We’ve devoted several posts to the skew chisel. Why? Because it's an extremely useful and versatile tool that can be used alone or in combination with a lathe. Wood carvers who master the skew chisel find it to be one of the first tools they reach for in their set.
Here we'll review what the skew chisel is and help clarify the benefits of mastering this tool.
What is a skew chisel?
A skew chisel is a hand-held wood carving tool with 2 beveled edges and an angled blade. With one notable exception--the hooked skew--these tools are generally used with a wood lathe to produce turned pieces. Because of this, many skew chisels are sturdy tools with comparatively long shafts and large handles.
Types of skew chisels
Traditionally, a skew chisel had a rectangular blade and a shaft with square edges. This type of skew is still used today and is known as a rectangular skew or flat skew. One variation of the rectangular skew is the oval skew which has an oval profile. Another is the radius skew, which features rounded edges on the shaft and a cutting edge that starts straight and then curves.
The anomaly among skew chisels is the hooked skew, which is small, has a double-pointed blade, and isn’t designed for use with a lathe. Because of this, some carvers and woodcarving tool manufacturers classify a hooked skew as a knife rather than a chisel. Several versions have handles small enough to be cupped in your hand. Woodcarvers use these diminutive hooked skews for fine, detailed work like carved feathers on duck decoys.
Why the skew chisel gets such mixed reviews from woodcarvers
Quite simply, the skew chisel is difficult to learn to use and sharpen. Even craftsmen who use one regularly admit this. In a split second, a skew chisel can dig in--with disastrous results. Two keys to mastering the skew chisel are learning the mechanics of the tool and practicing--frequently.
Sharpening a skew is tricky, too, especially since master woodturners disagree over the best way to sharpen a skew chisel. Until you find a method that works well for you, your use of the skew chisel will be limited.
Why the skew is worth mastering
Versatility, speed, and efficiency are the main reasons. Alan Lacer, master woodturner and skew chisel expert, claims that a skew chisel can make 20 different cuts. He urges beginning carvers to master the skew chisel before they move on to other tools, since a skew chisel is versatile enough to offer many project options. (Mr. Lacer prefers a radius design and has developed his own line of Lacer skew chisels.)
A skew chisel used with a lathe is a speedy way to remove waste wood quickly, accomplishing in a few minutes what would require hours to complete using only hand-powered tools. When properly sharpened, a skew chisel also produces a very smooth surface that requires only light sanding. For speed and efficiency, a skew chisel is hard to match.
Wrapping it up
Once you learn how to properly use and sharpen a skew chisel, it will probably be one of the first tools you reach for when you enter your workshop. The process of mastering the tool will include:
- Choosing the type of skew chisel that works best for your projects.
- Learning the mechanics of the tool and how it interacts with a lathe
- Practicing different cuts with your skew chisel
- Finding a sharpening method you can do quickly with consistent results.