It's Not Hoarding, it's History!

It's Not Hoarding, it's History!

Speaking of Spokeshaves

by Randall Read on 04/03/12

On the evolutionary ladder of hand tools, particularly for wood, the spokeshave was probably on that next rung. As we evolved, our desire for more reformed and accurate woodworking dictated tool design. In search of a way to control the amount of wood one removed with a tool, some innovative individual somehow clamped a stick to a chisel or drawknife and the basis for a spokeshave was born.

The spokeshave is basically a blade with a wedge shaped cutting edge set in a body with handles on both ends, like a drawknife. The blade is adjustable, dictating the amount of material it can remove. In some designs the bevel of the blade faces up, away from the work. More commonly, the bevel is facing the work surface. The tool can be either pulled or pushed, but I feel that you have better control by pulling it.


As you can see in the picture, we have three representative spokeshaves. The oldest, pictured below, is the one with the wooden body. It has a unique blade that is raised and lowered with the two brass thumbscrews and on this particular tool, the bevel is up. Because of the wooden base, it shows wear and is now slightly convex instead of flat like it was when it was new.


The middle tool, the bottom view of it is below, is unique in that it has two blades; one straight blade and one radius blade. I'm not sure of the age of this particular tool as it has no marking on it what-so-ever. The handle has a little more of a crude cast feel, but the blades are pretty precise.

The last tool is probably the most common design of any spokeshave, the Stanley 151. This particular one is a model 4 and was manufactured sometime between 1923 and 1926. It has very precise adjustment options and is pretty much the same tool as is made today.

Besides woodworking, the spokeshave is also used in leather work where gauging or tapering is required. When books were bound in leather, the spokeshave was an essential tool.

"It's a Draw (knife)"

by Randall Read on 03/01/12

So you have just finished building the new house using post and beam framing. Your axes and adze and chisels have served you well. The missus wanted shingles on the outside of the house and you managed to make those using an old broad axe head that you beat on with a wood mallet to split some cedar logs.

Now she says that she wants some furniture that doesn't take two men and a mule to move. The stuff you made from split logs can stay in the old log cabin and she said that you can just keep all your stuff out there too and not clutter up the new home. The man-cave is born, although we prefer to call it the work shop.

Up to now, we have made do with larger, more brutish tools in our woodworking endeavors. We've made some knives that have worked okay to whittle branches into useful items like broom handles and chair parts, but they are still a bit crude and the new stylish home calls for more refined furniture and furnishings.


Attaching a stick or handle on the pointy end of a large knife was most likely the initial design of what was to become the drawknife.  The drawknife is all about control and finesse, being able to make thinner and more precise cuts. After some trial and error, the ideal design proved to be one with two parallel handles that were perpendicular to the blade.

The cutting edge of the knife is much like the broad axe and the chisel in that it is flat on one side and tapered on the other. The advantage of this design for this particular tool is that when cutting with the grain of a piece of wood, you have better control. If you cut with the taper up or on top, the blade tends to dive in or follow the natural grain of the wood. This may or may not be what you want to do. If not, simply turn the tool over with the bevel down. The blade now wants to skip to the surface and by angling the handles correctly you can force the tool to go where you want it. The key to all of this is to have a very sharp edge and practice a lot!

 The drawknife above has just about reached the end of it's lifetime. It has been sharpened so many times that the blade portion is about gone.


Drawknives proved to be very efficient tools for shaping wood. Spindles and other cylindrical pieces were generally fashioned with this tool. With the right amount of skill and practice, one could also flatten and smooth boards and with a specially shaped tool, concave shaping could be done. Fancier chairs had seats that had depressed areas that were generally carved out with a drawknife fashioned in a tight radius. We have a couple in our collection that have larger radii which were most likely used in barrel making and de-barking logs.  

In addition to being a very useful, all-around work working tool, it also helped strengthen another trade; basket weaving. The long, thin ribbons of wood that were a waste product, suitable only for kindling before now, became a sturdy strip that could be woven with others to make any number of baskets and such.

Slick Chisels

by Randall Read on 01/23/12

It's pretty obvious when you think about it, but as tools and the materials they were made of became more refined, so did the products they were used to produce. Dwelling construction went from natural caves to shacks of sticks and mud. When tools of bronze and iron became available, log cabins and more substantial structures became prevalent. Then when steel making was refined, post and beam construction or some version of that became the rage because better joinery was now possible.

Steel gave us the opportunity to make a tool that would hold a sharp edge for a reasonable amount of time. Because we now had sharper tools, finesse instead of brute strength and awkwardness entered the carpenter's skill set.



Pictured above from left to right - Corner chisel, 1 7/8" x 14" mortise chisel, 3" x 26" slick and a 1 1/2" x 16" mortise chisel.


In post and beam construction, mortise and tenon joints were the preferred connection for joining structural members. A mortising chisel was used to shape the rectangular hole. The chisel itself has a thick blade with square sides. The wood handle typically fit into a socket on the end of the chisel that allowed the user to hammer on the handle with a wood mallet, doing little harm to the chisel handle or mallet. Chisels were still a simple enough tool that the local blacksmith was still a viable source.

The slick is a long heavy chisel with a wide blade. It is used much like a plane to flatten surfaces and was favored for window sills and door jambs. Because it was used more for smoothing, the handle was generally made to discourage one from beating on it.  This particular slick is dated 1837 and has the name C L Parker stamped twice on the blade. I haven't been able to track down old C L, so I'm not sure whether he made the tool or was the owner.

We don't have many chisels in our collection, and I think part of the reason is because they haven't really changed much since their inception, so most people wouldn't know if they had an old piece or not. Our particular chisels all have what I will call very distinct forging blemishes. They are not machined smooth although I suspect that the slick is factory made, it still bears the imperfections of a hand-made tool

[Insert snappy title here]

by Randall Read on 01/05/12

Sometime in the early 70's, our company was remodeling a building for a new restaurant. It had an old world, medieval feel with grates of iron bars that once kept the riff-raff confined. Now they protected the wine collection as suits of armor stood guard. Dark and intimate, it was a popular establishment.


One of the features was a large fireplace that dominated a portion of the restaurant. The period cried for a mantle of hand-hewn wood of substantial proportion. At that time, we didn't have options like fiberglass molded replicas or Styrofoam, sculpted and coated to simulate the real thing. And if we did, odds are Dad wouldn't consider it anyway. Authenticity was the key and guess what - we had the tool to make it happen. It was the long handled adze like those pictured below.




First off, we needed a piece of wood with character; one with checks and knots and one I'm sure the lumber yard was glad to finally be rid of. Secondly, you needed the right tool for the job; one capable of delivering a blow with enough force to remove a sizeable chunk and sharp enough to do it cleanly. Thirdly, you needed someone to wield the tool for long hours and little pay, also reminiscent of the times.


So there I stood, perched on a tough, twisted piece of fir, swinging a razor-sharp hunk of iron at my foot. This was counter to the first rule of whittling, taught to me by my grandfather - 'Always cut away from yourself.' 


 Dad explained that it was perfectly safe as long as you used a little self control, common sense and had a good thick sole on your shoes. The method was to grab the adze with both hands and take short strokes, using the sole of your shoe as a stop. The action was much like you'd use a hoe in the garden, beating the weeds into submission. I've seen drawings of craftsmen using the adze like you would swing a croquet mallet - maybe a bit more aristocratic, but not near as manly.



 Other than the longer handled standing adze, there are adzes made for other specialized trades. The cooper's adze, like the one pictured above had the short handle that allowed the barrel maker to swing the tool inside a barrel.

 Bowl makers used an adze that had a curved head that allowed for a tighter radius. When rain gutters made of wood were all the rage, a specialized adze with a cupped blade was used to cut the 'U' shape.


 Modern adzes are readily available today for those who want that hand shaped look.


It's One for the Ages

by Randall Read on 12/23/11

The three-age system used in archaeology is named for the respective tool-making technologies used during those periods; the Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age. There were most certainly tools made of wood, bone or antlers used during these same periods, but sadly, these don't stand up well over thousands of years.  

 Our stone hand-axe is a good example of a Stone Age type tool. Unfortunately, we don't have anything that would represent the Bronze Age; at least I haven't stumbled upon it yet. The broad axe pictured below would be a good example of tool that might have been made in the Iron Age.


 This tool would more specifically be called an Offset Broad Axe. Named for the bent or curved handle, its primary purpose would have been to plane a log or timber and was a vital tool in home and ship building.  

 A line would be established along the length of the wood and the axe wielded to remove the excess as close to the line as possible. Depending on the application of the finished piece of timber, the use of the broad axe was generally just the first stage of the shaping process.   

The bent or offset handle prevented the user from ripping the skin off their knuckles on the timber. The blade is flat on one side and tapered on the other. The blades are generally forged symmetrically and handles were bent in either direction so that right and left hand versions could use the same axe head.


 The blade is a great example of a hand forged piece. If you look along the length of the blade you will see a seam where a newer cutting-edge portion was forge-welded onto the original head. The head length is about 13 inches with a total tool length of 26 inches. It weighs in at 7 lbs and is sharp enough to do severe damage to one's leg.