The Deadly, Knee-hating Drawknife


The only serious injury I’ve sustained in the workshop was with a drawknife. In 1997, I was sharpening my grandfather’s tool with an oilstone at work. My hand slipped, and I gashed a finger.

It took a dozen stitches to close the wound. And as it was a workers’ compensation claim, I had to go through a very interesting series of interviews with the government.

Nice government lady: “What was the tool that caused the injury?”

Me: “A drawknife.”

Lady: “Hmmm. We don’t have a code for that tool. Is it a pocketknife?”

After a long series of questions (No, it’s not an axe. Nope, not a corn knife), she decided to create a new code for the tool to enter into the government forms. This, of course, required more interrogation about my boo-boo, and the case dragged on for many weeks.

In the 19th century, drawknife injuries were much more common. Jeff Burks has compiled this amazing array of news accounts of people who hurt themselves with the tool. Some wounds were self-inflicted. Some very odd. And many of them to the knee.

The knee?

The weirdest one is the guy who burst his bladder with a drawknife.

— Christopher Schwarz

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25 Responses to The Deadly, Knee-hating Drawknife

  1. kv41 says:

    You must be very bored. On Mar 5, 2016 10:21 PM, “Lost Art Press” wrote:

    > Lost Art Press posted: ” The only serious injury I’ve sustained in the > workshop was with a drawknife. In 1997, I was sharpening my grandfather’s > tool with an oilstone at work. My hand slipped, and I gashed a finger. It > took a dozen stitches to close the wound. And as it was a ” >

  2. Greg Flora says:

    Some of these headline titles are hilarious. I’m also not surprised that a few of these occurred close to where I live in West Virginia.

  3. occasionalww says:

    As a kid, my old man would only let me use the drawknife if the work was on a shave horse, never in a vise. It was one of those tools that required parental supervision. I was never permitted to sharpen it, so I was rarely allowed to use it. I have since inherited the old man’s drawknife, and have purchased a couple more besides. I have also made myself a shave horse. 🙂

    • occasionalww says:

      BTW- an adze is an entirely different tool with it’s own hazards. I was never permitted to use the old man’s lipped shipwright’s adze, and unfortunately, I was unable to find it in his effects when he passed.

  4. seawolfe2013 says:

    I understand that the makers of SawStop table saws are working on this problem.

  5. “T’ain’t funny McGee!” Sorry, I suggest It would be more constructive to discuss how to hone and use the drawknife. Some folks may never attempt to use it if we simply tell horror stories. Staked furniture stakes were made for centuries of rived wood finished by the drawknife. The tool requires respect and caution and rewards us by its capabilities. Here is what I saw in the English early 19 hundred’s pamphlets and learned from David Sawyer and Daniel O’hagen.

    As suggested above, build a wooden shaving horse first. Don’t diddle with pegged work surface height adjustment. Just sit a triangular block on the shaving horse bench beneath the the work surface. To adjust the height of the work surface just slide the the triangular block back and forth until you get exactly the clamping action you want. (I found this in one of the English Shire pamphlets which I misplaced. It was the the smalled , rinkiest horse I have ever seen, The system is simples and affords Universal Adjustment. But, I have never seen it elsewhere. Go figure. Goodbye pegs.

    Learn to hone safely. Only hone with the hand behind the blade. I do not hone on the shaving horse. Too much grit and oil. I clamp a scrap laminate chock.-all away from the shaving horse. The laminate can be easily cleaned. With the drawknife’s handles pointing away from you jam one handle in the chock. The free handle is grasped by the other hand and and the drawknife is secured. Hone both sides of the blade from behind the blade. Your honeing hand does not move past the the back edge of the blade. Jennie Camellia Oil is half kerosene and half 2-cycle chain saw oil. Stinky but reasonably priced. The 2-cycle motor oil contains no wax in it that would clog the hone.

    The drawknife is most dangerous when not in use. Think when you are carrying it about and handing it to another. It was suggested that I make a low bench the same height as the shaving horse bench to sit beside it to receive shaving horse tools not in use. Have a permanent out of the way place for storage. Having honed a good edge, protect it. Leather and snap protection is in favor, but for years I went to the lumberyard and bought a few feet of plastic siding j-starter strip and secured it with 2 plastic ties.

    Jennie Alexander.

  6. momist says:

    Shudder . . .

  7. Roy Underhill says that’s what happened to his half-brother.

  8. ouidavincent says:

    Listen, I got an injury simply reaching across my bench to grab a chisel. A newly sharpened saw (courtesy of Bad Axe) was lying on my bench, my hand grazed the tooth line as I was reaching for that chisel…opened the back of my hand. The scar is a little over an inch in length. I was about to post that this series put pay to my idea of making a shaving horse and using a draw knife, but Jennie’s post was a good slap across the face. “Shave Responsibly”

  9. Lessons learnt:
    *Store drawknives on or near the ground, in a box with a difficult to open locking mechanism. This prevents them from falling onto knees and from being trod upon, and hinders the inebriate in his attempts to terminate his own life or that of his fellow shop worker.
    *Do not carry a drawknife except the blade is covered.
    *Maybe don’t use a drawknife at all.


  10. vernon ley says:

    Hi Chris,

    I was watching my weekly wood shows and saw you on Roy’s show and notice your double d belt with a loop hook you wore for holding your pants up. Is there a chance you can tell me where you got it from? I would like to get one.

    Thanks Vern


  11. Niels Cosman says:

    “W. Thackery, a ship carpenter of Madison Ind., attempted suicide Monday afternoon by cutting himself 14 times with an adze and a drawknife. He was supposed to have been deranged, ”

    He was either deranged or just really terrible at sharpening.

  12. Greg Bétit says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed this posting on drawknives. Keen Kutter’s assertion that the “hang” of their draw knives has “never been imitated by anyone” is a hoot. C.J. Kimball made the drawknives sold by the E. C. Simmons Co. under their store brand Keen Kutter. Kimball also sold the exact same knives under the C.J. Kimball brand.

  13. Which pair of knee pads do you suggest for drawknife work?

  14. I managed to cut my knee with a drawknife. I was de-barking some black locust posts for a wineyard, had them layed down in a not-so-ergonomic way diagonally against a wall. For the lower part of the posts I was kneeling down low, with my knees out ahead of my stomach.

    Smacked the drawknife right into the knee. Left the most perfect scar possible.

  15. gilgaron says:

    So based on the knee injuries people were holding the workpieces as one does on a sawbench or something?

  16. Egads. I made it as far as I could stand, and realized I was only 1/4 of the way through. There’s a reason medical dramas have never appealed to me. I recall Peter Galbert saying that his most serious woodworking accident involved a drawknife and his leg also.

  17. ehisey says:

    Seems the draw knife was the suicide tool of choice for a while. What an awkard tool to use for it.

    • Please. Yes the drawknife is a difficult, dangerous tool that demands caution. But there is a phobic tone to many of the comments. The Message is never use a drawknife. The tool is wonderful properly used. Rather than simply report accidents, I suggest it will help all of us if we discuss how the accident happened and what could be done to prevent it. A slipped hone is not dangerous if you hold and work the hone from behind the blade’s cutting edge. I suppose the general rule is when honing and draw knifing always have the hone, workpiece and drawknife secured held during the operation. Held in such a way that if all goes wrong the blade’s cutting edge does not touch the body. The hone and drawknife are expendable. The sharper knife is safer. The best shave horse is mandatory. If it exposes you, do not use it. Don’t use a metal vice. Do not shave bark from a log lying on the ground. Carefully secure the log horizontally off the ground at a comfortable working height. Be careful

      The prudent craftsman HALTS using the drawknife when:

  18. dogtownmayor says:

    How interesting.  I managed to several an artery in my wrist with a froe. Long story but try to explain that to the emergency room nurse.

    Sent from my Galaxy Tab® A

  19. Most disturbing collage ever, and still hilarious. Well played

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