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PostPosted: Mon Jun 05, 2017 11:05 am 
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Journeyman

Joined: Tue Oct 11, 2016 9:39 am
Posts: 87
Location: Plymouth
This may be very old news to many of you, but I finally had my first proper experience using a drawknife. And I have to say, for anyone that has considered it but never gone for it, do it now! What an amazingly productive and diverse tool.

I got a nice 7" Witherby bevel up knife from Josh Clark/Hyperkitten (sells used hand tools online for fair prices and stands by everything he sells) for a good price. The back was already flat enough and the bevel looked freshly ground except for one ding about 3/8" in from the right corner, so no big deal. It took me about two hours to have the "Aha!" moment of how to properly and *safely* hone this thing with my bench stones, but after watching a great YouTube video from chairmaker Curtis Buchanan, I had the right idea and just had to make it match my setup. If anyone is curious what I ended up with, I'll share further, just ask.

Once it was honed up, I decided to have some guts (or stupidity :p), and take it right to my project instead of working on some scraps first. I have been making a small stool for my sons (a 4 year old and a 20 month old). I had leg blanks squared at 1 3/8" by 18" long out of red oak. I squared them carefully along the long grain as best as I could for strength. I marked my finished square tapered width on the endgrain and then used a straight edge to gauge those lines up to the top so I'd have a reference.

I don't have a shave horse (yet, possibly, more to think about there). But if you read Mike Dunbar he'll tell you not just that a shave horse is unnecessary, but that using your vise is superior. I'm not sure I agree with that -- I don't have the personal experience to say, and of course many great chairmakers and traditional workers use the shave horse to great effect, so Dunbar's is another voice, not a sole authority. But it gave me the confidence to tell myself, "You don't need another tool to do this, you can be smart and careful and use what you have to work wood."

So anyhow, I went at it with the drawknife to take my square stock down to square tapers. I attacked it much like you would when planing -- tried to go with the grain. In some cases, it was just better to go against the grain where I didn't want to accidentally cut too deep, and to my pleasure the knife didn't much care (having very straight grained cuts here obviously helped that). I found that despite the knife technically having the handles set for bevel up usage, that when using it in a vice where the workpiece is at a bit higher relative angle to your hands as compared to a shave horse, that using this knife bevel down was equally comfortable and effective to using it bevel up. I just sort of kept flipping it and trying it each way to see what felt good and what the benefits/limitations of each approach were.

I have been reading Peter Galbert's book, and my early observations match what he writes to expect. Using the knife bevel down was good for carving out a spot -- you could dive down and pull back up. Additionally, when trying to shave a spot that did have a little grain running out, bevel down gave more control, where bevel up wants to follow the grain. Of course, the bevel up following the grain is great for quickly removing big chunks -- I can see why a drawknife is considered such a useful and important tool for people doing handwork... it saves a lot of grunt work like scrub planing or jack planing huge amounts of stock, which in turns also saves time spent sharpening, since the knife does that work in fewer cuts while your planes wait with nicely honed edges to do finer work. Bevel up seemed to yield a nicer surface off the knife, but I think that was mostly down to the fact of the direction I was usually trimming and getting the knife cleanly following the natural path of the fibers.

I have to say, I was really worried about getting the edge ready to work. I thought for sure I'd put it to wood and immediately have sub-par results and realize I had to spend more time learning to hone and maintain the tool. Obviously, buying a knife from a reputable source that vouched for it being well-ground already helped a ton. But I was pleasantly surprised that, after watching Buchanan's video and thinking through the right setup, how nice of an edge I came out with. Call it beginner's luck, perhaps. :)

I should thank our friend Jim Crammond for giving advice on what to look for in a drawknife, and pointing me to the Galbert book which is really... what a great book. I don't want to diverge too much here, but as a quick aside, even if you're an almost exclusive machine woodworker, this book is incredible and will have information you will find illuminating. The way he explains and illustrates how a log works and to join parts properly for ideal strength, how he talks about his finishing techniques with milk paint, how he talks about maintaining his tools. It's all gold.

Anyhow, Jim recommended something in the 8" vicinity. The knife I ended up with is 7" and I'm not disappointed. It feels good in the hand, and I can imagine it working happily on much bigger/rougher pieces, but it is small enough that it is easy to slow down and manipulate it to cut really really close to a gauge line, or to refine a shape (like roughing in round or conical tenons).

I'd also say, this isn't just a chairmaker's tool, or even just for working curves. In the future, I can see myself using this to speed up dressing stock -- Jim Tolpin shows a great way to bring boards to equal width... gauge them as usual, but instead of using a jack or jointer plane to hog off all the material, just a few passes with the drawknife will get you within an 8th or 16th of an inch to your gauge line, and then you only need a few passes with a more finely set plane to end up with nice finished edges. Speeds up that process significantly, and as mentioned above, keeps your planes ready for primetime duty so they won't need honing so much.

Now, to buy or make some sort of blade guard so I can safely hang this on my board with my other tools...

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PostPosted: Mon Jun 05, 2017 2:03 pm 
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Elite

Joined: Tue Jun 06, 2006 8:30 am
Posts: 827
Location: ann arbor
Draw knives and spoke shaves are my favorite tools. I once got to peel 70 30+feet jackpine logs with just a draw knife. Epic! Last time I used both was to make a new handle for my froe.


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PostPosted: Mon Jun 05, 2017 3:03 pm 
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Obsessed

Joined: Wed Jan 04, 2006 8:12 pm
Posts: 1789
Location: Ypsilanti
I have about 8 drawknives, great tools. I never thought in such depth about bevel-up or bevel-down, I just use it whichever way works. Same with sharpening, I just free-hand it with a hand-held 8" stone, and never thought about it that much. My take is that it is not necessary to make either of these questions harder than they need to be. But if you prefer to watch videos or study books about it, do whatever works for you. My collection includes tolls with both straight and 90- (80?) degree handles. Also some with folding handles that I just bought because they were cool.

Good timing. Here is a link to my drawknife that is for sale. Please buy it at the Thursday meeting.

Ken, when you peeled those logs did you use a bench-vise or a shaving horse ? Just kidding.


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PostPosted: Mon Jun 05, 2017 3:36 pm 
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Journeyman

Joined: Tue Oct 11, 2016 9:39 am
Posts: 87
Location: Plymouth
Dave, I think you're right. A lot of people spend more time sharpening than woodworking, and that's a shame. My concern was mostly being safe, as it seems the conventional wisdom is that a drawknife, despite looking intimidating, is a rather safe tool to use when working in a piece in a vice or shave horse -- where people get hurt is when sharpening. I think I was unnecessarily afraid of the tool's long cutting edge and once I took a breath and came back to it, a free-hand approach worked great.

I do wonder how you peel a log with a drawknife without stabbing your knees. :)

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PostPosted: Mon Jun 05, 2017 4:20 pm 
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Elite

Joined: Tue Jun 06, 2006 8:30 am
Posts: 827
Location: ann arbor
jayed_coins wrote:

I do wonder how you peel a log with a drawknife without stabbing your knees. :)

If you pay attention to the First Nations people who know how to do this you can peel the bark in great long strips because the trees are peeled while green. Easy peezy...not. Especially the part where you get to play dodge'em with trees behind a frisky team of horses hauling the logs one by one out of the woods.

I think doing what you did before embarking on using the draw knife was smart. YouTube is great to see how people hold a new tool and use it. When I started out woodworking there were not any "old guys" around that I knew to learn from and videos hadn't been invented.


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PostPosted: Tue Jun 06, 2017 1:11 pm 
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Elite

Joined: Wed Mar 16, 2005 5:22 pm
Posts: 635
Location: Monroe, Michigan
Nathan,

You can't go wrong with a Witherby, they are among my favorites for both drawknives and chisels. Glad to see that you enjoyed the experience, I think that is the best way to get started, just dive in, give it a try and adjust if needed. Sometimes over thinking the process is a handicap. A shaving horse works really well using a drawknife or a spokeshave but a vise will suffice. For some things a vise works better.

Speaking of over thinking, I find that a bevel up drawknife works best for truing up a surface and making it smooth while a bevel down drawknife works best for carving where you need to go in and out of a cut. I think of it similar to using a smoothing plane or a jointer. With a bevel up knife, the reference surface for the cut is the flat side of the blade, usually about an inch or an inch and a quarter long. With a bevel down knife, the reference surface is the width of the bevel, 1/4" to 3/8". So the reference surface of a bevel up knife is 4 to 5 times greater than a bevel down knife, hence it is easier to flatten with. The significance of using the drawknife the way it is meant to be used (determined by the angle of the handles compared to the blade) is that if you use it opposite the way it was meant to be used, they tend to dive into the cut and are harder to control depth of cut.

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PostPosted: Tue Jun 06, 2017 1:31 pm 
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Journeyman

Joined: Tue Oct 11, 2016 9:39 am
Posts: 87
Location: Plymouth
Thanks Jim.

What I have found in a couple hours of use with this knife, while the handles are canted for bevel up use, I can use it comfortably bevel down as well by angling the workpiece upward a bit in the vice. And you're right, flipping it and using it bevel down allow carving out. I started roughing out the tenons on the end of the legs for this stool and left them too fat near the shoulder, and I was able to carve some of that out going at it with the bevel down.

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