narex are often sold in sets. My only hesitation is that AFAIK they only do metric sizes and being Canadian all my mortising is derived from the length of a king's nose perpendicular to a demi-john. I should just do the Canadian thing and switch to metric for some operations, standard otherwise. (and there is a 2nd hand place in a local town I discovered by accident -- a pilgrimage is planned once it is legal to live and breath again.)
    – user5572
    Mar 21, 2022 at 19:58

It's a job for a chisel, but not a chisel alone. Lay out the 6 cut lines on the surface of the uncut timber, and then use a sharp handsaw to cut close to the lines that join at the three outside corners of the waste area. Then you can carefully chisel out the remaining gross waste by cutting the cross grain cuts a bit at a time, followed by long grain cuts to remove significant pieces. Finally, pare to the lines to get your final conformation.

Needless to say, sharp matters a great deal here. Time spent getting that 1" chisel razor sharp will be repaid when you start cutting.

You want a solid surface to work on, and a clamp to hold your stock. A heavy table or tool surface is fine. If you don't have a clamp, I'd recommend getting an Irwin Quick-Grip style bar clamp, or its equivalent. You'll never regret having it in your shop.

It'd be very worth your time to take a look at a few of Dylan Iwakuni's videos on YouTube to get a sense for how complex joinery cuts can be made with just a saw and sharp chisels before going hammer and blade at this. My description is probably hard to follow; his demonstrations are not, and are woodworking poetry in the bargain. You won't get his precision results with the tools you've got, but with a little patience, you can get very close.

  • My first thought was Dorian Bracht's channel. Oh and welcome to SE!
    – Graphus
    Mar 18, 2022 at 14:31
  • 2
    Although not a woodworker, M. C. Escher made many drawings for some advanced projects.
    – John Canon
    Mar 20, 2022 at 0:31
  • Good answer. I immediately thought of the sorts of profiles shipwrights often need to cut and hand-fit, and what you describe is more or less what they do.
    – user5572
    Mar 21, 2022 at 15:23
  • @JohnCanon - Escher was a consummate wood turner and a hell of a bowler in his youth.
    – gnicko
    Mar 25, 2022 at 2:14

What would you do?

If there's just one or two of these, I'd probably just go at it with a chisel. If you don't have a proper vise, clamp the part to your workbench and go at it horizontally -- that might be more comfortable anyway.

If there are more than a few of these, I'd either redesign the part, or find a more consistent way to produce the existing design. It looks to me like the easiest way would be to cut the notch straight across on a band saw, table saw with dado head, router, etc. Then glue in a small triangular prism shape to form the angle. Alternatively, cut a dado across the diagonal, glue in a triangular piece on the left side to form the face that's perpendicular to the left face, and finally cut the dado on the back side.

Another option is to use a router. You can do all three faces with a router, and get nice crisp corners where two faces meet, except in that one inside corner where all three meet. You can clean that part up with a chisel, or you could leave it be and instead knock the corner off whatever part mates with this one. Since it's an inside corner, it's probably hidden in the final product and nobody will ever see that the inside part isn't perfect.

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