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Spokeshave

under construction 11-29-10

Descended from the early drawknife, since the 16th century the spokeshave was used by wheelwrights, coopers and bodgers. Today, spokeshaves are still widely used especially for work that requires curved sections on workpieces, such as shaping the seat parts of chairs and cabriole legs. Its similarites makes it a good choice for shaping and finishing furniture parts, wagon spokes, any workpiece needing chamfered or rounded edges. Consisting of a "frame" and two handles in a single piece, it operates with the blade firmly held between the two edges of the opening on the frame, with the two handles extending lengthwise.

Historic Records of Spokeshaves

cross-section for four-sided post

Note: While my samples come from the Oxford English Dictionary, I have taken many liberties to enhance them -- especially in the provision of background information -- for this entry. For readers who may want to follow up this history, at the beginning of the 16th century in Britain, dictionaries were still very much in a formative state of development. Only a handful existed: -- remember printing with movable type dates only 35 years earlier, 1475, in Germany, and at that time of Stanbridge's Vocabula -- see directly below --, 1510, an actual printing press is in Britain only because Henry VIII ordered it to happen. Moreover, the few dictionaries at the time in Britain were designed to give the meaning of "hard words", for the handful of the literate population actually able to read.

From my research, I have found that Herbert Cescinsky's account of the conditions under which carpenters/joiners -- the "cabinetaker" label does not appear until ca. 1660 -- worked in the Tudor period -- especially the impact on joiners with Henry VIII's "Dissolution of the Monasteries" -- is fascinating. Unfortunately not online full-text, you have to see Herbert Cescinsky's Early English Furniture and Woodwork London: Routledge, 1922 in paper format, but -- if you have any interest in woodworking during this period -- the effort is well worth it.

1510 Thomas Stanbridge Vocabula

"Radula, a spokeshaue or a playne".

1688 Randle Holme, The Academy of Armory, or a Storehouse of Armory and Blazon III. Chester, 1688, folio. page 317, column 2

A Spoke-shave, is an Iron with a sharp edge set in a piece of Wood with two handles after the manner of a Plain.

Note: The printed title page of Holme's book, above, is an unusually long and full one, as follows:

The Academy of Armory, or, A Storehouse of Armory and Blazon Containing The several variety of Created Beings, and how born [sic] in Coats of Arms both Foreign and Domestick. With The Instruments used in all Trades and Sciences, together with their Terms of Art. Also The Etymologies, Definitions and Historical Observations on the same, Explicated and Explained according to our Modern Language. Very useful for all Gentlemen, Scholars, Divines, and all such as desire any knowledge in Arts and Sciences. Every Man shall Camp by his Standard, and under the Ensign of his Father's House. Numb. 2. 2. Put on the whole Armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the Assaults of the Devil; above all take the Shield of Faith.

1794 David Steel, Elements and Practice of Rigging and Seamanship page 152, but not available online

Spoke~shave,..is a piece of steel, four or more inches long, and one inch broad; sharp at one edge as a knife.

1837 William Bridges Adams English Pleasure Carriages: Their Origin, History, Varieties, Materials ... page 152

The ends being tapered down one after the other with a spoke-shave till the whole amalgamate neatly.

1881 Francis Young, Everyman His Own Mechanic Section no 250, page 93:

The spokeshave and the drawing-knife are the tools that are comprised in the second division of paring tools.

Note: I am fortunate to have a personal "paper" copy of this book. Published in 1890, Young was then one of several editors of the weekly, Amateur Mechanics . Young's account of the spokeshave, about a half page, includes images and his own observations -- positive -- on a spokeshave recently imported from America.

Spokeshave Types: Bevel Up or Bevel Down

spokeshave2

On the one hand, traditionally all-wood, Bevel-up spokeshaves, resemble the drawknife. With a lower cutting angle -- and the newer all-metal models allow fine blade adjustments -- bevel-up spokeshave are good for working on both straight-grain and end-grain.

On the other hand, similar to a hand plane in function, Bevel-down spokeshaves come with a choice of a flat or slightly convex soles.

label for source code

The flat-soled versions handle convex and long, sweeping concave curves. But shaping workpieces, such as the curves of cabriole legs, a spokeshave with a round-bottom sole is recommended.

Operating like a scraper, the steeper cutting angle of its blade makes a bevel-down spokeshaves ideal working figured woods, such as burls, where fine shaving, not major stock removal, is needed.

Using Today's Spokeshaves

spokeshave2

Today, for the most part, the spokeshave is used for trimming and smoothing the shaped edges of wood, making shaped legs, etc.

Made in both wood and metal, for users, choice of a spokeshave is largely one of personal preference.(Images on left shows only metal spokeshaves.) Usually a spokeshave's "cutter" is held securely by "tangs" in holes in the "frame", while other models feature screws, which simplifies adjustment. The cutter's edge is sharpened on an oilstone. As seen in the image on the left, the spokeshave comes with straight, concave and convex edges. It can be pushed and pulled. Wooden spokeshaves wear eventually, particularly at the mouth. (To prevent this, some wooden spokeshaves have the "mouths" reinforced with a brass plate.)

Because the revered Stanley model No. 151 spokeshave and its knock-offs can be obtained in a wide variety of outlets, it makes a good choice for newbies. Blade adjustment, especially, on the Stanley model No. 151 is very straight-forward, because -- to take heavier cuts on one side of the tool and finer shavings on the other -- it allows you such practices as skewing its blade slightly.

For more hints on using a spokeshave see page 11 of "The Stanley Tool Guide"

Stanley Tools, The Stanley Tool Guide

Thirty pages of black-and-white diagrams and illustrations -- with brief text -- this is a WW II guide to hand tools for Americans -- engaged in the war effort on the home front -- who want an interesting and rewarding hobby while the combat in Europe and the Pacific takes its course.

The Spokeshave in History

The etymology of spokeshave, W L Goodman (pages 202-203) notes in his History of Woodworking Tools, is problematical.

(His book several years later than Goodman's, Salaman essentially follows Goodman, noting only that Goodman himself updates his record with an article in Industrial Archaeology 9 No 4, 1972.)

Although records show use of the word as early as 1510, neither Félibien, Moxon, nor Diderot refer to spokeshave, and the earliest known illustration occurs in Alan Smith's 1816 A Catalogue of Tools -- not online -- popularly known as "Smith's Key", curiously enough, with the coopers' tools. (Remember, Goodman's original History dates back to 1964, long before we have the luxury of Google Books. My searches by date on the Google Books Search Engine yielded several hits of the end of the 18th century, but only one before 1780, by the travel book author, Arthur Young.) .

According to Goodman, neither the French bastringue or teasningue nor the German Speichenhobel are known before the early 19th century.

The earliest actual tool at all resembling a spokeshave known to Goodman is in the Hall the Woods Museum. Near Bolton, in Lancashire, the museum is in the home of Samuel Crompton , the inventor of the spinning mule. This particular tool that resembles a spokeshave connects with a standard Dutch blohschaaf, which dates to 1766. Both of these tools, claims Goodman, may have originated in what is today called The Netherlands. Goodman backs up his speculation about the spokeshave's origin in Europe, but prudently does not conclude anything about "hard" facts. What he emphasizes, though, "is that the spokeshave itself, originally, as its English name implies -- "spoke-shave" --, a specialised tool of the wheelwright, is now used for various purposes by craftsmen of many other trades, a case of a tool having been generalised rather than specialised". According to Goodman, while metal spokeshaves -- just like the corresponding metal planes -- were popularised by Americans in the mid-19th century, no metal spokeshaves are listed in the 1864 Marples catalogue.

Sources: J. Moxon, Mechanick Exercises. London, 1683; Andre Felibien, Les Principes de l'Architecture, de la Sculpture, et de la Peiniure, Paris, 1699; [Denis] Diderot and J. D'Alembert, Encyclopedie, Chez Briasson, Paris, 1751; W. L. Goodman, The History of Woodworking Tools London: G. Bell, 1966, pages 202-203; R A Salaman, Dictionary of Woodworking ToolsNewtown, CT: Taunton Press, 1989, pages 460-464; Ellis Walentine, "Spokeshaves", American Woodworker November-December, 1993. pages 60-63 (readable online); Craig Bentzley, "Spokeshaves: Cool Tools for Curved Work", Woodcraft Magzine December-January, 2011, pages 40-45.