Spokeshaves: Life on the Cutting Edge

Tool Review

Spokeshaves: Life on the Cutting Edge

Spokeshaves: Life on the Cutting Edge



The spokeshave fits nicely between the drawknife and the handplane. Like the drawknife, it has two in-line handles, and as with the plane, it uses a cutting blade which projects from a short sole to regulate the depth of cut. Many variations have been produced over the decades, with both wood and metal bodies. Traditionally used to shape spokes for ships’ steering wheels, wagon wheels and the like, shaves are still the tools of choice to shape and smooth convex and concave surfaces, and are a favourite tool of chairmakers.
 
Shaves with a wooden body will have either a wear plate made of wood or metal.

The wear plate can be permanently fixed to the sole or replaceable. Being able to replace a worn or damaged wear plate has clear advantages. On metal body planes there is no obvious need for a wear plate. Some shaves have an adjustable toe piece that enables precise mouth adjustments. As with hand planes, you’ll want as sharp a blade as possible. Shave blades are smaller than handplane blades, but they are easy to sharpen, especially if you make a jig to hold the blade.
 
You change the depth of cut by adjusting the height of the blade in relation to the sole (wear plate) of the shave. Not a difficult task if you take your time. You can easily set one side of the blade a bit higher than the other (“cocking the cutter”). This enables you to adjust your shaving thickness without adjusting the depth of cut: simply use one side of the blade for fine cuts and the other side for coarser cuts.
 
The Goosman and Lee Valley shaves are somewhat different than the others, in that you change the depth of cut by adjusting the toe piece. By moving the blade you can really close up the mouth (the gap between the blade and the toe piece).
 
I wasn’t able to find much information on shaves. “Manufactured and Patented Spokeshaves and Similar Tools” by Thomas C. Lamond was recommended, but is apparently no longer in print (you may want to check out the used bookstores). 
 
The shaves I looked at represent a broad range of body styles, from all wooden to graphite iron.
 
Deluxe Big Shave
Woodjoy Tools makes a range of traditional woodworking handtools, including 3 styles of shaves. Their “Deluxe Big Shave” was the largest shave in the group, at over 15 inches long. This hand made shave has a body of Brazilian Cherry or Jatoba, which looks like Mahogany, but, I am told, is hard, strong and has high shock resistant properties. The shave has an ebony wear plate. With a specific gravity of 1.22, in line with lignum vitae, ebony is the appropriate choice for those seeking an all wood shave (an optional brass wear plate is available). Glen Livingston, owner of Woodjoy Tools, tells me that Mike Dunbar has been happily using a shave with an ebony sole for 1 ½ years.
 
You change the depth of cut by manipulating two set screws on each handle. I found this to be an efficient arrangement. With the 5-inch wide A2 (Rc 62) steel blade you can really cock the cutter to good effect. The handles are nice and wide, but I found them narrow at the shoulder. Glen assures me that he has never experienced a failure at this juncture, and that the shape of the shoulder does not affect the integrity of the shave. The blade came sharp and ready to use. Although there were grinding marks across the face of the blade these are cosmetic in nature and do not affect the cutting properties of the blade. The Deluxe Big Shave is designed to remove a lot of wood fast. According to Glen, many of his customers are Windsor chairmakers, who use a drawknife for initial shaping, then the Big Shave for quick wood removal and shape definition, before moving on to a finish shave. In this context, then, the Deluxe Big Shave can be seen as complementary to any of the other shaves in this review, as well as a great general purpose shave on its own.
 
Available from: Woodjoy Tools
508-669-5245
www.woodjoytools.com
 
Dave’s #1S Shave
Dave Wachnicki is a well-known maker of quality reproduction wooden shaves. He offers six models, including the low angle #1S (Student) shave. This is a very nicely shaped, light shave. It comes with a hardwood body (either beech, hard maple or cherry) and a brass wear plate. The 2 ¾” high carbon steel blade is made by Hock Tools, and hardened to Rc 62. Unlike the other shaves that I looked at, the #1S takes third-party replacement blades, including those from Hock Tools (707-964-2782) and the Kansas City Tool Works (see sidebar).
 
To adjust the depth of cut loosen the two brass knurled knobs on the blade tangs, remove the blade, and turn the two jackscrews. Once set, the blade is indexed to return to that position after removal for sharpening. At just under 1/32 inch, the mouth is sufficiently narrow that I was able to produce whisper thin shavings. Adjusting the blade for a coarser cut was very quick. You’ll be able to use this shave for hours without tiring. At just over $100 CDN, this is excellent value in a traditional wooden shave.
 
Contact: Dave’s Shaves
603-356-8712
www.ncworkshops.com
 
Goosman #81
The Goosman #81 has got to be the nicest looking shave on the market. It is not only visually stunning, but has a wonderful feel in the hand, due in part to the sculpted handles. The #81 is a reproduction of the Stanley Razor Edge made from 1905 to 1935, and I imagine, somewhat hard to come by today. The body of the #81 is made of rosewood, the toe piece of polished and matte brass and the honed 2” hollow ground blade is made of high carbon steel.
 
Adjusting the depth of cut and closing the throat is very easy. All it takes is a flat head screwdriver and a light touch. You can set the mouth to produce the finest of shavings, or open it up to remove wood quickly. A superb shave at a premium price.
 
Available from: Jack Goosman
724-239-3024

 
Lee Valley Low-Angle
Lee Valley’s Low Angle shave is an economy version of the Goosman, and uses the same style of adjustable toe piece. However the Lee Valley features a reversible toe: it can be flipped over for working on tight inside curves. The body is cast aluminium, which is light but very durable. The blade is A2 steel (Rc 62) and comes fully honed. Unlike the other shaves, it has a primary angle of 20 and a micro bevel of 25. Like the Goosman, I was able to produce paper-thin shavings or open it up to hog off gobs of wood. Given that you get the same high-level functionality as with the Goosman at one-quarter the price, I think we’ll see a lot of these shaves in workshops over the coming years. Clearly the best value in a metal shave.
 
Get one from: Lee Valley Tools
800-267-8767
www.leevalley.com
 
Clifton 550 and 500
Clico (Sheffield) Tooling is well known for its fine line of hand planes, direct descendants of the renowned Preston planes. I have two Clifton planes in my shop, and they get a lot of use. The 550, with a concave sole, and the 500, with a convex sole are the only two shaves that Clico currently manufactures. The virtually unbreakable cast graphite iron bodies are nicely machined. A chrome wing nut holds the blade cap and adjustment screw in place. Adjustments to the depth of cut are easily made. You’ll need to get your water stones out, as the high carbon Sheffield steel blades do not come honed. These shaves are pretty heavy, at about 1 ¾ lbs, but feel substantial in the hands. The gap in the throat is wide, almost ⅛”. I thought that this would result in a lot of chatter. But with the blade nicely honed, I was surprised at how well they cut. Perhaps it’s the angle at which the blade is presented to the stock (about 48) or the weight of the shave. Whatever, they both get the job done right, and at under $120 each for tools that you can pass on to your grandchildren, they are pretty good value.
 
Available from either: Garrett Wade
800-221-2942
www.garrettwade.com 
 
Highland Hardware
404-872-4466
www.highland-hardware.com
 
Kunz 50 and 51
Kunz tools have been around for the past 80 years. All the tools seem to have the same distinctive green and red epoxy coating. Kunz produces a wide range of handplanes in addition to twelve models of spokeshaves. The shaves are made of cast iron. The quality of the casting is good, but by no means to the level of the Clifton shaves. On the #50 the fittings are steel while on the #51 they use both brass and steel. The tools are well shaped, and feel good in the hand. The blade caps are ⅛” thick (compared to ¼” on the Clifton) and had quite rough edges, which I filed level. The blades are the biggest disappointment. Although I wasn’t able to confirm, they do not appear to be high carbon steel. I sharpened and honed the #51 blade, but it didn’t hold an edge very well. Fortunately you can get a replacement blade from Hock Tools for the #51 (about $35). For the #50 you can use a Clifton 500 blade. All together, not an impressive set of shave. Apparently during the mid-1990s the firm under went some significant management changes, which may account for the quality issues.
 
Available from: Garrett Wade
1-800-221-2942.
 

spokeshaves_1

Kevin Brennan uses A2 steel to make double posted 1 ½”, 2 ¾” and 4” blades. The two larger sizes are double hollow ground. They fit shaves made by Conover, Dave’s Shaves and John Gunterman, or likely any shave with a body thickness under 1” that uses a doubled posted blade. The blades come fully honed, and at about $35 US represent good value. I tried one of these blades in Dave’s #1S, and was very impressed with the results. The blade edge is very sharp, and easily re-honed. Anyone who has used hollow ground chisels will appreciate the difference that Kevin’s blades will make.
 

ModelBlade
Type
Total
Length
Handle
Length
Blade
Width
Blade
Thickness
Blade
Angle
PriceRating
Woodjoy Deluxe Big Shaveflat15 1/44 3/857/3225°166.75★★★★
Dave's Shave #1Sflat113 1/42 3/41/827°108.75★★★★
Goosman #81flat11 1/2421/832°217.50★★★★★
Lee Valley Low-Angleflat10 1/23 7/821/820°57.50★★★★★
Clifton 550concave103 3/423/3225°114.56★★★★
Clifton 500convex103/423/3225°114.56★★★★
Kunz 50convex103/42 1/81/1625°28.50★★★
Kunz 51flat9 1/23/41/81/1625°34.75★★★
Notes: All measurements are in inches. To make comparisons easier I converted US prices into Canadian dollars using a factor of 1.45. Shipping is extra. The Lee Valley Low-Angle blade has a 20° primary angle and 25° microbevel.


CARL DUGUAY is the Web Editor for Canadian Woodworking
Carl Duguay 2