Bevel up and bevel down spokeshaves

We are often looking for an ideal fit with everything we work with, a one-size-fits-all solution and of course many will espouse this one or that one is the answer to life’s problems, but my stock answer always is this. Life is just like wood, it comes with knots in it.P1100510

Controversy ebbs and flows around bevel-up and bevel down planes with many aspiring woodworkers struggling to know which ones work best. The reality is there is no one size fits all and why should there be anyway? Start out with a regular Bailey #4, fettle it and you have your first bestest plane to peel off your first shavings. They are still inexpensive and they worked ever since the days they were birthed back in the 1860’s. You can add other planes as you can afford but reject snobbery, over expense and get out there and plane your wood.

P1100512I like bevel up and bevel downs anyway but here we are talking about similar issues with spokeshaves. Though there may not be many if any real chair bodgers today, I mean ones who are making their living from woodland chairmaking as in a century and more ago when parts they made were a mountain deep. The ones that did make their living from chairmaking did indeed rely on bevel up wooden models as the only option they had. Of course there are defenders of the faith who say bevel up spokeshaves are the only way to go. Whereas that could be partly true for the woodland bodger it’s not true for the more diverse and encompassing realms of woodworking. The dynamics of different woodworking crafts has always been the same and then again different. Wood splits, has knots and the grain is too diverse for man’s interpretation. But guess what, that’s what makes my craft so interesting. Here I am at the closing years of my woodworking and I am as fascinated by how a spokeshave works the wood as I was at day one and what’s equally fascinating is this. No inventor has come up with anything new though there have been improvements on an individual level. Yes they put their names on the label but the fact is this; all modern wooden spokeshaves follow the same principles as the traditional tanged type but with added adjusters and all cast-metal bedded spokeshaves follow the #151’s example we mostly use today. That’s whether they have adjustment features or not. Even if you don’t want to spend much time fettling those with lesser engineering standards they will almost certainly work well with little more than just a good sharpening.

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One thing that I hear often enough is that someone was spokeshaving with a flat-bottomed spokeshave and all of a sudden the blade grabbed the wood and just tore the fibres to shreds. P1100692They blame the spokeshave of course but it’s not usually just the spokeshave’s fault altogether, but someone failing to read and interpret the grain. So what do you do when you must spokeshave in one direction or you already have the major blunder? You do exactly what you might do when the same thing happened with your bevel up plane. No, you don’t trade out the blade or switch out a frog. You reach for the bevel down version,  set the blade very shallow and go boldly with swift and accurate strokes.P1100694 This repair took literally four strokes to fix. The wood will always yield and you have the victory of mastering the wood and the spokeshave. The two pix are exactly the same spot.

8 Comments

  1. salkosafic on 9 September 2015 at 10:38 pm

    This blog reminds me of an issue I have had with planing difficult wood, a few prominent woodworkers said create a secondary bevel on the chipbreaker and you can plane any wood even against the grain so I did and honed a little too much and rendered that chipbreaker useless. Deneb from LN said to me every tool serves it’s intended function, use the right tool for the right job. There is no one tool that does it all.



  2. NZ Pete on 9 September 2015 at 10:39 pm

    “They blame the spokeshave of course but it’s not usually just the spokeshave’s fault altogether, but someone failing to read and interpret the grain.” This reminds me of the old saying “A good tradesman never blames his tools”



  3. Mike Ballinger on 9 September 2015 at 11:33 pm

    Bang on



  4. nvmepeter on 10 September 2015 at 4:17 am

    A bit confused, re bevel up and bevel down. Are they seperate spoke-shaves, or do you just flip the blade? cheers Peter



    • Paul Sellers on 10 September 2015 at 6:40 am

      Two different tools really. There is the traditional wooden spokeshave and then more modern versions of them often sold as kits, Veritas makes one as a kit, and these are always bevel up spokeshaves. Bevel ups are very effective for some work or even most work. Then you have the bevel downs which are cast metal spokeshaves with a bedded angle for holding the blade at 45-degrees and usually have adjusters.



  5. Philo_Beddoe on 10 September 2015 at 3:59 pm

    Is the brass strip that is on some wooden spokeshaves important? I presume it is just to minimize wear, but I notice there is not one on the spokeshave you are using in this blog. Is it worth searching out one with the brass?



    • Paul Sellers on 10 September 2015 at 8:28 pm

      Generally I would say not. The nature of the work makes a difference here. If you are spokeshaving thin or round or abrasive narrow materials the centre of the sole will wear excessively and quickly. A good example is sapling wood with hard bark still on. Another hard material is plastic and especially plastic laminate. Pressed fibre board is especially hard on spokeshaves. Wider wood on the other hand is not a problem at all. So, if the work is on the above coarser materials, you might want to add a wear strip after the wear takes place and enjoy the initial use free of the strip for a while.



  6. Mike Z. on 11 January 2019 at 9:13 am

    I always assumed (which may be part of the problem here) that rightly or wrongly the old time chair bodger was working more in geeen wood than dry? I know they worked with all types of wood in various states of season but many used mountains of green, uncured wood to make their parts and I just associate the older wooden shave with them. I do know that the Stanley style was supposed to be made to use with any type of wood green or dry but then again it would be nice to have just one or two shaves as opposed to a whole chest full of them. Funny, but the older I get the less of a “collector” I become and just like things that work for works sake … I leave the collecting to the people who enjoy that sort of thing!