Home > Lutherie, Woodworking > I no longer hate my low angle spokeshave.

I no longer hate my low angle spokeshave.

I have a retirement dream of building guitars and other instruments. Right now its just that, a dream. The way I see it, I have about 12 years until I retire and that gives me a fair amount of time to learn basic woodworking skills and to put my shop together. Those of you who have read previous journal entries understand that I am starting from scratch and I really do appreciate the support that has been expressed by my fellow woodworkers. As I learn and grow over the coming years I will return this kindness by paying it forward.

Right off the bat I want to say that there likely has never been a better time to learn the craft of woodworking or a better time to learn about any subject really. The Internet has made it possible to learn about any skill or to obtain just about any set of documentation on demand. What a wonderful time! Forums are also a great place to ask questions or simply lurk about and learn. But there can be challenges. Too much information may not hurt you, but it can paralyze you and I have felt this effect myself.

You may not need $10,000 worth of prized tools to begin woodworking but you can’t do with a single tool either. Putting together a base toolkit is one of the first challenges a beginner faces and it can be daunting especially if you read a lot. Why? Because there are experts everywhere giving great advice about the absolute best tool. Don’t buy that one it’s crap even those many others find it perfectly acceptable. “Buy your last tool first!” “Buy an expensive tool you suffer once but buy a cheap tool and you suffer every time you use it!” Great advice? I say it’s not the advice that really helps a beginner at all. Are you really advising me to start my shop by purchasing $50 screwdrivers? Seriously? Or perhaps a $75 straightedge? May I remind you that it’s a fricken’ straight edge! Yes, as woodworkers and especially as men woodworkers we can be extremely visual people. My wife and I laugh at the number of ridiculous movie plots we’ve watched and to quote her, “She’s crazy, he’d never put up with her if she was ugly”. I know I’m digressing a bit but I think the ideas are related. Why is it so difficult for  a Pro to recommend a $4 screwdriver? How many times have I read in a forum, “I’m new to woodworking and I have $500 to spend on a table saw. What model would you recommend?”  Once in a great while folks actually recommend some saws but inevitably the answer is to always spend more and buy a cabinet saw. Don’t have enough money, no problem just buy a used one. Right, so to make that happen the beginner only needs to:

  1. Read Craigslist everyday for a year to find that perfect saw
  2. Drive 200 miles with his trailer (and several friends) to see it and buy it (cash only hope you don’t get ripped off)
  3. Bring it home, get it in the house and see if it works (you’re going to need those friends again to help move it)
  4. Oops, it needs to be refurbished (no problem all beginners know how to rebuild 15-year-old table saw)
  5. Wire your shop for 220 (no big deal unless your home needs it service upgraded $$)
  6. Purchase a mobile base and a shop crane to set it up
  7. Etc.,

Is it worth it? Buying a cabinet saw may very well be the right choice for me, but I have a decent job and I’m pretty certain I want to do this for the next 20+ years. That still isn’t relevant to the beginner who just needs a serviceable saw. As I read more I’ve run across many people who have contractor’s saws, used them for years and love them. They just aren’t as outspoken on the forums I suppose. Don’t get me started on chisels.

OK, back to the topic of my post. In my quest to fill my shop with the appropriate tools used in basic guitar building I purchased a spokeshave. Specifically this low-angle spokeshave from Lee Valley Tools.

Low Angle Spokeshave from Lee Valley

The tool wasn’t cheap but it didn’t break the bank either. I was hoping for a quality tool that would last a lifetime. I must say, it is a quality tool that should last my lifetime but at first I hated it! Here’s a short list why:

  1. Even after I read the directions, I couldn’t figure out how to set the blade
  2. With the blade improperly set it would either not cut at all or catch and dig a horribly into the work
  3. The blade could not be secured and it would repeatedly fly out and bounce awfully on the floor (nightmare)
  4. You can’t sharpen the small blade without making our buying a jig to hold it
  5. The handles don’t come off which is normal for most spokeshaves and I thought it not a problem but… they often interfere with the angle you need to use on the piece. They’re pretty long and the work needs to be clamped so you’d be surprised how easy it is to get crowded.

So back into the drawer it went to be used or not some other time. I even searched the Net to see what advice others had and some did mention problems with the blade coming loose.

Time passes and I decide this is a nice tool that I hadn’t given the proper love to. I make up my mind that it does work and that I just don’t understand its use. I finally ran across a single sentence that made it very clear what my problem had been. Paraphrasing, “Spokeshaves are used for taking small amounts of work off the piece at a time, if you want to hog off large amounts of wood you’ll need a drawknife.”  I pull my LA spokeshave out of the drawer and without a single adjustment I run it across my test piece and off comes a beautiful tiny sliver of wood, exactly how it is supposed to operate.  I no longer hate my low angle spokeshave in fact, I fell in love with it. The only problem now …. I want a drawknife or two.

You have been reading an excerpt from the shop journal of the Turtlecovebrewer.

  1. May 10, 2013 at 1:14 pm

    I’ve written several times about the impracticality of following some of the advice of the “experts” Much of the time the expert advice is not very expert at all. Sure, you can find your tool set at yard sales and flea markets, IF, you want to spend months just picking up the basics and many more hours trying to get them to work correctly again. The experts can do it that way because they are paid to do it that way. They have all day to scour the web, run to flea markets, and rehab tools because it’s part of their job, especially when that expert is writing an article about it for a magazine. They can also claim their tool purchases as expenses and all have access to full fledged, fully functional workshops that they didn’t have to foot the bill for, the magazine is supplying the funds. It’s all complete BS used to sell magazines and workshop books.
    For the most part, a beginner will have to purchase the bulk of his tools new. Learning how to rehab a tool is a skill that comes with time, and that time is usually spent working on a new tool that didn’t need rehabbing. How can you rehab a tool if you never used a new, proper tool and know how it’s supposed to work? This is the stuff that makes my blood boil and also what has caused several big woodworking writers to not care for me so much. But I told them straight up that they are full of it and I stand by that. My “expert” advice is to purchase and use the best tools that you can afford, plain and simple. Of course we all want the best tools period, but I’ve found that using the best you can afford is usually good enough. Sorry to rant.

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