Results in on Silverline Spokeshaves

From my journal

Monday 20th February 2017

Just before the weekend I picked up another spokeshave but this time it was first under £5. At first glance you would say, “This’ll work, surely.” After all, all the component parts seemed to be there. The reason I picked this one out is because someone messaged me and asked me if they were any good. It’s made for a prominent tool and equipment distributor operating here in the UK called Silverline. They are not known for producing top quality tools but the question was a valid one so here goes.

With many wood and tool merchants and hardware suppliers stocking them you would think that they were OK, but even they  don’t know to much about the quality of the tools, they just sell them mostly. Anyway, the reason this came up is because of my recent blog on the Draper offering last week and  the person asked why not buy this one at less than half the price again. At first I did see issues straight away, issues most people would not know mattered and any person new to woodworking might try it and think the problems were them and not the tool. In this particular case I could get the spokeshave to work. The problem was the tool constantly altered with regards to set and the blade and cap kept dropping out. As it can be with many if not most Silverline products, they aim for a low-cost line, but that always comes at the expense of quality. The problem for the consumer though is their low-cost presence over the years has steadily put more reputable makers out of business and then consumers expect to always pay less and less too. This then leaves the market open to the low quality goods we see all the more of.

I was impressed enough with Draper to order another half a dozen. I’ll let you know how they do.

When you compare say a Stanley version at four times the cost it is tempting to buy the low-end version. After all, what if it works as well. Of course Stanley constantly reduces its costs by lowering standards of quality too. The Draper spokeshaves seemed to me a better quality than the Stanley of today. In an age past when craftsmen used such tools makers were held to standards by craftsmen who would  indeed cease to buy poor quality. Today that’s not the case. People generally don’t know. I include many if not most so called professional woodworkers and wood machinists in here too.

In the case of Silverline’s version here, and they should be both shamed and ashamed, what they did is take perfectly good materials and make poor quality tools of them because they obviously have no concept of what the tool is supposed to do or how it is supposed to work. What should and could be a simple engineered project seemed lacking because of the lack of knowledge. I reckon that with no more than two extra minutes in production time they could far surpass anything that Stanley or Record produced ever. The casting and paintwork was fine to the main body was fine. The steel used and the cutter was fine too. It was the slop in fitting and grinding that ruined good materials that rendered the tool pretty much useless.

So what went wrong?

The mouth gaped like an open yawn because the sole face was ground down too far into the body of the casting and also at the wrong angle, which in turn altered the bed angle for the blade. The cap iron was cut way too short to reach close behind the cutting iron in the bottom of the throat. The keyhole was too short-reaching and the slot in the cutting iron was too long and too far from the cutting edge. Once the cutting edge was aligned, the setscrew slid through the hole in the cutting iron and so became impossible to secure the blade tight enough to use.

The shoulders to the cap we supposed to register in indents in the body casting. They don’t reach by 6 mm either side. Because of this they slop around and make blade alignment and adjustment for depth of cut etc near impossible. Nice brass fitments, good steel and body casting, nicely hardened cutting iron all ruined by terrible workmanship. That’s my conclusion. I may have bought a bad one, but with a QC department this would never have gone out. Don’t buy without expecting a lot of work, which I tried to do, but in the end failed. In my view it’s not worth the low cost.

Also, I might add here, perhaps you will understand why we disallow many URL’s in our comments section to appear. If people had seen the cheap price and bought them they might have made the mistake of buying.

32 comments on “Results in on Silverline Spokeshaves

  1. This is not only waste of resources, they waste not only materials, but also energy, time, transport, packaging, human hours. Finally peoples buy this tools, are disappointed and buy another one or forget about it. What about ecology?

    I don’t think they need a QC department, they just have to copy 1:1 existing tools. This low price and good materials show again that it is possible to make and deliver cheap tools on a large scale, problem is elsewhere.

    I’m looking forward when we’ll be able to just print such items. In this way we can just use an existing plan or create our own and print it. No need to manufacture a big amount of tools by peoples that don’t know how to use them and try to sell them or throw away. We’ll print what we want in amount we need.

  2. That’s why I can’t get mine to work! I brought it six months ago maybe, thought it was too cheap to not at least have a go fettling, but the problems you’ve pointed out go far beyond filing off a rough edge or flattening a sole that would have been worth an hours time to carry out.

    When I actually need one for a project I think either the Draper or a Veritas if I suddenly feel flush.

    Thanks for this blog post Paul

    • I picked up an unused Silverline on Ebay in a bat ch of other items.

      I drilled a new hole to extend the keyhole (using a small bit than the slot width) then gradually enlarged it to make it expand into the slot. Took me about 20 minutes to do this and then another 10 minutes to make the adjuster slots in the blade wide enough and smooth enough so the brass adjusters could be turned by hand instead of having to use a pair of pliers on them (!)

      All in all it now works OK~ish, but only after quite a bit of metalwork. Fettling isn’t quite a strong enough word for the scale of what’s needed here, I’m afraid.

  3. This has occurred with some of the cheaper brands of tools distributed in Australia too. A friend through inheritance received a large and wide range of tools in varying qualities. There was a relatively cheap but quite well made gents saw that he had tried to use and given up on. It wasn’t anything particularly special but it generally had a decent finish to the materials and was of sound construction. There was a but, with great fanfare as to how good the quality was and how sharp the teeth were out of the box (declared on the packaging), this was the let down. Consequently that was why my friend thought it was a piece of rubbish. The teeth were not sharp, nor sharpened, they were as they had been punched out on the production line with some of the most aggressive set I have seen on a saw so small. With the lessons learnt from Paul this was easily rectified and it is now usable and enjoyable to use. There was an unconditional guarantee on it with full replacement offer. What would be the point? More time and energy would be expended to receive the same item with the same issue. Do these companies even understand what they are guaranteeing? Another fellow I knew asked me to have a look at a spokeshave that was newly purchased. I am sorry to say that the Silverline spokeshave even put this one to shame. It was so poorly constructed and machined I simply told him to take it back and get a refund and spend his money elsewhere. Why do they bother?

  4. If “quality” were a sense like sight or hearing, some folks might be considered blind or deaf based on their innate inability to discern it. And a nod is as good as a wink to a blind horse (or a blind woodworker).

  5. I bet someone got an award and a nice bonus for finding ways to reduce material and manufacturing costs on the spokeshave.

  6. This article pointed out a number of things that were incorrect with the Silverline spokeshave. This gives me a good starting point for what to look at when trying to find a low cost brand here in the U.S. I think there is value in both the good review that points out what is right and/or what can be corrected about a particular brand of tool and the bad review like this one that points out what is wrong and why it can not be corrected.

    Do you have any suggestions an a low cost brand available in the U.S.?

    • No, I don’t, but others might. I am sure eBay will give you Stanley and Record brands secondhand that don’t take much work to fettle them and get them functioning well. It is not always the case that shipping from the UK is a problem either, except with dealers wanting their pound of American flesh. Personally I just would not pay £120 for a spokeshave because almost any of the commonly made #151s will work. The Draper ones will most likely cost under $35 including shipping from the UK so why not consider doing that.

  7. So happy to see a straight forward, honest review based on facts. That’s becoming as rare as good craftsmanship. Thank you.

  8. Thank you Paul. About 24-18 months ago I wanted to get into woodworking by hand tools and I hadn’t discovered you. From other hobbies, I’ve realized that quality can vary quite a bit. As such, I bought a limited number of tools and went high quality (mostly Lie Nielsen). Not because I wanted a fancy brand. I wanted something that would work. That way, if I was struggling at wood working, I knew it wasn’t a poor quality tool being the issue, it was me. I didn’t want to spend a fortune on all my tools. I discovered (more aptly rediscover you as I had seen a few YouTube videos of yours in the past) you about 14 or so months ago. Where you saved me was when it came time to buy a coping saw. I though I’d have to spend a lot of money to get one that worked. I didn’t because I read your blog on the topic. You saved me from having a complicated sharpening system because what you wrote. You steered me away from legacy brand names that now produce poor quality. You gave me confidence to buy used tools at great prices on eBay. Again, thank you for this. As a newbie, I don’t know many things. Mostly I want tools that work and options if there are more inexpensive ones out there. Please keep writing these tool reviews.

    If I had to pick an area that,would be especially helpful, it would be a bit more on power tools. I like a few for breaking down stock such as a bandsaw and table saw and maybe a planar for rough stock. I don’t know what is good or bad. I’m leaning towards a Shopsmith. I don’t like the price but I really do like the compactness it has for my,limited space. Also, I know dust collection is important but what do I need to keep my safe for power tools is another gray area fot me.

    • Joe good questions around machines for the workshop but it’s not really something that gets covered here for various reasons. There’s loads of resources around for those kinds of reviews. Best of luck and for the record I will be buying a band saw in the future but I’m starting with making frame saws first to get my skills up in hand work.

      • Thanks. The challenge is that Paul has earned my trust. Going out to other sites, I don’t know the people and don’t know if there is a hidden agenda. Given that I am mostly interested in a few power tools for breaking down stock to do some of the donkey work. I suspect most brands would meet my needs easily.

  9. Your candid comments make me to take heart to pay what it takes for quality. My granddad always told me “in tools, you always get what you pay for.”
    This have proven to be true in my 50+ years of using tools.
    Thanks Mr Sellers.

  10. Having bought one of these spokeshaves a few months ago, I must disagree with this report. I found mine to be a good tool, that I’ve used in many projests, ranging from spoon making to easing door edges, to making a new handle for a hammer only this weekend.

    Maybe its a case of you pays your money and takes your chance at getting one that performs as it should

  11. I don’t think tools like this are designed to work. There designed to make money for the manufacturer. They know exactly what they are doing. They have already calculated a certain amount of returns especially because of the cost . But they already know that the majority will just throw them in the junk drawer.
    This is what and where the world is today. It’s no wonder why craftsmanship such as woodworkers were on the decline for so long. Remember to them it’s only the yearly P&L Statementss that matter so they outsource all there products to third world countries.Then, all they have to do is to assemble and package it in their country and this gives them the right to say made in the USA or U.K. Or wherever .
    I understand that someone new to woodworking don’t want to invest a lot in something there not sure of yet but wouldn’t a tool Ike this only lessen there chances of enjoying the craft. Heck I had a hard enough time getting expensive high line tools to work properly much less something that I would have to re engineer . The frustration would have been far greater than the enjoyment . So I’m very happy with my decision to buy tools that we’re ready to use straight from the box. But then again I’m not that smart so I never would have figured out how to make tools like this work. I suppose I’m too old fashion , when I buy something for some reason I expect it to work or atleast do what it says it will do.
    We all have different opinions, isn’t that great?

    • They don’t have to design this tools, all is already designed, they just have to copy 1:1
      I don’t see how they are calculated to make money by throwing them in the junk drawer. The only reason is to have such brands, tools is to up sell.

  12. Through many years of various facets of life experience I would have to say that I’ve learned that tree frogs are brightly coloured to warn you that they’re poisonous, and tools are branded Silverline to warn you that they’re terrible.

    That said, I did once have the misfortune to come across a Draper workshop vac; which was quite simply the worst single tool I’ve ever seen in terms of competence for its intended application.

    I assume these companies don’t actually make their own tools so in this instance the latter may well have just lucked on sourcing a decent spokeshave, but it’s welcome to know.

    • I recall Stanley announcing that Stanley of Sheffield UK were now producing their high-end sweet heart range again. I called Stanley. They emailed me to say, “Regrettably the sweetheart range is not made in the UK but Mexico.” I said that it seemed disingenuous to phrase the announcement the way they did. Unfortunately much European business is done this way and parts are often assembled in a country they were not made in.

      • Indeed. It’s just so hard to source what is actually made by whom these days, and, at least for powered machinery it is obvious that many companies sell tools that are clearly made in the same far east factories, but painted and branded for that particular vendor.

        I suppose that does make the role of experienced testers that bit more valuable because Joe Average consumer can’t be certain that tool X by brand Y will be good, and generally poor brands may occasionally source a gem (certain high quality brands excepted, but even they don’t consistently get everything right).

  13. My, its getting a little confusing, now. Those draper spokeshaves, paul purchased look very fine. I am surprised, the mouth and sole look much finer than that of my stanley “made in england” i bought like 10 years ago. Just… seems like there are two differing drapers out there, another one having the print at the side of the lever cap and a slotted cap screw, as well as a casting looking less crisp. Those shown above selling as “draper expert” which i would prefer…

  14. Perhaps if you want cheap spokeshaves, you could source the old fashioned u shaped blades and some hard timber and make your own, I’m sure I saw such an article in one of the woodworking comics some time ago.

  15. I bought one of these in the hope I could use the cap iron to replace a missing one from a record I bought on eBay.

    After some filing and testing in the workshop I threw it in the bin and bought a new cap iron on eBay.

  16. Quite a bit of research is required to sort the wheat from the chaff before buying new tools. Thankfully Paul’s helping us avoid some of the pitfalls.
    Perhaps we could have a Summary-Table; listing new tools worth having and those not worth considering?
    The reintroduced Stanley Sweetheart 60 1/2 Block Plane (from Mexico) has issues too. I wouldn’t have expected to fettle a new £100+ Block Plane.

  17. Paul,

    It looks like the same one i purchased really cheap and free shipping from China. i thought “a place to start learning how to tune up a spoke shave. HMMMMM “my Bad!” I do have my dad’s old one. But Now I have a great reference as to comparing and what to do. Much like hand planes.

    Thanks!

  18. So we have a spokeshave that is seemingly made by people who don’t know how it should be used, sold by people who don’t know how to use it, and bought by people who don’t know how to use it either!
    It is interesting what people are expecting from something that costs 5GBP. Even at wages 1/10th of what they are in UK, at minimum wage, you wouldn’t expect more than 7 hrs work to go into one tool, and at least half goes to transport/retailer. The tool will not have had the equiv of 3 hours work on it. (Think about that: 3 hours of work in a country costing a 10th of UK. If in UK, it would be 1/4 hr work by someone on minimum wage.)
    So, come on, if it’s that cheap, don’t expect a tool, expect a a lump of metal.
    Paul, part of the problem is people’s expectations of what other people’s time and effort are worth. Clearly we think tool maker’s time are worth nowt.

  19. I recently bought a new Stanley 151 spokeshave, flattened the high points on the bed with a bastard cut file, sharpened the blade and tried it out on a scrap piece of DAR pine – disaster! Mouth clogged up and deep gouges all the way down the cut.

    Picked all the debris out of the mouth, then tried it on a piece of meranti – worked like a dream. According to my experience, the performance of the tool is highly influenced by the material being worked – any thoughts on this?

    • Well, the wood does make a little difference but the #151 should cut any pine just as well if not better, so something doesn’t sound quite right, Douglas. I say this because I have used one on all woods for 52 years to date and the only time such things have happened is when the spokeshave becomes misaligned.

      • After reading your reply, I tried the spokeshave again, this time with three types of timber – pine, meranti and Tasmanian oak. For consistency, all the pieces were 25 mm thick and around 650 mm long, and all were mounted in exactly the same way. Whenever I tweaked the depth of cut attempting to get a better result on the pine, I tested it on the meranti and oak as well.

        On the meranti, the spokeshave always removed the wood in a long, thin continuous ribbon. Most of the time, the spokeshave worked well on the Tasmanian oak but, at some settings it was difficult to keep the cut running. On the pine (a fresh piece after yesterday’s trials) it barely ever worked at all.

        Considering your comment that perhaps the spokeshave had become misaligned, I had a close look at it. Everything was tight and the last cut, on the meranti, was as good as the first cut. However, and probably this is a different issue, I wonder how Stanley can imagine that placing a machined steel blade between two un-machined cast surfaces, and using two un-machined cast mating surfaces for location could ever be considered as ‘good practice’.

        From now on, whenever I have to shape a piece of pine, I’ll leave the spokeshave in the bottom of the toolbox and use a surform instead.

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