What Is A Drawknife? What Is A Drawknife Used For?

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A drawknife is a traditional tool used for quickly and easily shaving strips of wood from pieces of timber. A drawknife is sometimes known as a 'drawshave', 'draw shave' or 'pull shave'. The tool is used as the name suggests, it is drawn towards the user over the edge of a piece of wood, shaving the wood with each pulling action.

A drawknife consists of a blade with the cutting edge running most of the length of the blade on one side with two handles set either end, traditionally and typically with the handles pointing towards the user. There are different designs of drawknife where the handles are set in a different position to the traditional style, one of which is where the handles are set either end in line with the blade; the drawknife is like handles bars on a bike. The cutting edge of the blade points towards the user between these two handles. The dynamics of the design make it very easy to control with very low risk of injury.

A drawknife can have a straight blade or a curved blade, it can have user pointing handles, folding handles, splayed handles or handlebar handles. The most common type of drawknife has a straight blade with the handles pointing towards the user.

Drawknife Parts

A typical drawknife consists of the following parts:

drawknife parts

  • A - Handle
  • B - Ferrule
  • C - Blade Bevel
  • D - Makers Mark
  • E - Cutting Blade Life
  • F - Cutting Face
  • G - Cutting Edge
  • H - Frame
  • I - Tang Cap

What Material Does A Drawknife Cut?

A drawknife can be used to shave any wood. The wood the drawknife is often used to shave is green wood. The main reason the tool is often used on green wood is because the tool is well suited to this type of wood. The combination of the tool and the type of wood allows the user to take long, clean shavings and remove stock very quickly. The use of a drawknife was and still is a quick way of preparing and shaping a log by hand. A drawknife can also be used with seasoned timber. A cautionary note: the dryer the timber, the faster the drawknife will cut. A drawknife can also be used on other softish materials and for other uses. I have heard of bookbinders using drawknives and I have also heard of a Scottish mariner using a drawknife to remove Limpets.

Typical drawknife uses include:

  • Removing bark
  • Removing waney edges and imperfections
  • Stripping timber to rough size ready for final finishing
  • Chamfering edges
  • Making handles / tool handles
  • Preparing furniture parts (e.g. chair legs, table legs, spokes)
  • Preparing and making fences

What to look for when buying a drawknife?

  • When buying a drawknife you should make sure the tool is comfortable to hold generally you want handles that fit nicely in your hands so you have something to leverage the tool with.
  • Make sure the width of the blade and the distance between the two handles is suitable for the pieces of wood intended to be shaved the piece of wood to be shaved should fit comfortably in between the two handles so the shaving action can be performed quickly, accurately and smoothly. If the pieces of wood to be shaved are small intricate pieces of wood it would be a good idea to use a small drawknife; the use of a larger drawknife on a small piece of wood is doable but is more cumbersome and slightly less accurate.

Extra things to look out for when buying a secondhand drawknife

  • Make sure the handles are solid with no movement a handle with movement will result in loss of control which will slow the process and may lead to mistakes.
  • Ideally make sure there are no large splits in the handles with lots of use the handle my eventually spit open and cause movement in the handle while shaving and it may even eventually fall off. Of course a new handle(s) can be refitted.
  • Check the cutting face for pitting and faults if the flat face is full of holes and divots, especially near the sharp edge of the blade, it will make sharpening the tool to a good edge much more difficult and if the pitting is really bad it may be impossible to get a good edge. The reason being, when these pitting holes correspond with the edge of the blade being sharpened it will result in the cutting edge having nibbles and not having a complete uninterrupted sharp edge. If the cutting edge has nibbles then the drawknife will not cut smoothly.
  • Check the life left in the blade the life of the blade is the amount of cutting edge that can be sharpened until it gets to the point where no more can be sharpened. If the cutting blade has reached or nearly reached being level with the metal frame then the drawknife is at the end of its usage days. If there is a good metal section protruding from the frame then the drawknife has plenty of usage available. Typically a new 8 10 drawknife has approximately 2cm of usage.

There have been many makers of drawknives past and present, below are a list of a few well known drawknife makers:

Old Drawknife Makers:

  • Greaves
  • Marples
  • Mathieson
  • Sorby
  • Whitehouse

New Drawknife Makers:

  • Crown Tools
  • Flexcut
  • Mora
  • Ray Iles
  • Robert Sorby

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