October 2, 2012


Custom fabricating tenon joints is made very easy with a shave horse.

The shaving horse is combination workbench and vise which is powered by one's legs. It has been used by wood workers across Europe since at least the middle ages.

The clamping action of the feet frees up the hands to work with a draw knife or spoke shave to whittle down wood for joints, handles, and many other applications.

It also allows for quick repositioning of the wood with greater ease than with other forms of clamps.

There are several types of shave horses. As it goes, different designs presumably developed based upon what sorts of material people had to work with. After looking at a bunch of different designs, and seeing what materials we had around, I had a sense that I was going to want to build an English style shave horse.

The main design that I worked from was this English shave horse. Although, the final product looks substantially different, the important parts and dimensions are more or less unchanged.

image courtesy of Green Wood Working

What, I think, makes this an "English" design is that the treadle frame goes on the outside of the bench, as opposed to through the bench like in a "Continental" European design where the treadle is one piece and goes through the center of the bench, sometimes with interchangeable heads.

The design consists of a couple of basic parts.

Side view

The Bench

A picture of end of the bench showing the taper.

The seat of the bench is made from a 2x12, narrowed in the middle to 6" to accommodate the legs to work the treadle

The leg design I used for the bench was a lot different that the above design. I used pieces of 4"x4" posts to attach 2"x6" material for the legs. On the front of the bench you can see the 4x4 is long, and provides additional "meat" for the pivot of the treadle frame.

The front legs are angled at 30 degrees from 90. the 2x6's do not touch the ground. Instead I placed another piece of 4x4 in between them and tapered the square down so that a piece about 1" square is touching the ground. With the two back legs, this single point of contact on the from made a tripod, which has worked well to keep the whole thing stable.

The back legs are 2x6's. I used lag bolts to affix them to pieces of 4x4 cut at an angle. It is somewhat clear in the above picture. The legs are perhaps the most complicated part of the whole thing, and also the least important design wise! There are lots of ways to put legs on a bench, I came up with this design because I had short pieces of 4x4 laying around the shop and wanted to find a way to use them.

The Treadle Frame

You cannot see it well in other photos, but I pretty much copied whole the treadle frame. The dimensions, the and even the width of the wood. I am happy with the design.

Pieces of the shave horse right prior to final assembly

the Landing

You can see from the first picture on the page, that the landing is made of a 4x4. I cut some sections out on the band saw to ensure that it did not interfere with the operating of the treadle.

Other pictures also show that the whole landing piece is sitting on top of a half-round piece of oak. This oak can be moved forward and back to give more space between the landing and the yoke depending on the size of the piece you're working with.

The landing pivots from the back so that is can be readily moved up and down. The pivoting hinge component is simple.

Like in the design above, I used the eye-bolt style hinge. An eye-bolt is bolted vertically to the bench. a notch is cut in the center of the back of the landing piece for the eye bolt to fit into. A bolt is put through the back of the landing piece, through the eye bolt, and through the other end of the landing piece. Thus, forming a rudimentary hinge.

Another Feature

On of the primary features of this design is that it has no nails or screws in it. The whole thing can be completely disassembled so any given part can be fixed or remade with different dimensions. It can also be broken down for compact storage or transport.


The wole process of making this shave horse was a test of my accumulated skill and knowledge and problem solving ability. I had to work off-the-cuff the edit designs and use scrap material that was at hand.

Designing for the use of only bolts was another aspect of the design and construction which was somewhat new to me. There was a lot of drilling, and counter-sinking of bolt heads. I feel I got a lot of good practice to cement these basic and practical skills.

I think that it turned out really sturdy, and the assemble and disassemble the whole thing made the trouble shooting process much easier. There were many times I put the thing together and found out that some little dimension would not work, or the landing rubbed on the treadle, etc.

in the end I was also able to add some style to the whole thing by routering the edges and doing some band saw work to make curves and arches.

I also used a homemade walnut stain and linseed oil and beeswax finish. The dark color and generally rustic appearance I think lends a degree of beauty to this otherwise utilitarian item. I will be posting more in a bit about how I made the natural stain and finish, so don't worry ;).

I think of this project like a masters thesis project in wood working. Bringing together much of the fine-woodworking skills I have learned over the last few years. From research to design, implementation and troubleshooting, this project challenged me to some degree in all arenas. Even figuring out that I needed a shaving horse to continue to work with green wood was part of the learning process! And for that I am ever more capable.

All and all, the shave horse is an essential tool for green woodworking. To take raw pieces of tree, still green and wet, and shape them into pieces for furniture, tool handles, and various kinds of construction projects. I look forward to working with it for many years to come.