By James Mursell
As a Windsor chairmaker and spokeshave maker, I use a spokeshave more than any other tool. I have three: two straight shaves (large and small) and, for hollowing wood, the curved specialty shave called a travisher.
My introduction to spokeshaves came at school where we had traditional wooden shaves with the blades held in place by friction. When they were sharp and set correctly they were great, but because they were old and well-used, the tangs often slipped in the body. That resulted in a sometimes unexpectedly thicker or finer shaving – not an endearing feature.
I’ve spoken with many people at woodworking shows, and I am amazed by how many still have their grandfathers’ spokeshaves, but rarely use them because of the same problems I suffered during my training. This is a shame because spokeshaves are remarkably versatile tools for shaping wood.
The first spokeshave that I bought was an inexpensive metal shave. It worked after a fashion, but it was not a pleasure to use. Years after purchasing it, I read some of David Charlesworth’s articles that explained all that should be done to make this type of shave function satisfactorily. In my opinion, tools should work “out of the box” – and that one didn’t. I am sure that similar experiences have put off so many potential spokeshave users.
I began to make and sell my own wooden spokeshaves about 15 years ago when I was unable to buy tools of the quality that I wanted.
Spokeshaves fall into two broad categories:
1. Low-angled, usually wooden-bodied
2. Higher-angled usually metal bodied
While there are today several metal-bodied shaves available that don’t suffer from the same problems as the tools that I’ve encountered, I prefer wooden spokeshaves.
Metal (High-angle) Shaves
A fine example of a metal shave is Brian Boggs’s spokeshave, available from Lie-Nielsen Toolworks. It is a beautifully made tool with a bronze body and a blade set at 40°. The blade is made of high-quality steel that holds a fine edge. The throat, or gap between the blade and the nose of the tool, is narrow to produce very fine shavings and a perfect finish, even on difficult woods. The sole of the tool, both in front of and behind the blade, is absolutely flat (a version with a curved sole is also available).
A few years ago I had a conversation with Boggs about our respective tools and we decided that we had designed them for quite different purposes. His tool is designed for finishing cuts, particularly on challenging woods, while mine are for removing wood quickly while leaving an excellent finish for most purposes – particularly on straight-grained wood.
The flat sole of the metal shave means that it is designed as a plane with handles to either side. The tool works best when the surface being shaved is flat or convex. Concave cuts are difficult to make with a tight-mouthed tool because the blade cannot touch the surface; it’s held away from the wood by the front and back of the sole.
Article: Read Christopher Schwarz’s article on “Metal-bodied Spokeshaves.”
Web site: Visit James Mursell’s web site to find out about his spokeshaves and other tools, and details about his chairs and classes.
Tool: Find out more about the Lie-Nielsen Boggs spokeshave.
Book: Get James Mursell’s book, “Windsor Chairmaking.”
In Our Store: “Woodworking in Action” Volume 2, Volume 4 and Volume 6 feature Windsor chairmaker David Wright.
From the October 2012 issue #199
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