Canadian Woodworking

Using the skew

Author: J. P. Rapattoni
Illustration: Mike Del Rizzo
Published: April May 2006
skew chisel
skew chisel

If you’re a novice turner, then like many other novice turners, it’s likely you own a skew that rarely gets used.


Using the skew chisel

Every now and then you might take it out of its hiding place, and try to find the secret to this strange tool. Often, these attempts at skew enlightenment last just a moment or two before frustration sets in and the skew gets hidden away once again.

In order to become proficient with the skew, it’s important to get a feel for the tool and the techniques for using it properly. The project I’ve selected is a “practice stick”. This piece is turned exclusively with the skew. Practicing it again and again will give you the confidence you need to use the skew without fear. Start with a blank approximately 1-1/4″ square by 8″ long. Mount the blank between centers or in a chuck with the tail center in place. You’ll notice that I didn’t include dimensions on the drawings that accompany this article. If you wish to calculate and mark out the intended design, then do so.

However, I find it advantageous to practice this piece by eye. Doing so helps improve your eye for dimension. Remember, this is a practice piece.

The Planing or Shearing Cut

The first step is to turn the blank round. While you can use a roughing gouge for this stage, I’ll show you how to round it with the skew. With the toe of the skew pointing up, tilt the shank approximately 45° left of vertical and swing the handle approximately 45° to the left. The cutting edge should be at a sharp angle to the axis. Adjust the tilt and angle of the tool until the bevel is rubbing. (You may want try this with the lathe turned off at first). Continue making slight adjustment until you begin to get a cut on the bottom half of the cutting edge. Never make a cut above the center of the tool. Once you have established the cut, hold that position and advance the tool to the right. You can cut to the left by mirroring this technique. Continue in this manner until the blank is round.

The V-cut

The next step is to define the major diameters by making V-cuts at each end (A), and on each side of center (B). Position the tool with the toe down, and the skew tilted slightly toward the center of the intended V. Begin with the handle low and raise the handle to drop the toe into the cut. Cut as deep as you can, but don’t force it. Move the tool to the other side of the V and mirror the cut. The object is to meet in the center at the bottom of the V. Continue in this manner, enlarging the V until you reach about half the depth of the blank. Make all four cuts like this.

The Taper

For the third step you use a planing cut to taper the two sides. Start close to the small ends (A) and make a few light cuts toward the ‘V’-cut. Progress towards the middle, taking longer cuts until the last cut is along the whole length of the taper. Do the same for both sides.

Turning the Bead

Begin the center portion by making a V-cut (C) beside the two center V-cuts (B) you made earlier. Make the cut in the same manner, and expand the width until the two Vs meet at the top. Try to match the depth at the same time. The last cut will be the most difficult as there is very little material there to support the tool when you begin the cut. Complete the two V-cuts, then begin to form the ball in the center.

Rolling a Bead

Begin with your skew in the ‘planing cut’ position. Start the left side of the ball just to the right of the V you just made. Lift the handle and roll the skew counter clock wise so that the shank ends up close to vertical, with the toe up. Take light cuts, improving the shape with each cut. Move to the other side of center and repeat the process in the opposite direction. You’ll find it easier to cut in one direction, then the other, but you need to practice both directions.

Your Goals

You have three goals. The first is to cut without getting catches. The second is to get a smooth cut with a nice surface finish. The third is to produce the shape you had in mind when you started. The first attempt likely won’t go well, but the idea is to practice and improve. As you practice, take note of your progress. Put extra effort in the areas that are giving you problems. Once you have accomplished satisfactory results, change it up a bit. You could add another ball in the center, or a bead on each end. Change something and practice more.

Shearing, not Scraping

With the skew, use a shearing action, not a scraping action. Using the skew like a scraper just dulls it quickly and produces a poor cut. Always cut down hill. That is to say, cut from the large diameter to the small diameter. Always rub the bevel, and keep the cut in the bottom half of the cutting edge. Failure to follow these points is the most common cause of catching. Shearing cuts can be made with the toe up or the toe down. I happen to prefer the toe up, but many turners prefer the toe down.

Practice it both ways. You will quickly see the results of each and decide which you prefer. Regardless of which you use, the technique is the same and the cut is always on the lower half of the cutting edge. There is one cut not covered with this project, the ‘facing cut’ (or end cut). Facing cuts are done the same way as V-cuts, but with the skew toe up. If you want a flat face on the end of a spindle, use the skew to do a facing cut. Position the skew so that the bevel follows the intended direction of the cut (90º to the axis). Once the cut is started, the tool will follow the bevel as the cut progresses. If your bevel is at an angle, you’ll get an angled end. Now…practice, practice, practice.

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