The Drawknife: Best Tool for Debarking, Shaving, and Shaping Wood

Posted in: Knife Blog by Michael on November 5, 2014

The drawknife is the best woodworking tool for shaving, debarking and shaping wood.Hopefully by now you know the importance of having the right tool for the job. A drawknife is a woodworking hand tool that facilitates in the debarking and shaping of wood by removing shavings or larger chunks of excess wood. It is essentially a long blade with a handle at each end which is operated by pulling the blade along a section of wood towards your body. These blades allow a woodworker to quickly create complex curves and concaves in addition to straight cuts.

The drawknife is best suited for removing large slices of wood such as when debarking trees, creating billets for a lathe, or shaving like a spokeshave plane where quantity is more important than quality. A spokeshave is better suited for precise work whereas the drawknife is better suited for speed. Ever swung a cricket bat? Chances are good a drawknife was use in creating the curve of the bat.

Before using the drawknife, it’s important that you become familiar with it. The tool should be gripped in both hands with the bevel facing up, and then gripped again with the bevel facing down. The knife should feel the same regardless of which direction the bevel is facing.

To properly use a drawknife, the user is normally seated across a shaving horse as it safely grips the wood with the grain running parallel to the shaving horse. This allows the legs of the user to be used for additional pulling power and the drawknife will shave away the entire wood fiber and not cut against it. The blade is best used at a slight diagonal angle and not completely flush with the wood. In this scenario, the goal is not to take off giant pieces of wood but to gently shave the wood. However, if the situation warrants it, the drawknife can be used for rapid removal of stock as the blade is pulled towards the user with the blade being drove deep into the wood and then pushing the blade upward so that splinters or chunks of wood are removed. Unfortunately, this method has been known to damage the wood or the blade if proper care is not exercised.

The drawknife is also capable of making straight cuts and this is achieved by starting in the center and working to the end. The wood is then reversed so that the thicker end of the wood is shaved to match the center and the end that was just completed.

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To perform convex cuts more pressure is applied towards the center of the wood and decreased as the end of the wood is reached. Conversely, for concave cuts, gentle pressure is applied in the center and increased as the end is reached.

Here are a few helpful tips to remember in order to extend the life of a drawknife, ensure that it is being used properly and allow you to receive the maximum benefit from your tool:

  • If the blade becomes too soft it will no longer serve its purpose as its cutting edge is diminished. The blade can be hardened by heating the blade to a red heat and then placing it in water until it is cool enough to handle.
  • When using the blade bevel side down, the blade tends to shave better but as a result the edge will dull at a rapid pace.
  • The waste shavings produced are great for kindling and basket weaving and make exceptional compost and bedding material.
  • Although the blade is rather large, a drawknife is fairly safe to use when handled properly as long as you’re cautious. The handles always need to be utilized and the user should try to avoid being in extremely close proximity to the blade while in use.

Before using the drawknife on the actual piece of wood that is going to be shaped, it is recommended to practice on a scrap piece of wood. Practice should include cutting bevel side down and bevel side up which includes heavy strokes for removing large pieces of wood and light strokes for gently shaving the wood. Short and long strokes should be practiced along with using the thumbs to gain more control over the blade. The thumbs should be placed on the upper part of the blade while the fingers firmly grip the handle.

For a novice it can be rather difficult to sharpen the blade on a grinding wheel. This method is also not recommended. It’s a fast way to sharpen the bevel, but results in a weaker, hollow ground edge and alters the temper (heat treat) of the steel. The recommended and safest way to sharpen your drawknife without the help of a grinder is manual hand sharpening. Make sure the back of the blade is perfectly flat. If not, it may need to be lapped before your begin the sharpening process. Next, hold the drawknife upright with one of the handles resting on a bench or hard surface. Then a traditional sharpening stone should be placed flat against the bevel with light pressure. Follow with long strokes being applied to sharpen the blade by hand until enough steel has been removed to restore edge sharpness. You can then strop the blade using a piece of leather or specifically designed knife strop to obtain a more refined and polished edge, if you wish.

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