Wednesday, February 1, 2012


I believe the the shavehorse is one of the greatest inventions ever. The rhythm and ease of working on one comes so naturally to folks that it seems to link right into our DNA. That being said, I've seen a lot of different designs and have tried to be diplomatic about my own preference (really, I've tried!).

I think that the dumbhead style shave horse that allows for the head assembly to be adjusted both up and down and forward and back, with an adjustable foot treadle is the most versatile and comfortable style around. Here is John Waters (an Aussie pal) sitting at my favorite style. You can find plans for it here.


There is another style of shavehorse that I run into a lot, and frankly, I'm not a huge fan. It's not that it doesn't work, it's just that I see more folks working awkwardly or getting frustrated while on it. I don't bring this up to be disparaging, but because I found that some subtle changes might improve it and if you have one, you might consider them.

While in Melbourne, where all of the shavehorses were like the one below, I noticed that the angle of the platform that the workpiece rests on seemed a bit steep. If you look at the wrists of Wayne in the photo, you see that they are out of alignment with his forearm, and his forearm is out of line with the spindle. This means that he must constantly adjust his wrists to keep the drawknife shaving consistently. Not a recipe for success, or comfort.

So I bullied my friend Bern into chopping up his newly minted shavehorse to try a hunch. I like a 10 degree slant to my platform. When Bern did this, the change was notable enough to justify chopping into the other 11. Look at Berns body position in the image below.

Not only is he a fine example of an Aussie craftsman, but he looks good, and comfortable doing it! You might be saying, yeah, but what if you are super tall? Well, lucky for us, they grow em huge over there and we had a 6'7" student who agreed that the shallower angle was a welcome change. Go figure.

Another change that you might consider if you are riding one of these, is to make an adjustable foot treadle. It wouldn't be too tough and I think that you'll notice that your energy is better spent when the treadle is properly adjusted. I suppose that the concept of the horse and the platform that ratchets up is supposed to make this unnecessary, but I'm just going from experience of watching folks use it.

And finally, I've notice that on lots of these, the platform extends too far forward and makes working on small pieces or near the head tough. So chop it off.

Here are a couple of ideas that I picked up from my friends Down Under that I will be putting to good use.

I've been meaning to do this to my continuous arm forms for some time, but seeing as they beat me to it, I give them full credit. If you are unfamiliar, the form usually has a tighter bend and a piece of angled steel that holds it in position away from the form. But since this is the position that we want, why not just make the form to fit!

And here are their wedges, with the clever cut out to make knocking them out easy (no more tapping the thin edge!).

Here is a seat carved from Kauri. It's pretty hard compared to our pine, or even poplar!

Not all of it was this figured, but it sure made for exciting carving. They assured me that it was a soft wood, but then again, they kept warning me about drop bears and hoop snakes as well!


David said...

My shavehorse is the style of the second one, in that it has the bar and not the dumbhead, but when I built it I sat in a chair and pantomimed shaving for awhile to figure out where the table ought to point on my body, and at what angle. As a result it's extremely comfortable to use -- I don't think there's any substitute for custom design! Of course now the old one I use when I do living history makes me nuts, but that's another story...

Peter Evans said...

Interesting thoughts on 2nd style shavehorses. I built a prototype based on the design here

I think the angle problem is related to how high the work is; if the work was lower down then a more natural arm slope is achieved. For example the second person has the work lower, and looks ok.


Peter Galbert said...

I did the same thing when building my first one, and it sent me to the hostipital!! The one and only time that I cut myself deep enough to need stitches. I learned quickly that ones knee should never be in the path of the blade!
thanks for sharing!


You are absolutely right about the height being the issue, but you'll notice in the images that the shavehorse bar is at the same height, it's the angle of the platform that either projects the piece upward or more level. Anyway you stack it, if it's comfortable, do it! Thanks for the link, very nice stuff,

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this Peter,
I can see that I will need to do some careful thinking on design. I have proportionally long upper arms such that my elbows are below my hip bones when seated. I'll have to find a why to shave toward my groin without skinning my thighs or just use a shaving ladder (See Peter Follansbee's blog).
I don't think the chair seat is kauri (Agathis australis), kauri is virtually grain free and soft enough to cut with a knife. Could it be karri (Eucalyptus discolor)?