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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.

  • I love my spokeshave; I use it where most other people would use a rasp or, most commonly, a spindle sander. – glw Apr 20 '15 at 16:50
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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),[1] self bows, and arrows. It can also be used to carve canoe or kayak paddles.

Newer, all metal ones, look like this:

A pair of spokeshaves
Image from Wikipedia.

While a (still new, but much prettier) wooden one might look like this:

Beautiful wooden shaves
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.

  • 1
    Holy crap, that's still on? Man, I watched that growing up ... and it's online on pbs. I know what I'm binge watching next. – Daniel B. Apr 18 '15 at 19:03
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    @DanielB. sadly, I think the final episodes were broadcast in 2018. I'm sure many stations are still showing reruns, and, as you mentioned, you can get 'em all on online. – FreeMan Mar 15 at 20:11
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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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. Take very small shavings. The larger the shavings, the higher the chance of tearout.

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