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.