Shaving horse

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Shaving horses in use
Simple French example, with a stick in place for working

Shave horses (shaving horse, shaving bench[1]) are a combination of vice and workbench, used for green woodworking. A foot-actuated clamp holds the work piece securely against pulling forces, especially as when shaped with a drawknife or spokeshave.[2][3][4]

A Black Forest pattern, with more precise clamp

As the name "horse" suggests, the worker sits astride the shaving horse. The clamp is operated by the operator pressing their feet onto a treadle bar below.

Typical usage of the shaving horse is to create a round profile along a square piece, such as for a chair leg or to prepare a workpiece for the pole lathe.

They are used in crafts such as coopering and bowyery.


The typical clamp is a vertical bar or bars, hinged on a pivot attached to or passing through the bench/seat top. The top of this bar is enlarged into the "horse" -, "dog" - or "dumb" head, the part that holds the wood. Some clamps are worked via string or rope, rather than mechanical leverage.

For extra precision and better clamping force, the clamp pivot point may be raised above the bench level on a sub-bench, giving more leverage. These so-called "Black Forest" or German and Swiss shave horses (as pictured) give a longer lever-ratio, creating greater mechanical advantage and thus greater force to trap the wood very securely.

Shave-horses are commonly workshop-made by their user and entirely wooden, though modern screws, washers, metal sleeves and threaded bolts, with locking nuts are a very welcome and practical innovation, allowing re-tightening or capability to be knocked-down as necessary.

For the itinerant bodgers, simplicity and lightness of their tools was important- thus the bodger often created their shave horse from found logs in their woodland plot.

They provide a rapid clamp and sturdy clamp, which allows the operator to use their legs and upper body weight as additional "power" for work. It is considered by some to result in less fatigue, than generated by constantly standing.


The shavehorse is commonly used as the preparation of stock prior to turning in a lathe, to roughly form cylindrical billets, the intermediate dressing phase between a crudely dressed raw split log and the final lathe work.

Shaving green wood with the drawknife or spokeshave along the grain is far quicker and easier work than turning across it. Skilled operators can produce very fine results with a drawknife and shavehorse, requiring minimal lathe finishing.


Shaving horse

Though in danger of stating the obvious, it should be stressed: using a circular saw on/while straddling the shave horse is highly dangerous and should not be performed under any circumstances.

Straddling the shave horse whilst irresponsibly using any dangerous tool will result in the operator suffering serious bodily injury.

Contrary View of Shave Horses in Actual Practice[edit]

Mike Dunbar, the "Dean of Windsor Chair Makers" (Craig Stevens, Editor, Woodworkers Resource ( has posted a blog decrying the use of the shave horse for actual production work. "I do not use a shave horse. When asked why, I answer, “Why would I impose a pay cut on myself?” That is in effect the result of using this tool. It is so limiting that it slows down the chairmaker and costs him income. I prefer a vise. Using a vise I am standing, not sitting, and I am far more productive and efficient. I work far faster, using less energy." The full blog entry can be found here:[unreliable source?]


  1. ^ Fabricating and Installing Side-Lap Roof Shingles in Eastern Pennsylvania by James Houston and John N. Fugelso [1]
  2. ^ Abbott, Mike (1998). Green woodwork. Guild of Master Craftsman. ISBN 0-946819-18-1. 
  3. ^ Langsner, Drew (1996). Green woodworking. Lark books. ISBN 0-937274-82-8. 
  4. ^ Landis, Scott (1987). The Workbench Book. Taunton Press. ISBN 0-918804-76-0. 

External links[edit]