What is a spokeshave and what is it used for?

Regardless of your skill level, if you have been in woodworking, you’ve probably heard of spokeshave even if you haven’t used one. Spokeshaves are used to smooth and flatten complex shapes in wood. Most commonly, spokeshave will be used for stuff like creating wheel spokes or even arrows. There are other uses of course that I haven’t listed here. Unlike a drawknife, a spokeshave has a sole plate with a fixed angle to keep the blade relative to the surface. They have even discovered some spokeshaves that were made out of stone. These were from prehistoric times, so the spokeshave appears to have been around for quite a while. It is still a useful tool in any workshop, especially if you need to finish off a round surface.

A spokeshave is kind of like a plane in this way, except planes are used on flat surfaces. Unlike a plane, the hands are to the sides of the body, so they can be used to control the pressure and execution of the cut. This can be done by drawing it to you or pushing it away from you, either one. Just make sure if you’re pulling it towards you that you’re doing in a safe way. Spokeshaves can have flat, round, concave or convex soles. You should choose the appropriate one for the job that you’re trying to do. There are other uses for a spokeshave which we will discuss a little further on in this article.

 What are the Different Types of Spokeshaves?

There are actually four different kinds of spokeshave that you can use, the flat spokeshave, a round spokeshave, a concave spokeshave, and the convex spokeshave. While there are four different kinds of soles that identify spokeshaves. There are only three types of blades. This is because one type of blade works with two of the different soles. Let’s take a look at it each spokeshave and what it’s used for.

Flat Spokeshave

A flat bottom spokeshave is used on items that curve outward, but you can also use it on certain flat surfaces as well. The sole of this type of spokeshave is flat and runs parallel to the surface of the wood. The blade is straight across as well and should be adjusted to the depth that you want to use. This can vary depending upon if you’re looking to do finishing work or if you’re wanting to remove quite a bit of material with it. What some people do is vary the depth of the blade from one side to the other. That way, if they want a deeper cut, they can move to the other end of the spokeshave. This, of course, will not work on a flat surface.

Uses for the Flat Spokeshave

The flat spokeshave is used for many different tasks. Just because it’s flat doesn’t mean that it’s not versatile. As long as the curves are on the outside, the flat spokeshave can handle the job. This spokeshave can be used for such projects as the outside of an arch, a curved chair back that slants backward, rounding the sides of chair seat to make it more decorative or even rounding the edges off to make the piece more aesthetically pleasing. Any of these things can be achieved with a flat spokeshave. There are many other uses out there that haven’t been mentioned.

Types of Projects

A flat spokeshave is proficient for anything from building a chair to table legs or even fine finishing trim when building a home. Although some people decide to use a router to get a particular look. While a router can be a little quicker, a spokeshave can hone the wood down precisely. You have more control over the depth of the arch, the direction of the cut, the look of the cut, and you can do all of this without using electricity. This makes a spokeshave quit a useful little tool, especially if you like doing everything by hand.

Rounded Bottom Spokeshave

This type of spokeshave is used on the inside of the arches. The bottom is rounded so that the blade can make contact with the wood in the bottom of the arch at all times. It is also possible to shave the inside of an arch with a flat bottom spokeshave. The curved bottom spokeshave should be used on the tighter curves. These are especially good on very tight contours. These spokeshaves can be harder to use though and takes a bit of practice. Once you get used to them, they are an asset to your toolset. The round bottom spokeshave uses the same blade that the flat bottom spokeshave does.

Uses for the Round Spokeshave

Round bottom spokeshaves are specifically designed to remove material from the inside of an arch. The flat spokeshave would do the outside of the arch, while the round spokeshave would be used for the inside. Anytime you have a curve and you need to remove material from the inside of it, a rounded spokeshave is a way to go. Having said that, if the curve is shallow and there’s not much of a difference in depth. You can still use a flat spokeshave as long as the blade is able to touch the material. This type of spokeshave is harder to use and requires some practice to hold and guide it correctly.

Types of Projects

A round bottom spokeshave is not quite as versatile as a flat spokeshave. Anytime the inside of a curve needs to be refined, that’s the tool to use. Whether it’s the inside of an arch on a sleigh bed, the inside of the arch of a chair back or the arch of a leg for coffee tables or desks, the round spokeshaves can definitely handle the job.

Concave Spokeshave

Concave spokeshaves have a rounded indented sole. This type of spokeshave is used primarily for round surfaces especially if you’re going to make something like a wagon wheel or things such as that. This unit is good for shaving down the spokes or making arrows. Anything that you need a rounded surface for, even if it’s shaving the back of a chair down, the concave spokeshave would be the right tool to use. This type of spokeshave is good for any type of work like that.

Uses for the Concave Spokeshave

This particular type of spokeshave should be used to create rounded pieces. Where the others have a flat surface, this has a concave surface and allows you to use the sides for beveling the wood as well. This spokeshave is ideal for making rounded spokes for chairs, wagon wheels or even decorative wheels. Anytime you need to work around a piece of wood, this would be the optimal type of spokeshave to finish the job with.

Types of Projects

This is the spokeshave that you would want to use for making an arrow, dowels for multiple purposes or spokes for any kind of wheel that you’re making. You could even use it for rounded slats in wooden bed frames or chair backs. Any project that requires a rounded piece of wood can benefit from this type of spokeshave. Unless of course, the diameter of the wood is wider than the spokeshave itself.

Convex spokeshave

This one is just the opposite of the concave spokeshave. The sole is flat, but side to side, it protrudes out in an arch. This type of spokeshave is used to remove material from the center of an item, for instance, the seat of a chair or things along those lines so that it will have an indented look and feel.

Uses for the Convex Spokeshave

You can use this type of spokeshave to remove material from any kind of project that you wish to have a convex look to it. The blade is designed to remove material and create a dugout look. When you apply pressure to the piece whether you are pulling it toward you or pushing it forward. Make sure that you use your wrist to turn the device. By doing this, you can achieve whatever angle you’re looking for.

Types of Projects

You can literally use a convex spokeshave on any project, it just depends on what you’re trying to do. You can remove material from the center of a chair seat or a canoe seat. Also, the convex spokeshave can be used to remove material from the inside of a chair back to make it look more aesthetically pleasing and more comfortable or similar projects.

Combination Spokeshave

While most spokeshaves are single blade units, they do have spokeshaves that are dual purpose. They will have a concave sole on one end and a flat sole on the other end. This is done to save time and stop you from switching tools as much, so you can be more productive.

Getting a Specific Result Using a Flat Spokeshave

With a flat spokeshave, you want to make sure that the blade is adjusted to either remove large amounts of wood or fine detailing. You will have to try the different depths to see which one you like to work with. When pulling the unit towards you, make sure that you have your thumbs resting on top of the blade assembly. Use your four fingers to pull and guide the unit. The two main troubles that a woodworker usually has is stuttering on the wood or the unit will try to flip over if you do not have your grip correct. When pushing the unit away from you, use your fingers to apply pressure to the blade assembly. Use your thumbs to guide the unit. The main goal of either technique is to keep the sole of the spokeshave parallel with the surface of the wood.

If you’re trying shape a square piece of wood into a round piece, start on the corners and try to work apiece down into an octagon. Once you do this, continue to remove the corners and sooner or later peace will be rounded. If you’re working on a flat piece of wood, make sure that the blade is adjusted an equal distance on both sides so that you get a smooth cut.

Getting a Specific Result Using a Round Spokeshave

The sole on a round spokeshave being round is perfect for working the inside arches. Make sure that the section with the blade on it is making contact with wood and focus your energy on keeping the sole turned exactly with the plane of wood. Use your fingers to hold the sole down and your thumbs to push the device. Also, use your wrists to turn the unit as you go. If you’re having a hard time removing wood, skew the device a little from one side to the other. By doing this, it should allow for an easier cut.

Getting a Specific Result Using a Concave Spokeshave

With this type of spokeshave, it is recommended that you push the device away from you when shaping wood. Use your four fingers to hold the sole flat on the wood and your thumbs to guild the unit. You must start with a piece of wood that is smaller than the diameter of a spokeshave. However, once you have used one of the other types to bring the diameter down, this is the best type of spokeshave to use to create a cylindrical piece of wood. Start on the corners and hone them down as much as possible, continuing around the piece until you get the desired shape.

Getting a Specific Result Using a Convex Spokeshave

The thing with spokeshaves is the result depends upon your technique. For instance, if you’re trying to use a convex spokeshave to create a chair seat. You wanted to have a dugout section on each side to make the seat more comfortable. What you would do is pick a center point on each side and start removing material. Once you have removed enough material to start shaping the hole, you will want to keep a good watch on your angle of cut. You should start at the back with a downward angle, however deep you want it.  As you come to the front, twist the sole of the spokeshave more to an upward angle. You can make both angles the same or if you’re trying to create a shallower cut, you can adjust it to however you would like.

Sharpening Spokeshaves

Sharpening a spokeshave is not that different than sharpening a chisel. The plane on a spokeshave should be set to about 24 degrees. Having said that, some people recommend that you do a dual plane and curve the part next to the edge down just a little bit more. Personally, I’ve never found this to be useful. I like to keep the entire plane at 24 degrees. You can do this by checking the angle and remembering your grip. Once you get used to the angle, all you do is get your three sharpening stones and a strap. You want a coarse sharpening stone, a medium sharpening stone, and a fine sharpening stone. The strap that will be used of course is just a piece of course leather. Start with the coarse sharpening stone once you’ve gotten used to the angle that you need.

Prime the first stone with sharpening compound. Position the blade with your fingertips towards the end so you can apply pressure. Once you have moved the blade up and down the stone 30 times, move on to the next stone, starting with the most course. Once you’ve worked all three stones and the edge looks nice and clean, prime the strap with sharpening compound and do the same procedure. Except for this time, you only pull away from the edge. Once you’re finished, you should have a nice sharp blade that will make easy cuts for your spokeshave tool. Having said that, if you’re the type that likes precision, they do make jigs that you can buy to sharpen your spokeshave blades. While these do help, they’re not necessary.

In Conclusion

While writing this article, I picked up a few tricks that I didn’t know about before. I can tell you that I have a greater respect for the spokeshave now. I’ve always known that they were a good tool, but I didn’t know that they were as versatile as they are. Having said that, if you want more information on the spokeshave, do a search. There are all kinds of videos out there about techniques and projects that you can use with a spokeshave.

If your anything like me, you need to make sure that you’re getting all the use you can out of your tools and that they’re doing the best job possible. For now, the hope is that I’ve given you a solid knowledge of what a spokeshave is and how it works. Once you’ve used one for a while, you’ll see that it is one of the best tools at your disposal. So, let’s bust out your tools, find a nice project, and get to work.

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