Building a Shave Horse – Green Woodworking


Building a Shave Horse – Green Woodworking
Peter Wood draws on his experience to create the perfect sit-down job

Peter Wood draws on his experience to create the perfect sit-down job

In this article I’m going show you how to make a continental/American ‘dumbhead’ shave horse. It’s a really good ‘quick release’ vice that leaves both hands free and allows you to sit while working. There are other designs such as the bodger’s horse but I like this style. The shave horse is equally at home in the woodland and the indoor workshop. Designed correctly the horse works efficiently and is easily adjusted, allowing you to work precisely and in relative comfort.

Tools used 
• Bandsaw/chainsaw
• Large auger
• Sliding bevel
• Chisel
• 10mm mild steel bar
• Drawknife
• Axe
• Drill with assorted drill bits
• Spokeshave
• Cramps
• Hacksaw
• Router (if available)
Ash (Fraxinus spp.)

1. The first job is to cut out the main body. I like to cut it freeform on the bandsaw, but a jigsaw or chainsaw will work just as well. A 200mm wide plank is sufficient, but here I used a wider board to leave some width for the seat area. This will also allow for a wider splay on the back legs. The middle section of the plank needs to be narrow, otherwise your legs will not be comfortable. Your  next job is to mark a centreline as a datum for drilling the leg holes. We’ll use this centreline as a sight line for the front legs

2. For the rear legs mark your drilling points 100mm away from the centreline. For your sight lines mark 100mm along the centreline and from this point draw a line that goes right through the drilling point

3. Set your sliding bevel to 15° and drill through. You can change the splay of the legs by moving this sight line forward or back. Use a large auger with a 11/4in diameter (this matches one of my rounding planes). Now drill the front leg hole from the top at an angle of 20° sighting along the centreline

4. Cleave the legs from a log of ash, axe them roughly cylindrical and drawknife them round

5. Using the centreline as a guide, mark out the slot for the swinging arm. This needs to be a snug fit, such that the arm can swing easily but not twist. I’ve used a chainsaw to cut this slot out, but you can drill a series of holes and clean out with a chisel, use a jigsaw or a router. The slot should match the thickness of your swinging arm

6. For the swinging arm I had a length of leftover ash from a pole lathe. Using the diagram as a guide, cut to length, mark out the angles for the top and bottom tenons and then cut out the tenons. Having the tenons angled brings the footrest and top section to the correct angles for gripping and for your foot to rest on. You could also drill the holes for the pin, but it is advisable to wait until you’ve finished the rest of the shave horse, you can then change the position of the holes to suit your work. One thing to remember is that when you drill these holes use a drill bit that is slightly oversize to the pin and bring the hole forward of the centreline so the swinging arm automatically opens when you release the pressure from your foot

7. I used a scrap workbench top for the next three parts. Cut the three parts to size and then cut the slot out of the middle plank and the mortises for the top and bottom section. This time use a router, setting up a fence as a guide. You want a snug fit but not too tight as you may want to dismantle your horse for easy transport. Alternatively, cut the slots using a drill and chisel or cut with a jigsaw

8. Use a guide to cut the ends of the top and bottom mortises to the correct angle: 10° for the top part and 25° for the footrest

9. The central work board now needs drilling for the pin that the swinging arm pivots from. You could opt for a wooden pin for the pivot if the board is thicker, but as we’ve only 25mm to play with, I’ve opted to use some leftover 10mm mild steel bar. Drill a series of holes as this will allow you to move the head of the vice forward or back so you can grip the work in different places. Note: I’m using an 11mm drill bit to give a loose fit making it easy to change the position of the arm. Use a straight scrap piece of wood as a guide to aid in drilling, an extra pair of eyes will also help when drilling these holes

10. The pin is made from a scrap section of 10mm bar. Cold bend one end 90° to form a simple handle then cut it to length

11. Fix the central work board to the body of the horse using a 100mm hinge. This will keep the board stable

12. Peg the top and bottom boards in place. Drill a 12mm hole at a slight angle of 6°. Make a corresponding size peg and shave it to a taper. You can then knock the peg in. This fixes the head and foot rest quite securely but makes it easy to take apart

13. Chamfer the underside of the top board as this will reduce bruising of your work. A further refinement would be to glue some leather here and on the central board which will also protect your work

14. Finally, cleave a wedge from the log used for the legs. The sides are different lengths. This means that by turning it over you can change the height of the centre board (invaluable on my courses when you have different sized people who will be using the same shaving horse)

15. To finish the horse, take it to pieces and round off all edges and contour the body. Don’t be afraid to change the measurements to suit your requirements. You can make the body narrower or shorten the legs (you’ll need to shorten the swinging arm as well). A cushion helps with comfort or I’m tempted to use one of my scrap, Windsor-seat bottoms on the board!



  1. In your diagram, the holes on the swinging arm are on the wrong end and side! Other than that this was incredibly helpful. Thanks!

    • I made the horse, but am questioning the overall length of 1040. I sit on the bench with my butt hanging over the back and my knees are at the start of the swing arm slot. Very different from Peter’s picture. Can you confirm the length? I think I’ll be cutting a longer bench, other then the drawknife in my chest, nice horse..

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