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Lee Valley Cast Round Spokeshave

I really did not start out to write a review. Someone posted a problem with their LV Cast Round Spokeshave, and consequently I went and checked my own. It turned out that I had the same problem. And then the photos I took to illustrate the issue and the fix .. turned into a review ... sort of.

The spokeshave?

Lee Valley recently offered a reproduction of a small Preston spokeshave ...

It is cast in stainless steel and has a PM-V11 steel blade. Now that got your attention!

... and I convinced myself that I needed it for my chair build ... you know ... "I must have a spokeshave for really tight curves ... it's possible that I will be stuck in the build just because I do not have a really small spokeshave ... and it's nearly Christmas ... ". 

Well, it is really striking, and I like this style of spokeshave (sans adjuster, that is). And, frankly, it was a bargain at the price (until you look at shipping costs to Perth that is ... so I bought a few more things as well to justify the small purchase ...).

The spokeshave arrived and I whipped it out its packaging, ran it over a board, noted that it was difficult to get a shaving ... but I was over my head with Work work, and put it aside - until the recent forum query.

I do have a few other spokeshaves. As mentioned, I prefer them without adjusters. That low centre of gravity thing. I have a Lie-Nielsen Round Boggs (plus the flat and concave versions) - light and wonderful balance, the HNT Gordon round (and flat) - superb on interlocked grain - and a Stanley #51R (which was spawned by the Devil - truly only for the masochist). I have reasonable experience using these, indeed love using spokeshaves (only second after using chisels).

The LV "Preston" is indeed small, not just in physical size (6 1/2" wide), but its curved sole has a radius of just 5/8". Compared with this is the 3" of the HNT Gordon and the 5" of the LN Boggs.

Of course, if you REALLY want a small spokeshave, get this one (the Miniature by Veritas) - it is a real worker, and only 3 1/2" long from tip-to-tip!

Now it is Boxing Day and I have a little time in the shed ... shop. I run the spokeshave over a thin board again. 

The first thing that strikes me is that I cannot take a shaving pushing it, only pulling it. When I attempted to push the shave, it just chattered ..

Further, it would not take a shaving at the centre of the mouth only one or other side.

The likelihood is that the mouth is not flat. A ruler confirmed this ..

Here the blade is sharp and flat and it is possible to see the curve of the mouth ...

Now if your spokeshave is the same as this - and I have only heard one complaint of the forums to date - then simply send it back to Lee Valley. You do not have to tell them I said you must. Lee Valley have the BEST return policy in the WORLD. No quibble - just replacement or your money back. They will make it good. 

So, I am not suggesting that you do as I did, but you can - it is really easy. 

Step 1: cover the metal toe. I used a black felt tip ...

Step 2: Use a medium file across the length of the mouth/toe to remove the concavity ...

Above: only the edges show silver, demonstrating how much the mouth is out-of-square.

Step 3: Keep filing behind the mouth as well. When using a round spokeshave it needs to be rolled, and this cannot occur if the body is not coplanar.

Above can be seen that there is a high point at the centre and low points at each side.

Step 4: Finally coplanar.

Step 5: 240 grit and 400 grit wet-and-dry will restore the smoothness and shine ...

The spokeshave now could take full width shavings. It is easy to set up and easy to adjust (with a hammer or by touch). However, it still was so much easier to use in the pull mode. 

It was also possible to take long, fine shavings by skewing the shave (as one would skew a plane). The trouble with this is that this was not a creating a tight curve, as intended, but a gradual curve, for which I had other spokeshaves.

I recalled what Terry Gordon (of HNT Gordon had said to me once): "I suspect the main reason why the little short based shaves are used for gentle inside curves over the last 50 years was because the curved sole shaves were a mongrel to use with any success. The only problem with using the short based shave on a gentle inside curve is that if you have to transition to an outside curve then the depth of cut will change and most likely you will lose control at this point where you get nasty chatter marks. Lastly you are limited to gentle curves so at some point you will need to go to a curved sole shave".

To use a round shave it needs to be rolled from the toe onto the blade. But what if there is not much toe to start with? Well, that will make it more difficult to start the cut. Is that why I struggled?

Here is a comparison of toes (from top down) ...

Miniature LV, LV Preston, Stanley #51R, LN Boggs, and HNT Gordon ..

mmm... that LV Preston toe is even smaller and a tighter curve than the Stanley. By comparison, the LN and HNT Gordon curves are gentle and the toes are wider. They are, in fact, easy spokeshaves to use.

My concern about the spokeshave is actually more than the mouth being out-of-coplanar. That is one reason why the spokeshave would be difficult to use. Some might argue that one does not take a full width shaving anyway, but that is not the point. The point is that taking a full shaving tells us that all is well with the mouth.

The second issue is the design of this spokeshave. It is a copy of the Preston ... for better-or-worse. This has been my criticism with some of the features on LN planes as well. That is, the design, per se, includes all features, both good and bad. Some of the bad is not a deal breaker, just not as good as it could get, and there are many who enjoy these historical features. What LV is known for best is their innovation and development of classic designs. They take a historical classic and turn it into a modern classic.

Now here is the thing: this spokeshave is not a first timer’s spokeshave. At its price point I can see some wanting to wet their toes with this spokeshave. It is a spokeshave for someone who really knows what they are doing. I have some experience, but not nearly enough to make it work properly.

I was taught to use a round spokeshave by Terry Gordon, to role it from the toe through the mouth and onto the sole. This Preston-designed spokeshave has a very narrow toe. The photos I posted illustrate this.

In addition to the picture of the HNT Gordon large spokeshave I posted (above), Terry has developed a smaller version, one very similar in size to the LV/Preston. Terry has this to say of his own version ...

The small curved spokeshave is designed to do tight inside curves. It is a difficult tool to control as there is no support in front of the blade so it wants to roll as you start to push.

Terry continues ...

When using the curved sole shave I generally push it but it can be pulled. The only part of my hand which exerts any great pressure is my thumbs on the flat part of the shave directly behind the blade. The rest of my hands have a light grip on the squarish handles to prevent the tool from rolling which keeps the blade cutting. I have a little weight down on the wood and my thumbs then do the pushing and drag along the wood to help steady the body. My wrists are flexible so I can roll with the curves. 

Note that he is pushing here ...


With regard the Preston handles, I find that the curves ask one to pull rather than push. It actually feels unnatural to push with them. Consequently there may be a different way in using them compared with the HNT Gordon.

I put in a little bit of practice with the LV Preston spokeshave and was rewarded for my efforts.

It is much easier going on Pine but I could do this on hardwood as well. In the first picture the shave long curls are now being pulled. This is really easy ..

In the second photo the shave has planed the entire length, which ends into the grain and leaves tear out (as expected) ...

Now the idea is to be able to come back with the grain and remove the tearout. To do this you have to push away from yourself, and do it from the edge of the board - that is, immediately and working from the smallest registration area ..

Note that I could not plane this curve with the round LN - the curve is too tight.

I do think that those starting out would be better served by a LV or LN round spokeshaves. Even a Stanley #51/151 is easy after the Preston.

Regards from Perth


December 2013