Tools of the trade: 07 The Spokeshave

I confess to having an affection for the old style wood handled spokeshaves.


The Spokeshave is to the drawknife what the hand plane is to an adze or chisel… if you look at the blades of the older spokeshaves they even look like mini-drawknife blades.

A light touch holding between the first finger and the thumb and just using the rest of the fingers just touching the handles to help steer it. Use it while at the shaving horse or wherever it is handy to trim a little with this tiny plane…

you can buy used and refurbish them, or buy new iron bodied ones, or get a kit from either Dave’s Shaves or Veritas and make it yourself.


With the new iron ones be very careful, make sure the blade lays flat on the bed with no gap behind it! If it has a gap leave it/return it.

As with all tools there are many variations and they all have their place/purpose.

That big ebony one is great for shaping the outside curves on a Windsor chair seat. and the little one just above is made to take the inside curves on scrolls.

Start with one, get used to it, and only get another when you decide you really need it.

be well


Tools of the Trade 06 Drawknives

At every step of the work, the more you do with the previous tool the less you do with the next one… the closer you split to the size you want, the less ax work you do, the closer you get with the axe work the less you use the drawknife. and on through most of the steps toward making something.


the Bigun, 12″ edge

and yet sometimes I get caught up in one step or another and want to do ALL of the work with that tool. or just sit and do the same thing over and over again..

The drawknife is one of those. In green wood it just glides through the wood making smooth wide shavings. It seems to be calming and almost meditative…

Most of the time you will use the draw knife in conjunction with the shaving horse. Sometimes you will use it on material clamped to your workbench.

There are a lot of good, new ones available, and there are a lot of good old ones available… And there is a lot of (bad words) ones (new and old) available out there. Avoid new ones that are painted. I suspect they are hiding something and paint drags on the wood something terrible. Go with reputable dealers or MFGs (Gramercy, Stubai) or you takes your chances.  Old makers of note are: Pexto, D.R.Barton, Sorby, Ashley Iles, Greenlee, Wetherby.. there are many.  New Makers of note: Barr, Stubai, Ox Head (ochsenkopf), Lee Valley, Sorby (again), and again there are many. A new $300 draw knife isn’t necessarily better than a $60 one, but there are a lot of $30 ones that are good, and a lot of $30 ones that are junk (if I never see another cheep painted amazon one that’ll be alright 😉 ). Choose from a tool dealer that has a reputation to uphold. they won’t sell you junk.

When using a drawknife you can pull it straight and square to you:

shaving horse mine straight

or you can skew it, pulling it straight toward you but at an angle to the work:

shaving horse mine skew

or you can slice with it, skewing the blade and traveling sideways while drawing it to yourself:

shaving horse mine slice

(direction of travel is the purple arrow)

and what does this do for you? it changes the angle of attack, or the planing angle. like this:

shaving horse mine geometry

as you can see in the illustrations the length of travel to go up the slope is shortest on the straight cut, longer on the skew, and longest travel is on the skew with slice.


Since the thickness of the blade doesn’t change, then you are effectively making the angle less and less and the edge effectively sharper and sharper. So when the wood is to tough to cut with a straight cut remember to skew and or slice with the tool to make your job easier… and don’t cut to deep either 😉 shallow cuts make the work easier.

be well


PS if you feel that you are going to cut your belly while using a draw knife, try just holding the tool normally and pulling it to you without the wood. You will notice that your arms resist actually getting to your body. However sometimes the material slips and hits you right in the stomach or in the solar plexus… using a “bib” can prevent this from hurting much and will also make you feel safer about pulling a large sharp blade toward yourself. A bigger danger is getting relaxed and setting a foot up on something so that your knee is in range of a corner of the blade. keep your feet down and or on the foot rests.

me with my bib on.


stools: a gateway to Medieval and Greenwoodworking

So, I know a lot of people start their journey into woodworking with a box made from lumber yard dimensioned pine. (actually the wood is called “SPF” which stands for “spruce, pine, fir” meaning it could be any of those woods, but in reality most of the stuff I see is Ponderosa pine.)

But since most of those people never step beyond the making of a box or beyond using dimensioned pine, I think that they really need to make a stool to break away from the “square” and flat to really start their spiral into making “real” furniture…

You see, with a box and with pre dimensioned lumber they are stuck with square and flat. And they are stuck with thinking that they have to use a table saw (or chop box or RA saw…) to keep things flat and square.

And much furniture is neither.

my stool for the class
a three legged stool I made

Making a 3 or 4 legged stool, out of material split from logs, immediately breaks away from the square and flat shackles of modern woodworking thinking.

Furthermore: when you split and hew legs and seat you get a “feel” for the wood that you do not get with power tools. and the stool almost seems to grow, as you make extra legs and discard some to the fireplace, and as you chop and smooth and shape the seat, you follow to some extent the way the wood split in the first place.

And Angles! no longer are you enslaved to the drill press to make super accurate 90 degree angles! No! On your handmade stool you will want to make the legs angle outwards 20 to 25 degrees off from square… So you will sight the angle and freehand drill it…

And then you will realise that the crude legs and crude tools have taught you how to make the legs and seat for a better chair… and you will try to make that chair!

See it all leads, to making better and better…

and angles are no longer a fearsome mystery…

and then of course you will have to make a joint stool… 😉

be well


Tools of the trade 05 Hatchets

The word “Hatchet” itself has an interesting etymology. It comes from the old French word “to throw”. The Frankish armies (when the Normans invaded) carried 2 small axes into battle that had severely short and curved handles. Before engaging in the hand to hand melee they would hurl them at the enemy, intending to have them hit the ground and bounce wildly and dangerously up behind the enemy’s shields…

Most languages call a small axe a “carpenter’s axe” and don’t have a separate word for them.

The thing about hatchets is that you only need one… but, then you learn that a smaller hatchet is better for carving little things like spoons.. so you get a little camp hatchet to use for that, and that a flat faced hewing hatchet is better for truing up stock before taking it to the shaving horse. So you have to try one of those. And then you are hewing a lot of large stuff so you think that a cooper’s side axe might be a good idea… I think that you get the picture.


                                          a few of the axes I have as “loaners” for teaching                                                    L to R camp, limbing, lathing or shingling (modified), hewing

Really you only need one. and I’ll insist that any hatchet can do the work. Some hatchets may do the work better, or with less effort than others.

For starting I recommend that you get a hatchet (any hatchet) from a second hand store that carries old tools and stuff. And you learn to sharpen it. Use a file and then a sharpening stone.

There are many styles and types, shingle and lathing hatchets, limbing hatchets, scout hatchets, camp hatchets, hewing hatchets…

I have a good limbing hatchet that does really well for hewing. I have a hewing hatchet that I also like really well for my hewing.

Safe practices and procedures are paramount while using Hatchets and Axes.

Generally: Green Woodworkers use wedges and froes for splitting wood, so there is no reason to ever do the dangerous “hold the stick up with one hand and bring your hatchet down on the end as you whip your hand away at the last minute” trick that gets so many people injured.

However after you have split your stock to approximate size there is a sometimes a need to reduce the size a little or to take off a gnarly edge that won’t split off. Here the hatchet comes into its best use.


You can hold the stock upright on your stump/hacking stock with one hand and hew the lower half of it, and then flip it over to hew the other half. and never ever have the cutting edge come close to your hand!

be well and count your fingers



 Tools of the Trade 04 the Brake

A brake (or riving brake) is used in conjunction with the froe so I thought it would be apropo to mention it here. I have heard of these also being called a “cleave”.

there are several types:

upright A-frame,

A frame see Peter Follansbee’s blog and The Barn on White Run



horizontal or box like

box see Peter Galbert’s blog

fence like,

fence on Jennie Alexander’s Greenwoodworking blog

and one that is a sort of sideways fork.

fork see”The Woodwright’s Shop” by Roy Underhill

made from a tree fork.

They all get used similarly; you prop your piece to be split in the gap (after you have started the froe into the end) and push down on the thicker side of the split. Go slowly and watch incase the split wants to run one way or the other. this way you can get your weight into it without straining too much.

You need one, mine is like the boxy one. but don’t get carried away and make all of them 😉

be well


Tools of the Trade 03 the Froe

30 years ago you couldn’t buy a new froe, no one made them. You could find antique ones, usually beat up and rusty beyond usability. So I made mine from old leaf springs!


the one behind is a school bus leaf spring, and the one in front is a car leaf spring. these work very well. If you want to make your own, you will need a bit of a forge to heat the spring up in enough to flatten it. And to flare out the eye a little bit (at the bottom). Do not re-harden it, it will be strong enough as is.

Today there are dozens of makers to choose from. Recently I used one from Gramercy tools. I liked it a lot.

Be careful in your selection, there are a lot of people selling “cold steel” froes and hatchets. “Cold steel” is cold rolled steel, otherwise also called mild steel. it is the softest and most malleable of the steels, and it does not harden. This is good for Tomahawks (hawks) and hatchets that you are going to use for throwing at targets. it’s not good for cutting, and in a froe it can just make you mad by bending on you when you twist it . Because you DO twist it and use it as a lever to split the wood. you want good steel or spring steel for these.

You drive the froe into the end of a bit of log with a froe club. Do not give in to the temptation of using a sledge on it. You will mushroom over the back edge that way. If you need to use a sledge, wiggle the froe back out and use an iron wedge. When the froe is in, then you twist it to propagate the split…

Split large stuff with the iron wedges and gluts (wood wedges). switch to the froes when it gets closer to the size you want.

be well



Tools of the trade 02 the Hacking Stock

Ok, so not everyone calls it that, chopping block, stump etc.

After you have split your wood as close to size as you can, any coarse shaping with an axe is done here.

it can be just a stump:


this is a piece of crab apple that is too hard and too twisted to be much good for anything else that I use a little.

or it can be a slab on legs:


that is a piece of 10 x 10 beech barn beam, the same beam that I made my shaving horse out of back in 1984, you can see that it is about rotted through the middle.

The purpose of a hacking stock is to have some place to do your chopping that will not mark up or damage other tools (Like your shaving horse or workbench) and if you keep it out of the dirt it will also protect your hatchet.

Orientation of the wood in a hacking stock can affect how fast you get tired out. If the wood grain is vertical, every time your hatchet hits it, it will stick in and you have to yank it back out. If your wood grain is horizontal, when your hatchet hits it , the hatchet bounces and doesn’t stick…  I have obtained a piece of Walnut that I intend to use to make a replacement for the older one. (edit and here it is done!)


be well


Process outline 02

We left off with a stack of board like parts that are still fresh and wet. Now we wait a week or so. at least until the faces of the material dry out a little. They will carve better at this stage. When not fully dry but not completely wet either. The faces will also plane smooth better. Now is also the time to turn, on the lathe, any round parts in the work.

this is where the processes take a big fork in the road sort of divergence. In actuality some of the divergence will have started back when I was splitting the wood. While I split out parts I am thinking of what I will be making. But if I am making a chair I might not be carving, or I might, depending upon chair type, or a box or a chest, it all gets a little different. But many of the process concepts are the same so I will just continue with this small box.

So to start with the carving I need to decide on the final size of the parts, and decide on which type of decoration/carvings each part is going to receive. There are almost too many traditional or ancient carving patterns to choose from. Follow the KISS principle. Keep It Simple Sam (or Sir, or Sally, or Stupid, whatevs). You can do a lot with just 3 or 4 carving tools.

Take the smallest part, decide how much needs to be cut off to make it good. Use a square and scratch a line where you will eventually cut it off. DO NOT CUT IT RIGHT NOW! You can use any extra for fastening it to the bench or to a scrap board to hold it down.


Then mark each matching part from the first part.


NOTICE that I have not used a measuring device of any sort yet. Not even to set the marking gage in the previous post.

Decide on your carving. Mark horizontal lines with your scribe/gage. Mark vertical lines with a square (marking from the edge you squared up first), and arcs with a divider. If you need to you can sketch with white chalk (or the natural tan chalk) on the wood. Uncolored chalk will vanish when you apply a finish or wax the wood.


As carving is an entire subject that I don’t propose to cover here, here are a few pictures during the carving so we can get back to the making.

Once I have an adequate set of parts I can continue the construction.

P1020382I cut them to length. and do a quick trim to square the ends.


then I stand them up and decide which end and which face goes where.

The front and back will get rabbets (rebates) to fit the sides. And the inside of the sides are not exactly flat straight or square (you may have noticed that I spent no effort to make them exact) So I lay the front and back face down. And I stand the sides up in place so that I can scribe the line where it fits on the inside. You should probably mark the insides of the parts to make sure that you don’t mix them up.

I set a gage to mark the depth of the rabbet, leaving enough depth for scalloping the edge as a final detail.. and mark all around where the rabbet goes from the face of the front and back.

I saw down on the backside (just like making a tenon). A “modern” woodworker might (here) insist on making a tight joint on the inside where it “isn’t seen”. There is considerable evidence that preindustrial woodworkers, trying to make things go together fast, purposefully made sure there was no interference between parts that did not need to touch. So many joints look open on the backsides. And then I nail or peg the parts together. And I split out the waste and trim the rabbet with the wide chisel.

I will make a pine top and bottom for this box. The bottom will get nailed or pegged on just like the sides, and the lid will get the gimbal hinges that I made for it….



After Carving the parts should be left to dry more…

That is in essence the process. it varies in minor details depending on project but the concept is the same.

be well;