nostalgia at a shaving horse

Starting last year, I took up writing a regular column for Popular Woodworking Magazine, called Arts and Mysteries. It’s 2 pages in each issue, and it’s fun to do. The lag between writing and seeing it in print is lengthy, so I forget what’s been done and what’s not. I think there’s been about 4 columns so far, maybe 5. I’m working on the next batch now.

shaving oak

Today I had to get out my shaving horse for some photos I was shooting for an upcoming piece about chairs. Once the photos were done, I figured I’d do some drawknife work that I’d been meaning to get to. I have some baskets to finish, got to make rims and handles for maybe 5 of them.

Nothing is as nostalgic to me as working with a shaving horse and drawknife. I hardly use them anymore, but when I do it always reminds me of where I began; making chairs, baskets and other shaved work. For a few years, it was the only work bench I had…

At one time I had several drawknives, but now I’m down to two and one of those is put away. The one I favored over any other I tried is this old drawknife made in New York; White is the name, but I think they’re the same shapes at Barton drawknives. Mine’s 8″ long, I have seen them up to 12″ or more. Original handles, and tight. It’s not as clean and bright as it might be, but I try to keep it sharp.


A year or two ago I saw Tim Manney demonstrating Peter Galbert’s drawknife sharpening jig. The way Tim cut the end grain of white pine – I felt like a rube from the country, because next time I was at Lie-Nielsen, I plunked down the cash to get one. It made me want to get a bunch of drawknives and re-hab them..but I’ll stick with this one.

While I’m looking at tools – one more I splurged for some time back, a few years now I think. When I make spoons, I use a pencil, but if you’ve been around when I make furniture, or carve furniture, you know I hate pencils. I use an awl every day I work at the bench.  For many years, I used an awl Alexander made from an alignment tool, ground & sharpened, fitted with a wooden handle. Then I met Dave Jeske of Blue Spruce Toolworks at a Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool event. I decided to order an awl and marking knife…and never looked back. The best part? Dave asked what kind of wood I wanted the handles to be, and I said I don’t care. He made the from oak. It’s a tool that’s a real pleasure to use.

bllue spruce awl

Here’s some of what I shaved, basket “ears” – white oak, my favorite for bending. These are for swing-handle baskets. The ear in the orange clamp is a perfect bend; the one in the red clamp is completely un-perfect.

perfect & not perfect

Here’s the detail:




These are notched for the basket rims, and tapered to weave down into the basket.
ready to go



like this:swing handle basket

swing handle detail
swing handle detail




9 thoughts on “nostalgia at a shaving horse

    • Jarrod – Very funny. I make extras for this very reason. White oak is king, Daniel O’Hagan used to tell any that would listen. I don’t think I’ve ever tried them in anything but. I still lose some, but it’s my fault, not the wood.

  1. L.I. & J. White, Buffalo NY. None better. Far and away my favorite drawknife. Gonna have to find another (or two), the bit’s getting short. You do realize that you’ve just upped the “Ebay” ante, right? It would be great if someone would begin making that pattern again.

  2. I’d agree that your White drawknife is very similar in pattern to the Barton. I use two old Barton’s and love ’em. They are sturdily built with thick arms extending to the handles.

  3. Peter
    I see that viewed from above your favored Barton drawknife is slightly curved forward. Viewed from the front is the blade slightly curved downward?
    My Witherby baby has this double curve and I find it easy to control
    because both ends of the blade rise slightly out of the wood. The shavings are thinner at there edges.
    Speaking of nostalgia. I was using one of my funky awls the other day and wanted to make and send you another. Honest. The metal alignment pin is
    made by Craftsman and of course sold by Sears as Item 92401. As a matter of fact only Sears sells them individually. An awl is also a perfect letter opener too. The one you have from me, hand it off to a newcomer. You meet plenty of them all the time. Then they can work to earn the nifty one you now have.

  4. Peter
    Perfect timing! I am beginning my journey with handtools. Last week i ordered an ax and froe!. I am working with my boyfriends old boatbuilding tools. Right now i am trying to figure out how to make a simple shave horse…do you know of any kits that can be bought? .I cant wait to start drawkniving from a horse rather then a vise. Any idea where i can get a twibil? big auger bits? and last a small carving hatchet for green wood? Thank u for the post! keep up the great work.

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