How To Make A Shave Horse
by Eric Methven
Previously published 14/03/2007
I know a lot of you are interested in woodcraft – by that I mean working green wood that you have harvested from the woods and forests. Although seasoned wood can be used, it is much easier to use green (unseasoned) wood for many projects, and certainly for all rustic projects. In days gone by, all wood was worked green and then allowed to season as a finished piece. Kiln drying is a new fangled invention developed to facilitate mass production and uniformity.
So, one of the most basic tools a woodcrafter needs for anything more ambitious than a spoon or bowl is a shave horse. Horse, because you sit astride it, and shave because you shave wood off to get the shape and thickness you desire. These are sometimes also called a medieval Black & Decker workmate.
It is also the tool you use to prepare wood for turning on a spring pole lathe.
This shave horse is just a basic half log with three legs, one at the front and two at the back. We use three legs rather than four because it is more stable on rough ground. Traditionally all the shave horse work would be done in the woods where the wood was harvested. Then only the finished product would be carted out and all the waste left behind to decompose and feed nutrients to the forest floor, and provide a habitat for wildlife. If your mode of transport was a wooden wheelbarrow or a handcart, the less you had to carry the better.
Here’s a few photos showing the shave horse in use. Excuse the outfit. Most times I demonstrate at shows and do medieval experimental archaeology. Shave horses have been around since before the dark ages and are still used widely by woodcrafters today.
Preparing a billet of split wood prior to taking it to the shave horse.
Using the draw knife to remove wood in a controlled manner. I am aiming to make a round cylinder. The rounder it is, the better when it goes on the pole lathe. Wood which isn’t round or straight causes chattering when the lathe chisel tries to cut it.
More of the same – you just keep going until it is the shape you want it.
Here is a drawing of the shave horse. I don’t use sizes or give dimensions. You basically make the thing to suit you best with whatever materials you can muster.