What Is the Difference Between a Spokeshave and a Draw Knife?

A spokeshave and a draw knife are used for similar purposes. However, there are a few differences between them that you should keep in mind when you start working with hand tools.

In this article, you’ll learn:

  • What a spokeshave is for
  • What a draw knife is for
  • Different kinds of spokeshaves and drawknives
  • What makes a spokeshave different from a drawknife
  • How to use each of these tools

Telling a spokeshave and a draw knife apart might seem tricky at first. But, don’t worry. We’ll help you sort it out.

All set? Let’s go!

What is a spokeshave used for?

A spokeshave is used to shape and smooth curved wooden pieces. Chair legs, wheel spokes, bows and arrows, and kayak or canoe paddles are examples of projects made with a spokeshave.

Spokeshaves are rather ancient tools. They date back to the Prehistoric Age when they were made from pieces of sharpened stone. The modern spokeshave came into use around the 16th century, when they were used to create spokes for wooden wheels. This is, of course, where spokeshaves got their name.

The handles of a spokeshave extend from the middle like a pair of wings. This gives you the ability to control a spokeshave to make fine cuts. The spokeshave may also come with sharpened notches that allow you to shape the wood to the correct diameter.

A spokeshave also has a part called a “sole.” This is where the tool comes into contact with the wood. The blade of a spokeshave fits into a slot in the sole, often referred to as a “mouth.” Planes have a similar sole into which the blade fits.

Spokeshaves come in a range of shapes and sizes. Different types of projects call for different kinds of spokeshaves. Sometimes, a single project will require the use of more than one kind of spokeshave. For that reason, it’s common for woodworkers to keep several types of spokeshaves in their toolboxes.

Spokeshaves generally range in length between 9-12 inches. The blade is usually between 2-2 3/8 inches long. There are also smaller ones for much more intricate woodwork. These are generally between 3-6 inches long.

What kinds of spokeshaves are there?

There are three different kinds of blades and four different kinds of soles for spokeshaves. One of these blades can fit two types of soles, and we’ll explain that in a bit.

The three types of blades are:

  • Flat
  • Concave
  • Convex

The three types of soles are:

  • Flat
  • Round
  • Concave
  • Convex

When combined, the different blades and soles produce four types of spokeshaves for different purposes. These are:

  • Flat. Flat spokeshaves a flat sole and a flat blade. They are used on flat surfaces and outward curves.
  • Round. Round spokeshaves have a rounded sole that can also fit a flat blade. These are for inward curves, such as the back support of a chair.
  • Convex. Convex spokeshaves curve outwards, as they have both a convex sole and a convex blade. They hollow out pieces of wood in projects like chair seats.
  • Concave. Concave spokeshaves have both curved blades and soles. They curve inward and are used for round pieces and corners.

There is also a curved spokeshave called a travisher. A travisher has handles that curve upward from the middle of the blade so that it reaches down further for even deeper cuts. Travishers most often used in shaping the seats of Windsor chairs.

How do you use a spokeshave?

A spokeshave can be used for either a push or a pull stroke. First, here’s how to use a spokeshave for the pull stroke.

  1. Hold the spokeshave with the handles between the first two fingers of your hands and the thumbs behind the blade.
  2. Place the sole of the spokeshave against the flat surface of your wood.
  3. Pull the spokeshave towards you along the surface of the wood. As you work, apply slight downward pressure to feel the balance of your work.
  4. Continue working this way until your wood is the shape you want it to be.

Using a spokeshave for a push stroke works in almost the same way, except you’d push it away from you instead of pulling it towards you.

What is a draw knife used for?

A draw knife consists of a long blade that tapers on either side. One edge tapers down into a bevel, which is drawn over the wood surface. Hence, the name “draw knife.”

The other side of the blade extends into two tangs to which the handles are attached at a right angle to the blade. These two handles on either side make a draw knife look similar to the handlebars of a bicycle.

A draw knife is used to remove large pieces of wood from a wooden surface. It is designed to chop away big pieces of wood in a hurry, as well as strip away bark from logs and branches.

Draw knives can be used with the bevel facing either up or down in the following ways:

  • Bevel down. With the bevel facing down, a draw knife makes a cut that rises from the wood and prevents it from cutting too deep. Using a draw knife with the bevel down is useful for hollowing out wooden pieces. However, this causes the blade to dull faster.
  • Bevel up. Using a draw knife with the bevel facing up gives you a higher amount of control over the tool. It allows you to remove finer shavings and make deeper cuts.

The best way to use a draw knife is while sitting on a shaving horse, which safely holds your wooden piece in place. Also, make sure the grain of your wood runs parallel to the shaving horse and perpendicular to the blade. Positioning your wood this way keeps the drawknife from cutting against the wood fiber.

To cut with a draw knife, gently pull the blade slightly upwards towards you. Hold the handles lower or higher depending on the depth of the cut you’re looking for.

Draw knives are most commonly used for making curves and concave shapes. However, they can also be used to make straight cuts. To do this, start in the center of the wood and work towards the end. Once you’ve finished that side, turn the wood around and work the other side, so it matches the first one.

What kinds of draw knives are there?

Draw knives can be either straight or curved. Straight and curved blades are interchangeable and can be used for similar purposes. If you have a project that required a lot of hollowing out, though—a chair seat, for instance—a curved blade gives you a deeper cut.

How do you use a draw knife?

To use a draw knife, follow these steps:

  1. Sit down at your shaving horse and secure your piece of wood in the grip.
  2. Hold the draw knife by its two handles with the blade facing you. Make sure your grip is comfortable yet firm enough to control the knife, and keep your fingers out of the way.
  3. If you’re working with the bevel down, place the flat side of the blade against the wooden surface. If you’re working with the bevel up, turn it to the opposite side.
  4. Carefully draw the blade towards you to remove wood from the surface. To remove large amounts of wood quickly, use a deep cut with a slightly upward angle. To remove small shavings and do more delicate work, use smaller strokes.
  5. Take care not to cut too deeply with the draw knife. Cutting too deeply can damage both the blade and your work.

What makes spokeshaves and draw knives different?

One of the main differences between spokeshaves and draw knives is the level of control over the depth of cut. Basically, draw knives are used for rougher cuts and can chop away more wood and do it faster than a spokeshave can. In contrast, a spokeshave makes smaller, smoother cuts.

You should also be aware that because of the difference in depth control, using a draw knife requires more skill, so there’s more of a learning curve when you’re just starting out. A spokeshave, on the other hand, is more comfortable to maneuver, especially for detailed work.

A draw knife is useful for making rough cuts and removing wood quickly. A spokeshave, on the other hand, is helpful for paring off fine shavings to smooth wood and create intricate detail.

The blades of a spokeshave and a draw knife are different as well. As mentioned earlier, a spokeshave’s blade fits into a slotted sole. It’s this sole that actually touches the piece of wood as you work with it. A draw knife, on the other hand, has its blade supported by handles on either side.

Finally, there is the difference in motion. Whereas a spokeshave can be pushed or pulled in either direction, a draw knife can only be drawn towards you.

But since spokeshaves and draw knives are both used to shape wood, they can be used on the same project. For example, if you’ve got something like a table or chair leg you’re working on, you can chop out the rough shape of it with a draw knife.

Once you’ve got your basic shape cut out, you can use your spokeshave to smooth out all the rough parts, add in some delicate and intricate details, and polish it up.

In that sense, spokeshaves and draw knives are related. You might even think of a spokeshave as the “little brother” to the draw knife. One gets you started, the other helps you finish.

As you can see, spokeshaves and draw knives have similar uses, but they’re also different in many respects. By now, you’ve hopefully gotten a good enough idea of the differences between a spokeshave and a draw knife to get started yourself. Have fun!

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