Kim and the Skew



Robert Sorby Skew, picture from the woodturners catalog

Robert Sorby Skew *



I watched a woodturning demo a while ago by Al Mather.  He happens to be a friend from Princeton, Maine.  Al was demonstrating how to properly use the skew.  For those that don’t know, the skew is probably the most feared tool in woodturning.  We all make mistakes (catches) from time to time while we are turning.  When you have a catch you seem to catch your breath and then you get back at it again.  Hmmm, maybe that’s the reason we call them catches.  Probably not, but it sounds good.  A catch is when you apply your turning tool to the wood in the wrong manner and it catches the tool’s edge and usually takes a chunk of wood out of the wood you are turning. Some times a little piece and some times a big piece. Anyway, when you have a catch with the skew it seems more intense than with any other tool.  If you listen to some woodturners, you would catch your breath and see your life pass before your eyes and the lives of your children as well.  Which would be followed by a long coffee break to settle your nerves.


Anyway, I decided that I would take the time to turn some stoppers and my only rule would be that I could only use the skew. Before I go any further I should share some history with you.  I started my woodturning adventure way back in 2000 and the first tool that I grabbed to start shaping the spinning piece of wood on my lathe was a skew. Why? Primarily because I had been building furniture for our home and the skew reminded me of the blade in a hand plane. I knew how to use a hand plane so using the skew should be along the same lines, right? Well it sort of was. The biggest exception, and this is really big, was that the piece of wood that I was trying to shape was now spinning on a lathe and not held stationary on a bench. Also please keep in mind that I had never read a book on woodturning and I didn’t even know the names of the tools that I was about to use. That is a big thing because at the time I had no fear of the tool called a skew because I didn’t know that there was a thing called a catch or any of that. So I proceeded to turn things with the skew and actually became fairly good with it. Oh yeah, I would have an occasional catch with it. It would spiral cut the piece up pretty good. Of course that would lead to some coarse words being said over my mistake and a quick break to get myself back to normal. And then I would get back at it again.


I was having a great time teaching myself how to turn but I wasn’t learning nearly as fast as I wanted to. So I started reading magazines and books on turning. I even learned the names of the different tools. I learned how to sharpen my tools, both by hand and using the Wolverine jig. I decided to join a woodturning club and found the closest one over an hour away. I tried to go faithfully every month that they had a meeting. During those meetings I kept hearing the skew being mentioned but it was being used like it was a dirty four letter word. I also realized that very few of the magazine articles that I had read ever mentioned the skew. During this time I was learning other tools and how they worked. Eventually I set the skew aside and was using these other tools. I had ditched the skew and had grown to fear it without a good reason. So fast forward to Al’s demo and during that demo someone asked me if I used the skew. My reply was that I used to but that I don’t now. Then I was asked why. I didn’t have a good reason. So I resolved to go home and find my skew and get reacquainted with it.


I turned all of the stoppers that you see pictured below using only the skew. It was like getting together with an old friend. I did make some changes to my skew but I will talk about that in an upcoming article. Stay tuned to this same bat channel for the continuing saga of “Kim and the Skew”.

Group of Cork Stoppers - Dailey Woodworking

* Picture of the Robert Sorby skew used is from Craft Supplies website

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  • Kim Dailey