The point chisel is a metal hand-held tool consisting of a shaft, 20-30 cm long and 1-2.5 cm in diameter, with a pyramidal point at one end. The length of the point varies depending on which material it is being used on. For marble and limestone the point tends to be drawn out while for granite it is blunter. The point chisel is hit against the stone with a metal hammer, sometimes a wooden mallet, and is the basic chisel used for most carving. As Peter Rockwell puts it: ‘This chisel is the workhorse of carving. At least 85% of the stone removed in the process of carving a statue is cut away using this tool’ (1993: 39). It is used primarily for roughing-out and basic shaping, though it can also be employed as a finishing tool to achieve a particular effect.
The way in which the chisel is applied to the stone varies according to the effect desired and the material. On granite and other hard stones it tends to be held at 90° to the surface of the stone; a stroke at this angle effectively shatters the surface of the stone but at any shallower angle the chisel would simply bounce off these hard materials. For marble carving the point chisel is held shallower, at around 70° or less, to cut into rather than shatter the surface of the stone. Working with successive strokes, lifting the chisel between each to cut a series of short grooves across the surface, a carver can remove large quantities of material quickly using this method (sometimes called the ‘mason’s stroke’). Working at a shallower angle, around 45°, and not lifting the chisel between each stroke (the ‘sculptor’s stroke’), a series of more controlled parallel lines will be created which can be used to define the form of a shape. The marks of all of these methods of working can be found on roughed-out objects, primarily from the quarries.
A slight variation on the point chisel is the limestone point or punch which tends to have a wider cutting edge, usually 0.5 cm long. This wider edge is better suited to softer stones which can sometimes be shattered by the point chisel.