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The Adjustable Spokeshave
By Highland Staff

The spokeshave is one of those woodworking tools that may not get used on a daily basis in many shops, but when you have a need for one, it's hard to get along without it. A spokeshave is a small hand plane that has a wide blade, a short sole and raised, bicycle-like handlebar grips. Perfect for shaping curved, ill-regular and straight shapes on all kinds of projects, spokeshaves are a must when making chairs, boat components, musical instruments, bows, canoe paddles, wooden spoons, and much more (which includes its namesake; wagon wheel "spokes"). The small sole size makes this plane highly maneuverable and allows the tool to cut in ways larger planes can't manage.

A prevalent style of spokeshave that has been around for decades and which is still available today is known as an "Adjustable Spokeshave." The name refers to a spokeshave that has two separate blade adjusting knobs for adjusting the cutting blade (iron) for the depth of cut. For decades, Stanley, Record & Kunz among others, have all made this adjustable spokeshave model (often referred to as a 151 model) The standard 151 has a flat bottom (sole). For planing tighter inside radii, the 151R has a round bottom, with the curve of the sole going front to back. Both models use the same straight edge blade.

The 151 style doesn't cost a lot whether bought new or if you find a used one at yard sales, flea markets or Ebay. The 151 is like the no frills Chevrolet of spokeshaves; it works reasonably well and with its dual adjustment knobs, it gives some latitude for blade adjusting over other spokeshave models. There are certainly high end spokeshaves available in the marketplace today which can cut with more finesse than a 151. But the 151 is often the first spokeshave a woodworker will own and it's a tool that you will not fully abandon, even if you add a hand-crafted, upscale model spokeshave to your toolbox like a Lie-Nielsen model.

Whether new or used, 151 style spokeshaves need some tweaking and tuning to be able to cut effectively. The steps to tweak the spokeshave are not much different than what you would do with any other Stanley, Record, Bailey model metal-bodied plane to make it function well.

Begin with inspecting the sole for flatness. Check with the blade installed, retracted into the body, and with the cap iron tightened, and then check with the blade removed. If you see no difference in flatness, then flatten with the blade removed. If cap iron tension alters the sole's flatness, then flatten with cap iron tension on the blade. Since the sole's footprint is small, it's easy to flatten should it need work. You can use silicon carbide wet/dry sandpaper on a flat surface or a diamond stone.

Inspect the frog area (where the blade beds) and be sure it's flat and smooth. The castings can be a bit rough in general, and the frog area may have high spots and/or unevenly applied paint. A small mill bastard, thin auger bit file or diamond paddle file works to smooth the frog. Your file has to be thin enough to clear the throat to do the flattening work (you are not filing the perimeter of the throat opening).

To file the bed, begin by removing all of the parts from the plane except for the threaded studs protruding from the body.

Parts list:

1) plane body
2) cap iron
3) cap iron screw
4) blade screw
5) knurled adjustment knobs
6) blade
7) threaded studs


Clamp the spokeshave in a vise or to your bench in a way that allows you to work freely. Be careful with the stresses you apply in holding the spokeshave with your clamp or vise. The gray cast iron is brittle and non-malleable. You don't want to snap off the handle of your spokeshave! Use a small rule/straight edge and mark the high spots on the bed to be filed.

You'll also want to lap (flatten) the side of the blade that seats on the frog. Of course you'll lap the back of the blade that intersects at the cutting edge (as part of the sharpening regiment for the blade to help ensure a sharp edge), but because the blade bevel faces down when installed into the spokeshave, lapping the other side of the blade helps ensure it seats as flat as possible onto the frog.

With the flattened blade, lay it into the bed and check for rocking. Hold it up to light to look for noticeable gaps between the blade and the bed. File away remaining high spots on the bed for a good seat of the blade to the bed.

Check that the cap iron is flat on the side that bears against the blade. If not, lap it flat. You want the cap iron to bear across the blade well and securely hold the blade to the frog. Being flat out at it's leading edge will help to this end. The older 151's like the Record 151 pictured here have a robust cap iron measuring 5/32" thick. You may find some spokeshaves have thinner cap irons, which can result in more blade chatter. Some folks will use an older, thicker cap iron they may have for use on spokeshaves that come with a thinner cap iron. Adjusting the cap iron will be covered in a moment.

Inspect the little bow-tie shaped cut outs on the blade where the flanges of the adjustment knobs will ride. The bow-tie shapes are punched out and can have a rough perimeter as a result. Remove any burrs. This will help let the flanges rotate more smoothly as you turn the knurled adjustment knobs that change the blade's depth.

And now for the merely obvious: sharpen and hone the blade razor sharp. Because a spokeshave has less mass compared to a bench plane, it's harder to push the spokeshave along when it has a dull iron that's cutting poorly. A well-honed blade is a significant reason why any plane cuts well and a spokeshave iron is no exception to this rule. You can also upgrade to a Hock iron for your Record or Stanley 151 to improve cutting ability.

In assembling the parts back together, notice the blade screw (it passes through the center holes in the blade and cap iron). This can be screwed into the body of the plane a little or a lot. The amount the blade screw protrudes can impact the angle the cap iron is tighten down to when you snug the cap iron screw. If the blade screw is in fully you may find it won't let the rear end of the cap iron raise up enough as you tighten down the cap iron screw. If the angle of the cap iron is too low, the leading edge of the cap iron will not bear down near the cutting edge of the blade as tightly as it could. If you experience blade chatter, try fiddling with adjusting the height of the blade screw to change the pivoting of the cap iron to let its leading edge clamp down near the blade's edge. The cap iron screw usually has a knurled grip, but some have a slot, so a screwdriver can apply a bit more snugness to the cap iron screw if needed.

For cutting, the adjusting knobs let you skew the blade to cut deeper on one side if you wish. This is useful like when shaving green wood chair spindles where you are first removing lots of wood quickly, but are still needing to take finer cuts as you work. That being said, getting used to cutting with the spokeshave for beginners will go more easily if you first adjust the blade to cut evenly across the sole of the plane.

When you retract the blade for a lighter cut, (turning the adjusting knobs counter-clockwise), before you start to work, you'll then need to rotate the knobs clockwise slightly until you get the flange on the adjusting knobs to bear along the front edge of the bow-tie cut out. The play in the adjustment knobs is quite normal, but the step to compensate for it is important to keep the blade braced from creeping backwards when you cut.

Avoid a full fist grip in holding the handles. Place your index fingers on the plane body just above the cutting edge to apply pressure for keeping the sole flat on your work surface, letting the blade edge engage evenly and for reducing bouncing sole / blade chatter. Your index fingers along the front edge of the plane also lets you steer with more precision, especially on narrow stock.

As you push the tool to start to cut, if you turn the handlebars slightly to skew the blade to cut at a slight angle to the direction of travel, you'll get an improved cutting action at the beginning of the cut, (though a skewed planning angle can increase tear out at times).

Practice making shavings, have fun and keep the blade razor sharp for best cutting results.

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