If there's one thing that modern woodworking is in dire need of, it's classier ways to hurt yourself.

Oh, sure, you've got your ten-horsepower tablesaws, your toxic varnishes and fine dust and heavy toe-killer planks, but there's nothing like playing with a straight razor to put the fear of God back in your heart.

The drawknife is actually one of the safest tools in the shop, but damn, it looks impressive: eight or ten inches of pure sharp edge with a handle at each end, pulled straight toward your belly. Most woodworkers know of drawknives, but seem think they're some kind of useless anachronism. Perhaps they've never unleashed one in the manner it was intended to be used.

To really comprehend the power of the drawknife, you need a shaving horse. The two are essential companions, useful individually but not such a joy as the true symbiosis they reach together. A shaving horse clamps tighter as you pull harder on the drawknife, but releases instantly to let you move your workpiece around, thus allowing you to work with blinding speed instead of spending half your time fussing with the vise.

As I asserted above, the drawknife really is just about the safest tool in my shop. See, when I cut myself (accidentally only, thank you), it's usually on the hand or finger. When I have both hands gripping handles which are firmly attached to the blade, it's pretty hard to slice them by mistake.

At this point in my explanation, any nervous mother in the audience will be pointing out that surely pulling a big-ass knife towards my stomach is more dangerous than having my fingers in the way. Here is the secret piece of kinesiology that makes it safe (You'll have to move your arms for this. Don't complain, you needed to squirm anyway.):

Hold your arms out in front of you sort of like you're typing, with your elbows bent and your hands at stomach level. If you have a ruler lying on the desk, hold it by the ends and pretend it's sharp in the middle. Now, raise your elbows out away from your sides and pull your hands back towards you. Feel the evisceration. OK, now try it again, except with your elbows held down and close to your sides. Notice how your hands don't really want to go back any further than the front of your abdomen? It works the same way when there's a real live blade in your hand. Oddly enough, you notice it even more when you're pulling hard than when you're just moving freely.


Addendum, 7 Mar 2004:

Six months after my original post, OldMiner calls my bluff by asking the very sensible question What exactly do you use this thing for?

A drawknife is a knife you pull. I use mine to prepare round blanks for the lathe, make hoe handles, shape staves for wooden buckets, perform the rough shaping for wooden spoons, make shingles and sharpen my pencils too.

I love drawknives because when I have one in my hand I can split a quarter inch of wood off the piece I'm working on, then take a paper-thin shaving with my next stroke, one second later. All this without adjusting anything but the angle I hold the knife at. The power of the stroke is amazing — you can lean your whole torso into the cut with no fear of losing control.

Yeah, I know this should all have been in the original version. Hey, it was my first node and I like to think I've done a little better in my subsequent efforts.

Draw"ing knife" (?), Draw"knife` (?), n.

1.

A joiner's tool having a blade with a handle at each end, used to shave off surfaces, by drawing it toward one; a shave; -- called also drawshave, and drawing shave.

2. Carp.

A tool used for the purpose of making an incision along the path a saw is to follow, to prevent it from tearing the surface of the wood.

 

© Webster 1913.

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