Tool Review: Caleb James Spokeshave

The Caleb James Spokeshave is a throwback to a traditional wooden-bodied tool that functions differently than most other spokeshaves available today. There’s a slight curve to the sole, and the blade is fixed in place with no knobs or adjusters to set the depth of cut. Instead, to take a thicker or thinner shaving, you roll the spokeshave backward or forward, changing how much the blade projects in relation to your contact point on the sole. A full tilt backward and you’re pulling off thick shavings; a quick tilt forward and you’re taking thin curls. This functionality sold itself when I was shaping ladderback chair legs. I was able to quickly hog away material right up to my line before tilting the spokeshave to finesse the shape with the finest of cuts.

Because I wasn’t stopping to adjust my depth of cut or switch between tools with different settings, I worked more quickly. Of course, this flexibility comes at a cost: A perfect cut is not guaranteed. There is nothing to stop you from cutting too deep by accidentally tilting the tool backward, making muscle memory a must. But the infinite variability became second nature for me after just a little bit of practice; after months using the tool, I found my metal-bodied shave slow and frustrating in comparison. However, I still think modern shaves are best for those times when it might be difficult to keep a consistent tilt on the tool, such as on a tight curve or a long sweep.

A bit of warning: There’s often a waitlist for this tool, but the wait is well worth it.

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