Using a skew chisel woodturning tool
The skew chisel is regarded as the most dangerous out of all the different types of woodturning tools. Those who are beginner woodturners would also find this tool to be very intimidating. The skew chisel needs to be handled with extra caution because the even smallest slip up could cause scraping of the wood, a dig in or even worse, the woodturners nerves.
Every woodturner has probably had an experience with a dig-in at some point or another and the worst dig in could even make the tool to be pulled out of the hands of the woodturner. These however can be avoided if caution is taken and the appropriate techniques are used.
Defining what a Skew Chisel
A skew chisel is basically a long, bevel-edged chisel tool that has an angled tip. The toe is the long point of the chisel’s cutting edge while the heel is the shortest part of the cutting edge. Many beginner woodcutters usually have most problems with the toe of the skew chisel because if it isn’t presented properly, it can dig in to the turning in the most upsetting way. Before you start, learn.
It is important that you spend some time getting to know how to safely present the tool to the wood before you start working with a skew chisel. In most cases, the worst dig-ins happen when the toe gets into contact with the wood with a lot of force so you would want to put the skew chisel in such a way that the toe is doesn’t touch the wood.
Furthermore, presenting the tool with the wood in a stationary position gives you the opportunity to make a few dry runs before you begin using the skew chisel for real. I would strongly recommend that you first become comfortable with the positions described below with the lathe turned off if you are to learn the techniques properly.
Assuming that you have rounded out a 2-inch square piece of stock to a considerably smooth round spindle, you can use the skew chisel for fine tuning the spindle with a really smooth finish. This is because the skew chisel is incomparable when it comes to its smoothing abilities on a spindle.
You will use the centre part of the skew chisel down to the heel as you do this If you are a turner who is right handed, put your right hand on the handle and put your left hand against the rest positioning your rear hand further to the right than your fore hand. What this does is shorten the length of the edge that will be presented to the round spindle.
Next, slant the blade of the skew chisel approximately 25-degrees counter-clockwise. The toe should be pointing at around 2-o’clock and make sure to keep the heel side edge of the skew chisel on the tool rest all the while as you do this. Only the centre of the chisel should come into contact with the spindle when it is at this angle. It is of utmost importance that the toe should remain off the spindle in order to avoid dig-ins and for the heel side of the skew chisel to stay in contact with the tool rest at all times. You should stay away from ‘free handing’ on the lathe and this also applies to the skew chisel.
In order for you to smoothing the spindle, the movement ought to start from the right side of the tool rest and work towards the left all the while preserving the two angles as you cut (one with the rear hand remaining to the right of the fore hand, and the other being the tool tilted counter-clockwise with only the heel-side of the chisel in contact with the tool rest). You should also keep an eye on the toe while you are working in order to make sure that it doesn’t come into contact with the spindle.
Your smoothing action should produce long ribbons of wood if you keep practising and use a sharp skew chisel. These ribbons are a good sign that you have done the smoothing action well.
The next step towards mastering how to use the skew chisel after you have learned smoothing is learning how to make long tapers. This action is more or less the same as the smoothing action but you will have to use the heel of the edge more by changing the angle of the chisels presentation to the spindle. You can make most tapers by first using the parting tool to cut a furrow in the spindle and then working the taper down gradually to the groove. The skew chisel will feather the stock in thin strips until you get the desired shape.
Beads and V-Cuts
You will need to use a different technique when making V-Cuts and Beads. These two are elements of the profile and they are usually cut using only the toe of the skew chisel. You will position the chisel in such a way that only the toe side of the chisel is in contact with the tool rest and the tool handle should be almost parallel to the floor and the tip of the toe is eased into the stock. What you need to do is ease the tip into the wood and the turn the tool to one side and another in order to create the bead or V-cut. The handle should stay perpendicular to the floor and only the tip of the tool should be in contact with the spindle. Aggressiveness while doing this will only make you get dig-ins.
You can also use the same technique to cut rolling beads with the heel of the skew chisel. As you do this, keep in mind that your rear hand will control the action and the aggressiveness of the tool. Do your work slowly and always keep the tool in contact with the tool rest. Woodturning is a skill that you learn and you need to keep practising if you want to get good at it.