Acquiring the right woodturning tools for your wood lathe is extremely important. Although there is a large variety of such tools, it is important to learn and understand the fundamental tools and their uses. By doing so, you will establish a good foundation for yourself, enjoy the hobby and be able to progress onto more advanced techniques. By leveraging these different tools, you will be able to create and complete many different projects such as bowls, vases, boxes, platters, spindles, and whistles. If you are passionate about woodworking, we encourage you to take your time and learn the proper techniques for each one of the tools as you work on your projects.
In this article, we will focus on a specific tool which is called the skew chisel. Although the designation of chisel can be used for many other wood lathe tools such as gouges, parting tools, and others, we will focus on the specific tool known specifically as the skew chisel.
The Skew Chisel Tool
A skew chisel is a tool which is particularly intimidating for newcomers to the woodworking hobby. It is often considered as complex and the most dangerous tool which beginners must work with. This stigma was associated with the tool due to the fact that the slightest mistake can cause it to dig-in, gouge the wood and likely result in damaging the wood and startling the woodworker. That being said, with properly maintained tools and consistent practice, anyone can achieve proper technique and become very comfortable and accurate with this important woodworking tool.
What is the Skew Chisel
A skew chisel is characterized by a long, flat, bevel edged blade with either a straight or an angled tip. The long point of the chisel’s cutting edge is called the toe, while the shortest point of the same edge is called the heel. Based on our observations, the toe of the cutting edge is what gets most beginners in trouble. If one improperly presents this portion of the tool to the wood, disaster can occur. In other words, the tool will easily dig into the wood and easily damage the piece you’re working on.
Tool Presentation Technique for a Planning Cut
The presentation of the skew chisel begins by advancing the tool with the toe up into the wood. You should aim to position the tool at an angle from the timber. Just like many other tools, the bevel should always touch the wood first and allow the tool to “ride the bevel”. Riding the bevel is a state which refers to the tool’s bevel laying on top of the wood without the blade cutting away.
The tool rest should be positioned within proximity of the wood. The tool should be firmly resting on top of the rest and be freely maneuverable by the motions of your dominant hand. The tool rest can sometimes be positioned slightly higher if you are working on smaller spindles.
Once you’ve got the steps above down, it’s time to make a cut. To make a cut, lift the handle and your blade should dig into the wood. You will need to continue raising your tool until the desired amount of wood is being removed. However, we recommend that you increase the angle slowly. Do your best to always maintain control of the tool without having to force too much. Applying a lot of pressure will cause you to make uneven cuts and the operation itself will not flow as smoothly.
Controlling the Skew Chisel
Working with a skew chisel is different than with a roughing gouge due to the fact that the blade is flat. Controlling the depth of your cut is achieved through raising or lowering the handle. Rotating your wrist will allow the tool to move in the same direction. However, you should expect more resistance compared to a gouge. We recommend practicing on a few blanks in order to get a hang of handling the chisel. One particular aspect of the skew chisel is the fact that wood density is felt much more by this tool. Therefore, you should always start working at the center of the wood and slowly move outward when making a cut.
Smoothing a Spindle with a Skew Chisel
The skew chisel tool is particularly useful for smoothing a spindle. Essentially, this comes down to achieving a smooth surface on a simple you’ve rough turned with a roughing gouge. This is achieved by placing the blade in parallel to the side of the wood.
Place your dominant hand on the handle of the tool. Your other hand should go against the rest. Position your read hand farther to the right than your forehand. Doing so will ensure that the length of the edge that can be presented to the spindle is shorter.
Tilt the skew chisel tool about 30 degrees counter-clockwise in order to achieve the toe of the tool to point toward 2 o’clock. In this position, only the center of the blade should be coming in contact with the wood. It is important that the toe stays off the spindle in order to avoid dig-ins and rough surface of the wood. Furthermore, never attempt to lift the tool from the tool rest and work without resting it. With a skew chisel, this is particularly important as your tool has a higher chance to dig in than some of the other wood lathe tools.
To complete the smoothening process, start at one side of the spindle and make your way to the opposite end. The blade should be barely touching the wood and scraping the surface only.
Making a “V” cut with a Skew Chisel
Before you start cutting, it is important to mark the wood. For a V cut, you should mark the two extremities of where you want the cut to sit. As the spindle is rotating on your wood lathe, use a pencil to mark these two locations.
Your goal is to get the lowest point of the V cut at the center of the two marks you’ve made. Start by securing the tool rest as close to the wood as possible. Present the tool between the two marks and begin cutting from the center until you reach either side. Repeat the same step, but walk from the center to the opposite direction.
Progressing into the cut, you will quickly pick up the pace and work your way on both sides of the center. The cut is completed once the desired depth is achieved.
Turning Beads with the Skew Chisel Tool
Turning beads is slightly more advanced endeavor than the previous technique for the V cuts. In this case, you will be following similar instructions, but the center is where the bead would sit. In other words, the thickest point of the spindle will be in the center as opposed to the V cut where it was the shallowest point.
Begin by marking your wood with two marks in between which you want to form a bead. Present the tool at a slight angle and begin moving it toward the center. During this process, you will be required to simultaneously move the tool and rotate it. This is how the round shape of a bead is created. As you become better at handling the tool, your shapes will become better and you will be able to create different patterns and sizes of beads.
Another way to picture a bead cut is to imagine the tool always staying perpendicular to the center of the bead. In other words, the blade will be laying flat on the beat as it reaches the center point.
Sharpening a Skew Chisel Tool
The sharpening process of a skew chisel is quite similar to the roughing gouge and other tools which we’ve covered for a wood lathe. However, the small difference lies in the fact that the blade is flat. Therefore, you should give yourself some time to practice proper tool positioning in order to get the blade at the proper distance; a challenge which does not occur with the other tools.
Recommended Skew Chisels
A lot of options are available when it comes to wood lathe tools. We’ve taken the time to compile some of the most highly reviewed tools on the market in order to facilitate that choice. Check these out below.
Conclusion on Skew Chisels
The skew chisel is an important wood turning tool. It allows one to make many different kinds of cuts as well as smoothening the surface of a piece after a roughing gouge.
We highly recommend that any beginner wood turner gets to practice with these as soon as possible and add the skew chisel to their arsenal.
If you have any comments, suggestions or ways in which you use the tool, let us know in the comments section below.