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Re: spokeshaving, tool modification,etc

You sent 2nd June 19:02,

>  I was doing some leather work this past weekend, and found myself wondering
about how others on the list may or may not commune with their spokeshaves.
............ I
>just curious.
>Dorothy Africa

Difficult to answer the philosophical question, but to add to the paring
discussion ----

The spokeshave is shown in photographs in AW Johnson's 'Manual of Bookbinding',
pp 89-92.    It is important to clamp the leather to the lithographic stone,
marble plate, or similar, to ensure the leather cannot move and is held firmly
across the leather closest to your body, as the paring action is away from you.

(As an aside, the tool was originally used mainly by wheelwrights as a
finishing tool after using a draw-shave,  and is described in the book by
George Sturt "The Wheelwright's Shop", 1923   -   my great-grandfather was a
wheelwright, unfortunately I have none of his tools!)

If the spokeshave has been modified as suggested in Johnson's  book  so that
the sole is wider and the aperture increased slightly in the process the blade
lies at a shallower angle to the leather and will be less likely to dig-in.
The blade edge must also be slightly rounded at each corner in a smooth curve
of length some 0.25 in, or so, such that the intercept with the two straight
sides of the blade are hidden within the footplate opening -  this will avoid
the blade marking the leather as it cuts by leaving a ridge, digging-in with a
corner, or worse!

My blade is adjusted by trial and error for depth from the sole of the
spokeshave -  its setting at the moment is roughly a quarter of a millimetre.
The blade was ground to a shallower angle than as purchased this compensates in
part for the change in the sole plate to blade angle.  It is essential to spend
time on the sharpening the blade properly (as it is for knives).  I find the
curvature of the blade allows me to run the spokeshave along the edge of the
leather if I want have a tapered edge.

It is also best to hold the spokeshave at roughly 45 deg to the direction of
paring as this gives a better slicing action on the leather fibres rather than
shearing action with the blade at 90 deg.  If the blade is sharp enough (and
one's hand sufficiently large and strong !) it possible to use the tool in one
hand to do small areas, but I normally hold it firmly in both hands with the
leading edge of the sole-plate pressed down more than the rear edge.  With
everything working for you it is possible to run the tool along the joint part
of the leather in one movement.  The best action can only be found by practice

I agree with David Sellars feelings and comments (4th Jun, 10:24)on its
utility, once you have got the blade set to appropriate working depth and have
found the knack.  The blade must be sharp.  Richard Minsky's comments (4 Jun,
11:53) are very valid for a business.   I just do it as a hobby, so I have not
considered, or looked for, a second-hand shoe leather paring machines.   I find
the Swedish Schaerf-Fix seems quite good, but the leather must be held down on
the roller quite firmly and the razor blade replaced if it is suspected to be

I find that hard or firm leather is easiest.  Using soft skivers or even
morocco in the areas of the skin fold round the legs the leather stretches so
much as you run the spokeshave over the surface that it becomes difficult to
cut it evenly.  It will be found some leather has a grain or nap direction in
certain areas; again it becomes difficult to move the spokeshave smoothly over
the surface if it is against the grain  -  these circumstances are all
ameliorated by using a very sharp blade.

Rodney Fry

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