Since I listed a spokeshave on my tools-to-bring list for the Greenwood Fest class, I’ve received a couple questions about choosing and using one.
A spokeshave is a handy tool for bowlcarving. It excels at fairing a curved surface, and it’s easy to control with a push or a pull stroke. The same cannot be said of the drawknife, although I use it much more.
I love working with a drawknife at the bowl horse, where it can be “drawn” with power and control. But a standard drawknife is awkward to push. Although “push-knives” with straight handles are a little more wieldy.
A spokeshave is extra handy if you’re without a bench, horse, etc. Just put some notches in your hefty chopping block.
After doing all the hollowing and hewing at the block, refine the surfaces with a spokeshave. The bowl can be held steady by leaning into it while the opposite end is registered in a notch in the edge of the block or against a stop on the far side. A couple woooden pegs could substitute for the integral upper stop.
Granted, it’s nice to have other benches and vices, but much can be done with little as well.
As far as choosing a spokeshave, There are two main varieties: standard and low-angle. I typically use a standard metal shave for general use and a low-angle shave for any work on end grain or delicate work like chamfering. Even within those two categories, there are many configurations and brands of shaves available. The most useful is the standard flat-bottom shave, but there are other bottom shapes.
I don’t know much about all the brands out there but when looking for new hand woodworking tools you can’t go wrong with Lie-Nielsen or Lee Valley Veritas. Someday I need to pick up one of those. And there are many small-scale makers of wooden low-angle shaves out there. Any attempt on my part to list them would fall far short, but a quick internet search will yield many, and some possibilities may turn up in reader comments.
The one’s I use most are a standard metal shave by Stanley and a low angle shave I made from a Ron Hock blade and some apple firewood many years ago. I do prefer the old Stanley #52 to their #51. The handles are lower — more in line with the blade, so it’s easier to control.
Neither of these are perfect; for example, I need pliers to keep the Stanley shave set to a good depth. But I soldier on. The only thing I can’t get over is dull. Keep your shave sharp.
Having spent seemingly thousands of hours behind spokeshaves I agree that they’re delightful tools, At one point I owned approximately fifty but gave the majority to a tool auctioneer several years ago. They’re so simple and easy to refurbish and tune. Used ones are inexpensive and, at the other end of the scale, there are new, highly-sophisticated (but, nevertheless, still simple) models being offered. One suggestion is that if you are going to refurbish and tune an older iron shave you might want to invest in a replacement blade made from a modern steel.
Thanks for sharing your expert and considerable experience, Barry. And I should pick up a replacement iron for my old Stanley — great suggestion.
As always Dave, Thanks for sharing your experiences, your good thinking and your wonderful drawings
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As a Windsor chairmaker mainly, and a beginning bowl carver, I favor the fine Lie Neilsen spokeshaves designed by Brian Boggs. the most versatile for bowls is the curved bottom.
They are fine tools and hence the price of $135. Old Standley shaves are good too, if well tuned and sharp. Again, the sole with a radius is more useful for bowls. JM
Thanks for that insight. I can understand how the curved-bottom shave would allow for working into concave areas on a bowl, thus more versatile, as you said. The flat bottom shave is probably easier to control when fairing convex surfaces like the main body of the bowl. I’ve not used the LN Boggs shave, but I’m not surprised to hear that it is excellent. I appreciate you sharing that.
I use a Lee Valley low angle shave to great affect. It will plug up on occasion with green wood if the blade tolerance is really close. LV makes great steels and the PMV-11 will not disappoint. Skewing the tool will give a nice cut around the foot of the bowl as well. I also like the Brian Boggs for finishing and the curved bottom BB for the handle sweep on the bowl. As Dave said, any of the old shaves with the handles set low will work well. The Stanley gull wings are a challenge and not recommended.
Good input, Ken. Thanks.
Wow. So much great info in the article and the comments. Been a pleasure to follow. thanks all.
I believe that you will have less trouble with blades/cutters moving around in your 51 and 52 if you used the correct spokeshave blades. The dual slotted blades you are using are designed for the 151 and 151R. The correct blades for your two spokeshaves are slotted in the centre and can either be bought second hand, or new from Ron Hock. The slot allows the cap to clamp down on your blade more effectively.
You may also want to aquire a 54 adjustable mouth shave, available second hand. They can be adjusted to take fine or more coarse shavings simply by turning a single knurled nut.
Thanks for the recommendation. I interchange a few blades into the spokeshave. They all have the center slot to allow for the screw to pass through, but some are certainly better than others. I should go the Ron Hock route, though. I’ll also check out the 54. Good information.
Good stuff as always! I’m on the path to making my first Jenny Chair, so it’s time to replace an old clunker spokeshave, thanks for sharing all this. JA plugs the stanley 52 as well and doing a little noodling online I’ve just learned that LV spokeshave blade fits well with these – improved clearance and material for a longer lasting edge.
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