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

What is “Craft” vs “Art”

(I have ruminated upon this before and probably will again…)

Ars longa, Vita brevis

This saying was ancient when St Francis of Assisi wrote it down.

Ὁ βίος βραχύς,ἡ δὲ τέχνη μακρή,ὁ δὲ καιρὸς ὀξύς,ἡ δὲ πεῖρα σφαλερή,ἡ δὲ κρίσις χαλεπή.

Was written by Hippocrates,

it starts:

life is short and art takes time, this was translated to latin as:

Vīta brevis,ars longa,occāsiō praeceps,experīmentum perīculōsum,iūdicium difficile.

and in English:

Life is short, and art long, opportunity fleeting, experimentations perilous, and judgment difficult.

and Chaucer used it as:

The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne

which Gustav Stickley used as his motto in all of his advertising.

Ars or art until Chaucer changes it to craft…

Before these words were divided, they meant the same thing. Craft or art was the knowing of how to do things.

Some time between 1066 and now:

Art became painting, sculpture, and Grand Architecture.

Craft became knitting, weaving, house building, furniture making, boatbuilding, basket weaving, rope making and making things from rope, farming, fishing, and essentially everything else that people did and made.

I blame it on the Norman invasion.

but whatever the cause of the rift in definitions,

Art is display of wealth and power,

Craft is display of skill in making ordinary things.

And then our language (or society) inserts or reinserts ambiguity, by calling the most excellent craftsmen: “artists”, and sometimes even calling an artist, a craftsman.

my mind, my core, my soul if you will, wants a disambiguation of this. and yet it doesn’t.

There are craftsmen who look down on artists because they do not do the same thing twice, are not able to do a thing twice. they think the artist is all imagination and no skill.

There are artists who look down on craftsmen because the craftsmen keep making the same thing over and over and over… they think a craftsman is all skill and no imagination.

A few artists hit on something that grabs all of their focus, so they try it again, and again, each time reaching for something they haven’t quite achieved yet… and they slowly become craftsmen.

Some craftsmen after years of doing a thing start to see other possibilities in their forms and start modifying what they do to make them better to reach towards what their imaginations sees, improved lines and flow of spaces… and they slowly become artists.


questions like “was Michelangelo an artist or a craftsman” do not arise. Artists of that era spent years practising by copying the same figure over and over (think of the market for concrete figures today, and the sales of pictures in frames at Walmart) for sale to the public. Thus he was trained like a craftsman, but, by his use of shading, composition, and superposition surpassed most of his contemporaries and landed him contracts that allowed him to show those skills at their best.. so he was an artist… and a craftsman.

Painting and sculpture and all of the “arts” used to be taught more like crafts are taught today. Guilds controlled training that would take years (decades) of learning techniques and copying things to be sold for public consumption. Some of the famous Painters had studios with dozens of apprentices doing the same painting over and over. Those were sold cheap to keep the doors open. Some of those apprentices became famous painters themselves, and some did not.

Today you don’t need a degree or training to call yourself a Painter or a Sculptor. It might help you learn a few techniques and make contacts to go to school or to apprentice. Nor is any training required to call yourself a Craftsman.

Yet even today crafts are not taught as they were, craft schools are few and far between. you get a smattering of introductions to several crafts. And a pat on the head. And the privilege of saying you went to this or that craft school. Then you are out on your own to do the 10 to 15 years of repetition it takes to really “Become”.

Apprenticeships are nearly nonexistent and most trade schools focus on plumbing and electrical work. I’m not saying a trade isn’t a craft, it is a craft. But not all of us are cracked up for working as tradesmen.

Carpentry is also craft (no one is teaching it), as is Pottery. Pottery is/(might also be) an art… every college that has an art dept. has pottery classes.

be well


(Wikipedia was used as a reference for this post)

I told you…

I was going to start making more chairs… it’s only taken me all summer to get a round tuit.

this is intended to end up as a tall stool, no back. it is an Amur Corkwood Tree slab I flattened last fall. The shape is somewhat dictated by the slab…



be well


PS It’s amazing how photos of real situations can lie.. it almost looks like my bench is neat and tidy..

reality however is not so pretty:


Golden thingys and making stuff

A word about “Design”

Design is easy, every time you put a pencil to paper you are designing something. every cut and every glue up and nail you have designed something. We do it every day without thinking about it.

Design is difficult, how do we get proportions exactly right? how to draw that or take that picture or write that book.

I’m not a very good writer, so I can’t really comment on designing something to be read.

In Designing drawings, illustrations, sculpture and furniture, there are some tools out there that can help you, but don’t let them enslave you.

One that has had recurring popularity for over 2000 years (or more) is the notion of the “golden section” or golden ratio or golden triangle or golden thingy. approximated at a ratio of 1:1.618 or just stated at 1.618. this notion is that all Natural things conform to this ratio therefore it is the most beautiful thingy in all of creation. if we use it to make a rectangle with the short side of x we get the long side of x times 1.618 which can divided or multiplied “ad infinitum”.

However I personally think that cabinets made to this proportion look too tall and narrow or short and long. I prefer the ratio of x times the square root of 2. Or; take a square, use the length of the diagonal to make it into a rectangle. it’s a little stouter. that is a ratio of 1:1.414 or 1.414.

But there is a great deal of debate about even using ANY ratio when designing.

Many designers/artists make things they like and then try to Force the perception that the golden ratio or some other Ideal “fits”. And when you really look, you see many things that sort of almost fit the golden mean, but don’t really.

And it’s that, Which points out that every so often there are people who want to “prove” that math perfectly describes the world around us And that the world around us is “Perfect”, when it just isn’t so. And in reaction are the people who then want to prove it’s all a fraud, which is also not really true.

Is the “Golden Ratio” useful as a design tool? YES …Should you force all of your work to exactly match it? No

When I design a new furniture piece I sketch it out first trying to get the “right” proportions “by eye” I then go to a CAD program and draw it to proportions of 1.414 and again to 1.616 to see which I like better for this project. and sometimes I completely reject all of those proportions, but many times I go with the 1.414.

when designing, rules like the golden section can be useful, and rules are tools. As we learn more and more about “what works” we learn which tool to use for which job. Sometimes the golden section is “perfect” for what you are doing. Sometimes it’s not.

be well


Viking Stool making class.


I running the 3 legged / Viking stool class at Ft. Mifflin next weekend (Sunday OCT 5, 2019) sign up by emailing me:

tuition is $150

you will want to bring a hatchet and a drawknife (minimum) to class. I have a few loaners.

a Froe, (+froe club), iron wedges, spokeshave, and sloyd knife could also be useful.

time is getting short

be well


Tools of the trade 13: Saws

Others have written whole books about saws, tooth geometry, how to use, the various advantages of different types of saws… so instead of writing a book here I’ll tell you to go read a few.

Not even with a table saw can you get away with only having one type of blade. So you need to have a few Saws in your arsenal.



You need a good crosscut saw. these are for cutting stock to length.


You need a good rip saw, these are for cutting stock to width.


Now, a lot of our stock sizing is done with splitting and hewing. So maybe a ripsaw isn’t as critical as having a crosscut saw. But you will eventually find a place where you want to cut a slab of wood in the rip direction and cannot spare the waste of splitting and hewing. So when you get a Ripsaw make sure it is a good one.

For cutting tenons you will want a crosscut saw, you could use your big one for cutting stock down, but you will find that having a smaller one, perhaps with a back stiffener, to be very handy for this… these are called Back saws.


a coping saw is handy for small stuff and some curved cuts.


A Turning saw is good for large curved cuts.

So is a Felly saw.

and for resawing slabs to make thinner boards a big ripping frame saw or just your ripsaw can be used.

and the saw nib is just a decoration.

be well





Hi all:

I have just gotten permission to hold classes at Ft. Mifflin!!

They have a nice shady grove we can use in good weather:



and an interesting grotto to use during bad weather:


this is inside the walls of the fort, literally in the walls. the back wall used to be the forts bread baking ovens. the wood stove works for heat..

I am planning on a first class sometime in October, it will be a 3 legged stool making class.

my stool for the class

stay tuned for more information!!

be well