Gragg Tool Addendum – Castagno Spokeshaves

In my recent post about small high-quality brass spokeshaves I remarked that they were 1) indispensable for making Gragg chairs (and any other voluptuous forms), and 2) increasingly difficult to find.  In response to that post I was contacted by Hayden Castagno, a Krenov school alumnus who has embarked on a new enterprise of making tools.  After a bit of back-and-forth correspondence I became increasingly intrigued by his new miniature brass spokeshaves and purchased a set, full price.

Like me, Hayden is drawn not only to making things but making the tools used in making things.  This theme will become even more prominent in my own work and this blog in the coming weeks and months.  When I asked him about his creative process he replied, in truly Krenovian fashion:

To me, there is far more to toolmaking (or any craftsmanship, for that matter) than any romantic viewpoint would suggest, but it is in some sense a window to the depth that these topics contain.

I find a life force in wood. I am given energy by making a device that can—with the trust in experienced hands—pull out that life force to be used as a message. Wood offers itself when it is shown a combination of disciplined craftsmanship and good tools. For me, there is great satisfaction in making that good tool and forming a friendship with the craftsperson.


My dad was a welding and manufacturing professor before he started a custom fabrication shop. I essentially grew up inside the shop, learning all the steps of design and manufacturing, and becoming skilled with machines. I was most attracted to what I learned about sculpting and bonding metals by hand. Amongst them, silver-brazing is the favorite.

One of the most impactful experiences that led to my interest in toolmaking was the time …  [meeting] toolmakers like Ron Hock, Yeung Chan, and Kevin Glen Drake. That is also where I became aware of tools that aren’t made any more, or are difficult to find.

This leads to the more specific topic of how I recreated the miniature brass spokeshaves. I thought of casting, but I wanted to produce something more hand-made and unique: something of my own design. So, I cut three separate pieces from a sheet of brass and silver-braze the layers by hand. The shaping of the bottoms is done also by hand. I then use chemical polishing techniques to give the shaves the desired shine. Every step is performed by myself at the moment.

While I am not enticed by packaging I recognize that these are nicely packaged and presented, but even more important is that they are fully sharpened and ready to use right out of the box!  Well, they do need to have the blades set-up, they are retracted into the body for shipping.  There is a definite “feel” aspect to setting blades on such a tiny, simple tool.  I learned this 45 years ago in the pattern shop where we used similar tools for both hogging off stock and feathering contours.  My approach is to loosen the screw, press the blade in or out until I can feel the purchase, tighten the screw lightly enough so it does not fall out and then address the edge to the workpiece.  If I have it where I want it I tighten down on the screw to lock the blade, if not I adjust it until it is.  Given the low mass of the tool it is critical to get the set-up just right or you will get chatter out the wazoo and the spokeshave will literally jump out of your grip.

One difference with this tool is immediately apparent when picking it up and using it: it was made by someone who knows how the tool is used and it fits into the hands of a human being.  The same cannot be said for some other tools of the same general category.  Especially in the shape, configuration, angle, and size of the handles it is a keeper.  Clearly this was designed by someone who actually used it.

I gave all three a good test drive on a curved Gragg arm element and was so pleased I was sorry that I did not have a pile of them to work on right away.  While they will not become my sole spokeshaves for a Gragg project, dispatching my “lamb’s ear” spokeshaves or the one I made in the foundry in 1978 are not in the cards, I can definitely say that they will be right alongside them to pick up and use at a moment’s notice.

My only “criticism” of the tools after a bit of use is that they are finished too crisply.  The edges and the corners are a little too clean for me and I found that I was taking needle files to some of the places where my grip pressed hard enough to leave creased indentations on my fingertips.  This is hardly a condemnation as I consider almost every tool that comes into the shop to be a kit and I modify them as needed.  You, too may find that the tool needs some miniscule sculpting to fit your individual fingers as well.  It is perhaps churlish to note that a semi-custom tool is “too well finished.”

If you are unable to find high-quality miniature brass spokeshaves for your work, Castagno’s just might be the perfect solution for you.

In closing let me say that Hayden’s spokeshaves reinforce my contention that we are living in the Golden Age of Tools.  Never before have so many high-quality tools been available and affordable to earnest woodworkers, vocational or avocational.

I look forward to see what he has in his menu of future developments.