"Turning Wood into Art"

"Nothing is better for a man than that he should eat and drink,
and that his soul should enjoy good in his labor...."
-Ecclesiastes 2, 24

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Misunderstood Skew


The skew chisel is probably the single most versatile spindle turning tool at the woodturner's disposal. In fact, nowadays, I find myself relying on skew chisels for the vast majority of my spindle turning work from roughing cuts - reducing a square block to a cylinder - through subtle concave and convex curves all the way through the finest detail in the most delicate finial.  As an added bonus, staying with one or two implements throughout the project saves time that would be otherwise spent reaching for - and having to sharpen - multiple tools.

No, the skew is not for bowl turning or hollowing-out a vase.  There are other tools for those tasks.  But used for its intended purpose, the skew rewards the turner with flexibility and control difficult to achieve with any other spindle turning tool.

It's interesting that when the subject of skew chisels comes up among a group of woodturners, the reaction is either enthusiastic agreement or strained silence.  The silence typically comes from fear, usually instilled by woodturning "teachers" who managed to convince their students early on that successful skew usage is a mysterious art somewhere to the left of black magic.  Used improperly, the skew can produce spectacular "catches" resulting in (1) scaring the dickens out of the turner and (2) an almost perfect spiral cut along the workpiece - usually where the turner just finished working(!).  But used correctly....   

What makes the skew so intriquing is that it is capable of so many different cuts.  Although each cut requires slightly different skills, if we take each cut individually, mastery is not difficult. I have had beginning pen turners performing near perfect roughing and scraping cuts in a matter of minutes.  I just don't tell them that the skew is supposed to be difficult. I simply show them how to position the tool and they take it from there.

For those interested, Alan Lacer's videos are a good place to start - that is: until I get my own out there ;-) .

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