Green Woodworking: making a Shave - Horse
making a Shave Horse

This three page section is a summary of my entry into the world of green woodworking, starting with making a shave horse (in 2009). Please use the links to see some information on making a pole lathe, and on turning items.

UPDATE April 2020:
There's a new page about making a second horse and other things (click to see)

shave horse

The shave horse is basically a bench with a foot operated clamp, which grips wood allowing it to be worked, typically preparing wood for turning using a draw-knife, or clamping wood being shaped / carved. Alternatively you can just rest, and this horse can be transformed into a high back chair! This design has a third horizontal bar at the top of the clamp frame which serves the function of holding the frame together, but it may get in the way sometimes, so you may prefer to not have one. Additional holes were drilled which allow the position of the clamp and wedges to be adjusted for different wood shapes.

Some things made on the shave horse ....

spoons & shoehorn     stool parts     finished stool

Spoon, spatula, shoehorn, and a rustic stool. Except for some parts of stool, these items were made from a cherry log - the major parts are shown in the central photo. See more finished items

Making the Shave Horse

I was advised on aspects of green wood working by Steve Chamberlain of the Association of Pole Lathe Turners and Greenwood Workers, who also gave me an already shaped piece of wood for the shave horse bench. The wood is lime, which has the advantage of being relatively light weight.

shave horse construction

Bench and legs
The bench is a spacious 44 x 8 x 3 inches approximately. I used whole sections of an ash branch for the three legs, but there is a possibility that some splits may appear over time. Three legs are recommended for stability - definitely not 1 or 2 smiley icon, 4 OK on flat ground. The angle of the legs is a compromise between stability and potential wear of the joints - an angle of about 10 degrees from the vertical worked for me.

The legs are located in the bench with round tenons. These were shaped by first cutting a line around the leg to mark out a "shoulder" which rests on the underside of the bench, but for simplicity a shoulder isn't essential. Then the size of the tenon was marked on the end of the leg, and it was shaped with a billhook and knife - slow but effective! Only a few simple tools are needed for construction so far - I used pruning and bow saws, billhook, small knives, mallet, brace and bits.

shave horse construction

Components and tools
Here the legs have been shaped, the inclined work bed has been cut to size, and wedges to raise it to a comfortable angle made (to be held in place by loose fitting dowels). The inclined work bed can be located by a bolt or peg near the front of the bench. I prefer to use good second hand tools in preference to new ones - a good source of refurbished tools is the Tools For Self Reliance charity (Ref),

shave horse construction

Clamp and frame
The next thing was to make the pivoted clamp (the photo above was taken part way through construction). The sides are a cleft ash branch which was a bit small in diameter (2 inches), hence the thin pivot pegs in photo above - which have now been replaced by 5/8 inch diameter turned ones. Similar worry about the bottom brace/ foot rest (on right, hawthorn), so I fitted a half round horizontal which puts the strain on the sides of the clamp frame, not the brace tenons. The work piece clamp (left, oak) is flattened on one side, and round on the other with a notch to hold poles etc..

You may need some method of holding the frame together, but possibly allow it to be parted easily to move the clamp (as in this design). As mentioned, I fitted a locating bar at the top of the frame, but you could also fit pins in the ends of the clamp tenons (for example).

The finished item is shown at the top of the page, and is holding together well. You may wish to add to or modify the design to suit the work you do. I happened to have the types of wood mentioned at hand, but other types may be as good or better. Some form of device to hold the work piece while drilling or sawing would be useful ...

boring vice 

... the attachment above works to hold objects vertically in conjunction with suitably placed holes in the seat; may also undo some car engine oil filters (if there's space). The holes in the seat at the top centre of the left image are for fitting dowels which can be used to brace wood for sawing.

Saw Horse
sawhorse sawhorse - failed

The one on the left was my second or third attempt, using the wood from the effort on the right. The latter failed due to splits of the un-cleft oak, which has now been halved (approximately). If one needs some exercise, I can recommend trying to make something out of seasoned, knotty and twisty oak, but having a fire within throwing distance not recommended!

Update - 10 years later (Oct 2019)
The shave horse hasn't been used much in recent years, and has been stored either indoors or in a shelter outdoors, away from direct sunlight and central heating above about 17C.. It has had a coat of wood preservative, and happily there hasn't been any splitting of the wood and it's working fine (photo).

Some more things made with assistance of the shave horse ....

rustic stool
Rustic stool (yes, it's rustic!)
Pick axe handle

bow saw and handles
Ash framed bow saw, and axe/hammer handles.

log seat
Garden seats - mainly used a chain saw for these!
A gate made from ash branches. The mortice & tenon joints were the most time consuming to form, but it was worth it in the end I think. I applied a preservative, since ash is not so durable as woods such as chestnut and oak. (larger photo). This is how the gate looks 4 years after installation, blending into the garden.


Update April 2020:
Not very exciting news, but I'm making another shave horse using the one described above. A sort of a blog is on this page, now in wider screen with bigger photos!

Green Woodworking Pages
Making a Shave Horse


The Association of Polelathe Turners & Greenwood Workers (website)
The Encyclopedia of Green Woodworking (book) - Ray Tabor, eco-logic books, 2000
Tools for Self Reliance UK (or in Wales TFSR Cymru) - High quality refurbished tools

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