Wednesday, July 27, 2011

What the Spokeshave Gives, It Can Suddenly Take Away!

In almost every one of my seven day rocker classes there is a student who brings a spokeshave. They always ask why I don't recommend use of a spokeshave to shape spindles and other rocker parts. The next question is usually "Can I use mine?" After demonstrating the proper use of the shave, everyone is full of excitement because they have been saved from the demon rasp.

The spokeshave is almost the perfect shaping hand tool. What it can do in the experienced hand is to execute almost finished surfaces, efficient fairing of inside and outside curves, crowned and rounded over surfaces and beautiful cuts on end grain. Wow! All of these cuts make up the process of shaping rocker spindles. Then why don't I use it in my DVDs?

Windsor chairmakers use the spokeshave for shaping spindles almost to the exclusion of other possibilities. Do they know something I don't?

Back to spokeshave use in class. So, I generally give permission and the exuberant woodworker starts out rounding over the front of the spindle by making the facets that I teach. They sail along and everyone is impressed with the work and suddenly the shave grabs the reversing grain and without the experience to feel it before it before it lifts and pulls a big chunk of reversing grain out .......... Yuck! We have TEAR OUT!

The spokeshave is one I use and love. It can be used to tremendous advantage shaping rocking chair spindles. The problem is one of great risk for the user who can't easily feel the difference in the slicing of the iron and the tearing of the grain as it is being lifted by the iron. It is subtle and in an instant can ruin a project. I want all woodworkers to become proficient in using the spokeshave and enjoy the beauty of its use. The rocker class with the clock running, seven spindles to make and limited resources is not the place to learn. Unlike Windsor spindles that have been riven to provide straight grain, the sculptured rocker spindle is usually an "S" curve with reversing grain and many surprises.

For years my favorite spokeshave has been a cherry Dave's Shave that I bought for a Michael Dunbar Windsor chair class. I have a nice collection of others but the Dave's Shave just feels right to me. I have a nice Brian Boggs Lie-Nielsen with a radiused sole and although it has seen considerable use it just doesn't cut as well as my Dave's Shave. The Lee Valley shaves are very nice and also have a great feel, although I do not own one as of this writing.

The Auriou rasp and Microplanes and such really don't care so much about grain. They don't leave the great surfaces like the shave but they work. In stock with reversing grain especially figured stock the rasp is a hero. It will save you the tragedy of dreaded tear out.

Now you know!