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Reshaping the Skew Chisel District Heights MD

Begin modifying a conventional skew by reshaping its sides (Photo 1). I prefer to do this on a belt sander mounted in a stand and equipped with a belt designed to cut metal (see Sources, page 44). Be sure to remove all the dust from the sander and set aside its bag to avoid starting a fire. Start with a 60-grit belt; finish with a 120-grit belt.

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Reshaping the Skew Chisel

Reshaping the Skew Chisel

An alternate shape minimizes dig-ins.

by Alan Lacer

Years ago, an old professional spindle turner showed me a different way to sharpen a skew. When I tried it, I was sold. This modified grind is more versatile, friendlier and more responsive than a traditional grind. Used correctly, a modified skew is difficult to catch and dig into the wood, unlike a conventional skew. In the years since, I’ve found that many early 20th-century turners from Maine to Indiana adopted the same alternate shape. They were all on to something good.

It’s easy to learn how to sharpen a modified skew. I’ll show you how to take a regular skew chisel with a flat cross section and turn it into a far superior tool in an hour or so.

Shape the Sides

Begin modifying a conventional skew by reshaping its sides (Photo 1). I prefer to do this on a belt sander mounted in a stand and equipped with a belt designed to cut  metal (see Sources, page 44). Be sure to remove all the dust from the sander and set aside its bag to avoid starting a fire. Start with a 60-grit belt; finish with a 120-grit belt. I round the short point side to glide with a smooth motion when planing and to easily rotate and pivot the tool when rolling beads.

Photo 1:  Begin modifying a standard skew on a belt sander. Hold the tool so the belt always travels away from you. Completely round the short point side up to the ferrule; chamfer the sharp edges of the long point side.

Grind the tool’s profile on a 36- or 46-grit wheel (see “The Modified Profile,” above, and Photo 2). I use a coarse wheel because this step removes a lot of material.

Photo 2: Grind the straight and curved profiles. Position the tool rest about 90 degrees to the wheel. I’ve mounted a wood platform on my tool rest to have a broader area of support, which is critical for modifying and resharpening a skew.

Sharpen the Edge

Switch to a 60- or 80-grit wheel. Adjust the tool rest to grind the same angle as on a conventional skew. I prefer to set this angle by measuring distances. The length of the bevel should be approximately 1-1/2 times the tool’s thickness. The angle between both bevels will then be 35 to 40 degrees. As you grind, you’ll probably have to tweak the tool rest’s angle to get it right.

Begin sharpening the straight section (Photo 3). Flip the tool as you go to remove the same amount of material from each side (Photo 4).

Photo 3: Begin grinding the profile’s straight section. Color the old bevel with a felt-tip marker to identify where the wheel cuts.

Photo 4: Flip the tool now and then as you continue grinding. It’s important to keep the bevels on both sides of the tool equally long to center the cutting edge.

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