Building an Improved Shavehorse

Recently I decided to give my son, a bowyer, my old shavehorse and build a new one with a few improvements.

The bowyer at the shavehorse

There are basically two styles of shavehorse, the “blockhead” or German (Swiss) and the “bodger’s” or English style.  The English style is a little lighter, affording the user a little more portability.

All shavehorses are designed to provide the user with a place to sit and a method of holding the work.  The “blockhead” design is usually fitted with fixed ramp.  The “bodger’s” style utilizes a floating ramp.  This feature allows the user to work a greater range of thicknesses without repositioning the clamphead.  On older “bodger’s” horses, the elevation of the ramp was changed by simply moving a wedge shaped block forward or aft.

"blockhead" style shavehorse with fixed ramp

 Most shavehorses are fitted with legs that are driven into tapered holes in the seat plank.  Legs usually have both rake and splay.  A simple way of boring the initial holes is to use a shopmade angle guide, once the “resultant” angle has been determined.

Boring guide

Boring guide - another view

Boring guide – yet another view

The next step is to use a tapered reamer to create the tapered hole or socket that the legs will be fitted into.  Using a tapered reamer can be tricky when rake and splay are involved.  The reamer I use is one made from a plan on Jennie Alexander’s website, greenwoodworking.com.  However, it does have one significant difference in that the first few inches of the reamer are cylindrical and designed to fit into a 1″ hole.  This means that this particular reamer cannot be used to ream a hole smaller than 1″, but it does help in maintaining the rake and splay.

shop built tapered reamer

The seat plank is held in the bench vise while the leg holes are reamed from the underside.

starting the reamer with the cylindrical section as guide

Okay, so after the ordeal with the reamer, the rest is pretty straightforward.

The finished product

 Well first, those of you who have been reading this blog for any time will know that the above picture was not taken in my shop.  But, rest assured, this is my new shavehorse (although, if asked, it may prefer it new surroundings).  Anyway, the clamp arms are 1 1/8″ x 2″ ash.  The clamp head is 3″ x 3″ ash with a 3/8″ wide V-groove on one surface and a 1/2″ V-groove on the opposing surface.  The are two positions for the clamphead on the clamp arms.  The footpeg/spreader is one piece made from hickory.  The ramp board’s position is supported by a pegboard that has been drilled with two rows of 1/2″ dia holes spaced 1″ apart.  A simple turned peg with a bit of a handle secures the pegboard.  A piece of 1/2″ brass or steel rod would work just as well.  The ramp board assembly is held in place with a wooden wedge.  The lignum vitae stop in the middle of the ramp board is used to keep longer workpieces from meandering to and from when you’re cutting chamfers or rounding edges.  The rear legs are 1″ longer than the front.  This allows the user to benefit from his or her own bodyweight (and helps to keep one from sliding backward into potential catastrophe).  The overall length of the seat plank is approximately 56″.   It may seem somewhat long to most first time users, but the benefit of the long plank becomes immediately recognized when you start working on something like the backpost of a chair, a bow or a canoe paddle.

Note the black fasteners.  My buddy, Les, explained to me that all you need to do is wire brush the most common, plated nuts and bolts that you can get your hands on, then paint them up with cold gun bluing.  Costs about $7.00 at Bass-Pro, Cabela’s, etc.  Hats off to Lester.  I’ll tell you, I learn something new everytime I turn around.  Who says an old dog can’t learn new tricks?

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4 Comments on “Building an Improved Shavehorse”

  1. paleotool Says:

    Great stuff, as usual. I love the shave horse design. Mine certainly isn’t as pretty.

  2. Toponaut Says:

    Great article! What resultant angle did you choose…and was it to your liking? Would you choose a different angle now that you’ve used the shavehorse? Any features or dimensions you would change? Thanks & keep posting!

    • D.B. Laney Says:

      I can’t remember the exact resultant angle…14 degrees sticks in my mind. But, in any event, I wouldn’t change a thing. It’s very stable and with the rear legs a little longer, I don’t tend to “push myself off the bench”.

      • Toponaut Says:

        Oh BTW, the pics of the details are the best of any shavehorse article on the web! That ‘extra’ work taking those is what separates good blogs from ho-hum ones. Two thumbs up! Same goes for the reamer details & pics.


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