Improving Skew Chisel performance

People are always telling me that they just can’t use a skew chisel.  In fact, so many people seem to have trouble “running” a skew that I’m surprised they’re still being manufactured.  The truth of the matter is that it takes practice.  But once you understand the skew chisel, you’ll realize that there is no other tool like it in the woodturners tool kit. It is, in my experience, the most versatile woodturning tool, bar none.   Here are a few simple tips that will improve your performance with a skew in very short order:

Use a nice, light grip (kinda like your best golf grip, the one that allows the bird to breathe but not escape).  Learn the overhand grip.  All of your control comes from the hand at the end of the handle.  The hand closest to the work just keeps the tool on the toolrest.

Crank up the RPM.  Most amateur turners run their lathes much slower than they should.  A good calculation for determining safe turning speed is Diameter X RPM should equal a number between 6000 and 9000.  For example, a 2″ diameter can be safely run between 3000 and 4500 rpm.  Many people think that they’re less likely to have a “catch” or a “skate” at lower speeds.  The converse is true.  When running at lower speed, torque takes over with a vengeance.  Higher speeds will allow you to take off large amounts of material while taking thinner, more controlled cuts.

Keep the tip up.  In other words, don’t allow the long point to “catch” in the material.  However when the clearance angle becomes too high, the skew starts to believe that it is a threading tool and will leave a nasty thread cut right across the face of the work.  (This generally happens when the work is nearing completion.)

Lift and roll the skew.  Engage the leading edge of the tool, then simply “lift and roll” the skew.  Let the tool and the speed of the lathe do the work.  All you have to do is keep the tool engaged in the cut.  (Sometimes I’ll put a third axis movement into play which allows me to keep the bevel burnishing the surface of the work.  So I’m actually lifting the handle, radiating the tool and moving it laterally.  But don’t try this until you’re comfortable with the simple “lift and roll”) 

Watch the skew’s leading edge and the shadow line of the work.  Keep the leading edge of the tool cutting.  Some folks will tell you that you should be planing your way to a spherical shape.  Well, maybe…  in Hades!  Just use the tip of the cutting edge (short or long, whichever you prefer).  Remember…light touch!

Keep the skew razor sharp!!!  Every turning tools needs to be sharp, most especially the skew.

Go to Youtube or “Google” Dennis White, Woodturner.  Mr. White is a legendary, working English woodturner and there is no one (IMHO) who runs a skew like he does.  Watch him.  Watch him closely. 

Proficiency with the skew chisel is the mark of an expert turner and it  is simply one of the most satisfying experiences a woodturner can have.

Explore posts in the same categories: gateway skills, woodturning

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