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Winter 2013-2014

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Hybrid Shaving Horse

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Hybrid Shaving Horse

Expert craftsman Tom Donahey shares his plans for an essential tool to work green wood.

By Tom Caspar


Few woodworking experiences are as sweet as working wood that’s just been split from a recently felled tree. Green wood is much easier to shape with hand tools than wood that’s been dried. It has a pungent odor and soft texture that make it all the more pleasurable to handle. Simple utilitarian items, such as chairs, benches, rakes and so on, have long been made from green wood. All you need are a few basic tools and one essential device for holding the work: a shaving horse.

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How this shaving horse works

A shaving horse is a workbench, vise and chair all rolled into one. It’s primarily used to work green wood with a drawknife, which cuts on the pull stroke, or a spokeshave, which you can push or pull. The design of this shaving horse is rather unusual, mixing traditional elements and modern engineering. Here’s how it works:

To set up the horse, place your workpiece on the work support. Then, raise the work support up to the clamping jaw, which is free to rotate. The work support will click into one of eight different height positions, to accommodate thick or thin work. It’s locked by a pivot that engages a series of ratchets on the work support’s column. To clamp your workpiece, push the treadle forward with your foot. This swings the lever arms, squeezing the clamping jaw against the workpiece.

All that sounds quite complicated, but this shaving horse is as easy to operate as stepping on the brake in your car. It only takes a few seconds to release the clamping pressure on a workpiece, reposition it, and go back to making those glorious, huge curls.

Click any image to view a larger version.


All of the parts for this shaving horse can be cut from southern yellow pine construction lumber. It’s a durable, strong wood that’s relatively inexpensive, but you could substitute many other hardwoods, such as maple or oak.


The main body of the shaving horse is composed of two rails running side-by-side. Temporarily screw these boards together, then drill holes for the leg-mounting bolts and other parts.


After attaching the rear legs, install the “backup” piece with large dowels, but no glue. This part prevents the work support from tipping forward when you apply clamping pressure.


Install the leverarm assembly. It swings on a bolt that passes through the backup piece. There’s a washer between each lever arm and the back-up, so the arms will swing free. Tape these washers in place beforehand.


Assemble the work support, then install it by tipping back the springloaded pivot piece.


When all is assembled, add the seat. It’s not fastened down, but slides between the horse’s rails. This way, you can easily adjust the seat’s position to a comfortable distance from your workpiece.


This story originally appeared in American Woodworker May 2008, issue #135.

May 2008, issue #135

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