M2 Hybrid Knife Video

The M2 Paring Knife used for edge and overall paring.

For spines and headcaps in full leather binding and when rebacking, several tools are usually used. Some binders like to use a straight English knife and modified spokeshave or razor blade paring machine for this. Others like to use a straight English style and a round French or Swiss knife to accomplish this. But the M2 hybrid can do the job of all of these, and many like the simplicity and economy of using one knife.

Body cam with heart center point of view!

I’ve been honing my video skills in preparation for more online workshops. Lots of new gear and tech: computer, lights, Vimeo plus, Zoom pro, wireless earbuds, GoPro, and iMovie. Oy!

I’m working on converting my repertoire of existing workshops into online versions. If there is something that particularly interests you, mention it in a comment or contact me directly!

Many thanks to Jeff Altepeter, Head of Bookbinding at North Bennett Street School, Karen Hanmer, Bookbinder and Book Artist, Henry Hebert, Conservator for Duke University Special Collections, and Andrew Huot, Owner of Big River Bindery, for sharing practical pedagogical advice about teaching online!

Using an M2 Hybrid Knife to pare into the skin.

New! Redesigned 151 Spokeshave for Leatherwork with Shaving Collector

modified 151 spokeshave
Modified 151 Spokeshave with shaving collector. It also makes a convenient stand when flipped upside down.

modified 151 spokeshave2
Note that the shaving collector does not interfere with thumb or forefinger placement.

English trained bookbinders often use a modified spokeshave for long shallow bevels on the turn-ins, reducing the thickness in the spine area of a full leather binding, preparing a new piece of leather for rebacking, and for beveling binder’s board.

I’ve improved the modified Stanley 151 spokeshave that I make and sell by adding a shaving collector. I first saw this on a spokeshave  James Brockman was using in 1990. I can’t quite explain why it has taken me so long to get around to making one for myself — I’ve been busy??? He kindly shared details of the design with me, and mentioned he first saw this while working at Roger Powell‘s shop in the late 1960’s or early 1970’s.

The shaving collector really speeds up work with the spokeshave, since you don’t have to stop and clean off stray shavings every couple of minutes, and they don’t get trapped under your leather, which can cause tearing or holes. Additionaly, it is easy to dump the full collector into the trash.   More information about spokeshaves for leather.

Other modifications to the spokeshave include: reducing the effective cutting angle by grinding the base, truing the adjustment knobs, rounding and lessening the surface area of the sole, opening the mouth, flattening the blade bed by filing and filling with epoxy, flattening the blade cap, and replacing the thin chrome vanadium original blade with a Lee Valley PM-V11 one. This blade is reground to a lower angle, sharpened, and the corners slightly rounded to prevent ridges formed in the leather. All of these modifications make the spokeshave a much more precise instrument and reduce chatter

Even if you rough out the leather with Scharffix or Brockman leather paring machine, this spokeshave can quickly help reduce the ridges and unevenness the results from overlapping cuts and blade changes if you are working on large pieces. It is also essential for gradual bevels wider than the width of a double edge razor blade. And it is a lot of fun to use.

MODIFIED 151 SPOKESHAVE: $275.00     How to purchase


Razor Blade Planes: Tips on Using Them to Pare Leather

In part one of this blog post, I presented an overview of a variety of razor blade planes. Here, guest blogger Eric Alstrom will share some tips for using these planes to pare bookbinding leather.

Eric Alstrom received his MILS in 1989 at the University of Michigan School of Information and Library Studies. After graduation, he apprenticed under James Craven at the University of Michigan’s Bentley Historical Library for four years. He later became Ohio University Library’s Collections Conservator. In 1998, Eric moved to New England to become Dartmouth College’s first book conservator. Currently, Eric is Head of Conservation at Michigan State University Libraries’ Wallace Conservation Laboratory. Eric also teaches binding and book arts at regional workshops. While at Dartmouth he expanded the popular Book Arts Workshop, which had focused solely on printing, into binding and artists books. He now teaches book arts and binding for the MSU Residential College for the Arts and Humanities. His design bindings and artists books have been exhibited both nationally and internationally. Eric has been a member of the Guild of Book Workers since 1993, has served on the board of directors since 2002. To view some of Eric’s design bindings, artists books and conservation work, please visit http://webalstrom.ftml.net/bookworks

  The Wil-Kro razor blade plane.

I was first introduced to the Little Giant when I was serving my apprenticeship with James Craven at the Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan. He had a Little Giant and showed me how useful it was for paring leather As I remember (and it has been many years ago), Jim did all his paring with either his paring knife or the Little Giant. In fact, I don’t remember Jim ever using a spokeshave while I was apprenticing with him and the early model Scharfix was rarely used. In the years since my apprenticeship, I have always looked for a Little Giant and garage sales, antique shops and the such. I never was able to find one and adapted my paring technique to include a balsa wood plane (a plane similar to the Little Giant, but made of plastic, rather than metal with a proprietary blade, not a standard razor blade), a spokeshave, and of course my trusty English paring knife.

After a conversation with Jeff Peachey at the Tucson GBW Standards in 2010, he said he ran across these from time to time. I asked him to let me know when he next found one because I would gladly buy it. Fortunately, he found one rather quickly and I have been happily paring away since. What he actually found was a Wil-Kro model, which from what I can tell is pretty much identical to the Little Giant. The Wil-Kro can be assembled with the front base shortened, which may be useful for planing curved wood, but it is not suited for leather paring.

.The Wil-Kro razor blade plane taken apart, showing the blade assembly. Note the curved blade bed.

I immediately started paring with my Wil-Kro as soon as I got it; I have not modified it at all. A razor blade fits over a screw and onto a ridge so it is held exactly in the same place. The front of the plane that clamps the blade is curved so the blade has a very shallow angle. The blade protrudes evenly beyond the base about .008”, or just under the thickness of three pieces of .003” thick mylar.


The blade extends about .008″, roughly the thickness of heavyweight paper.

Since double edge razor blades have two edges, I mark mine “1” and “2” so I make sure I don’t use the same edge twice. Just like a paring knife or spokeshave, how long a blade lasts really depends on the leather. When the blade no longer glides easily and shaves off the leather, it is time to change. Another sign to look for is if the leather looks more like dust rather than shavings. To use a razor blade plane, first, prep the leather – pare all edges before using the razor blade plane, same as if using spokeshave or Scharfix. Use a flat surface which is larger than piece of leather, such as paring stone or other surface used to pare leather. You can clamp (or tape) down the leather or hold it with one hand. For smaller pieces (e.g.. spine and corner pieces), I prefer to hold it down with one hand so I can turn the piece around or change angles easily. This is a big advantage over a spokeshave, which takes two hands to operate. I find the razor blade plane best for smaller areas, such as a piece of leather for a spine.

.Paring with the Wil-Kro razor blade plane.

The action is similar to a spokeshave, whereas you hold the plane at approximately 45º to the forward motion, which is called skewing the blade. Don’t apply to much pressure, at least not at first. See how the leather will pare: some leather pares almost by itself, other leathers will need more downward pressure to get the blade to shave anything off. I generally work parallel to the spine, not across the skin (except of course when you are paring the fore edges for a full leather binding).

.Some leather parings made with the Wil-Kro.

Put the plane on the leather a little bit further back than where you want to start the thinning (similar to a spokeshave). Start to move towards the edge and apply pressure as necessary, depending on toughness of leather. All action is done by pushing the plane away from you (same as spokeshave). I start in the center of the edge I am paring and move my plane gradually towards one outside of the piece of leather then back towards the other edge. Don’t always start this process the same place or you are more likely to have uneven thickness in the leather. For example, when paring along the head for a full-leather binding, I might start midway between the spine and the corner of what will be the turn-in on the back cover. As I pare, I move the plane towards the corner a little bit after each stroke. Once I reach the corner, I slowly work my way back to where I started and then all the way to the spine. I’ll clean out the leather shavings and start again. But this time, I’ll start right next to the spine and work towards the corner and back. Then for a third pass (if needed, always check often!), I’d start near the corner. As I move towards the edge, I increase the pressure a bit to thin the leather more along the edge. You have to be careful, though, because you can easily shave through the entire thickness. I find the edges I am working parallel to are more vulnerable to this than in the middle. That said, I will sometimes “tip” the plane as I move towards the parallel edge to thin down that edge. I don’t actually tip the plane, but I put more pressure on the side that is adjacent to the edge.


The Wil-Kro in action.

I find the razor blade plane very useful tool in the leather paring arsenal. It won’t replace a spokeshave (for efficiently paring large areas) or the Scharfix (for exact work such as onlays and labels) and definitely not the paring knife (for edge paring), but it has its place. For smaller pieces of leather, such as a spine for a leather reback, I find it better than a spokeshave and easier to use. For larger pieces, it can be useful along side the spokeshave for thinning out the corners or along the headcap area. Care must be taken because it can shave through the leather, but with practice and mindfulness, this shouldn’t happen any more often than with any other leather paring tool. The Little Giant (and other similar razor blade planes) aren’t the easiest to find, but they are worth the search.

Thanks Eric!

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