I am always looking for something new, and recently bought a pair of Alan Lacer skews, the large and the small, and have been trying them out. This is a review of the tools.
I taught myself to use a skew chisel very early in my turning career and have worked with various styles of chisel, wide and narrow, thick and thin, carbon steel and high speed steel, manufactured and homemade, curved and straight edged. All have worked well, but though my favourite has changed from time to time, the one I keep picking up for smaller spindles, and also for scraping details of faceplate work, is converted from a beading and parting tool, with a square section of about 10 mm. Sometimes I have favoured a Richard Raffan-style curved edge, other times a straight edge, which is easier to hone.
In the beginning I would cut beads by planing with the edge of the chisel. Later I changed to using the short point, and finally, on softer wood, to the long point. I think you can get used to any tool with practice. The key requirements of a skew chisel are reasonable rigidity, well-ground bevels and a sharp edge and points.
My first impression of the Lacer skews was that a bit more blade and a bit less handle would have been nice. But the steel is generously thick and heavy, which is important for larger spindles, helping to avoid blade flutter and vibration. This is why I like my square section chisel. The Lacer bevels are long, which I like, and that makes honing easier. The cutting edges were not ready to use as supplied, but a little honing soon sharpened them up. The handles supplied are very substantial, too fat for my hands, though of course yours may be different. I removed the handles and turned them a bit thinner. In any case, it is only laziness that made me buy the tools with handles, I could have made my own.
The tools have one long side rounded nicely and the other left square. The arrises on the square side are rounded over a little with the intention to help them slide on the tool rest. This is very important, and if your chisels don’t slide freely, soften the arrises yourself before trying to use them again. The Lacer chisel arrises were not very well rounded and did not slide properly. A few minutes with a coarse and a fine diamond hone improved things. Wax on the tool rest helps too. I wish lathe makers could find a durable low friction material for toolrests.
The Lacer cutting edge has a very pronounced curve in the middle, almost a hump really. The edge at the long point starts at 90 degrees to the blade. By the time it gets to the short point it is nearly parallel to the side of the blade. The long point and the adjacent cutting edge have no skew angle at all. The short point is very obtuse, and the cutting edge close to it acts more like a knife than a chisel. The ‘hump’ in the middle projects a lot, though of course it is just part of the curve, not separate. With the chisel flat on the rest and the handle down, the hump can be used very effectively to rough down a spindle from the square. I’ve never been a great fan of skew chisel roughing though, as the tool must be kept very sharp for its other functions and roughing can put a lot of wear on the edge.
For me, the shape of the edge is going to take some getting used to. Before buying, I half intended to re-grind the tools to a more traditional shape. I wanted a couple of heavy-section wide bladed tools and thought that these would do even if they had to be reshaped. But they suit Mr Lacer, so I shall give them a fair trial before changing them.
I am finding that the short point is too obtuse for cutting on the point, making for poor visibility. This limits the tool somewhat. The short end of the curved edge is OK for planing a cylinder or rounding over a bead, but I’m not yet convinced that it’s better than the traditional. A ‘knife’-like edge does help avoid dig-ins though.
The non-skewed part of the edge can be used like a straight chisel, which works nicely for simple planing of cylinders or tapers. Long point down helps prevent digging in.
The long point cuts nicely round a curve. The weight of the tool helps stabilize it, though it will take a bit of time before I get used to the weight. Some might find it too heavy, and the tool might be a bit too big for use on a smaller lathe. The thickness of the blade also means that the bevel is very long and this means more time at the grinder. Visibility using the long point is good. It leaves a nice polished surface as you would expect. But the lack of any skewing at the point means the blade needs to be twisted away from the wood when squaring off end grain. Normally with a skew chisel, if it is held upright on its long edge, the skew angle automatically gives clearance to stop the edge touching the end grain.
So I conclude that these are excellent tools, heavy and workmanlike, needing a little tuning up (but that could apply to others on the market too). The Alan Lacer grind is not essential to the use of a skew chisel. Other well-known turners have their own preferred signature tools. Any heavy-section blade can be ground to the Lacer profile, and that profile can be changed if necessary.
Here is another post about Alan Lacer skews.