A bevel is quite simply an angle made by the meeting of two surfaces. By definition, it cannot be at a 90° angle, although all other angles are perfectly acceptable. The term is widely used in all sorts of industries to describe everything from a setting for jewelry to the blade of a knife; the meaning is usually quite clear from the context.
The origins of this term appear to lie in the Old French baivel, which is derived from bayer, “to yawn,” a reference to the commonly wide angle of a bevel. People have been using the word as a verb since around the 1600s, when beveled edges were coincidentally very popular in architecture.
Commonly, the term is used to describe an angled cut. In woodworking, for example, many pieces of furniture are beveled to create soft edges and to ease the transition from one surface to another. An angled edge that connects two surfaces is known as a chamfer; chamfers are often used to create bridges in ornamental trim or on legs of furniture. Angles are also used in jewelry cutting to bring out the brilliance of a stone; diamonds may have multiple bevels, for example, creating a highly refractive surface which causes the stone to sparkle.
In architecture and design, a bevel rule or sliding bevel is a tool that is used to measure and draw angles. The tool consists of two arms mounted on a hinge with an embedded protractor which indicates the degree of an angle. By using this device, someone can ensure that an angle is properly measured and described; this can be crucial when making architectural drawings. These tools are also sometimes used by artists and designers who wish to create precise angles in their work.
In conversation with people in certain trades, people may hear edges with oblique angles referred to as bevels, as in for the strikeplate of a lock, which is classically beveled so that the lock slides in and out easily. Construction workers may also talk about beveling the edge of something when they talk about cutting an angle, as might be the case when trimming a banister to create a smooth edge so that people do not hurt themselves on the sharp point of a 90° angle.