Believe it or not, all the pieces you want to know to make use of a skew chisel you realized in kindergarten. It just isn’t a tough device when you observe, totally perceive how the device works, and use the classes you realized. Just bear in mind the skew is a finesse device and doesn’t take away wooden almost as shortly as a bowl gouge reducing by means of inexperienced wooden.

The following three primary abilities/ideas, realized in kindergarten, are all you want to know: counting — one, two, three, 4; figuring out the alphabet — A, B, C, D; and taking part in good/utilizing good manners. Here’s how they might help simplify your understanding of the skew.


There are solely two varieties of cuts with the skew—edge-slicing (reminiscent of shear-reducing with a planing lower and peeling) and level-reducing (used for forming V-grooves, truing tenons, or reducing pommels). There are solely three profiles, or shapes, you’ll be able to lower on a spindle with a skew: straight strains (cylinders or tapers), shallow concave (lengthy coves), and convex (beads). There are 4 surfaces that must be honed on a skew throughout sharpening.

Knowing the Alphabet

Most turners have heard about the “ABCs of woodturning”: Anchor, Bevel, Cut. I’d add D for the Dance of the Woodturner. You should transfer your physique when utilizing the skew chisel. This is completely different from the stationary stance many newcomers and bowl turners are tempted to undertake. Bowl turners typically stand in a single place, plant their toes, and make giant swing actions with the device deal with and their arms. Similarly, newcomers have a tendency to maneuver the skew with simply their arms. But the skew must be locked into place along with your physique, and each are moved as a single unit, as in a dance.

Playing Nice

Turners have been taught for years to rub the bevel when reducing, and this idea holds true for the skew however with a caveat. The skew’s bevel truly ought to glide over the wooden floor and never rub it. Gliding the bevel requires a a lot lighter contact than rubbing. Many turners new to the skew apply an excessive amount of strain towards and into the turning clean. In observe, the strain needs to be on the device shank into the toolrest and towards the floor (as proven in the lead picture). With the bevel correctly positioned simply above the wooden floor, anchor the device to the toolrest, elevate the deal with to start out reducing, after which glide the device over the work in the path of the lower. This gentler method ends in much less strain on the wooden and a better high quality lower.

Skew Profiles and Angles

Diagram of the angles of a skew chisel
Figure 1: The writer recommends newcomers use a skew angle of 70° and a bevel angle of 25° to 30°.

When studying to make use of the skew, I like to recommend you begin with a tried-and-true profile (described beneath) with a skew angle of 70° and a straight bevel between 25° and 30°. This form may be achieved by sizing the bevel two to 3 instances the thickness of the device shank. Once you develop your abilities, then experiment with different profiles and bevel angles.

Diagram of skew chisel end
Figure 2: Parts of a skew chisel.

The three primary shapes of skew shanks are rectangular, spherical, and sq.. A forth profile, the oval skew, just isn’t one I like to recommend, as it’s tough to sharpen and not using a jig and, carrying much less steel mass, tends to chatter.


Two different versions of a rectangular skew
Half-inch and three/4″ rectangular skews.

For rectangular-shanked skews, I like to recommend beginning with a 3/4″ (19mm) or 1/2″ (13mm) device. Anything bigger is tough to wrap your finger round for sure varieties of cuts. These sizes are excellent to be used in the observe workouts described later on this article. They are additionally all you want for turning pens, tops, pepper mills, chair legs, and balusters.

View of the angle on a rectangular skew chisel blade
Rectangular skew with flat high edge and rounded backside edge.

Even although they’re referred to as rectangular skews, they’ve a rounded backside edge that helps the device glide simply over the toolrest and permits clean motion when rolling beads. I desire a skew that has a flat high floor with no sharp edges, as I discover it simpler to regulate when reducing V-grooves and pommels with the lengthy level. Some turners desire a rounded high floor. If you buy a reasonable skew, it might have sharp high edges you’ll must grind over; you may also need to grind a radius on the backside edge. This just isn’t tough to do and price the price financial savings whilst you be taught the device. Once you grasp it, then make the funding in a better-high quality device.

Rounded edge on rectangular skew
Rectangular skew with each high and backside edges rounded.

Most newcomers attempt to use the skew with a manufacturing unit grind, which is usually too blunt. A skew with a 25° bevel is nice for softwoods like pine and poplar, whereas a 30° bevel is sweet for exotics and hardwoods. A skew angle of 70° has been used for years and works nicely.


Round blade skew chisels
Rectangular skew with each high and backside edges rounded.

A spherical-shanked skew may be bought or simply comprised of a reasonable excessive-velocity-metal (HSS) clean. Sizes of 1/4″ to three/8″ (6mm to 9.5mm) diameter are most helpful; spherical skews bigger in diameter necessitate a bevel that’s so lengthy it’s arduous to regulate the device. Round skews are good to make use of when turning small gadgets like the “icicle,” or finial, beneath a Christmas decoration.


Screwdrivers shaped into skew tools
The sq.-shanked skews (aka, beading and parting instruments) have been usual from previous screwdrivers.

Square-shanked skews, also called beading and parting instruments, are good for performing the duties the names recommend. You should buy them or make them your self — I made mine out of previous sq. shanked screwdrivers bought for 50 cents at a thrift retailer. They are floor straight throughout with a 45° to 50° bevel. As these instruments are used for small particulars and lightweight cuts, I don’t see the want for unique steel and even HSS. The metal in a screwdriver will win over the wooden.

Basic Skew Rules

  • The skew is a finesse device. It is primarily used as a ending device that gives a splendidly clean floor. Go light with it and bear in mind to play good.
  • The toolrest should be completely clean so the device can glide over it with out catching. File or costume the toolrest on a belt sander to take away any nicks. Then rub a little bit candle wax on it to scale back friction.
  • Concentrate on the innovative, bevel, and level positions. Let the device deal with go the place it has to go to place the level and edge into correct place. The edge and level are grasp over deal with place. Beginners typically is not going to swing the deal with almost sufficient to place the edge and level into their correct place. If you need to transfer your physique, then dance it out of the manner as wanted.
Sharpening one edge of a rectangular skew chisel
When sharpening an oblong skew, hone all 4 surfaces.
  • The skew edge should be razor sharp and have very sharp factors at the ends (lengthy and brief factors). True factors (with no radii) assist to scale back catches when reducing V-grooves and pommels or when rolling beads. To obtain sharp factors, hone all 4 surfaces—two bevels, the high, and backside.
    Honing second edge of rectangular skew
    You will obtain sharp factors at the ends of the innovative (lengthy and brief factors).

    Both carbon metal and HSS instruments may be honed with an oil stone, however skews containing unique metals needs to be honed with a 600-grit diamond or CBN slip.

    Belt sander set up to sharpen a skew chisel
    The writer’s shopmade belt sander sharpening station exceeds at forming flat bevels on skews.

    You also can use a belt sharpening system like the one I designed utilizing a reasonable belt sander. Belt sharpening supplies a flat bevel which is straightforward to energy hone utilizing a buffing wheel charged with honing paste.

Types of Skew Cuts

Planing Cut

Marking cutting angle on turning project
When making a planing lower, current the device so the innovative is at a 45° angle to the clean. Keep the reducing motion to the decrease half of the edge, coloured inexperienced.

The skew is thought for the sensational end it will possibly depart on the floor when used to airplane a cylinder. You can typically begin sanding with 220-grit abrasive or larger as a result of something coarser would harm the floor. Planing is an edge-slicing lower (the brief level doesn’t push into the fibers).

Bracing skew chisel against body during turning
Hold the skew towards your physique and lower by shifting your physique and gear as one unit – the woodturner’s dance.

Focus your consideration on retaining the innovative at a 45° angle to the clean, locking the device to your physique and shifting your physique and gear as a single unit. The planing lower course of follows the A, B, C, and D reminders.

      • A: Anchor the device to the toolrest. Remember that strain needs to be utilized downward, in direction of the ground and into the toolrest.
      • B: Bevel—Starting with the device deal with low, elevate the deal with till the heel of the bevel begins to softly rub towards the clean.
      • C: Cut—Continue slowly elevating the deal with till the edge engages the wooden, retaining the reducing motion to the backside half of the edge (what I name the Green Zone).
      • D: Dance—Start reducing in the path you need to go, utilizing the Dance of the Woodturner, which suggests shifting your physique/device as a single unit. Remember to glide the bevel over the floor and never rub too arduous.

Peeling Cut

Remember how we used small handheld pencil sharpeners in kindergarten to place sharp factors on our pencils and crayons? I preferred watching the shavings peel off the pencil. In an identical style, a skew “peels” away wooden effectively because it spins on the lathe. The peeling lower doesn’t depart almost as advantageous a end as the slicing, or planing, lower. But the floor is ideal for issues like chair tenons that can be glued right into a mortise.

Making peeling cut on edge of turning blank
The peeling lower. Begin by presenting solely a portion of the innovative, and use extra of it as your confidence will increase.

To carry out a peeling lower, begin with the device deal with low and place the innovative 90° to the rotation of the clean. Anchor the device to the toolrest. Raise the deal with till the again of the bevel begins to rub. Continue to lift the deal with till the edge begins to peel away the wooden. As the cylinder’s diameter decreases, proceed elevating the deal with to maintain the peel of wooden coming off the floor. When you’re nonetheless studying, use solely 1 / 4 to half of the innovative. Once you develop your abilities, strive utilizing the whole size of the edge. Remember, this isn’t a scraping lower. With the device deal with low, you’re peeling shavings off the wooden.

V-groove Cut

Starting v-groove on turning blank with skew
Present the skew with its lengthy level all the way down to kind a V-groove, beginning with the deal with low.

The V-groove is a helpful visible element on spindles. It can be the first step wanted earlier than forming a bead. The V-groove is made utilizing solely the lengthy level of the skew (Figure 2). The device’s bevel doesn’t contact the wooden. Start with the deal with low, place the lengthy level down on the toolrest, goal it in the path of lower, and enter the wooden. As you narrow, rotate the device very barely to supply clearance between the innovative and the simply-lower floor and raise the deal with straight as much as swing the lengthy level deeper into the wooden.

Completing v-groove cut on turning blank with skew
Then raise the deal with to pivot the lengthy level into the wooden.

One problem newcomers have with this lower is that they need to push the device ahead into the clean as a substitute of pivoting the level into the wooden by lifting the deal with. Beginners additionally need to swing the hand left to proper, when the deal with simply must be lifted straight up. It’s additionally vital to maneuver your physique to the left or proper earlier than the begin of the lower, so you’ll be able to see the device’s level moving into the desired path.

Close-up view of a completed v-groove cut
The round chip that outcomes from a V-groove lower.

This is a 1-2 dance step. When educating newcomers, I’ve them make exaggerated actions by counting out loud, “1-2,” as they step left or proper by a foot or so to get their physique into place. When you make a correct V-groove lower with simply the lengthy level, you’ll find yourself with a round chip that may typically pop off the clean straight up into the air.

Paring Cut

Close-up of completed paring cut and skew chisel
A paring lower is helpful for going through off endgrain or cleansing up tenon shoulders.

The paring lower is similar to the V-groove, besides the path of the lower is 90° to the wooden, or straight into the clean. This is used for cleansing up endgrain on spindle work or to refine tenon shoulders; on containers, you can use a paring lower to wash up the joint strains between field and high. The course of is the identical: begin with the device deal with low, goal the bevel 90° to the floor you need to clear up, raise the deal with till the lengthy level enters the wooden, and rotate the deal with barely to supply clearance. Raise the deal with straight as much as pivot the lengthy level farther into the wooden.

Bead Cut

Holding skew chisel to make bead cut
Consider how your hand should rotate when forming beads.

There are two strategies for reducing beads with a skew: brief level solely and edge slicing. I recommend newcomers use the level solely technique, as it’s much less susceptible to catches that can lead to the device spiraling uncontrolled down the workpiece. Once you will have mastered this primary lower, then strive rolling beads with an edge-slicing lower.

Cutting angle for the left side of a skew chisel bead
For the proper facet of a bead, it rotates clockwise; for the left facet, counterclockwise.

One problem newcomers have forming beads with a skew is that they don’t transfer the device deal with correctly to swing the brief level by means of an entire arc to chop a pleasant spherical bead. Think of the a number of, completely timed, steps required when making a flip from a cease mild on a hill with a handbook-shift automobile: you need to take away your foot from the brake, press on the gasoline, let off on the clutch, and switch the steering wheel at simply the proper moments. When reducing a bead with a skew chisel, you want to rotate and raise the deal with with coordinated timing and, if the bead is giant sufficient, slide the device alongside the toolrest.

Skew chisel positioning for cutting beads
In each circumstances, the ending place is with the device edge vertical and your hand as if you’ll shake fingers with somebody.

To assist visualize these actions, consider your hand place when shaking fingers. When rolling a bead with a skew, you need to endthe lower in the regular hand-shaking place. If you’re reducing the proper facet of a bead, put together to chop by twisting your hand counterclockwise 90° and positioning the device flat at the high of the bead.

Marking skew positioning for cutting beads
Begin by partaking the brief level of the skew. Rotate the device as you raise the deal with.

With the skew’s brief level engaged, roll the device to the proper by twisting clockwise as you raise the deal with. You ought to finish the lower along with your hand in the shaking place and the device’s innovative vertical. When reducing the left facet of a bead, merely reverse these instructions. Prepare by twisting your hand 90° clockwise, place the device at the high of the bead, interact the brief level, and roll the device counterclockwise to the regular hand-shaking place.

View of curled waste cut by skew chisel
Note the curl raised by the level, needed for sustaining device help all through the lower.

Beads are usually fashioned between two V-grooves. Anchor the device on the toolrest with the deal with low. Swing it so the brief level is aimed in the path of lower. Raise the deal with till the level enters the wooden and raises a curl.

Finishing rolling bead cut with skew chisel
At the finish of the bead lower, the device edge is vertical.

Sweep the reducing tip by means of the desired arc whereas rotating the device deal with. The innovative begins horizontal and ends vertical. Make the needed variety of mild cuts to take away wooden till the closing bead is lower.

Shallow Concave Cut

Making cove cuts with skew chisel
Cutting an extended, shallow cove with the skew. Notice the clean floor left on this pine.

Shallow concave cuts are easy with a skew. They are edge-slicing cuts, similar to planing cuts besides you direct the device to chop a shallow concave form. This is helpful when making device handles or for turning balusters and furnishings components.

Practice Exercises for the Skew

Different examples of cuts made with a skew chisel

The finest blanks for practising skew cuts are 2″- (5cm-) diameter inexperienced (unseasoned) department wooden or 2″ × 2″ pine blanks about 10″ (25cm) lengthy. Green wooden is right as a result of you’ll be able to most likely discover loads of it at no cost and it cuts extra simply than dried wooden. Don’t attempt to be taught the skew with costly exotics or hardwoods. Once you will have mastered the device with inexperienced wooden and pine, then apply your abilities to progressively more durable woods—poplar, cherry, maple, then oak. The more durable woods will necessitate lighter and slower cuts.

Mount observe blanks between facilities utilizing a cup drive or a security drive in the headstock. These will permit some slippage once you get a catch, whereas a 4-pronged drive middle is not going to. It is best to make use of a spindle-roughing gouge to organize a tough cylinder, then proceed to the workouts beneath. I like to recommend practising every train with a sequence of twelve blanks every.

Exercise 1: Planing and Peeling

Using skew chisel to plane a turning blank

Plane a cylinder clean with the skew 5 to 10 instances.

Peeling layers of wood with skew chisel edge

Peel lower the cylinder to three/4″ (19mm) diameter, stepping down the size of the clean.

Exercise 2: V-grooves and Beads

Marking out bead locations with a calipers

Plane a cylinder clean with the skew, and mark out 5/8″ (16mm) intervals with a ruler and pencil or with dividers.

Cut out, evenly divided beads on turning blank

Form V-grooves at each mark about 1/4″ (6mm) deep, then mark centerlines between all the V-grooves.

Showing centerline on bead cuts on turning blank

Roll beads with the aim of leaving the marked centerline at the high of the beads and ending with the device’s innovative vertical and your hand in the handshake place.

Exercise 3: Beads and Coves

Showing bead and cove cuts made with skew chisel

Start as you probably did in Exercise 2: airplane a cylinder clean with the skew, and mark out 5/8″ (16mm) intervals with a ruler and pencil or with dividers. Form V-grooves at each mark about 1/4″ (6mm) deep, then mark centerlines between all the V-grooves. After rolling beads as you probably did in Exercise 2, flip away each different bead utilizing a peeling lower.

Form coves with a spindle gouge between the remaining beads, leaving a brief fillet (flat space) between the cove and bead. Note that though the skew can do nicely to kind lengthy, shallow coves (concave shapes), it doesn’t excel at the brief, deeper coves advisable on this train.

With greater than 40 years’ expertise in customized woodturning, writing, demonstrating, and educating, Jim Echter focuses on spindle turning and makes merchandise for spinners and fiber artists round the world. He is well-known for his customized and architectural restoration work. Jim was the founding president of the Finger Lakes Woodturners Association, an AAW chapter. For extra, go to

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