Reproduction Wooden Spokeshaves & Service

Sharpening & Tips

Adjusting the blade on all Dave’s Shaves models

New DS versions: Blade or cutter adjustments are made via Allen screws that are accessed on the top-side of the shave. Loosen both brass retaining nuts slightly. Hold the blade against the shave to bottom the blade against the Allen screw. Sight the opening from the front of the shave and adjust the blade to desired depth using the supplied Allen wrench. Re-tighten the brass retaining nuts first by making up the slack on both sides then adding tension evenly across both sides.

Earlier DS versions: Unscrew the brass retaining nuts and carefully remove the blade from the shave - it is sharp. Located in the mortises on either side of the throat, there are adjusting screws that support the blade. Use a Phillips head screwdriver to raise or lower these screws. Replace the blade and check the amount of blade exposure.

For a starting point with either adjusting system, adjust the blade so it is just above the sole, about the thickness of a business card. For most shaving tasks, this is an aggressive setting. Re-adjust and refine the setting to your liking. This initial set-up may take some trial and error to get it to your liking. The adjustment screws will index your established cutting depth for future blade removal/replacement.

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Spokeshave blade adjustments & some background

Original spokeshaves utilized a friction fit for blade retention and maintaining the depth of cut. The tangs were square in cross section. Three of the tang sides were parallel in profile. The fourth side (facing the center of the blade) was tapered, wider at the base than the tip (pictured below left). The result was that the two tangs had facing tapers, ideal for creating an effective wedging effect to retain the blade.

These shaves were not purchased "ready to use" (pictured above right). In that day, it was expected that the user would not only put an edge on the blade, but also set the blade to its usable height as well as widen the mouth to their liking. All edge tools back then were commonly offered in this "un-tuned" state. In fact, it was considered a subtle insult to the end users if adjustments were performed for them.

Original spokeshaves presented with their blades rather proud of their soles. Users fitted the blades to the sole by first carefully enlarging the tang holes in the body to get the gap close. Final working blade heights were then achieved by tapping the heel of the blade near the base of the tang to reduce the opening or by tapping the tip of the tang to increase the opening. Over the life of the shave, continuous small back-and-forth adjustments were needed to accommodate various shaving tasks. Over time, the tang socket would show wear and the blade gradually settles into the body. Eventually the blade loosens to the point that the edge can no longer be held above the height of the sole.

One way to regain a tight blade at a working height is to reduce the sole, which in effect artificially increases the height of the blade. Now it is just a matter of tapping the blade into a usable height. The mouth would also then be in need of reopening. This is an easy fix if you had a shave with wood sole but more work with a metal or bone sole.

Another approach would be to reline the sides of the square holes in the shave body, leaving the sole intact. You only have to reline the taper side. It doesn't take much, a thin wood shaving or a sliver of leather will do the trick.

Eventually, the shave reaches a point where it is no longer useable. This is the state of most shaves found today in antique shops or yard sales. I believe the users of the original shaves considered these tools to be expendable and just tossed them. Other users made continued repairs to keep them operating. Some took this to extremes. The photos below illustrates how important this tool was to its user.

The last spokeshave on earth

The last spokeshave on earth

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Holding & Using the spokeshave

The shave can be pushed or pulled. In general, pushing is recommended as it allows you get "behind" the tool to generate power. Pulling is recommended for long thin work pieces or when pushing is not an option. You will become comfortable with both methods but rely more upon one for general shaving. Regardless of technique you use, do not hold the shave as you would hold bicycle handlebars, rather, keep your hands toward the center and let your fingers trace over the area you are shaving.

To push the spokeshave, grip the tool from the middle of the body with your thumbs positioned low on the back, near the cutter. Using your middle and index fingers along the top-front of the shave, pressure the sole against the workpiece. The amount of down force used on the sole is surprisingly light. For an example, if you were drawing with a pencil, use enough pressure to produce a bold line without breaking the pencil point. The remaining fingers just go along for the ride. Note: It is more important to have the sole maintain positive contact with the workpiece than it is to push down on the cutter itself. Practice the shaving stroke by placing the leading edge of the sole in contact with the workpiece. Hold the cutter off the surface at first, then gradually lower the cutter into the surface as you proceed. You should feel the edge engage the wood, then continue cutting a uniform chip.

To pull the spokeshave (drawshaving), reverse the hand position. Your thumbs now are positioned on the front face of the shave body and your index fingers are low behind the back of the cutter. Down pressure is generated with an upward roll of your wrists.

To climb out of either the push or pull cut, reduce the downward pressure on the sole towards the end the stroke and roll the shave off the work surface. Short upward flicks of the wrist may be occasionally used to sever chips short.

Finally, whether you prefer to work standing at a vise or sitting at a shave horse, it is very important to have your workpiece firmly clamped. Practice using long strokes and large muscle groups for efficient shaving.

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Successful sharpening of the spokeshave blade begins with understanding its design. As a rule, The spokeshave blade edge has a cross sectional profile similar to that of a chisel. The flat side of the blade is called the face. The opposing side is ground to create a bevel of approximately 30 degrees. Blades in low angle spokeshaves are oriented "bevel up". This is what allows the cutting angle to be set just few degrees off the work piece. The body of spokeshave blade appears to be flat across, but there are exceptions. Most of the original antique spokeshave blades have a slight side-to-side curvature or sweep. The blades used in Dave's Shaves spokeshaves are flat side-to-side, i.e.they have zero sweep. This makes them easy to sharpen and touch up. I currently use a dry sandpaper system for sharpening but other methods work equally well. Use whatever sharpening system or media you are comfortable using that will produce consistent results.

Sharpening by hand with a block

Sharpening either modern or antique spokeshave blades follow the same process. First lap the face of the blade to achieve flatness across the cutting edge. Lapping is a procedure for flattening a surface by dressing it against a known flat surface. Commercially available stones and blocks or shop made blocks can be checked for flat with a straight edge. For modern flat blades, keep downward pressure on the blade face, pushing the blade edge forward into the grit. A slight skew of the blade in the direction of sharpening makes the narrow blade feel longer than it is and less likely to trip.

Next, polish the bevel. Place the blade bevel side down on the abrasive surface with the threaded tangs hanging down along the side of the block. The stone or block may have to be elevated so the tangs clear the bench. The blade can straddle the block with a tang on either side or ride "sidesaddle" with both tangs off to one side. In either case, tip the blade up onto the bevel to establish the angle. Hold the blade firmly against the abrasive surface and push the edge forward into the grit. Do not drag the blade back. Proceed to finer grits. One may vary the final degree of polishing with the intended task. In general, a 600 grit finish is adequate for most shave work. Increasing the fineness is up to the users discretion. Finally strop the edge to remove the wire edge. Use a honing compound and strop both sides of the edge in the opposite direction of sharpening. Original antique spokeshave blades that have a sweep are best lapped by hand. Use a rocking motion while pushing the blade edge into the grit to evenly sharpen the entire face. The bevel side is best sharpened with a block or stone shaped to follow the sweep. Again, proceed through the grits and lastly strop the edge.

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Sharpening with the Dog-Bone blade holder

The Dave's Shaves Dog-Bone blade holder is used with honing guides or jigs to facilitate sharpening of the modern spokeshave blades. The instruction guides below are in PDF form to download by clicking here.

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Maintaining your edge

Frequent touch-ups will keep the edge fresh without removing too much blade material. I find this method to be quick and easy. Select a sharpening block or stone with a finer grit. Hone both sides of the edge as described below.


Lap the face first. Next, place the blade "sidesaddle" on the surface, tangs down. Tip the blade up on the bevel and then run it the "long way" along the edge of the block.

Finish with stropping the edge.

sidesaddle down sidesaddle up

As a final note, please use care when sharpening. Paper cuts and blade cuts do hurt, They can create a bit of bleeding and seem to take longer to heal than do ordinary nicks and scrapes.

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How to make a Sharpening Block

I use a sharpening block for spokeshave blades that I find to be accurate, portable and inexpensive to make. I have been using this block system for a couple of years now for my production sharpening and it works great. I clamp it into any vise that I have and I have a solid surface to sharpen blades. First, a flat surface is paramount. A milled block of steel or stone would make great blocks because of their dimensional stability but they are expensive and not readily available to most people. Glass is a nice surface, but is not commonly found in the thickness I needed, nor will it stand up in a vise.

For some time I have used a block made from sink countertop material: particle board with a plastic laminate surface. I used the discarded material from a countertop sink cutout. It is well known that particle board does, in fact, swell miserably with water but remember that this is a dry sharpening system. And this is an inexpensive project. If you are concerned about using particle board, HDO (high density overlay) is water resistant, but unless you or a friend have some scraps around, you will be purchasing a 4 x 8 sheet.

  1. First cut out two rectangles (roughly 3" x 10") from the countertop material.
  2. The pieces of cut out material are glued back to back, (laminate sides facing out) and given a day to set.
  3. Next, trim the block (now about 1.5" thick) squarely to length and width. I have been using measurements of 2.5" wide by 9" long, but sizes can be varied to maximize the yield from the sandpaper sheets. Rough or sharp edges are eased, then the exposed sides of the block were sealed with shellac or urethane. A smaller version can be made for the small blade, I have been using a 1.75" x 9"surface.

I do not use adhesive to attach each successive grit of sandpaper to the block. Instead, one layer of a wet-or-dry paper or a pressure sensitive adhesive (PSA) in 220 or 320 grit is applied to the laminate surface then trimmed to the size of the block. Note: do not use this surface grit for sharpening, it is intended as a non-skid substrate for the sharpening sheets. Next, sheets of wet-or-dry paper are then cut to the size of the block.

To sharpen a blade, clamp the block in a vise. Leave the block high enough above the bench to clear the length of the tangs. Place a loose sheet of the wet-or-dry paper on top of the PSA paper. Commence sharpening "through the grits". The pressure from holding the blade against the block and the grit of the paper attached to the block will prevent the loose sheet from sliding. This way, you can progress without having to re-adhere sheets between the grit sizes. Just be aware that paper cuts from the loose sheets can occur if they hang over the edge of the block, therefore keep the sheets centered on the block.

As a final touch, one might add a stropping leather surface to the side of the sharpening block opposite the PSA side. Remember that you strop in the opposite direction as you sharpen.


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