An Exercise in Mastering the Skew
Do you like a challenge? Want to develop your woodturning skills? Can you learn from mistakes? If your answer is “yes”, you’re ready to tackle the rolling cut with a skew chisel. The rolling cut is most often employed to cut beads in spindle work.
Without a doubt the rolling cut can be the most difficult skew technique to learn. For that reason, I advise people to start with the planing cut.
Practice makes perfect and you must practice the rolling cut to gain control over it. However, the effort is worth the time as the skew handsomely rewards all who develop skill with this cut.
TOOLS AND MATERIAL
Start with a 1-1/2-in. to 2-in.-square by 6- in.- long piece of soft wood like poplar, alder or pine. Mount the stock between centers on the lathe.
TIP: Use a cup drive rather than a spur center; it’s safer and easier on the nerves if you get a catch.
Practice the rolling cut with a 1/2-in. to 5/8-in. skew that’s really sharp. Round the stock to a uniform cylinder. At first, limit your practice cuts on the cylinder ends only.
ROLL THE SKEW
Practice holding the skew to the blank with the lathe off (Photo 1). When you’re comfortable with the hand position, turn the power on and let the bevel rub on the blank without cutting any wood (Photo 2).
Then, lift the handle as you slowly rotate the skew to hook the short point in the wood (Photo 3). Make this a light cut; there’s no need to hog off a lot of wood. Rotate the tool as you move it slowly forward. Keep the bevel in contact with the wood at all times to maintain control.
Losing bevel contact will produce the well-known slash (Photo 11). Repeat the cut starting at the top of the roundover (Photo 4). Rotate the skew and as you lift the handle until you reach the bottom of the cut (Photo 5). The skew should end the cut with the bevel held vertical to the lathe’s axis. The tool will stop cutting or “weathervane” at this point.
All of this involves a variety of coordinated actions. The tool must simultaneously lift, rotate and advance downhill to an ever-smaller diameter. At the same time, the tool must slide along the tool rest to accommodate the width of the curved area. Keep the bevel in contact with the side of the rounded surface with light pressure.
This mix of actions reminds me of dancing with a partner: all the steps must work together to achieve success—a fine cut with good shape and no slashes.
Work on both ends of the cylinder (Photo 6). Most people find the rolling cut easier either to the left or to the right. Concentrate your practice on the weak side until you feel equally comfortable in either direction. Don’t get discouraged if you experience a few slashes as you practice. This is normal. Remember, the slash is always the result of the bevel loosing contact with the wood.
Once you’re comfortable with the rolling cut, chuck in a fresh blank and use a parting tool to lay out some 1 in. or 1- 1/4in. wide beads (Photo 7). Make a wide pencil line in the middle of each bead. This marks the area to stay clear of when shaping the bead (Photo 8).
Practice on these “bead sticks” until your beads are consistent in size and shape (Photos 9 and 10). Keep your eye on the horizon of the curve to see how well it has developed. The perfect bead has a sweet convex curve with no flat areas.
How do you achieve this? The answer is simple; practice, practice, practice. In time you will want to practice varying the width of the beads.
The ultimate exercise to develop skew control and achieve good shape, is to turn an egg. Turning an egg is both a lot of fun. First, turn a Morse taper on one end of a 5 in. blank of 2 x 2 material held between centers.
Be sure and leave a shouldered area to ride on top of the spindle shaft. Then, simply drive the blank directly into the headstock spindle and start rolling cuts to make an egg (Photo 12).
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