In recent years the commercial hand tool suppliers have been promoting low angle tools, particularly planes. One is supposed to have the impression that these will be the Miracle Tools that woodworkers are looking for. Actually, low angle cutters are disadvantaged when it comes to working long grain, and highly figured grain is best worked at higher cutting angles, or even with a scraper. (Why do you think that most of the old planes were made to cut at 45 degrees?) Low angle cutting comes into it’s own when working endgrain.

Fortunately, there’s a cool trick that allows any edge tool to be used at a low cutting angle. There’s two options: slicing and skewing. Slicing is when you move the tool from one end of the blade towards the other end during a cut. An example is using a knife in a way that you move from cutting near the hilt towards the tip of the blade. Skewing is angling the tool blade relative to the direction that the tool is being moved forward.

When you slice or skew the cut takes place along a longer and lower angle on the upper facet of the blade compared to when you cut moving straight ahead with the blade perpendicular to the cutting direction.  An easy way to understand this is to think about building a road that ascends a hill with (say) a 45 degree slope. If you build the road straight up the hill, it will be at a 45 degree angle. But you can also build the road at a lower angle, going partly sideways as you gain height.  Now the road is longer, but at a much lower angle.

Slicing and skewing also effectively lengthens the bevel, if you’re using a tool (like a drawknife) with the bevel down. This leads to other effects to be discussed in a future newsletter.

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