For bow makers and other wood crafters…A shaving horse is an invaluable tool if you create or work with odd-shaped objects that are otherwise difficult to clamp or need to constantly move around.
I don’t know how I would get half my projects done without one. A horse, in combination with a small bench or two of the same height can act as a complete workshop that is reasonably portable and adaptable. Carpenters, furniture makers, coopers, shoemakers, jewelers, and carvers all have their specific designs and no one type will be the best at everything. Some need to be very adjustable, while others have a very fixed purpose. With a little patience, planning, and luck a great horse can be built for cheap or free with just a very few tools.
I’ve collected few images of shaving horse (a.k.a. work horses) images and show some I created over the years. If you are looking for inspiration or information on designing one for yourself, these should give an adequate starting point. I wish I had photos of my very first horse but unfortunately, it existed at a time when I seem to have taken very few photos of my own projects and the internet wasn’t much of a place for sharing this sort of thing.
In the old days of pre-internet (some of you may recall this with me) there was very little information floating around about these simple but nifty devices. People like Roy Underhill (The Woodwright’s Shop) and Drew Langsner (Country Woodcraft) had them. I recall seeing them rotting in yards in the Ozarks or slowly decaying in the back of family barns as a kid. While researching them later, the one consistency I discovered was the complete lack of consistency on their size, shape, height, length, or actual use. Obviously, every bodger, tinker, and shingle maker had his own ideas and was probably limited by material availability. This ancient tool is as unique as each builder.
While my first horse was designed primarily around dimensional lumber found in my shop an it’s ability to fit cross-ways in a truck bed (F-150) with ease, it was perfectly functional for what I needed; primarily for shaping bows but also for carving things like spear throwers and tool handles. Experience and use taught me the good and bad points about this model and the result has been these better and later designs…
Here is another action shot fixing the tiller on someone’s bow at Winter Count several years ago. I wouldn’t normally have a giant, heavy stave leaning on the horse but the photographer insisted on it for some reason. I was just hoping it wouldn’t bean me with a very sharp draw-knife in my hand (hence my switch to the rasp for the photo).
Here are a few others I encountered at a bow making class in the Midwest several years ago. I liked the simplicity of these made for teaching new bowyers at the Bois d’Arc Rendezvous hosted by FirstEarth. You could make one of these with nothing but a few well-chosen scraps and a few bolts.
And my personal favorite…
Finally, the horse above has been my more-or-less permanent workstation for the last few years and has traveled many miles around the western U.S. Used in conjunction with a small saw bench (built Winter 2015), I have a very complete work setup that packs into the bed of the tiny Toyota pick-up.
With all the gentrification of woodworking that has grown out of some fine blogs and books of the past few years I think it’s important to remember the roots.
Not everyone needs to own every tool, jig, or gizmo… nor should we want to.
Few amateurs can have an enormous, dedicated work space surrounding a one-ton French-style Roubo split-top workbench, nor will he need one. Once you figure out what you want to create, then the tools can follow as needed. Sometimes, the big projects can be goals for the future.
If you are in need of a sturdy place to work, a portable setup that includes a saw bench and a shave horse will really improve your life.