A lot of the woodworking books and articles I read will mention using spokeshaves for different things. What exactly is a spokeshave and what is their primary design purpose? I've never used one and they look like a cross between a draw bar and a hand plane.
They are designed to smooth round things like wheel spokes and chair legs.
According to this nice blurb from Wikipedia:
A spokeshave is a tool used to shape and smooth wooden rods and shafts - often for use as wheel spokes, chair legs (particularly complex shapes such as the cabriole leg), self bows, and arrows. It can also be used to carve canoe or kayak paddles.
Newer, all metal ones, look like this:
While a (still new, but much prettier) wooden one might look like this:
Image borrowed from Dave's Shaves at ncworkshops.com
Roy Underhill of The Woodwright's Shop (I didn't realize it's still on the air!) has used and spoken of them in many episodes.
To understand its use, remember that the bed of the plan is very short compared to a hand plane. If there's any sort of arc in wood (concave), your plane may not cut at all because it will bridge the gaps. But with a much smaller bed, a spokeshave will cut.
A couple of examples where I've used it:
- When I have an intentionally curved piece. Suppose I'm making a curved chair leg. As I said, a handplane will bridge the curve and not cut. Or (even worse) if it does cut, it will slowly whittle away at your curve.
- When I have an unintentionally curved piece. Let's say I've assembled a chair and didn't notice until after glue-up that the stretcher was a bit proud of the legs. Let's also suppose the stretcher is a bit bowed (concave). If I try to hand plane it to make the stretcher flush, the front of my plane will bridge that curve. A spokeshave will not, so I can make the two ends flush.
If you find that your handplane is not cutting at all (even if you can clearly see that the blade is protruding from the sole), it's probably because it's bridging the gaps. Try hitting it with a spokeshave and see if that does it.
A couple other tips to avoiding tearout:
- Plane with the grain. If you plane against the grain, there's a good chance of tearout. To identify the direction the grain is going, look at the side adjacent to the surface you're planing. If the lines are relatively straight, it doesn't matter which direction you plane. If they're going up or down *remember to plane "up-hill." That will ensure you're going with the grain.
- Take very small shavings. The larger the shavings, the higher the chance of tearout.