I’ve always been fascinated by hand tools, lets just say I appreciate the simplicity and hearkening back to earlier times.
But more than that, I also love the quietness, the slower pace at which the work proceeds, and the knowledge you need to have of wood and how your tool operates. It’s a nice change from working with machinery all day in in a production atmosphere. . .
I also love how approachable building hand tools for yourself can be. For me, the ability to craft my own tools that I will use gives me that sense of gratification and fulfillment that is often difficult to find elsewhere. And I feel like it closes and completes the circle of a craft — knowing how to make something using purchased tools and materials is wonderful, but I feel like I am more knowledgeable and proficient at a craft when I can source my own materials and make the basic tools I will use. Perhaps that’s why I find blacksmithing so much fun, it is an expected part of smithing that you will be making and/or modifying your own tongs, hammers, etc.
At any rate, I didn’t own a spokeshave, never have, and thought it would be a fun project that would result in another useful tool for the workshop! In all honesty, the bug was planted when I followed Paul Sellers’ instructions on making a frame saw. While following his instructions for that saw I noticed that he also had a video series on making a spokeshave and thought that sounded fun as well! (You’ll have to sign up for a free account in order to watch the classes on Woodworking Masterclasses that I linked to, but I think you’ll find it well worth it. Alternatively, you can see some of Paul’s videos on his Youtube channel, also a great place to learn about hand tool woodworking).
What is a spokeshave and why should you make one?
A spokeshave is essentially a different form of hand plane — in use, it could be said that it functions somewhat like a cross between a plane and a drawknife. Traditionally it was used a lot in making curved and rounded items (for example, chair legs and wheel spokes). My immediate plans for it involve making a few more bows this summer. . . and possibly some canoe paddles!
As to why you should make one, if you have any woodworking plans for your future I think it will come in handy for quickly removing material or reducing edges. It’s a welcome addition to the workbench for sure, and I think I’ll be using mine on a frequent basis.
. . . But really, who needs a reason? If you have to ask that then you probably don’t have the same level of interest in old tools that I do to begin with! =)
The actual process of making a spokeshave is pretty simple, but it will help if you have some experience shaping and heat treating metal. Fortunately I’ve been a hobby knife maker for a few years so this one was pretty straightforward.
You’ll start with a small board and a 4 inch long, 3/4 wide and 1/8 inch thick section of high carbon steel. Paul uses 01 tool steel, I did as well because that’s what I have as scrap from making knives. You could use any other high carbon steel (high carbon because it will hold an edge better and stay sharp longer) but if you want to buy 01 tool steel I usually source mine from Jantz Supply
As far as instructions for making spokeshave, I’ll just point you to Paul’s video since this was the first one I’ve made and I feel it might be a little pretentious for me to attempt teaching it at this point! I will say though, as an improvement to his way of holding the blade still while sharpening it (clamped in a vise), I will just mention that I find it significantly easier to screw the blade blank to a scrap block of wood and then place that block in a vise. It is more sturdy, wiggles less, and is less likely to come popping out at you! Ask me how I know…..
I thoroughly enjoyed making one as a weekend project though and highly encourage you all to give it a shot! You’ll get the satisfaction of making something with your hands, an understanding of how spokeshaves work, and a new tool for the workshop!
And is a spokeshave useful? You’re dadgum straight it is! Mine was shaping the handle on a kitchen spoon I was carving within a few hours of being finished! Saved me a lot of effort with a pocket knife!