Wednesday, February 1, 2012


Another project I have in development is spokeshaves. 
A spokeshave is one of those tools that you don't seem to use often, but when you do, you are very glad you have it.  The only problem with spokeshaves is availability.  I'm not a big fan of the metal bodied shaves of the past, even the Stanley chamfer shave I have seems to collect more dust than wood shavings.  Which isn't to say that they are bad tools, they just don't seem as useful to me compared to my wood bodied shaves, given what I want them to do when.  Certainly I am not alone in my feelings on the topic.  Michael Dunbar said this in Restoring, Tuning & Using Classic Woodworking Tools,

"The spokeshave has been used for centuries to clean up curved work or to do light shaping.  Although they do not look much like planes, they are related.  As occured with planes, the earlier spokeshaves had wooden bodies that were eventually replaced by those made of cast iron.  However, wooden spokeshaves are far superior to metal ones (my metal one hangs on a hook and has not been used for many years).  pg. 184.

The difference in performance is not related to body material, the key distinction between the two is in the blade angle.  Metal bodied shaves are more often pitched at higher angles, comparable to most handplanes.  Wood body blades are much more acute, usually around 22 degrees, like a mitre plane. 
Usable wooden spokeshaves are hard to find for several reasons.  Because they are wood, and because many people like to use them for chamfering projects, often you will find ones where the area in front of the mouth (the wear) is troughed out.  This can be worked down to true, but sometimes that opens the mouth up too much.  Compounding this problem is the blade itself, which is quite short and consequently doesn't have much life.

Used up Greaves & Sons blade
If you true up the bed and sharpen the blade, you might have too large of a mouth to produce a fine shaving.  Replacement blades are not available, in fact if you look on some shaves and their blades you might find the matching Roman numerals that some makers employed to keep the parts from getting mixed up as the shave went through the manufacturing process.  Ken Hawley's book, Wooden Spokeshaves, along with being an amazing resource, indicates that this was done because of the little irregularities in every blade and the fact that every blade was uniquely fitted to a shave.  When the spokeshave went to the finishing room, the blade was left behind for the final fitting that was done after the finishing process was complete. 
Because the irregularities in the blades prevented them from being interchangeable, when the blade was used up or damaged beyond repair, the entire shave was trash.  This isn't a great waste, the bodies are not too hard to make, and it seems that some woodworkers were involved in making their own from purchased blades.

Spokeshaves from Seaton Chest. They do not appear on the purchase list with the other tools and may have been by Seaton himself.
I had a blade, and some flat-sawn beech sitting around, so I made a spokeshave.  Using Hawley's book for instructions I first fitted the blade.  The traditional method according to Hawley was to bore a hole for the tang on the blade, ream the hole, then drive in a square tapered drift that matched the square taper on the tangs.  Using the same fixture during the blade forging process you can get a certain amount of uniformity in the taper of the tangs, how much I can't say until I've completed mine and worked up a batch.  But if you make your drift using the same fixture, your pieces should be close (close enough for wood).  Because the blade I had was a one-off and I didn't have a drift for it, I spent time with my needle files and small floats. 
One things I have noticed on some original shaves is that some have tiny holes drilled at an angle into the mortise, from the top side.  I assume this was an attempt to loosen up the fit, but was this done by the manufacturer, or done later by the user?
Once the blade fit, I was able to lay out the escapement behind the blade and open it up with saws, floats, and a mill file. 

Next was the lay out of the body, similar to saw handle making -lay out some reference lines, drill a couple of holes, saw off what you can, then go at it with rasps and files.  Hawley says that the old maker he interviewed used a drawknife to rough out the handles (there is a picture of this man using his drawknife in Hawley's book), and I think I will do that next time.  Profiling the body of a spokeshave was quite fun.  They are very beautiful tools when you stop to look at all of the lines on them. 

Profiling -notice you keep the cut-offs from the arms to help clamp the project in the vice.
After all of the shaping, I scraped the surfaces and shellaced it. 
As with any first, this project gave me a few ideas of what to do on the next, and I think future models will feature the addition of brass wear plates will increase the working life of the body. 
The purpose of the project was to determine the feasibility of making these as a saleable product.  I like the idea, and if I can produce the fixtures for forging good blades, you might see spokeshaves available from me in the future.

Dubar, Michael.  Restoring, Tuning & Using Classic Woodworking Tools. New York, New York.  Sterling Publishing Co, 1989.
Hawley, Ken, and Watts, Dennis.  Wooden Spokeshaves. The Tools and Trades History Society, 2007. 
Rees, Jane and Mark, ed.  The Toolchest of Benjamin Seaton.  The Tools and Trades History Society, 1994.