Wooden Spokeshaves


Below is a c.1920 picture showing the shop from where those hand-made spokeshaves came and there looks to have been only 6 stations fully occupied by these Craftsmen. We can only guess at just how long  one shave took a skilled workman to produce and how many would they each produce per day. On the left you can see a sweep brush, a shovel and a pile of hessian bags, all in order to clean the shop at the end of the day.  Also there you will see the pre-cut Boxwood or Beech blanks all ready for use.

The Wooden Spokeshaves made by MARPLES were introduced at the very beginning of the Company being in existence, or at least from 1846 , which is the earliest document [Price List/Catalogue] that we have of these items being then for sale {shown below}.

By the time that we get to the 1861 Catalogue we can see at least a few drawings and the information as shown below, but the tools are still not given an Item number:

1873 Catalogue shows the following listings and now they are with Item numbers:

Many Coopers made their own shaves and so the Spare Irons (522) were made with square tangs, as opposed to tapered tangs fitted at the factory, so that the Cooper could more easily make square holes outfitted with wedges to secure the Iron.
But it is still a mystery why MARPLES would sell spare tapered irons anyway when each shave was mated to a specific Iron at the factory and small differences would negate fitting any replacement iron later on.  Hand made shaves can usually be seen with matching marks on both the Iron and the wooden throat of the shave to ensure that the two pieces were matched up, each being specific to the other. [See further down for more details]

1888 Catalogue entries are below:

1897 Catalogue entries are shown below:

1909 Catalogue entries are shown below:
Note: that the Item numbers have now been changed, again.

1921 Catalogue entries are the same as 1909, except that the #3366 Coachmakers’ Spokeshave is no longer listed, see later.

1928 Catalogue entries:

New additions to the line are the Patternmakers’ Boxwood Shaves…above
But I think they just shuffled the Item numbers around and renamed them, as the ‘Patternmakers’ shaves’ were available before under different numbers and as ‘Extra Small Boxwood Spokeshaves’. The radius shaves though were new.  As you can see [below] Item#3366 Coachmakers’ and Wheelers’ Spokeshave is once again listed so was it re-introduced by demand or merely missed being listed in the 1921 Catalogue?

1938 Catalogue entries are almost exactly the same as the 1928 listings [including the prices], all except the main Spokeshave page, and item #2373 Patternmakers Boxwood shave is omitted and never reappears.

As you can see the ‘Special’ spokeshaves are now lettered with a B suffix, for reason unknown, but also I note that the ‘Special’ shaves are priced lower than the Best Beech shaves. Perhaps ‘Special’ is a euphemism for not the highest quality Beech!
NOTE: The following Item #s are no longer listed: 2361A; 2371 and 2371A.

1959 Catalogue entries:

1965 Catalogue entries:

By the mid 1960s the era of hand made shaves ceased and machine turning was introduced so as to prolong the sales of these items.
The last wooden spokeshave #2360 lasted until approximately mid 1973.

From the previously shown Catalogue entries and Price Lists in my possession I have compiled a table to try to show the availability of the MARPLES wooden spokeshaves as they were available over time.  If I am lucky enough to be able to buy any more Catalogues that could fill in the spaces, then I will post the results here.

                                 Wooden Spokeshave Gallery

I will now show some good examples of the shaves that MARPLES produced.

The very earliest Spokeshave that I have is a 11 inch long Ebony example with a 2″ blade and ‘plated with Ivory‘. It has an ‘Anchor‘ mark on the handle, but I am unable to find it in the 1846 List.  Maybe the high class Ebony shaves always had an Ivory wear plate?

Next is an example with a Single Shamrock and HIBERNIA mark, therefore should be before 1875, but is not shown in the 1877 Catalogue [?]. Another case of the continuation of a Trademark by MARPLES beyond its’ expiry date. It does appear in the 1888 catalogue and is described as a ‘Registered Adjustable Screw-iron Spokeshave#668  (I believe this could be the Wood equivalent of Patent # 3227 of 12th March 1885).     We do know that this shave [that could micro adjust the depth of cut] seems to have not been very well received as it may have been perceived to be ‘de-skilling’ (to borrow a phrase from the great Ken Hawley). Instead of having ‘tangs’ the cutter had 2 tapped holes into which 2 metal slot screws, which were secured in the stock, were threaded. This shave may have been introduced before 1888 but it certainly was de-listed by the 1897 catalogue.   It had a Registration number of 12169 which shows as 1884.   Along with the Radius Shaves, this Shave may be the rarest spokeshave to find.

My thanks to Jamie Wood for the above photo.


The next shave started out life in 1861, then as Item #504 in 1873, transitioned into #672 by 1897 and finally into #2362 in 1909.    It last appeared in the 1938 catalogue and was probably dropped then, due to the war, and it never reappeared.   Again it was an adjustable depth shave with Brass thumbscrews on the stock acting upon threaded tangs from the cutter, and was brass plated to prevent wear to the base.  It was probably the most expensive of shaves and was produced in only small batches and then only usually made for specific orders. The rarer Boxwood equivalent was the #2372 which also bowed out around 1938.

The Spokeshave shown below is of Rosewood and quite small, but I am unable to find this listed. The water transfer seems to indicate early 1900’s

The Bread and Butter of the MARPLES Wooden Spoke shave line was definitely the unplated Beechwood shave shown first with no number in 1861 then numbered #501 in 1873, #670 in 1897 and finally #2360 in 1909, and was then in continuous production until 1973.  The plated version again started in 1861, was numbered #502 in 1873, #671 in 1897 and finally #2361 in 1909, and lasted as such until c.1962.  The unplated Boxwood equivalent of #501 was #2370, and the plated Boxwood version of #502 was #2371    See the chart for production dates and more information.

You can here see the difference between the hand made shave and the machine turned [with no human addition] shave…… Immediate 2 photos above.  The machine turned shave has a distinct edge between the back and top surfaces of the body and the stamp on the body may well indicate     ‘MARPLES ENGLAND‘, as opposed to the previous variety having just ‘MARPLES‘ [shown 3rd photo above and hand made]

Below is a rare 4 inch #2360. Most of this size are destroyed by misuse.


The last MARPLES shave or ‘stick’ maker, ‘Cyril Smith‘, retired in the mid 1960’s.

The Patternmakers’ Boxwood shaves were introduced around 1928 [but  maybe before].  The #2373 [Straight Shave, square front] had a short life perhaps until early 1930s.

The rounded version [#2375][below] was preferred because it was easier to manipulate on concave surfaces and being the more popular shave with Craftsmen it lasted until c.1962.  The rare Radius shaves #2376 appear around c.1928 and were probably de-listed on the outbreak of WWII.

As mentioned above, when the Wooden shaves were made individually and by hand the actual shave wood part was matched to the cutter and had to be kept together as a matching pair. [Which is why the sale of individual cutters was not rational because these hand made cutters would never match up and be able to be fitted easily to an already produced wood stock, unless extensive work was done to match the new parts. And then the cutter would have been loose in the body].
So the MARPLES bench spokeshave makers had a system of keeping the cutter and handle together during production by marking both cutter tang and wood body with a unique code, and this code was peculiar to each maker and to each tool made during that day by him.  So you will find matching marks on hand-made shaves such as V111 or 1111 etc, all according to the makers signature.   Then, when the shave was sent to the shellack ‘ladies’, [a department that seems to have been almost always been ‘manned’ by Ladies] they would be able to keep both cutter and wooden stock matching up together before sending on to the shipping dept.

If you need to know whether a certain width Spokeshave of a certain type was available at a certain time, please refer to the Catalogue entries shown above.
To put this information into a table format is beyond my old feeble brain, given that the old catalogues had so many number changes!    So you have to do the work.

Below are the photos taken from my collection of Wooden Spokeshaves to show the makers mark.   I have tried to put them roughly into a date order based upon the evidence seen and noted.  Some of the larger shaves seem to have the mark impressed onto the front face of the mouth portion of the body as opposed to on one of the handles.

No HIBERNIA or trefoil. c.1865/70?

HIBERNIA but no trefoil. c.1870?   HIBERNIA was certainly used as a mark before 1875 when it then became a ‘Trademark’.

[Above} HIBERNIA and Trefoil 1875<

As seen in the above 3 photos SHEFFIELD has been added. [But not ENG.]   Also RD 12169  This Registration # is NOT the same as a Patent and this number may be c.1884.

This mark [immediate above] is from around 1933 as the same mark is used on the early Bench Plane cutters of that era.

This mark [above] enclosed by a rectangular line appears c.1940?

A mark [above] was used prior to 1965 [the end of hand made shaves]

This mark [above] has only been seen so far on Machine produced shaves. 1965<

The mark above is the only one that I have seen and must be a later mark.
I do not know whether it was before or after the Black lettered stamp shown above.

This cutter, from a large 4″ shave, is the only one I have seen that is marked with these 2 separate marks. Indicative of  c.1895?


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