Tools of the Trade, 01: the Shaving Horse

with this blog I am proposing to make a series describing each tool and its uses. not necessarily in the order that you would use them…

One of the most ubiquitous tools of the green woodworker is the Shaving horse. every region has a different “take” on it.  And indeed every person who ever made one made it a little different than all of the others from his area.  You may have seen pictures of mine, both before and after it’s rebuild.


(before during and after)

and then the fold up ones I made for the stool class:


but like I said , there are dozens of designs:

work benches

I have drawn 17 of them here and I add a new one every time I come across one.

They all essentially do the same thing, hold a piece of rough wood still so that you can use a tool to shape and smooth it. In back there is a bowl horse for holding a bowl blank, in front (center white one) there is one for holding broom handles only.

What they have in common is the foot operated clamping head that holds the part in place. And a “table” to hold the wood up high enough to make sure the tool (like a drawknife) is up clear of your knees so you don’t cut yourself.shaving horse mine

You can purchase plans for one, or you can find several plans posted to the internet that you can access for free. Or you can just cob your own together from what you can find so that it works! which is what I did, mind you I read “The Woodwright’s Shop” and there are shaving horses in “the Foxfire Book” series before I dove into it. My very first try was made out of willow and it didn’t work very well. I used a “dumbhead” type of construction. where the head and the pivoting limb are carved out of one piece of wood.

dumbhead shaving horse

I still have the head:


but the limb broke off fairly soon. Willow was not strong enough, it carves easily though.

the one I’ve used for decades was made from beech and oak barn beams.


I like a working seat @ 21″ off the ground, and a riser @ 5″ at the front of the table. and I angle the legs out @ 20 degrees

Sometimes I think a long seat is wasted space and sometimes I am convinced it is good for long stuff and for doing a little chopping on. Although I do recommend you make a hacking stock for most of your chopping needs.

In use, you sit on it, put your piece of wood under the head, press away from you on the foot pedal, and pull the drawknife or spokeshave toward you. If you don’t brace your foot on the ground. then the harder you pull the harder you push, the harder you clamp.

Me teaching class

But sometimes a piece slips and you want a wood bib so that you don’t hit yourself in the gut.


be well




process outline 01

Because I get asked: here is an outline of how I turn logs into things. I am not unique in this, I learned from several sources: reading, classes taken, internet videos etc.

It all starts with a straight looking log: study the bark, are there vertical striations in it? do they look like they twist up the log? if you see such twisted bark generally the wood is twisted to. it can only be used to make round things, if anything can be made from it.

This crab apple is not good for much but makes a nice stump.


I take the log and examine the end… Does it already have a split started? frequently they do soon after felling. internal splits can be expected to emerge in line with the medullary rays. In this large burr oak log you can see a crack running diagonally upper left to lower right, this photo taken just hours after felling.


to make the best strongest parts we start by splitting right at those natural splits. (I switch logs on you here)


I drive an iron wedge in with a sledge hammer.

if it needs it, I use two wedges. or I use gluts. (wooden wedges) This piece of Red Oak popped apart nicely.


splitting each part in half to minimise runout, I eventually end up with some chunks and some triangular planks (@ 1/16th of the log or there about).


I discard any that are too twisted or too gnarly from having a hidden branch stub inside.

for the project I have in mind right now I need 2 short parts and 2 long parts for the sides of a box. So I take the straightest 4 pieces (shingles) and mark the ends so that I can realign them later. Then I cut them into 2 unequal parts.

Next I use a small froe to knock of the sapwood and some of the gnarly center wood. This material ends up being firewood.


Then I decide which side is the “face” and knock off a wedge to make the back side sort of parallel to the face. That material can be saved for pegs.


For wide flat stuff I like to start with this uber wide drawknife I restored.


make the face side flattish and the other side sort of parallel-ish.

I use the scrub plane then the jack plane to make one side flat. flip it over and use just the scrub on the back to dress it up a little if it needs it.


then make one edge square to the flace. I usually square up the sapwood side first.


then mark the width, and plane down to the mark, start with drawknife if needed.


resulting in a stack of parts that are all nearly the same width, I’ll true that up more later. And a pile of shavings and chips all over the place.


more next time

be well