BLADE Magazine

How To Use Drawknives

Drawknives Are A Woodworker’s Best Friend And One Of Many Unique Knives Craftsmen Use Regularly

Knives take on many shapes and sizes. As tools, their designs sometimes focus on specific tasks. In the case of the drawknife, it is designed for woodworking. Drawknives have been found to date back to the Viking era more than a millennium ago.

The design itself takes many different shapes for a variety of purposes. At times, it is not referred to as a drawknife but, at first glance, you can see the relationship and how a number of tools can be considered part of the same family. As with any tool, different cultures have different interpretations of how the tool should be designed.

What Is A Drawknife?

A drawknife is a single-beveled blade placed between two handles. The tool gets its name from how it is used. You simply grab both handles and draw the knife towards you bevel up. Controlling the angle that the blade enters the wood will control the depth of cut. A steep angle will get you a deeper, more aggressive cut but will also require more effort.

Lowering the angle makes for a shallower cut and also gives you a finer finish as the material is removed less aggressively. Some designs have long handles on plane with the blade. Other designs have the handle tight in and below the plane of the blade. No matter where the handles are, the action is the same but the point of control changes.

Top row, from left: a German-style drawknife made in Western Germany, Mora push knife, English-style drawknife, Flexcut 5-inch drawknife and a cooper’s knife. Bottom row, same order: Round drawknife and a chair maker’s scorp.

How To Use A Drawknife

When working with a narrow stock up to two inches wide, it’s easy enough to draw the knife straight back toward you. On wider stock, it is better to skew the knife. Skewing the knife provides a leading edge and causes less resistance during the cut. When working with hardwoods you want to keep the cut light, as the dense grain provides more resistance and bogs the knife down.

Learning to use a drawknife properly is a bit like working a puzzle. The easiest way to make a cut is to work the facets of the material. For instance, say we are working on a piece that is square. To shape the piece to the required size it is easier to work the corners down, creating more corners until you get to your desired shape. By working the flats, you must use more energy and struggle to make a cut.

When first using a drawknife, the tendency is to use your arms to power the tool. Instead, use your back muscles, which are larger and less likely to fatigue quickly. Draw the knife back as if you were using the same muscle for rowing. If done right, it should feel like your shoulder blades are trying to meet in the middle of your back. For safety’s sake, keep your elbows in tight. As you draw the knife back your elbows will hit your core acting as a safety stop, preventing you from slipping and cutting yourself.

Types Of Drawknifes

A debarking knife is usually a larger style of drawknife used for extracting bark from logs. They are larger and heavier than their woodworking counterparts so that you can blast through the bark.

It has been my experience that when working green wood, the knife doesn’t need to be kept as sharp. In fact, it is somewhat more helpful to keep the knife a bit dull when cutting green wood so as to avoid diving too deep into the wood itself. On seasoned logs, because of the lack of sap between the bark and sapwood, I find it better to have the knife a bit sharper.

Woodworking drawknives come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The two main types I have used: English and German. The English style has a blade that bares a slight arch and the handles are on the same plane as the blade. German-style knives have handles that sit lower than the blade and the blade tends to be straight. The knives’ handles can vary. Most of mine have a pear-like shape. There are other styles like a round knob style, which is a ball shape.

Specialty styles of knives include any drawknife that is shaped to obtain a specific result. A cooper’s knife is shaped to accommodate the making of barrel staves. I also have a handle-making knife. The handle-making knife is a tight arch designed to make handles for things like brooms or garden implements. The basic shape is a half circle, so instead of trying to round a piece off by angling a number of cuts, you get a piece of wood close to size and simply let the knife shape it.

The cooper’s shave is designed to hollow out the staves of a barrel.

Push Knife

The model uses the Mora push knife to clean up curls left at the bottom of a curve. With the push knife, you can work the wood in an opposite direction without repositioning the piece.

A Scandinavian invention, the push knife is similar to a drawknife in that it has a blade attached by two handles on either side. Using a push knife is different in the way that you are expected to force the edge away from your body instead of pulling it toward you. Unlike a drawknife, the handles come straight out from the sides, which allows you to either push or pull the knife. I normally use the knife in the manner that gets the job done—meaning on occasion I will draw the knife toward me rather than push.

What Is A Scorp?

Technically, scorps are not drawknives. However, in terms of looks and use you can’t help but lump them in the same family. I have a chair maker’s scorp that is designed to hollow out the seats of chairs. On older chairs is a slight depression where the person sits. A chair maker’s scorp was used to produce the shape. The tool operates just like a drawknife except it has a shorter blade with a more pronounced arch.

How To Sharpen A Drawknife

Like any other cutting tool, a drawknife must be sharpened. Perhaps the trickiest part of sharpening a drawknife is finding a way to brace it. I find dynamic sharpening the easiest way to sharpen a drawknife. I brace the knife and move the sharpening medium instead of the other way around. One way to brace the knife for sharpening is to put one handle in your armpit and hold the other handle in your off hand. Once the knife is braced this way, take a stone to it. Another way is to brace one handle on the bench, lean your chest on the other handle, and then begin sharpening. Keep in mind a drawknife must be sharp (except where noted previously) but since it is not necessarily a fine woodworking tool, don’t get carried away.

YouTuber James Wright shows you how to sharpen a drawknife using a set of sharpening stones in his shop.

Lastly, keep it oiled. Even the newer ones are not made from new high-tech steels. Most are from simple carbon stock and a light coat of oil goes a long way. Among others, Flexcut offers a contemporary drawknife.

Other Wood Carving Tools

Beyond drawknives and planes, there are many other types of wood carving knives out there that can help with some of the finer points of woodworker. Small, nimble wood carving knives like a sloyd knife or a spoon knife.

A sloyd knife is a short, sturdy blade good for small, finite carving tasks. A spoon knife, as the name suggests, is meant to carve out the concave scoop of a spoon but can be used for any other situation where you are trying to create a concave dip in the material.

There are certainly more than just these few tools to being a successful woodworker, but knowing how to use wood carving tools big or small can get you on the path to success.

Why To Use A Drawknife

Long before there was solar power, fossil fuel power, steam power, etc., there was muscle power. Humans developed the world using tools with muscle and sweat. There is something satisfying about making something by hand. The feel of a good day’s work is sometimes what the soul needs. A drawknife not only gets the job done but also gives you an accomplishment to savor.

Where To Buy A Drawknife

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