Make a shaving horse from recycled wood!

While traditionally a shaving horse would be made from green wood gathered from a forest or wood somewhere, not all of us city dwellers have easy access to the right kind and size of trees for this purpose. However, we do have access to wonderful seasoned timbers from all around the world which arrive in our cities in the form of packing crates, dunnage, and pallets. What a resource to work with!

Packing for the picking. Off the verge and into the back of the ute. Nice pine from the USA.

Earlier this year, I was needing to make up a few shaving horses for running workshops. So I started out by using some of the packing crate material I had collected which was in my timber racks.

Two models: the English Bodger style and the fabricated Dumb Head style.

There are many variations on shaving horses, though the most common styles would be the “Dumb Head” style, which has been around since at least the 14th century,  and the English Bodger’s style which is a more recent (18th century) type of shave horse.

Making the Dumb-Head Style of Shaving Horse.
While I was in the USA last year, I used a fabricated dumb-head version while at the wonderful Roy Underhill’s Woodwright’s School. It was pretty much the same as this old plan by the legendary Drew Langsner, of Country Workshops, where I also spent some time while in the US. A big stick of timber I had would lend itself to making some of these.

shaving horse
While I found this kicking around on the internet, thanks anyway to Drew Langsner for the plan!

There was a nice long stick of timber in my possession, of some kind of Northern Hemispherical softwood, with Belgium stamped on it’s IPSM 15 Mark. I had 6 of these sticks originally, which had come into Australia as dividers creating two layers of goods inside a sea container from Europe. Each was 7″x3″ in section, 5.2m long. Yum. One of these would give me three 1.6m bodies for this style of shaving horse. Shown below after being docked up.

One long stick (5.2m) of some Northern Hemispherical softwood, here cut up to give me 3 shave horse bodies.

This “dumb-head”, attached to the lever leg via a removable wedge, made from WA Blackbutt (Eucalyptus patens).

This version of a shaving horse I made to be collapsible. This would make them easier to store and easier to cart around. The four legs on each horse would be removeable as would be the lever leg. Hence the use of a wedge to hold the head onto the lever leg. Remove the wedge, slip off the head, take our the pivot bolt, and remove the lever leg. Piece of cake.  

Once part of a New Zealand manufactured bed. Now the lever leg of a recycled wood shaving horse.

It’s great when a piece of recycled timber clearly tells something of its former life. I had pulled apart a bed someone had chucked out on a verge clean-up. Looking like interesting timber, I had picked it up and brougth it home for recycling. It happenned to bear a stamp from its manufacturer – made in Christchurch NZ in 1979. Love that 5 digit phone number! This bed was born the same year as my first child. This stamp is clearly visible now on the lever leg of a shaving horse.

My dear old Dad driving legs into the underside of a shave horse. Doug just turned 85. 

    The tops of the legs are tapered, to suit the tapered mortices in the body of the horse. While this helps to ensure they are removeable, I have found since that every now and then a leg drops out when you pick it up to move it. A small trade-off for portability, I guess. The tap of a mallet houses the leg, and the sideways whack of a mallet dislodges the leg. 

Completed dumb-head shave horse, with extended foot plate on lever leg.

 These shave horses work really well. Portable too. …Fantastic.

This pics shows a lever leg without the extended foot plate.

The legs were made from some 30mm square blanks I have had for many years – originally for making Campaign Chair rails. Mostly sheoak (Casuarina sp.) and some WA Peppermint (Agonis flexuosa). Recycling old stock from my timber shorts rack – well they had only waited 20 years to be re-purposed! One day I will replace them with heavier looking legs – only because they will look better. The rest of the horses are made from packing crates, recycled furniture, and off-cuts from my joinery business.

This one has a nice chunk of jarrah for the head. Beautiful.

Thus far I have made 4 of these dumb head style horses. While the bodies are the same, each one has a slightly different lever leg, head and wedge. It all comes down to the variations in the bits of timber I pulled together to make the components up.

The perfect place to be using a drawknife… 

For the Green Woodworking Workshops I’ll be running, I need to end up with about 12 shaving horses. I hope to have half a dozen of each of the two models of shaving horses. This way the workshop participants can expereince for themselves the pros and cons of each of the horse breeds.  

Making the English Bodgers’ Style of Shaving Horse.
I had used one to these horses at Roy Underhill’s last year, in North Carolina. A search on the net found the following plan from another legendary American Green Woodworker, Peter Follansbee.

Peter’s plan was used to roughly base my bodgers’ horse on.

It all starts with the right piece of wood, right? From outside a glaziers’ warehouse, I had picked up a few boxes which had been used to import sheets of plate glass. From these boxes I had extracted some nice wide pieces of pine. Perfect for this type of shaving horse. It had been just waiting for the right opportunity to come along.

Such beautiful clear branding. This would have to be a feature! 

This timber was heat treated in the Arab Emirates, going by the ISPM 15 Mark so clearly branded on the packing crate. No idea where this pine grew, as it must have been imported into the Emirates in the first place. I wanted to ensure this branding would be clearly visible on the shave horses somewhere – a delightful testament to the fact that this timber had a previous life from packing crates.

Other pieces of packing crates used to make up the treadle frame. 

Unfortunately, I don’t have many pics from the making of these horses.

View from the saddle. Nice blaze on this horse’s nose! – the branding.

 The ramp is attached to the bed by steel hinges, mostly salvaged from old doors. The rise and fall of the ramp is altered by the block underneath, which is removeable for transport and can be slid forwards and backwards – thus changing the angle of the ramp and therefore the spacing between the horizontal of the treadle frame ramp. A nice action.  

These are a delightful horse to use. I have made three of them so far.

So there we have it… Two different horse styles, two different personalities.
I confess my favourite is the English Bodger’s style. However, in retrospect I reckon these could have been made about a foot longer. You only notice this when working on longer pieces of wood, where you find your bum perches on the end of the seat. No problems, I still need to make more to reach my total of 12 horses.

Four of the shaving horses, two different models. All from recycled wood.

While it might be more romantic and ‘true to form’ to make a shaving horse from green wood, the eco-woodworker in me is delighted to be using wood predominantly rescued from the waste stream.

It is very easy to make a shaving horse from recycled wood. This wonderful tool, the shaving horse, has been used by chair bodgers, coopers, wheelwrights, wood carvers, spoon makers, basket makers, and so many other woodcraft workers – for centuries. By using wood rescued from the waste stream, and giving that wood a whole new life (Rather than just burning it or burying it in land fill) , I believe we bring honour to those trees from which the wood had originally come.

Soon I will make some more shaving horses… I can feel it coming on. It will be interesting to see what new breed emerges from this process. Stay tuned for a future post…

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1 Comment

  1. Unknown on 10 November 2014 at 08:33

    Hello Greg,
    My son is desperatley wanting to do woodworking.. he hounds me daily to allow him to use the shelves in the garage to build something! I can't find your contact info on your blog, so I'm leaving this comment to ask how I might get in touch and get him into a course with you. We homeschool, so we can fit in just about anytime. Would very much appreciate hearing from you! My email is: Thank you ,Penny


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