A Cooper’s Horse.
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. A horse, in combination with a small bench of the same height can act as a fairly 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. With a little patience, planning, and luck a great horse can be built for cheap or free with just a very few tools.
Here are few more shaving (work) horse images and some I created over the years if you need inspiration or information on designing one for yourself. 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. Maybe that had something to do with carrying two field cameras for work almost every day and my sub-conscience rebellion against it. But I stray from the point…
Click the image to read what this peasant is making.
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 barns. 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.
“Goodman identifies the (above) relief as a cobbler making a wooden last sitting astride a small bench (‘horse’). The workpiece is held firmly on a sort of anvil by means of a strap passing down through the bench top, and held taut with his left foot. (Photo: Goodman 1964, p. 184, Museo di Civilta Romana, E.U.R., Rome. Reproduced without premission citing fair use).”
While my first horse was designed primarily around wood scraps found in the shop an it’s ability to fit cross-ways in a truck bed with ease, it was perfectly functional. Experience and use taught me the good and bad points about this model and the result has been these better and later designs…
This was a good horse designed for the bowyer. Hickory arm and head, poplar cross-stretchers and a long, adjustable-tilt table to accommodate a wide variety of stave thicknesses.
Another of similar design. The base is the same but is has a square head and wider treadle to use easily with either or both feet.
One of the horses in use. This is how they are best. I actually stopped tillering to take an “action” photo in the old shop.
Another action shot fixing the tiller on someone’s bow at Winter Count. I wouldn’t normally have a giant, heavy stave leaning on the horse but the photographer insisted for some reason. I was just hoping it wouldn’t bean me with a very sharp draw-knife in my hand (hence the rasp).
Not my herd (above). 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. You could probably make one of these with nothing but a few well-chosen scraps and a few bolts.
And my favorite…
Design was kept as short as possible for transport. The cross bolt where the arm hinges is a salvaged bolt from an old truck spare tire holder.
Higher, more ergonomic table.
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.
Click the image for more information about this project.
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.