Introduction: Modern Shave Horse,

Picture of Modern Shave Horse,

Howdy y'all.

This weekend I finally built a tool that I have always wanted, a shave horse. Once upon a time when I was in the SCA I made a little stool using some branches and a piece of firewood. The key component to building that little stool was a shaving bench used in conjunction with a drawknife. With a bench like this one may securely work on shaping green wood into chair spindles and legs. I am going to use mine to shape stool legs and tool handles. Ill cover the art of using a shave bench in other projects that are on deck.

A shave horse is a work bench with a foot actuated horizontal clamp. There are 2 main styles the German style that had a dumb head, that is basically a block on on a lever with a plank for the foot bar. The second is the English style bodgers bench, that uses two levers with a piece of stock for the clamp. Both styles use a stationary surface to hold the piece to be worked against. The German offers better leverage with the English a even clamp.

I went with a combination of the two styles I used an English head with a German style foot pedal. Oh and I sized mine for a 6'2" guy with a 32" inseam if you are shorter or taller you may need to tweak the final dimensions to fit you.

Wikipedia has a pretty good article on how they were used and lots of pictures.

Materials used

  • 4 - 2'x4'x8" Premium grade stud ($3 each left over from workbench)
  • 1 - 1"x10"x18" Pine Board (Scrap from work bench) $2
  • 1 - 2"x2"x6" Oak Square Stock (Scrap from lumberyard) $2
  • 1 - 1/2"x8" Carriage Bolt. (3 for $4)
  • 1 - 1/2"x6" Hex Head Bolt (3 for $3.50)
  • 4 - 1/2" Washers (bag for $2)
  • 2 - 1/2" Nuts (bag for $2)
  • 1 1"x6"x24" Pine board (scrap from workbench)
  • 2 1/2 #10 GRK Uber Grade Screws (left over from workbench)
  • 1 1/4 #8 GRK Uber Grade Screws (left over from workbench)
  • Square of 16oz tanned leather 3 1/2" by 3 1/2" (Craft supplies on hand)
  • Tube of Loctite contact Adhesive (Craft Supplies on hand)

Tools Used

  • Bar Clamps
  • Impact Screw Gun
  • Drill with 1/2 inch arbor bit
  • Reciprocating Saw, with flush cut wood and metal cutting blades
  • Circular saw
  • 1/4 Sheet Palm sander with 60 git sand paper.
  • Tape Measure
  • Ruler
  • Carpenters Protractor
  • Pencil
  • Rotary cutting wheel with cutting mat for the leather.

And while not used specifically in the construction of this project I held up my Draw Knife up where I was in the process of coming up with my design.

Safety Equipment

  • Eye Protection - stuff flies everywhere
  • Hearing protection - Power tools be loud Yo!
  • Dusk mask - Air good... sawdust bad...

    When using the draw knife may I suggest a heavy canvas or leather apron to prevent disembowelment.


After using this a couple of times. I have a couple of suggestions for improvement. there were times where an angle on the lower jaw would have been appreciated So I may make a second one that is about another 2-2x4's wider with a bevel on one edge to angle the work piece upwards.

Second thought, I had tunnel vision when I built it and thought only along the lines of pre crafted bolts. I am going to make a wider treadle to go around the new wider lower jaw and some spacers so that I can widen the work piece to about 8 inches between the foot levers. To accomplish this I am going to use 1/2 all thread and 2 nuts and washers. At this rate I could plane 1x8"s all day long out of fresh cut logs for box making... Anyway the tool works well in its current state I just worked out a couple more tweaks after using it. With bolt on construction it is relatively easy to change from a wide to narrow configuration.

Tinker on gentle folk of the interwebs.

Step 1: The Bench Base

Picture of The Bench Base

I am going to split this up into several steps The first will be the frame for the bench. The second will be the stationary work surface. The third is the clamping bar and the last will be finishing up the bench and final adjustments.

Unless specified in the directions I used 2 1/2 #10 screws for my construction.
Referring to 2x4" is the common dimensions for studs in the US. Actual size is closer to 1 1/2" x 3 1/2" But the typical american wood worker can find 2x4's in their local hardware store.
Lengths are exact to what I cut for my horse.
I also ensure that every angle that is 90* is square before attaching.
All surfaces are sanded using 60 grit paper on a 1/4 sheet random orbital sander. I like the finished edges and splinters suck.

Sorry for the rest of the world but in the US lumber is sold in "SAE" measurements You will need to adjust accordingly for the far more precise metric system.

Cut the following lengths of wood

2 - 2x4x50" lengths for the main frame
3 - 2x4x20" lengths cut into a parallelogram with 45 degree angles on each end.
1 - 2x4x16" Trapezoid for the rear leg cross brace.
1 - 2x4x10" Trapezoid for the rear leg mount.
1 - 1x10x18" board for the seat.

Retain the scrap triangular cut off 2x4" and a scrap 4" 2x4"

First I set out the pieces for the base to play around with how I was going to mount them to the frame.

Then I used 2 1/2" #10 screws to secure the square tail piece to the end of the frame.
Then I aligned and screwed one of the 3 parallelogram legs to the "front" end of one of a side beam.
Screw the triangular scrap behind the front leg to function as a brace.
Screw on the other side rail.
Center and screw on the tail 2x4x10" trapezoid.
Align the 2 legs to the rear clamp and screw it into place.
Secure the cross brace with 2 screws to the rear 2 legs.

Right the table, center and affix the seat to the bench with 1 1/4" screws
I also trimmed the corners off the front edge of the seat to go with the whole triangular 45 degree aesthetic of my bench. And to prevent digging a corner into my legs when sitting down.

Step 2: The Lower Clamp Jaw. Measurements and Fitting

Picture of The Lower Clamp Jaw.  Measurements and Fitting

Ok on to the to make the stationary portion of the clamp, I have no idea what the heck this part is actually called. So I will dub thee the lower clamp jaw. I just wanted the jaw to be stationary but easily adjustable so it will rid in a mortise and be secured with a 1/2" bolt

I left enough tail end to provide the ability to be adjusted by drilling more holes as needed. The height adjustment hole I drilled in part 2, will function to hold up to 2 inch thick workpieces.

I made a few measurements First I held my draw knife out at a fully extended arms length and measured how far away from my body the edge was and how high it was off the center beam of the bench. This resulted in a work height that is about 14 inches above the bench and 20 inches laterally from the front edge of the seat.

Cut a - 2x4x6" - For the mortise rear support
Cut a 2x4x24" - center post section
Cut 2 - 2x4x4" - side blocks

I screwed the 2x4x6" block with the front face 20" from the front of the seat. This block must be square to the frame as it provides the rear portion of the Mortise joint that the clamp base will ride in. I had originally set a 2 inch block for the front, however this was removed to bring the top clamp head closer to the operator.

Screw the 2 - 4" blocks to either side of the 24" long section and sand the clamp top edge perfectly flat and level.

To finish up the bottom half, I am going to have to make the top half. The reason I don't have many pictures in this step is that it was a lot of trial and error with test fitting I will affix things permanently in step 4.

Step 3: Clamp Levers and Pivot Block.

Picture of Clamp Levers and Pivot Block.

For the top half of the clamp, I figured that I needed to make a tenon joint to fit the pivot above the main bench for improved leverage. This along with the wide treadle board are the key parts used from the German style bench. However as I am using 2x4's for my construction I needed 2 levers to hold the free spinning oak clamp block. Thus providing the even clamping of the English bench.

I am going to call this the pivot block.
Cut 2 2x4x10 1/2"
Cut a 2x4x14" long.

Sandwich the 3 pieces with the longer piece resulting in a 3 1/2" tenon. Place the lower clamp jaw in its position and then place the pivot block flush and square with the clamp jaw. Screw the pivot block into place with 2 screws per side. then remove the Lower jaw by sliding it out of its now completed mortise.

Clamp a scrap block of wood to the rear side of the pivot block. Use the 1/2"x 12" auger bit drill a horizontal hole, centered 1 1/2" from the top edge. (see picture 2)

Clamp levers
Cut 2 - 2x4x30" long boards to be used as the levers.
Cut a 1x6x20" board to be used as the foot treadle.
Cut a 2x4x 4 5/8" block as a spacer for the treadle

Clamp the levers together along with a block of scrap and drill a centered hole 21 Inches in. This will allow the treadle 1 - 1 1/2" of clearance if used on a flat floor. You may need to adjust this to fit you if so use blocks to find your ideal height. You can see I ensured that the drill bit was square and level on all axis before drilling and while drilling.

If your carriage bolt has a square head you may need to drive the bolt into a supported lever side. Use a hammer that is safe for striking large pieces of metal. I used a 2 lb drilling hammer, a 16 oz ball peen would also be appropriate. Claw hammers not so much as they have a hardened head and striking a bolt may cause the hardened face to chip with force sufficient to injure.

At the end furthest from the hole just drilled clamp and screw the 2x4x4 5/8" block to affix the treadle. (see drawing or pictures)

Center the treadle board and align it flush with one side, and screw to the levers and spacer using 1 1/4" screws the flush side will be the front and face away from the user.

You see in the pictures, I miscut a lever to 30 1/4". I trimmed it to square using a reciprocating saw and a flush cut wood blade.

Sand the pivot block smooth and attach the treadle using an 8" carriage bolt through both levers and the pivot block. . *Note* the Oak clamping face has not been mounted at this time. We need to finish the lower half of the clamp first. Unfortunately with a thickness of 5 2x4"s I just had enough bolt left to screw a nut half way on. This will be sufficient for use but I may have to keep tightening it in the long run. Or perhaps some blue locktite.

The treadle should rotate on this bolt freely if there is some binding or stiffness you may need to sand more on the pivot block or shim the foot spacer to provide more clearance for the levers. ( i needed to add a 1/8th shim to my treadle spacer due to some slight twisting of the left lever 2x4.

Step 4: Putting the Clamp All Together

Picture of Putting the Clamp All Together

This is going to be a cumulation of all the steps

I stacked some scrap blocks under the lower clamp post to bring it up to the 14" height that was determined in Part 1 After the post is up to height I clamped a piece of scrap and bored a centered 1/2" hole through the frame and the lower jaw post.

After the hole is bored place 2 washers on a 6" bolt and thread it through the hole place another 2 washers on the free end and thread a 1/2" nut.

From the pictures you will see that there is about an inch that could really gouge up a shin so I grabbed the reciprocating saw again with a metal cutting blade to cut the extra length off. I used my old standby of used motor oil as cutting oil to prevent the blade from burning up while cutting through the bolt.

Cut a 2x2x4 5/8" oak block for the clamp surface.

After you have your block cut square it along the face of the lower jaw closest to you. While seated on the bench use your feet to push the treadle to bring the lever arms in. Once you are happy with the position of your arms around the block secure it with a single 2 1/2" screw on each side. After you sand the entire bench these screws will be backed out slightly to allow the block to rotate so that a flat surface is pressing the workpiece into the lower clamp.

Step 5: The Finishing Touches.

Picture of The Finishing Touches.

If you have gotten this far you these are just the finishing touches to ensure that you don't get any splinters on your bottom.

Sand it down. As I was using 2x4's and pine boards there were some surface imperfections. I went though and gave every surface a rough sand with 60 grit paper on a 1/4 sheet palm sander.

After the bench is sufficiently sanded. I figured a piece of leather on the top of the lower clamp surface would dress up the tool, provide a bit extra grab, and protect the piece being worked.

I wound up having just enough scrap leather, to cut a 3 1/2" square of 16oz saddle skirt. To cut leather I use a metal ruler for a straight edge and a quilters graduated cutting mat and rotary cutter. this ensures a sharp edge that is easily repeatable. Triple check to make sure that your fingertips are not near the edge of your ruler. If it cuts leather in one pass it will cut your fingers off just as easily.

In my leather working bin I had a tube of Loctite contact adhesive apply the adhesive according to the directions on the tube. Apply to each piece center the patch of leather and clamp using a scrap 2x4 block.

The clamps can be removed after 2 hours however full cure is not achieved for 24. I just left it clamped overnight and removed the clamps this morning to grab the final batch of pictures. Stay tuned as the next instructable will be using this shave horse, to make a replacement handle for an antique straight peen hammer.

The hammer head head that was found on my old farm. or should I say that my pigs found it. Animals turn up the oddest things. The pigs rooted up the hammer head, numerous bricks, several old bottles. And a chicken scratched up a 1890's indian head penny. Unfortunately these little mementos are all that is left of that farm. But that was then and this is now. The work shop is coming along and I am starting to get a tool collection back up. 2 acres around the house with chickens, is a heck of a lot easier to maintain than 50 with livestock.

Thank you and happy tinkering.


MoTinkerGNome (author)2015-03-19

I used it last night to make a handle for an antique hammer head.

JerryL1206 (author)2017-11-02

I have a similar unit that I use to de-bark branches to make walking and hiking sticks. I'm going to incorporate a couple of you ideas into it to improve it. Thanks!

Dan Lynge (author)2015-04-06

This the first time I've heard of or seen this tool. Awesome!

thanks for an interesting instructable, and may your tools never rust.

BrettHacks (author)2015-03-20

Well done! I have wanted one of these ever since watching one used at a Craft fair. Seeing the long wood shavings fly off of a piece of rough stock as the draw knife worked the wood, was really cool. Now by using 2 X 4 construction I can finally afford to build one! Thanks.

Zeltyc (author)2015-03-16

What is it? what does it do?

MoTinkerGNome (author)Zeltyc2015-03-16

It is a horizontal clamp for holding wood while you work it with manual tools.

Some examples are to rough shape green wood before using on a lathe. Making spokes for wagon wheels. Chair legs and slats. Squaring up or rounding wood with a drawknife or spokeshave. Pretty much any application where you would want both hands free while holding a workpiece that will be moved frequently.

UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHOULD YOU USE A POWER SAW, OR DRILL WITH A SHAVE HORSE. If your tool slips and you hit one of the two femoral arteries in your thighs you are dead, no ER no Paramedics you bleed out very quickly. However gently shaving is generally safe. Keep your tool sharp and use a light touch.

colbtron (author)MoTinkerGNome2015-03-19

I wish I had read your second paragraph before starting to work on my piece with a power saw... arghgghghh! (bleeds out)

MoTinkerGNome (author)colbtron2015-03-19

Hey thanks for posting your last words.

Zeltyc (author)MoTinkerGNome2015-03-17

Oh I see now, it souds usefull, thanks.

MoTinkerGNome (author)Zeltyc2015-03-18

Yer welcome. It is one of those odd tools that really helps seeing it in use. Cause at first it just looks like something a cowboy could use to practice roping... or a torture device.... or a really cumbersome paper weight.

twheeler4 (author)2015-03-19

I had no idea such a thing existed, but I could see it being useful for shaping guitar/instrument necks.

primosanch (author)2015-03-19

Very nicely done. Thanks for sharing.

Jackn7 (author)2015-03-19

Just curious what the largest round it can handle? Looks like around 6-8 inches...

Rough idea on weight limits for that clamp?

I sometimes shave bark off some big logs so...

Still great idea for smaller stuff.


MoTinkerGNome (author)Jackn72015-03-19

Right now about 6 inches is the max on that Due to the width of the top clamp (4 5/8"). I am on the lookout for some longer half inch carriage bolts I Figure if I can find a 12" bolt I will have to make a second lower jaw and wider top clamp with spacers for the pivot block. I was limited to the longest bolt the Hardware stores sold locally at 8"

After making the Hammer handle last night I would really like to be able to shave wider planks it was just too fun starting with basically firewood and carving out a useful product.

And after talking to the maintenance guy to see if he had longer bolts, he solved my width problem. He said Hey why not use all thread and 2 nuts and washers.... ( had to face palm ) the solution was simple and logical so ofcourse I was trying to over think it. I already have the nuts and washers now I just need to pick up 1/2 inch threaded rod.

terrible tinkerer (author)2015-03-18

Sweet! Very Nice Job MoTinkerGNome. Wanting to make a shaving horse for a long time now but finding a long thick plank normally used for the seat hasn't been easy. Your construction method is brilliant making use of scraps & easy to obtain pieces. Once this snow is gone I'm going to enjoy making one.

Great idea, many Thanks for posting.

That was what was holding me back too. Then when building my work bench/cart I was like hey I bet a couple 2 by 4's would work got to banging together and It worked.

johnners911 (author)2015-03-19

It's a "Bodger"

Very nice piece of equipment and well made!

Thank you sir.

atw58 (author)2015-03-19

This is one of the most elegant tools using utility materials I've seen. Mating stick lumber with the praying mantis design results in a satisfying outcome. Impressive.

I'm thinking about tweaking your design into a jaw horse.

MoTinkerGNome (author)atw582015-03-19

Thank you so much. I would love to see what you come up with. The Jawhorse is a cool looking tool.

NathanSellers (author)2015-03-16

This turned out looking really nice. Great execution.

Thank you it was really easy to risk failure when it was built with leftover materials. I would have been more apprehensive had I been buying wood and stuff. I figured that if I could make a bench that was strong enough for me to stand on then I could work out the clamping part.

shantinath1000 (author)2015-03-16

Excellent work- both on the 'ible and the bench.

Thank you. :)

cshamrock (author)2015-03-16

nice Job! well done

MoTinkerGNome (author)cshamrock2015-03-16

Thank you, I appreciate the comments.

BeachsideHank (author)2015-03-16

So, you created a new horse design; the Gerlish?

Really though, great work, an amazing range of output can be had with this simple platform.

Thanks Hank. How about an American style shave bench. After all America is the great melting pot.

About This Instructable




Bio: Howdy, I am a bit of a tinker gnome. I like playing with hardware/technology along with making stuff I want out of old stuff ... More »
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