Full Chisel Blog

April 26, 2012

Fish Tail Mortise Chisel

Sure you have heard of dovetail chisels, how about a fish tail chisel?  I became aware of this tool when I was an apprentice.  I had asked my master about the large European hinges I had seen on old armoires and other large cabinet work.  He said that they were called ‘fiche eisen’ or fish iron not for the hinge but for the tool to make the hinge.

On my recent visit to New Orleans and the Historic New Orleans Collection I saw many examples of this hinge and the reason for the name ‘fiche’ was that it was French for pin.  I then related my story about the name of the hinge and it was well received.

This type of chisel makes the long narrow mortises necessary to install this type of hinge.  Once it is secured in the mortise it is held nails or screws.  When using this type of chisel, frequently the inside backs of the case would have blow out where the chisel emerged.  This damage doesn’t show [not on the money side] and is evident when you examine a number of old pieces.

The chisel would be pounded straight into the work and the waste is forced to the middle.  Small pilot holes were sometimes drilled to give relief for the chips.  A slight wiggle of the chisel and another blow with the hammer and it continues to cut the narrow mortise hole for the hinge leaf.  For longer mortises, the chisel would be positioned to cut any length mortise for larger leafs on the hinge.



  1. Very interesting and plausible information. Do you have a name for the peculiar angled mortice joint seen in the earliest Louisiana furniture?
    Best, Jack Holden

    Comment by Jack Holden — April 26, 2012 @ 12:31 pm

  2. Jack, are you possibly referring to a haunched Mortise? Where would the mortise you are asking about be seen and on what types of pieces?

    The haunched mortise I refer to is commonly found where the rails of an armoire meet the stiles / legs.

    Jean Becnel
    L’ébénisterie Créole

    Comment by Jean Becnel — March 13, 2013 @ 1:52 pm

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