some shaving horse thoughts

According to the statistics that WordPress compiles for this blog, the shaving horse entry I did when I first started is still the most-viewed posting I have ever done (2,627 views). Must be a lot of people who want to know about shaving horses.

 Having some hickory handles to make, I decided it was finally time to fix the shaving horse. It wasn’t broken, just a bit run-down. Once it was my primary work surface; but now I only use it sparingly. But when I have drawknife work, it’s the way to go.

 I have seen lots of discussion about the English style horse that I learned from Jennie Alexander versus the German style horse that I know from Drew Langsner’s examples. Both work fine. Some say the clamping power of the English example is limited – I think this is silly, really. Some English versions I have seen stink, principally because they have virtually no means to adjust the work surface, and that is key. Many years ago, Alexander improved the shaving horse first presented in the book Make a Chair from a Tree; and I then copied that new version. Plans and details can be found on

 I needed new front legs for mine this week, the old ones sagged a bit, and the treadle scraped on the floor. So I took to setting the front feet on a block of wood; but it really called for a re-working. So I finally did it. While I was at it, I fixed a few other things at the same time.

 One repair was the wedge that I use to attach the pivot block. It had busted, so I made a new wedge. I then tweaked that block too, based on a suggestion Alexander made when I first showed this shaving horse on the very first post on this blog back in 2008.

Here’s the the notched work surface, the pivot block it fits on, and its wedge.

fittings for shaving horse

 The real benefit to this type of shaving horse is the adjustable height to the work surface. The pivot block fits through a mortise in the bench; the work surface slips over the squared head of that block, and is hinged with a wooden pin.

The work surface is adjusted by slipping the wooden block/shim under the work surface, and it moves up, slide the block back towards you & it drops down to accommodate thicker stock. So the trick is to keep the work surface at a height so that you need to only shove your foot a little bit to apply the pressure to hold things tight. If you have to extend your leg further, the height needs adjusting. Notice in these photos that my leg is in about the same position in both, but the thickness of the stock is quite different. Simple. Here’s a few more pictures.

pivot hinge work surface
shaving thin stock
shaving thick stock

It’s really important to learn to slice with the drawknife as well. The cuts are not just pulled straight towards you; I start with the knife all the way to one side, and as I bring it to me, I slide it sideways too. This way, I get a slicing action, and also use the entire length of the blade. Here’s the beginning and ending of one slice.

beginning of cut


end of cut

Hopefully this helps some. If the workpiece slips a lot, just wet the work surface of the shaving horse. Or fix a strip of inner tube rubber to one face of the crossbar at the top. I have never done the latter, and rarely have done the former. But they work.


4 thoughts on “some shaving horse thoughts

  1. I must say, I found the automatically generated post “How to Remove Pubic Hair” amusingly unrelated.

    I’ve built a shave horse or two, according to old German woodcuts. I’m very interested to know how you handle wide pieces that would typically be edge-glued, with green wood – when you simply don’t have a log wide enough to accommodate your needs.

    And, thanks very much for making your work available to the rest of us.


  2. In my first version I used a large metal eyebolt to secure the frame that encloses the cross bar and foot rest. Follansbee suggested making all parts of wood. I agree. Metal has a remarkable tendency to attract and destroy a drawknife’s cutting edge. My shaving horse now contains no metal.
    Peter shows a detail of the work surface pivot. I suggest that the top of the pivot block be trimmed so that it does not project above the top of the work surface. If the pivot block projects it may interfere with longer stock.
    Sorry, this horse only handles stock that is no wider than the frame’s interior. For wider stock the dumb head is the holding device of choice. I have used both. I find that that the pivoting frame together with the sliding adjusting block securely holds the workpiece with very little foot pressure. It is excellent for chairmaking. The joiner uses the bench and plane.

  3. Oops, I forgot to comment on what is possibly the greatest advantage of using a slicing cut with the drawknife. When the drawknife slices across the workpiece, the angle at which the cutting edge enters the workpiece is less than the angle of the edges cross-section. Accordingly, we enjoy the strength of the blade’s cross-section coupled with a nifty smaller cutting angle that requires less effort and allows for greater control. Was it Jackie Gleason who used to exclaim, “How sweet it is!”?

  4. Nice. I was looking to make the one on, but I like your version without the metal eye bolts. Seems to me more traditional which after all is the point behind a shaving horse. Thanks — Dave

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