DVD Review: The Skew Chisel by Alan Lacer

Making my Saturn V requires making a bunch of cylinders.  The smoother the surfaces on the cylinders, the less sanding I have to do.  To this end I’ve been using my skew chisels.  They’re able to work the wood and leave a great surface that doesn’t really need sanding.  The downside to the skew is that when something goes wrong, it can really go wrong.  You can create gouges and spirals that may trash your workpiece.  Because of this, and my lack of experience with the skew, I wanted to find an instructional DVD on the skew.  After a little bit of searching I found that “The Skew Chisel” by Alan Lacer was highly recommended.   I checked SmartFlix to see if they had it and sure enough they did.  If you’ve never heard of SmarFlix, you may want to hit up their site.  They’re an online DVD rental store, much like Netflix is, but they carry instructional videos on just about everything.

The DVD is 90 minutes long and is what you’d expect out of a wood turning DVD.  There’s someone standing at a lathe narrating while doing certain things on the late.  They illustrate, effortlessly, things that don’t go so well for you.  The picture and sound quality are pretty good.  The camera work is nice and every so often you’ll be treated to an additional view in the main shot to show another perspective.  He talks about both the straight and curved edge skew during the sharpening section but only uses the curved skew on the lathe.  He covers ten different types of cut including the planing cut I’m illustrating below.  The planing cut is a finishing cut that leaves behind a smooth surface.


He also covers V cuts for starting details and then shows how to use Rolling and Coving cuts to get the shape you want.  He also covers the Saucer cut which leaves a concave surface.  Using this cut, he creates a captured ring which I haven’t yet been able to duplicate.  Below, I’m showing some of the shapes you can create using the skew and the great surface it leaves behind.


Another cut covered is the shoulder cut.  He shows how to use the chisel to cleanly cut endgrain.  Shown below on the left, is the surface left behind using a parting tool.  On the right, is the surface that is the result of a skew chisel.   The surface on the left would take a long time to clean up with sandpaper.  The more sanding I can avoid the better.


While the skew chisel cuts cleanly and leaves a great surface it can be unforgiving.  If you drop the tip into the surface or don’t support the cutting edge properly it’ll gouge a spiral on your workpiece in the or remove a big chunk blink of an eye. Shown below is the kind of damage the skew can cause.  He covers what causes these issues and how to avoid them.   He also suggests using a dead center in the headstock instead of a spur.  This way, if there is a catch, the wood will stop spinning which reduces the shock and impact of a catch.


There are also some sections on cutting pommels, the pealing cut, working with knots and twisted grain, and end scraping.  He wraps the whole video up by using a very large skew to turn an teeny tiny top.

Nothing will replace actual experience at the lathe but the DVD will greatly reduce the slope of the learning curve with the skew.  My method of watching instructional videos is to watch it once through and then come back and watch specific sections on what I’m interested in or having trouble with.  The chapters on the DVD make this easy to do.  Overall, the video is very good and worth checking out if you’re interested in learning more about the skew.

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5 Responses to DVD Review: The Skew Chisel by Alan Lacer

  1. I think in your photo of the planing cut the edge is too vertical. You get an easier cut and even better surface if the handle is down to make the edge more parallel to the axis. Frank Pain, one of the old time writers, said that with the skew, the closer the long point is to the wood the better the result, but also the closer you are to disaster! I think a problem with the Lacer skew is the very steep skew angle near the short point – by focussing on keeping the long point clear you can let the cut go down to that part of the edge. It works, but could be better. I’ve re-ground mine to a more traditional shape and written about it in my blog.

    • davidjbod says:

      Thanks for your comments. I agree the cutting edge is too vertical in the first photo. I’ve gone back a replaced it with an image showing the cutting edge at a better angle. Previous to the video I tended to make the planing cut with the long point down. I guess I’m not used to keeping the handle that vertical when it is in the short point down orientation. I’m not really sure which is better though Alan preferred short point down in the DVD. As for traditional vs curved skew, I haven’t made up my mind on that yet either. I’ve got two chisels, one with each grind and and trying them out. I’ll head to your blog and look for you posts on the skew.


      • Both straight edge and gently curved edge skews are good, and I’m not sure which I prefer either. For planing, a wide, straight-across chisel, not skewed at all, is hard to beat.

        Your new photo is better but still looks too vertical for simple planing, try it with the edge more horizontal, almost parallel to the axis, for comparison. Take care you don’t catch though!


      • Today I compared cuts with the edge quite horizontal and the edge at about 45 degrees, as often recommended. On the bit of wood I used (soft, straightgrained), the surface was better with the inclined edge, and the risk of catching the long point was certainly less.

      • davidjbod says:

        Thanks for comparing the cuts. I need to get out there any play with the angles as well. Maybe this weekend…

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