These shaves cost from $20-$30 apiece at a flea market. The shave at the top has a rosewood body. The center shave features a rounded cutter. Thumbscrews on the shave at the bottom adjust the cutter.
Popularly named a "spokeshave" because it evolved in the wheelwright's shop where it was used to finish spokes, the shave actually is a very versatile tool. The small shave (usually less than 1' long) combines the functions of the hand plane and the drawknife to remove wood.
Depending on the shape of its blade, called the cutter, the shave tackles flat, convex, or concave surfaces, and even chamfers and rabbets. In furnituremaking, the shave removed the marks made by a drawknife or saw on the scroll of an apron or the curve of a cabriole leg. It might even prepare the surface for the final finish. Because a woodworker could pull or push it, corners were a snap.
Shaves have a wood or metal body (the latter introduced about 1870) with curving handles, a throat like a plane to accept shavings, and a sole to ride the workpiece. The removable steel cutter was beveled on only one side of the cutting edge so simple honing kept it sharp. To hold it in place, as well as adjust its depth of cut, the cutters on early wood-bodied shaves were forged with two small tangs that fit into the wood. These broke off after years of use, and the craftsman replaced them with set screws. Metal shaves always featured screw adjustments.
Hard work also ruined the soles on wooden shaves. But the owner had only to mortise out the worn sole and insert a flush brass plate for continued service.
You can pay $10 to $25 for a brand-new metal-bodied shave or a reproduction of an old-time wooden one. But these once-common tools still abound at auctions, dealers' shops, and flea markets. A beechwood-bodied shave will cost about $10; plan on $20 to $40 for rosewood, ebony, or boxwood. Unique shapes for specific chores, and metallic ones of brass or bronze may fetch $100.
Photography: Hopkins Associates