You know what they say about dogwood…

I live in a neighborhood of 1950’s brick ranch houses. Many of the people who live there bought those houses brand new and so they subscribe to a particular sort of Ward Cleaver Jr. landscaping philosophy. Everything is nice and tidy and nothing (besides my yard) grows wild. There’s one old long leaf pine that has somehow escaped everyone’s notice, but everything else is in a constant state of 1950’s sitcom bliss.

That means whenever a tree comes down, I know about it. I also keep an eye on the piles of landscaping waste whenever I’m driving around. So far I’ve been able to score a few good maple and cherry logs, and one day I picked up a couple of short, fat, heavy logs that I thought might be boxwood or holly.

They turned out to be dogwood. They also turned out to be a bear to work with.

After letting them sit for almost a year I was able to split out just enough wood in chunks from those logs to mill up on the band saw into small blocks. I was immediately impressed with how dense the wood was, and how smooth it was off the plane blade. I didn’t end up with much to work with, and so I knew I wanted to do something special with it.

A couple of weeks ago I ordered a small spokeshave kit from Lee Valley and over the last few days I’ve had the opportunity to get some work in on it.

The kit comes with a template. I used spray adhesive to stick the template to the plastic from an old milk jug to make it rigid (and re-usable if I made a mistake). It was a simple thing to find the center and trace that on.

The instructions for the spokeshave were excellent and in what felt like no time I had marked, drilled and tapped the holes for the adjustment screws. Rather than walk through the whole process, I’ll just say that the design of this spokeshave is smart and with a little care (and a drill press) it’s hard to screw up.

After that’s complete, there is some moderately tricky work in marking out the blade position, sawing and removing the material for the ware and inlaying the brass wear plate, but again the instructions are excellent and even though I had to read through them a few times on some steps, the method brings results. I used a dovetail saw and chisel to clear the ware and I was so into it that completely forgot to take pictures.

The hardest part was fitting the brass strip and even this was made as easy as possible with the suggested jig to file the 45° bevel on the length of the strip and the 10° dovetail on the ends.

At this point, you basically have a working spokeshave that still looks like a hunk of wood, but a few swipes on the bandsaw and you’re ready for rasp and file work. The profile you create here is up to you, but here are three tips for success:

  • Keep it simple. There’s a reason most spokeshaves look like they do
  • Work in facets and work evenly all around until it’s time to do final shaping
  • Do the final shaping just as much by feel as by sight.

That last one is important. It’s easy to be deceived by your eyes when shaping tools (furniture, guitar necks, etc…) but your hands rarely lie. After getting the shape where I wanted it on one side I tried to match it on the other. And then I went inside with my wife. I took the spokeshave with me and kept feeling it for inconsistency while we were watching TV. During a break I made slight adjustments and then did the same thing. Two rounds of this and the handles were even and ready for sandpaper.

I put a few coats of boiled linseed oil and beeswax on to protect it and honed the blade. A few test cuts on some scrap walnut helped me set the blade depth and soon it was singing.


This was a fun little diversion although I now fully appreciate why people who make these full-time charge what they do. For someone like me, who has the luxury of time and a limited budget, the Lee Valley/Veritas kit certainly sets you up for success. A little patience and the right chunk of wood didn’t hurt either.


10 Comments Add yours

  1. Cordell says:

    Very nice outcome. I have a small stash of dogwood that I prize. Dense and tight grained it makes wonderful tool handles. I got it from Lee Valley years ago on a whim. They said the dw was a warehouse find of loom shuttle blanks…who knows how old it is. Liked it so much I laid in a small supply.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Jason J. says:

    Nice build, I like the coloring of the wood. Roy Underhill has mentioned using dogwood for tools. I have wondered where to find pieces large enough, know I have an idea of where to watch.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Now you know! 🙂 It almost looks like pear after applying oil. To be safe, it’s probably a good idea to let it dry for several months to a year and then mill it and let it set for another month before using.


  3. Brian says:

    Nice, I’ve been collecting random limb wood and small logs myself. One of my customers brought a couple of pieces of Osage orange. I haven’t run across any dogwood but I sure will now. I’ve also also had my eye on that spike shave kit for awhile now. Nice job!!


    1. Oooh, I bet that Osage orange would make a nice shave!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Brian says:

        I had tools in mind when he brought it to me, particularly a mallet. It was green about this time last year. I might have to save some for a spoke shave.


  4. Brian says:

    Auto correct got me.


  5. orepass says:

    I think you just described the neighborhood I grew up in! I’ve never worked dogwood but it certainly has a grand look.


  6. Saul says:

    My neighbor took down a dogwood tree a year or so ago. When green it is great for spoon carving. I tried splitting out some blanks a couple weeks ago. It has seasoned and i had a hard time extracting my hatchet from it because the grain is so interlocked.
    I’m going to try making some mallets and tool handles from what is left

    Liked by 1 person

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