Chris Schwarz's Blog

Review: Lie-Nielsen Curved Drawknife

Though I don’t talk much
about it here on the blog, one of my long-standing obsessions (aside
from my “goat” problem) is with chairmaking. I’ve taken a few classes,
built a bunch of chairs and dream about doing work as nice as Curtis
Buchanan, Peter Galbert or even Dave Sawyer.

Since I started
making chairs, I’ve always been a bit vexed by the drawknife. I’ve used
my grandfather’s knife for many years with fair results, but I’ve always
wanted a better one with nicer handles and a curved cutting edge.

After
trying out a bunch of different knives, I purchased the Lie-Nielsen
curved drawknife a month ago and set it up to make three chairs this
winter – two Welsh stick chairs and another sackback Windsor. And I a
made a few spindles to try the thing out.

This knife is, by far,
the nicest one I’ve used. It’s based on a vintage Witherby drawknife
that Jennie Alexander loaned to Thomas Lie-Nielsen years ago.
Lie-Nielsen said the drawknife took years to develop because he had to
figure out how to do it without forging equipment.

That meant he
had to cut the tool out of sheet stock. He tried laser-cutting it, but
that process hardened the edges, which was unacceptable. In the end, he
found a company that could cut the blade from O1 high-carbon steel using
water-jet technology.

Then Lie-Nielsen had to figure out the
right way to grind the tool and heat-treat it so the cutter was hard but
the handles remained somewhat soft – so the user could adjust them to
suit his or her work.

Now if you’ve ever read much about
drawknives or taken a class, then you know that there is a lot of
conflicting information out there on sharpening and using it. Some
woodworkers use it bevel-down. Some use it bevel-up. Some do both. Some
woodworkers prefer the back of the tool to be dead flat. Others like it
slightly beveled so the edge is more like a knife. Some like the bevel
to be flat, others prefer a slight radius at the cutting edge.

In
the end, Lie-Nielsen said he decided to make his drawknife with a flat
back and a flat bevel. This configuration could be easily changed if the
customer preferred a knife-edge or a rounded bevel.

Lie-Nielsen
added one nice touch to the blade: The company hollow-grinds the back
of the blade, somewhat like a Japanese chisel. This hollow makes it easy
to set up the tool because you can immediately polish the steel up by
the cutting edge. All-in-all, this is an amazingly easy tool to set up –
about 45 minutes compared to the day of grinding I had to do to get my
grandfather’s up and running.

The handles of the tool are maple
and are beautifully shaped and finished. I really like the small
swelling up by the ferrule, which you pinch slightly as you work.

The
curve of the blade ensures you are always cutting on the skew. Speaking
of the blade, sharpening these tools can be dangerous, and I’m speaking
from experience. I’ve only had to visit the emergency room twice for
stitches and my first visit was the result of me sharpening my
drawknife.

Brian Boggs, one of my other favorite chairmakers, has
a great DVD (which we stock in our shop) on using chairmaking tools. If
you’d like to see the interesting way he sharpens a drawknife, you can
watch this 4-minute clip from YouTube. I think putting a diamond stone
in your shavehorse is pure genius. Check it out below.

Even if
you are not a chairmaker, a drawknife is a handy tool to have in the
shop. I use it to hog material off of long edges (it can be faster than a
saw or plane). I whittle pegs with it, make wedges and even make
stopped chamfers. You can find a vintage drawknife pretty easily – they
are common tools. But they can be fairly beat up, used up or messed up.
So you might have some significant work ahead of you.

Because I’d
rather be building chairs than rehabbing old tools, I consider the $170
I spent for this tool to be money well spent.

— Christopher Schwarz

Links to Other Chairmaking Resources

• Order the Lie-Nielsen drawknife from the company at lie-nielsen.com.

• Purchase Brian Boggs’s DVD on using chairmaking tools from our store.

• Drew Langsner’s book “The Chairmaker’s Workshop” is an excellent book on the topic.

• Take a class on building Windsor chairs from Mike Dunbar at The Windsor Institute.

• Check out chairmaker Peter Galbert’s blog Chair Notes.

• Learn more about Dave Sawyer at WindsorChairResources.com.

• Visit Curtis Buchanan’s web site at curtisbuchananchairmaker.com.

15 thoughts on “Review: Lie-Nielsen Curved Drawknife

  1. Scott Stahl

    Years ago I was in the hinterlands of Honduras. They used ground down leaf springs from cars for machetes and large draw knives. They did a lot of work with only the ‘tools’ they carried around with them.

    If you have the time and the inclination, you can visit the local junkyard to source material for any number of tools.

    Lest this sound too negative, I enjoy making my own tools, but I also appreciate more skilled examples being available.

  2. Robert Troup

    Thanks for the goat comment. Now my monitor is covered with coffee. Tell it all, brother, tell it all – oh, don’t believe I’d have told that, brother.

  3. Jamie Bacon

    I too think that $170 is a bit pricey, but I’m sure they will sell more than a few of them. There’s lots of people out there that will buy any new tool that LN puts out, and that’s fine. Not my thing, but at least LN is putting the option out there for those that want it. And as always with LN, I’m sure it’s a quality tool.

    Jamie Bacon

  4. Sean

    I have several vintage drawknives. My favorites are a swan and a witherby that look much like LN’s in terms of style. I also bought a Barr drawknife for around $125 just to see if it had anything on the old ones. Barr uses welds to attach the handle portions to the blade, I like the Barr’s edge retention and over all feel a lot. No doubt LN’s is excellent. Lots of good choices for drawknives.

    I most recently used my on a very wide piece of shite pine that needed a radiused end. With the drawknife, I could quickly remove large hunks to arrive at my big curve. It was much faster than sawing and I think produced a nicer result. It was a satisfying operation. Drawknives are fun.

  5. Niels

    For what it’s worth, I’ll start making comments when companies like Lie-Nielsen stop (re)introducing high quality, deeply considered, modern woodworking tools.

    It’s been said before and I’ll say it again:
    I think we are living in a really amazing time for hand tools. There is a ever expanding selections quality tools and toolmakers available to us (at every price point). I say the more options the better and cheers to Lie-Nielsen (and all the other small companies in the US and abroad) for leading the charge.

    Also thank god for the internets and all the people who express their thoughts and share their insights and experience. It’s great to have options, but it’s even better to know what all your options are.

    Cheers!

  6. Christopher Schwarz

    Jeff,

    Yes and no.

    While Lie-Nielsen does offer specialty tools that have a rare factor, I don’t think anyone would say there is a block plane shortage or dovetail saw shortage.

    Price is not the only reason people buy things. I spend my money with people I want to support.

    Chris

  7. Jeff

    Chris,

    I guess time will tell whether the market will support the price. Normally, LN introduces tools that have a strong demand (and concomitant price) in the used market.

    Jeff

  8. DW

    I agree with Jeff, A $170 drawknife is a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. It’s not that there aren’t proper drawknives to be had, it’s that people want to get them out of the box and just use them, and probably people get turned off because they go buy some huge straight debarking knife and immediately decide they don’t work well.

    If I had to bet money, I would bet that most of the drawknives bought for $170 won’t be used very much. That will not be true of yours, of course, but most others, I’ll bet it’ll be the case.

    I am otherwise pretty easily parted with my money when it comes to tools.

  9. Ethan

    One of my favorite things from the WIA Conference earlier this month was seeing Roy Underhill’s Drawknife Camera at his Chisel session.

    Is it weird that I could have watched that for a half hour?

  10. www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawmaNE77QkPTT_ctGOMhmzUQ2dQ9PTc_SUM

    For some reason they are abundant around these parts, where most other tools are not. (Pacific Northwest) I think it had something to do with a local tradition or something, but they are in nearly every antique store around.

    I’ve seen some very nice ones, and have a couple in the shop that serve me well.

    I do remember as a kid using one with my mother when we were skinning poles to create an Indian Tipi, so maybe they are more common because of that.

    badger

  11. Richard Dawson

    I’m not about to slide down that slippery slope, but can see where the drawknife could work wonders. Watching Brian Boggs in a video is good, seeing him in person is an amazing experience.

    It might be worth mentioning that $170 buys you a drawknife and the necessary protective leather case, further lowering the price/labor break even point.

    Richard

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