Thursday, November 27, 2008

Drawknives & Spokeshaves

Mike Dunbar's name is synonymous with Windsor chairmaking so it's no wonder that he taught the seminar at the WIA conference on Mastering the Drawknife & Spokeshave—two handtools that figure prominently in making Windsor chairs.

The drawknife is a workhorse meant to remove stock very quickly. Mike skewed the blade, starting at one end and sliced toward him to the other end of the blade, in quick action as he removed large pieces of wood fro
m his workpiece. The drawknife is used flat-side-down and has handles that are slightly lower than the blade.

The bevel (or bezel), is curved, not flat, and definitely not concave (as in hollow grinding). Because of this, you sharpen the blade with a stone or with 220 grit sandpaper
wrapped around a hardwood block (drawknives don't need to be as sharp as chisels and plane irons) and work along the entire surface of the bevel, not just the cutting edge, so you maintain the same angle. Mike didn't know the bevel angle (maybe 25ยบ) but it is shown in the third photo.

Shaving horses are quaint, Mike said, but he prefers a bench vise. Vises allow you to work the entire way around a workpiece without removing and repositioning it and work with very long pieces.

Antique drawknives, according to Mike, are best prior to 1900, when manufacturers changed the shape of the bevel to either a flat or thumbnail shape. After 1900, he says, "Don't buy them." However, you can purchase new, correctly-shaped drawknives from Mike's website.

Conversely, spokeshaves are delicate creatures that are meant to be held lightly between your first two or three fing
ers and with thumbs directly behind the blade (on the push stroke). Mike uses spokeshaves from Dave's Shaves and Woodjoy, and suggests avoiding metal-bodied ones because they produce more chatter.

To sharpen
, Mike laps the flat side first and then uses something like this , a rotating disc of tempered glass with adhesive 600 grit sandpaper applied to it, to sharpen the bevel.

Spokeshaves come in a variety of shapes—flat, curved, and small soles—and can be used on either the push or pull stroke. If you are experiencing a lot of chatter, check that your workpiece is secured tightly or check the wood structure. Wood with alternating tight and open grain can produce a washboard effect, so you need to skew the blade as you shave.

To work a concave shape, shave down into the valley from both sides and lift up as you reach the bottom of the cut.

Spokeshaves can be used to shape cabriole legs, or virtually any shape, and the facets can be removed with files or sandpaper.

Mike's advice is to "Play with the tools. Don't wait to get to know them while you're working on a project."

And my advice is "Any reason to play in your shop is a good one." So....thanks, Mike!

The information above is from notes I took at Mike Dunbar's seminar. I have never used drawknives. I do, however, use 3 metal-bodied spokeshaves (Lee Valley) that I like very well.


Metalworker Mike said...

I've got the same spokeshaves that you have (nice ones!) along with my elderly Swiss drawknife and pushknife, and like them all. The thing I wanted to point out is that whether the drawknife is used bevel up or bevel down depends on how the handles are hung. You can find them set either way. Mine is set for bevel down operation. Mine is hollow ground, and works great.
I was very surprised as the comment about bench vises being more convenient than a shaving horse. Go to this site:
Click on the 'Lie-Nielson Toolworks' tab, then click on "Brian Boggs - Drawknives, Spokeshaves, and Travishers" Watch how fast he works with a shaving horse. I can't imagine anyone using a bench vise anywhere near that efficiently.


Anonymous said...

In some parts of Europe, a wood block was hung around the neck as protection when using a drawknife. If I was to try one, I would hang a piece of 1/8" rolled steel plate around my neck. I have this paranoia about sharp things directed at my chest.

johnjoiner said...

Whoa! A little wierd. I just posted about Dunbar this morning too. But mine wasn't about tools. And I cut myself on my drawknife yesterday (unfortunately I wasn't playing with it.)

It must be some unity caused by the Turkey-Day force!

will said...

The Brian Boggs video - using a drawknife w/ horse was good. Of course his drawknive was very sharp and that does make demo work attractive. Still, a very useful instruction video.

Kari Hultman said...

Mike, thanks for the comments and link to Brian's video. He also uses his drawknife for more of a finished cut than Dunbar did at the seminar. I figured there would be other points of view regarding use and sharpening of the drawknife.

Gary, I did see a guy use a drawknife with a board hanging around his neck. I'm pretty sure it was hardwood and not hard steel.

John, I read your post this morning...great minds! : )

Bill, I'm still a fan of the "quaint" shaving horse. Brian sure knows how to work it.

Metalworker Mike said...

The board hanging around your neck isn't for protection from the knife as much as it is to keep from getting a bruise when you're using your chest to hold the end of the workpiece.

Anonymous said...

The Best Tool to use with your Drawknife and Spokeshave is a Shavinghorse the British type or the Swiss type ,the way the handles are shaped on the drawkife makes it easy to use in a shavinghorse to get full power with arms and legs why reinvent the wheel by using a workbench vise??

Anonymous said...

There are alot of windsor chair makers who disagree with dunbar. For him, his way or the highway. There is more then one way to skin a cat. Go to countryworkshops and check out the draw knife they sell. Completely different then what mike talks about bezel wise.

Dan said...


Thanks for an interesting post on one of my favorite tools! I love my drawknives - and am always finding more uses for them. They can really remove a lot of wood fast - too fast sometimes. But then again, they can be subtle.

I don't think I agree with everything Dunbar is saying. For one thing, I use my drawknife bevel down at least half the time -for concave cutting or for finer work. Did he mention bevel down use? Also, I think shavehorses are far more than "quaint" - although I do occasionally work at the bench vise.

What a great time you must have had at WIA! Thanks for all the great info!

Kari Hultman said...

Thanks Anon, for the Country Workshops site. I couldn't agree more that there is more than one way to do any woodworking task.

Dan, it seems logical that you could use a drawknife up or down, so I was surprised that Mike said bevel up. I double checked my notes, but maybe I missed something he said.

I have always wanted to build a sawhorse and Mike's opinion won't stop me! : )

WIA was awesome--maybe see you there next year???

Anonymous said...

well...I am surprised that no one jumped on the Dunbar quote about "drawknives don't need to be as sharp as chisels or planes..."

the sharper a tool it, the better it performs. Period. get 'em as sharp as you can...

Kari Hultman said...

Peter, he also said the edge should be a bit rounded over. I was surprised at that, too.

Dan said...

Kari - do you think by "rounded over" he meant a slight back bevel? That seems like it could make some sense if you are only using it bevel up...

Kari Hultman said...

That's a good thought, Dan, but he actually said that you shouldn't try to create the rounded edge when sharpening---that it will naturally round over in use. Prior to that, I had never heard anything other than, like Peter said, you should make your cutting edges as sharp as possible.

It may have something to do with how he uses the drawknife--for hogging out large chunks of wood. Someone like Brian Boggs, who uses a drawknife for more finished cuts would, I imagine, make sure his blade is razor sharp.

Peter Galbert said...

Besides the frightening notion that drawknives don't need to be sharp, it seems to me that there's been no mention of their purpose. Drawknives aren't rough tools for hogging off material, but bloodhounds for following the fibers. A sharp drawknife can peel a piece of wood along it's fibers like a banana. This is essential to preserving the strength of the wood and for bending it without any problems. The "rounding over" that you mention is a slight curve just before the edge that allows the tool to come in and out of the cut. A straight bevel, like a chisel would just dig, but a drawknife acts more like a carving tool, this way it can find the fiberline and be sensitive to it. As far as the bevel up or down, it works both ways, as long as the slight curvature is there to allow the blade to "carve" in and out. The angles of the handles to the blade determine which orientation is better. As far as function goes, I find that the bevel up method (which I too prefer) is better for following the fiber line while the bevel down method does a better job carving the wood. And as far as the shavehorse debate! I teach a lot of folks who've studied with Mr. Dunbar and they all ask for my shave horse plans, it's like putting tires on a car, you never go back. (I've been told that he simply doesn't have room for enough shavehorses for 20 people at a time) Keep up the great work!