Shaving Horse Design, a unitized approach.

First off: making a shaving horse is easy peasy. Don’t over think it or over engineer it. Exact measurements are not as important as making it work for you. and if you make one and it doesn’t work right, change it, rip it apart, rebuild it, burn it at a weekend bonfire and start over… but don’t sweat it.

I have been collecting pictures of shaving horses and drawing them (in SketchUP) for more than a decade. And I am noticing that there are several basic units used, mixed, or remixed to make all of them.

First; what is a “shaving horse?” Well, it’s the original speed clamp! Push with your foot to clamp, let up to release and turn the work around.

It’s an ancient speed clamp. The first illustration of one is in “De Re Metallica” (the whole art of mining). why in a mining manual?… most of mining is wood work, props beams to make sure the roof doesn’t fall in, buckets, barrows, cranes, water pumps, all made out of wood.

oldest shaving horse

Let’s start with the base, the whole reason they are called “horse” or “mule” in their various iterations.

There are base structures, that I am going to call “Slab” and “Beam”. (Or bowl but I’ll get to that later).

A Slab is a 1.5″ to 2″+ thick slice of wood 5″ wide (at least) and at a minimum usually 4′ long. Legs on a slab are usually made to go into a drilled socket and may be removable. The socket may be tapered also.

shave horse bodger's

A beam seems to be a somewhat more recent innovation that allows one to utilize “standard” construction lumber to build one’s horse. These horses tend to look more modern yet are every bit as useful and versatile as more traditional horses.

shaving horse folding

So these bases are pretty much interchangeable design wise. But if you are starting with logs to make your shaving horses, the slab type is easiest or least work, if you are starting with dimensioned lumber the beam type is easiest.

The working or clamping head has several variations depending upon region of origin or work being held.

There is the Bodger’s type, with 2 vertical members and a foot cross piece, a pivot pin and the clamping cross piece. see previous 2  illustrations.

And a center post type favored by Northern Europeans like the German dumbhead or dumbkopf. Which can be carved out of one log or made up from several parts.

shaving horse mine

The bodger’s type can’t hold anything wider than the table, but also holds long things really well. The center post type holds wide short things well and can hold longer things along the sides of the post.

The clamping part on the bodger’s is usually made so that it rotates and has 4 gripping faces to choose from. This allows the maker to have cut outs or different face materials on each face.

The clamping head on a dumbhead only has the one clamping face which is more like an edge and may leave dents/clamp marks in the work.

The work table is where the work is clamped down on. The bodger’s style has less range (open to close) than the dumbhead style so it is usually made with a table that can be raised up and down by the simple expediency of a pivot at the far end and a wedge under the work that slides or rotates to raise and lower the near end. Both types are frequently made with 2 pivot points in the uprights for more extreme openings. The dumbhead usually has a fixed table since the clamping range made available by having the clamping face stick out from the upright is greater.

While designing your shaving horse make sure that the table of either type keeps the work and the drawknife up above your knees, if you should happen to work with only one foot on the pedal and your knee is up too high (in relation) then it is in danger. I like 21 or 22″ for the height of the sitting surface.

Other heads that can be made to swap out or be on their own bases are things like the spoon mule, a saddlers cramp, a bowl clamp. Etc. use your imagination! That is what it’s  for!

I have been using a northern German type for most of 30 years now. The construction is simple.

Get a slab or 2 x 6 at least 48″ long. Shorter than that doesn’t seem to work well. I have seen these made up to 9′ (108″) long in order to get the table angle right.

Bore 2 holes for legs at the end you will sit on. 20 degrees back and 20 out for stability.

The other end can have one or two legs (if one, angle it just 20 degrees forwards).

@ 6″ closer to you (where you sit) bore a 2″ diameter hole, and another one 12″ closer than that. Remove the material between these holes.

The work table can be 18 to 22″ long, make a corresponding slot in it.

On my actual horse the near part of the table is propped up  about 7″. and the far end is propped up@ 3″ (a 2 x 4). and I sit on a piece of 2 x 12 that rides on the bench.

The workpiece is aimed upwards at a nice angle toward my sternum. The pivot point is in the table far enough back to give @ 2″ of table in front of the clamp. And it is in the pivot bar closer to you than center so that “at rest” the clamp head opens on it’s own.

For the bodgers type clamp mechanism; You can split a branch for the two uprights or use 2 pieces of 2 x 4, shave dowels for the foot and pivot, and carve the clamp head or turn it on a lathe. The pivot pin wants to be loose (1″ hole and @ 7/8″ dowel). And the clamping head needs to be able to rotate.

you will notice the pivot point of the Bodgers bench is down in the slab or beam. And you should notice that the table of it is hinged at its far end and uses a block of wood that slides under it to adjust its height and angle.

so it’s sort of: pick a base and pick a clamping mechanism and put them together!

here are some sketches of other types of shaving horses that I have encountered:

shaving horses


shaving horse different


work benches

relax, throw one together, re work the parts you don’t like.

be well

PS addit: you can see in that last illustration that there are many variations. a couple worth noting are the bowl horse, a recent innovation by the bowl carver David Fisher.

bowl horse

and the spoon mule, another of recent origin but I do not know who came up with this one. this is operated by pressing the long sticks outwards with your feet/legs and they clamp on a spoon where they stick out above the table (sort of like a giant pair of pliers mounted in a table).

spoon mule

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: