A few thoughts on spokeshaves

If there ever was a “therapeutic” tool contest, the lowly spokeshave might win, without even the slightest challenge.  Anyone who has ever sat down for a session on the shavehorse with a shave knows exactly what I’m talking about.  Even a “something less than super-sharp” shave will bring a smile to the face as shavings mount up around your feet.

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There are three basic types of shaves.  Low-angle, standard pitch and scraping shaves.  This discussion will deal with the first two types.

The low angle shaves include tools like the Miller’s Falls Tubular Shave, the Stanley No. 85 Razor shave and numerous wood bodied shaves with “tanged” irons that were “friction” fitted or threaded to allow for adjustment.

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These low angle shaves share a common design feature in that they have a supporting surface ahead of the iron and none behind it.  In the case of the Stanley 85 (and the current replicas being made), this “shoe” extends forward for a considerable distance, making them more suited for flat work.  The “woodies” above and below a very useful for curved work.  All of this type shave utilize iron projection as a means of establishing the appropriate clearance angle.  This means that if the iron is honed at 30°, a true cutting angle of perhaps 35° can be achieved.

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This type of shave requires a bit of a learning curve due to the single supporting surface.  And, the user will note that the iron must be honed razor sharp in order to keep the tool “in the cut”, due to the extremely low cutting angle and minimal clearance.  In my experience, this type of shave works well in straight grained stock and softer species.  The low cutting angle tends to increase tear-out in figured stock.

Standard angle shaves, both iron bodied and wooden, have supporting surfaces both in front of and behind the cutting edge.  Irons are usually bedded at between 40 and 45 degrees, with the bevel down.

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The shave above (Stanley 51) is, in my opinion, one of the best.  They are readily available from used tool dealers, garage sales and antique marts.  Easily adjusted, they can be filed to create a radiused surface parallel to the cutting edge.  Stanley did make radiused versions, but they were made in small numbers and are priced much higher.  The Stanley 151 is also a very good choice.

I’ve found that many standard angle shaves offer one other distinct advantage.  The iron can be reversed, thus creating a 70° scraping shave.  This method cannot be used on some newer “replica” shaves, as manufacturers have opted for depth adjustment methods that allow the iron to be seated in only the bevel down position.

Kunz "round" shave with bevel up, scraping curly maple with ease.

Kunz “round” shave with bevel up, scraping curly maple with ease.

When using any spokeshave, there are a few things to keep in mind.  In nearly every situation, problems are related to the sharpness of the iron and/or the amount of iron projection.  Skew the shave, whenever possible.  This has the effect of lengthening the supporting surface(s) and lowering the effective cutting angle, unless you’re working with figured material.  Don’t push or pull the shave too quickly.  Make sure that the tool is “in the cut” and keep it there.  It’s easy to get into a rhythm that lessens your control of the process.

Happy Shaving

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