a shaving horse at the hancock shaker village basket making workshop

Introduction to Buying Hand Tools for Green Woodworking

By Joshua Farnsworth

Green woodworking is an incredibly fun method of woodworking, because you get to use fresh, wet wood, and start transforming it into rustic furniture (and downright elegant, in the case of Windsor chairs) without having to wait for it to dry. And the wood is often free! 

Which Tools Do You Need for Green Woodworking?

A lot of woodworkers want to know which hand tools they need for working green wood. So I’ve written this guide to help you out, with the input of a few friends.

Green woodworking tools on a woodworking workbench, including carving hatchet, carving gouge, hook knife, bowl adze, draw knife, and wooden spoon inside a wooden bowl

First you can watch the video below where Mike Cundall broadly introduces different tools for green woodworking, along with some of his beautiful carved wooden bowls and wooden spoons. And below the video you’ll find the buyer’s guide for green woodworking hand tools.

GREEN WOODWORKING HAND TOOLS BUYER’S GUIDE

Pointing finger vertical

Make a Shave Horse

Shaving horse at Joseph Smith's Palmyra home barn

What is a Shave Horse?

A shave horse (or shaving horse) is a bench with a foot-operated vise. It is basically the green woodworker’s workbench. You stick the piece of green wood into the jaws, and your foot pressure will hold the wood tightly.  

Shaving horse at Joseph Smith's Palmyra home barn

What to look for in a Shave Horse?

Different people prefer different styles of shaving horses. Here are some different styles that I’ve photographed over the years, to give you some inspiration:

A Shaving horse inside a historic workshop at Middleton Plantation

a shaving horse at the hancock shaker village basket making workshop

A Shaving horse at Middleton Plantation

Little boy sitting on a woodworking shaving horse at the Frontier Culture Museum

Elia Bizzarri sitting at his shaving horse making a Windsor Chair in his North Carolina workshop

Little boy sitting on a woodworking shaving horse at the Frontier Culture Museum

The dumbhead (or swinging vise) can either be made from a log, or from laminating boards together. My kids love being able to use the word “dumb head” without facing retribution. 

Little boy sitting on a woodworking shaving horse at the Frontier Culture Museum

The main consideration is that the angle of the ramp is comfortable for you to work with, and that the dumb head clamps your work tightly. Oh, and that the legs don’t break!

Where to find a Shave Horse?

The best shave horse is one that you’ve made yourself. Yes, there are some that you can buy, but it’s a pretty simple project to build. You can find plenty of plans & videos online, and you can also take the popular class at our school: “Build a German Shave Horse with Ervin & Willie Ellis”. Here’s a little video that the Ellis brothers filmed in my school:

(here’s the accompanying blog post). 

But as you can see in these photos, a shaving horse doesn’t have to be perfect:

colonial man sitting on a woodworking shaving horse at the Frontier Culture Museum

This shave horse was still being built when I photographed it, but you can see how rustic a shaving horse can be to get started shaving green wood.

woodworking shaving horse at the Frontier Culture Museum

Most people who own a shaving horse made it themselves. There are a lot of plans and tutorials online and in woodworking magazines for building a shave horse. Since it’s not difficult to build a shave horse, there are not a lot for sale. Lie-Nielsen used to sell a shave horse, but they were quite costly (nearly $1,000 if I remember correctly), so they discontinued them (due, I’m sure to a major lack in sales). You can build one for $15, and they’re a fun weekend project, so I’m not sure a lot of people would pay $1,000. I did manage to find one for sale on Etsy (here), and a shave horse kit (here). But I’d recommend to go build one!

Buy a Drawknife

Green woodworking draw knives on a Moravian Workbench

What is a Drawknife?

A draw knife is a very useful tool for both rough cuts, to break down green wood into a rough shape, and for refining cuts. It’s the main tool used on a shave horse. The woodworker holds both handles, and pulls the drawknife toward their body, shaving wood off the workpiece.

What to look for in a Drawknife?

Different people have different preferences when it comes to drawknives, but Windsor Chair maker Elia Bizzarri prefers a drawknife that tapers slightly toward the cutting edge. He said that a thinner blade offers the ability to get a shorter blade bevel, which means it will get into concave surfaces more easily. He said that this feature isn’t so important for shaving chair spindles, but more so for the curved surfaces of a windsor seat.

Green woodworking drawknife with a wooden wedge on a woodworking workbench

Elia said that a drawknife can be used either bevel down or bevel up, but he prefers to use it bevel down. But if using a drawknife with the bevel up, the back can’t be dead flat, but needs to be slightly rounded, so that the drawknife won’t get stuck, and can come up out of the cut. If you prefer using it bevel down (like Elia), then a flat back is prefered. This makes sharpening easier.

The desired handle angle also depends on if you choose to use your drawknife bevel down or bevel up, because you want your wrist to be straight when working. So, for example, if you found a drawknife at a flea market, and you wanted to use it bevel down, you could sit in a chair, hold it out in front of you at waist height, and see if the handles allow you to keep your arms straight when the bevel is down.

Here’s a great article by Curtis Buchanan called, “How to Sharpen and Use a Drawknife” (Fine Woodworking issue #268). By the way, Elia Bizzarri apprenticed under Curtis Buchanan.

Where to find a Drawknife?

There are a few modern tool companies who make drawknives, but antique drawnives they can be found at quite reasonable prices if you hunt around at flea markets, yard sales, or antique stores. Drawknives were a more common tool, that was used extensively on farms. Below are some ideas of where to find antique and new drawknives:

  • The first place to find antique drawknives is at farm sales, estate sales, flea markets, antique stores. But if you don’t have time to hunt them down that way, try buying online:
  • Search antique drawknives on Ebay
  • Search new drawknives on Highland Woodworking (this is the best selection of new drawknives)
  • I looked at a lot of drawknives on Amazon, and they didn’t appear to meet the standards for a good draw knife.

Buy 1-2 Spokeshaves

Traditional spokeshaves sitting on a woodworking workbench in a row

What is a Spokeshave?

A spokeshave is basically a small handplanes used for shaping and smoothing curved wood. The spokeshave body holds an adjustable blade rigidly against the bed, in a very similar way to a handplane. As mentioned above, spokeshaves were originally used for making wagon wheel spokes, but have moved into being used for other types of woodwork.

Woodworking spokeshaves lined up on a shelf

What Spokeshaves Do You Need?

Opinions vary on which spokeshaves you need for woodworking, because many people use spokeshaves for different tasks. I will try to explain which spokeshaves excel at certain types of work, and then you can make the decision about which spokeshaves to buy.

I like to have at least two spokeshaves, one with a flat bottom and set for taking more of a rough cut, and and one set for fine cuts. The fine cut spokeshave can have either a flat bottom, or (as I prefer) a slightly rounded bottom, for getting into curves. Many of the modern budget-friendly spokeshaves have poor machining, don’t have a bed that’s flat enough for stability, and don’t have good tool steel for the iron. There are a couple modern spokeshaves that can be modified to work well, especially with a good replacement blade that will hold a nice edge.

What are the Best Vintage Spokeshaves?

{photo of wooden spokeshave}

Antique spokeshaves are usually my preference, and antique wooden spokeshaves are really sweet if you can get them tuned up and get a tight mouth. However, before buying antique wooden spokeshaves, make sure the wooden body isn’t split. A couple people have done pretty good tutorials on how to sharpen wooden spokeshaves (check YouTube).

Antique Stanley 151 spokeshave sitting on a woodworking workbench

My favorite vintage, all metal spokeshave is the Stanley No. 151 spokeshave (also manufactured as the Record A151 spokeshave). It is probably the most popular and best-designed spokeshave. Hand tool expert Jim Bode said of the Stanley 151 spokeshave:

The best-selling spoke shave of all time. A totally no-nonsense shave with dual micrometer like adjustments that allow you to take thin shaving on one side and a heavier cut on the other, if you want to. Easy to sharpen and easy to find replacement blades. Works great on flats, convex, and even concaves greater than 8 inch radius.”

Antique Stanley 151 spokeshave sitting upside down on a woodworking workbench

Another very popular, though not as easily adjustable spokeshave is the vintage Stanley No. 51 spokeshave (pictured below). If tuned up, these smaller spokeshaves work great, and are cheaper than the No. 151.

Green woodworking spokeshave cutting green wood on a woodworking workbench

Back in the October 2002 issue of Fine Woodworking Magazine, chairmaker Brian Boggs wrote a great article titled, “Soup Up Your Spokeshave” that should be helpful in making your vintage (or even new) spokeshave work as good as possible (find the article here).

Three Stanley 51 spokeshaves sitting on a woodworking workbench in a row

Stanley 51 spokeshave sitting upside down on a woodworking workbench

What are the Best New Spokeshaves for Woodworking?

Lie-Nielsen spokeshave used on a Windsor chair arm

A well-respected chair maker, Brian Boggs, designed an excellent curved-bottom spokeshave for Lie-Nielsen. This is my favorite new spokeshave. The A2 blade keeps a good edge and the castings are nicely machined with a flat bed and cap iron, which all lead to a chatter-free tool that helps prevent tearout. The hickory handles are comfortable and appropriately shaped. The Lie-Nielsen spokeshave comes totally tuned, sharp, and ready to use out of the box. You can buy it here.

Modern Stanley 151 spokeshaves sitting on a woodworking workbench in a row

Cheaper, new spokeshaves are rarely usable out of the box. But as mentioned earlier, here’s an excellent Fine Woodworking article by Brian Boggs, called “Soup Up Your Spokeshave” where he shows how to improve a newer, cheaper spokeshave (Issue #158, pp. 45-49).

Stanley has manufactured a “reproduction” of their vintage No. 151 spokeshave (pictured above). Though not made as good as the original (maybe they lost the recipe?) with some work and modifications it can do a pretty good job. You can also use your belt sander to round the bottom. You can find it on Amazon here. (sold under model numbers 12-951 and 1-12-151 for $25-$35). But it’s going to require just as much work (if not more) than a vintage No. 151, so you might as well buy a vintage model and put some work into it, and get a better spokeshave.

Other new Spokeshave options: Highland Woodworking has a good selection of new spokeshaves and replacement blades here. I have heard good things about the Veritas Low Angle Spokeshave, found at the above link. I would steer clear of the Kunz spokeshaves, as I haven’t had luck tuning them up.

 Buying Carving Hatchets

Gränsfors Bruk carving hatchet on a wood log stump with Sweden mark

What is Carving Hatchet?

This is a small axe or hatchet designed for carving purposes as the name implies. They tend to sit somewhere in size between a boy’s axe and camp hatchet. Often the leading edge is radiused to promote cutting. This isn’t necessary. Carving hatchets come either single or double-beveled. Double bevel axes/hatchets are what you would typically find. The cutting edge is the result of two equivalent bevels meeting to form an edge. A single-bevel is designed to be flat on the one side, while the other retains a bevel. This arrangement reduces the angle of attack for the hatchet while in use. It is moving on a more nearly vertical plane. Either arrangement of bevel is suitable for carving. Once one is practiced, it only takes a little adjustment to work from one style to the other.” (Mike Cundall)

Single bevel carving hatchet

What to look for in a Carving Hatchet?

As with any edged tool look for quality steel, good edge geometry, and a solid handle. The hatchet should feel good in the hand. Practice and use will help determine your preference.” (Mike Cundall)

Peter Follansbee has a good article on choosing hatchets for spoon carving (here).

Single bevel hatchet on a wood stump

Where to find good Carving Hatchets?

Hatchets of this sort are more commonly found than adze. The makers listed on the entry for adze also hold here, but there there are far more hatchets out there. Gränsfors Bruks, Wetterlings are good makers, But camp axes from companies like Stihl and such would also suffice.” (Mike Cundall)

In his great article on buying hatchets & axes, Robin Wood (accomplished spoon carver and bowl carver) says that if he were to only have one axe, it would be the “Gränsfors Bruks Swedish carving axe” (find it here). However, he admits the drawbacks are its price and that it may be too heavy for a lot of people. So he recommends (as do I) a lighter and more affordable carving hatchet: The Gränsfors Bruks Wildlife Hatchet (find it here).  (See all of the Gränsfors Bruks axes & hatchets here).

Gransfors Bruk Sweden made carving hatchet axe

*Please note that Gränsfors Bruks acquired the struggling Wetterling Axe company in 2016, and Wetterling axes are no longer in production. So the only source I know is in the used market.

Buying Axes

Collins 3 1/2 pound axe head on an axe handle buried in a stump

What is it an Axe?

An axe is typically thought a larger version of the hatchet primarily used for the felling and bucking (delimbing) of trees. There are as many styles designs of axes as there are stars in the sky. For green woodworking, the axe is typically used to get the wood pieces to a manageable and usable rough state, though a saw is used for final cutting. The axe is used, or often a maul (a splitting axe) to help split or rive the wood while it’s in the round shape.” (Mike Cundall)

What to look for in an Axe?

As mentioned above, look for a good head, made from decent steel, and a handle in good shape. A serviceable axe is easy to find new or used. Be sure to check the head for chips, nicks, possible cracks, or a mushroomed poll (the back end of an axe head opposite the lead edge).” (Mike Cundall)

In this video Bushcraft & Survival expert Ray Mears explains the differences between different sizes of axes, and how to use them:

Where to find a good Axe?

Axes are not difficult to find. There are a variety of types, grades, and makers. A serviceable axe can be had from the local home center. There are others from companies like Gränsfors Bruks and Wetterlings.” (Mike Cundall)

The size and type of axe that you need, will largely depend on what you intend to use it for, and also your level of strength. As mentioned in the carving hatchet section, you would choose a small carving hatchet if you planned to do detailed carving. If you are interested in felling a tree, then a Felling Axe would be appropriate. If you want a multi-purpose axe that is useful for cutting limbs and sizing logs for bowl carving, then a small forest axe would work best. Ray Mears favors the small forest axe for it’s portability & light weight, yet ability to use with two hands.

If you want a brand new, sharp, and ready to go axe, then I’d recommend the following:

But if you don’t mind putting a little work into getting a vintage axe ready, I would recommend buying an old single bit axe head (2-4 lbs.) on Ebay, and add your own handle. I personally use a vintage Collins single bit axe head (3 1/2 pound), which is an average size, good for tree limbing and splitting firewood. Expect to pay $15-$40 for a good vintage single bit axe head. Here are some good, common brands to search for:

Buy a “Slöjd Knife” (i.e. Straight Carving Knife)

Green woodworking carving knives on a leather tool roll

What is a “Slöjd” Carving Knife?

Often called Slöjd knife (Sloyd kinfe), this knife is a basic tool with a distinctive shape. Used to carve anything from spoons, to bowls, to handles. It does well to rough carve, when used in the proper way, and to put finishing touches on projects, if suitably sharp and well maintained. These sorts of knives are utilitarian, but are not meant for rougher work that one might see fit with say a camp knife (like splitting and riving small branches, etc).” (Mike Cundall)

*Who was Slöjd and what was so special about his knife? 

What to look for in a Straight Carving Knife?

Look for good steel and handle that feels good in the hand, ovaloid in shape. The edge bevels should be the same thickness down the entire length of the blade. The blade is typically straight with no radius.” (Mike Cundall)

Where to find a good Straight Carving Knife?

One of the most well known and inexp