How to Set Up and Use a Spokeshave
The spokeshave is a small plane blade that is mounted between two handles. It's the perfect tool for smoothing small areas and cutting round and curved shapes into your roughed-out workpieces. The spokeshave is often overlooked, but it is a tool every woodworker should have in their shop. Many designs exist, mostly flat bottomed, but there are also soles that curve from front to back, and even some that are concave from side to side for small diameter parts like wheel spokes. Like any tool of this sort, proper setup — most importantly, a very sharp iron — is essential for successful use.
The flat sole spoke shave (left) and round sole spokeshave (right) are essentially small plane blades affixed to a two-handle plane body. As the name suggests, they are used for cutting round profiles, such as the spokes of a wheel, or shaping curves, such as a cabriole style furniture leg.
A flat sole spoke shave right is a fast and safe tool for rounding a square blank into a rounded shape. With practice it is faster and easier then using the router table to make oval profiles or thin, tapered spindles.
A round sole spokeshave is the ideal tool for shaping inside irregular curves like this cabriole leg. A blank can be roughed out on the bandsaw and then the spoke shave is used to round the corners and smooth the faces.
One issue with shaping curved parts is that the grain direction can change along the length or from side to side. The small sole of the spoke shave allows it to be used at different angles and pushed or pulled as needed. Only the very tight curve of the foot cannot be quickly shaped by the spoke shave.
Whether you're starting out with a brand new spokeshave or you're putting an old workhorse back in service, you'll need to remove the blade and put an ultra keen edge on it. Next, put the iron back in the tool, allowing the cutting edge to protrude below the sole of the spokeshave by the thickness of a human hair. Check to be sure that the blade extends evenly across the opening (it should be "square" to the sole).
Now you can get a couple pieces of scrap wood and start making some cuts. The spokeshave is great for flush trimming hardwood edging on plywood or chamfering edges — you can form spindles with them and shape edges on solid wood. Forming a gentle bullnose is easy to do, and you can even listen to the ball game while you work.
Variety in Form
A special form of the spokeshave, called a travisher, has a convex blade and is used for forming the saddle (butt cheeks) on a chair seat. As you can imagine, this tool can also be used for a number of other shaping tasks. Curiously, while many woodworkers are more comfortable pulling the spokeshave towards them as they cut, spokeshaves in general are actually designed to be pushed (much like a plane).
One or two styles of spoke shaves should find a place in your shop. You'll be surprised how often you reach for this versatile tool.