"It's a Draw (knife)" : It's Not Hoarding, it's History!

"It's a Draw (knife)"

by Randall Read on 03/01/12

So you have just finished building the new house using post and beam framing. Your axes and adze and chisels have served you well. The missus wanted shingles on the outside of the house and you managed to make those using an old broad axe head that you beat on with a wood mallet to split some cedar logs.

Now she says that she wants some furniture that doesn't take two men and a mule to move. The stuff you made from split logs can stay in the old log cabin and she said that you can just keep all your stuff out there too and not clutter up the new home. The man-cave is born, although we prefer to call it the work shop.

Up to now, we have made do with larger, more brutish tools in our woodworking endeavors. We've made some knives that have worked okay to whittle branches into useful items like broom handles and chair parts, but they are still a bit crude and the new stylish home calls for more refined furniture and furnishings.


Attaching a stick or handle on the pointy end of a large knife was most likely the initial design of what was to become the drawknife.  The drawknife is all about control and finesse, being able to make thinner and more precise cuts. After some trial and error, the ideal design proved to be one with two parallel handles that were perpendicular to the blade.

The cutting edge of the knife is much like the broad axe and the chisel in that it is flat on one side and tapered on the other. The advantage of this design for this particular tool is that when cutting with the grain of a piece of wood, you have better control. If you cut with the taper up or on top, the blade tends to dive in or follow the natural grain of the wood. This may or may not be what you want to do. If not, simply turn the tool over with the bevel down. The blade now wants to skip to the surface and by angling the handles correctly you can force the tool to go where you want it. The key to all of this is to have a very sharp edge and practice a lot!

 The drawknife above has just about reached the end of it's lifetime. It has been sharpened so many times that the blade portion is about gone.


Drawknives proved to be very efficient tools for shaping wood. Spindles and other cylindrical pieces were generally fashioned with this tool. With the right amount of skill and practice, one could also flatten and smooth boards and with a specially shaped tool, concave shaping could be done. Fancier chairs had seats that had depressed areas that were generally carved out with a drawknife fashioned in a tight radius. We have a couple in our collection that have larger radii which were most likely used in barrel making and de-barking logs.  

In addition to being a very useful, all-around work working tool, it also helped strengthen another trade; basket weaving. The long, thin ribbons of wood that were a waste product, suitable only for kindling before now, became a sturdy strip that could be woven with others to make any number of baskets and such.

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