Skew it (or how to increase your spoke shave proficiency)

I’ve noticed that when most folks begin to use a spoke shave, they are inclined to pull the tool towards themselves.  I suspect that it’s very natural to associate the method of using a draw knife with that of using a spoke shave.  In truth, the spoke shave is more closely related to a plane, in that the blade is supported in a body and here’s where the trouble often starts.  The length of a spoke shave’s sole is very short.  Consequently, when the spoke shave is pulled towards the user, especially when being held perpendicular to the workpiece, the shave will tend to follow the existing contour.

The simple way to eliminate this tendency is to skew the shave in relationship to the workpiece.  Two things happen when the shave is skewed.  First, the length of the supporting surface (sole) of the shave is lengthened.  Second, the effective cutting angle of the iron is reduced.  This is an especially effective technique when shaving long, thin cylindrical or tapered sections.


The spoke shave is a very versatile tool and most craftsmen never fully exploit its potential.  Click here to see a spoke shave being used by John Surlis, who was credited with the revival of the Leitrim Chair.  (Be sure to watch the last ten minutes.)  The video is part of the “Hands” series produced in Ireland during the 1970’s.  John Clarke has posted all of the episodes on his Daily Motion account.  (There are 25+ episodes and Mr. Clarke has posted hundreds of videos, so you may have to dig around a bit.)  It is a wonderful catalog of traditional crafts that were still extant in Ireland during that period.  From carriage builders to wheelwrights, coopers to cabinetmakers, it’s an educational and entertaining view.

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4 Comments on “Skew it (or how to increase your spoke shave proficiency)”

  1. Paleotool Says:

    Reblogged this on Paleotool's Weblog and commented:
    Possibly my favorite tool. So versatile and a pleasure to use. Push, pull, even one handed over the top like a little plane sometimes. Excellent for small work too.

  2. Tico Vogt Says:

    That was a wonderful treat, thanks.

  3. Siavosh Says:

    I recently bought a couple spoke shaves (old wooden one, and new a flat Veritas), and I knew about the effective cutting angle being reduced but never thought about the length of the soul being extended when I skew it. Great tip, thanks for sharing!

  4. forbeskm Says:

    How did you know that is how I spokeshave? Thanks for the tips, next project I will try that.

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