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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.