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Newsletter Article: Spokeshaves

Do You need a spokeshave?  Spokeshaves are not on my list of the top ten tools, not even my top twenty tools; however, spokeshaves do things that other tools cannot do nearly as well, so yes, I have a set of three spokeshaves.  Spokeshaves excel at smoothing inside and outside curves and for rounding things such as chairs spindles and stool legs. 

 

Recently I built the spindle chair below, using green woodworking methods.  I spent hours on the shave horse shaping the legs and spindles.  First using a draw knife to rough out the shape and then a flat bottomed spokeshave to refine the spindle to final size and then a concaved spokeshave to smooth out the facets left by the straight flat bottomed spokeshave.  Yes, I could have turned all the spindles on a lathe, but I wanted this to be a hand-cut chair with the look of hand cut spindles.

 

 

But there are other good uses of the spokeshave besides making spindles.  Notice the crest of the chair which curved horizontally and arched vertically.  Both the flat and round bottom spokeshaves were my tool of choice to smooth out these curves.  I also found my mini card scrapers came in very handy on the crest.

 

Do you need a spoke shave?  Well, no.  You could use a spindle sander to smooth inside curves, and a hand sander for outside curves; cabinet makers rasps can also do these tasks.  But if you want the butter smooth finish than only a sharpened blade can leave, then spokeshaves are your friend.

What exactly is a Spokeshave?  A spokeshave is like a plane, except planes are used on flat surfaces and spokeshaves are used on curved surfaces. Unlike a plane, spokeshaves are held by handles that stick out from sides of the plane and they help you control the pressure and execute the cut. This can be done by drawing the spokeshave towards you or pushing it away. Another big difference between a bench plane and a spokeshave is that a spokeshave has a very minimal amount of sole.  Its basically a very small piece of metal holding a blade.

What are the Different Types of Spokeshaves and how are they used?  There are basically three types of spokeshaves, all defined by the shape of their sole: A flat bottomed spokeshave, a round bottomed spokeshave, and a concaved bottom spokeshave. A straight blade works in the flat and round bottom spokeshaves, and a concave shaped blade works in the concave bottom spokeshave.  All spokeshaves have a cap iron that holds the blade securely to the body.  There are two methods for adjusting the blade: Some spokeshave has two adjusting knobs that you use to project the blade or on spokeshaves without adjusting knobs you project the blade by tapping the top of the blade with a small brass hammer

  • Flat Bottomed Spokeshave. Flat bottom spokeshaves are used on outside curves.  This was the spokeshave I used to smooth the top of the arch of my chair crest, the back of the outside curve of my chair crest, and most of the work on my spindles.

Rounded Bottom Spokeshave. Round bottom spokeshaves are use used on the inside curves. This was the spokeshave I used to smooth the bottom of my arched crest and the inside curve of the crest. This spokeshave is harder to use than a flat bottom spokeshave but with a bit of practice you can master this plane.

 

  • The Concave Spokeshave. Concave spokeshaves have a half-rounded sole. This type of spokeshave is used for refining and smoothing rounded surfaces.  This type of spokeshave is used to create rounded or dowel shaped pieces. Where I find this spokeshave excelled was in the final smoothing of my chair spindles.  After shaping the spindle with my flat bottomed spokeshave there were little facets on the spindle.  The concave bottomed spokeshave smoothed out these facets.

What’s a good spokeshave? Very similar to a bench plane, the things that differentiate a good spokeshave from a poor spokeshave are: 1) Machining, 2) Blade and 3) the adjustment mechanism.

  • Machining.  Good machining makes the huge difference in a spokeshave.  In my oppinon spokeshaves are more susceptible to vibration (chatter) than a bench plane is and if your spokeshave chatters, it will not work.  The well machined surface creates a good fit between the blade and spokeshave.  A poorly machined surface has a poor fit and will cause chatter.  Most old Stanley 151 spokeshaves do not have a machines surface.  You can fix this with careful filing but it’s not a job for a beginner. Better to buy a modern spokeshave such as a Lie Nielson, Veritas, or Pinnacle with a well machined surface.
  • Blade.  A nice thick blade verses one of the older thin blades also goes a long way to combat chatter.  I am not that picky about the type of metal (O1, A2, or plain tool steel) but I want a thick blade.  A quality modern spokeshave will come with a thick blade, but the cheaper spokeshaves wont.  If you have an older spokeshave replacing the blade with a modern thick spokeshave blade, such as a Hock Tool replacement blade, is a must upgrade in my oppinon. 
  • Adjuster.  Most spokeshaves have two adjuster knobs that controls the depth of cut on the left and right side of the plane.  Some spokeshave have no adjusters and you adjust by tapping the blade with a small brass hammer.  The adjusters do nothing to improve the spokeshaves performance, but if you are not comfortable tapping the blade then adjustment knobs are very handy.

Sharpening the Blade is the Secret.  If your spokeshave blade is not sharp, your spokeshave will not work. Like any other hand tool, you must be able to sharpen the blade.  Spokeshave blades are pretty small, so they are harder to sharpen than say a bench plane blade.  Watch Rob’s spokeshave blade sharpening method in the video included in this newsletter.

Good luck with your spokeshaves.

Luther Shealy