The Shavehorse Project, Part 1
1. Combining functions, the shavehorse can be a versatile addition to your workshop stable.
Words: Phoebe Everill
Photos: Phoebe Everill, Heather Waugh
The shaving horse aka shavehorse is a sit-down workbench for holding stock while it’s worked with a drawknife or spokeshave. This device has a long history of useful making and I believe deserves a place in the modern workshop alongside the workbench.
The horse or ‘mule’ centres around a quick release foot powered clamp, that holds the workpiece firmly while you are able to shape with both hands free to hold the shaping tool.
By moving the treadle bar back and forth the user is able to engage and disengage the clamping action of the crossbar against the incline board. There are two different styles: the British or bodger’s style which has two pivot arms, and the German, which has only one arm that pivots through a slot in the bench. I am building the British style for this article.
You can use any solid seasoned board around 45mm thick and 190mm wide. A 1.7 metre length will give you the seat and the front leg. I am using F17 kiln dried Vic ash here, but I am keen to start using locally sourced cypress (Macrocarpa) to improve the ‘green’ credentials.
Traditionally, bodgers used green timber, allowing the joinery to dry before driving the wedges home. Many of the processes described in this build are machined, but please use hand tools and make your shavehorse in a more traditional way if you prefer. The cutting list and figures 1 and 2 above show the construction and dimensions. You can vary the length and thickness of the seat or other parts if you wish.
Check your timber for cracks or knots where the joinery will come through and plan accordingly, but otherwise don’t be too fussy. This is a workbench!
2. Cutting the cross for centre back leg.
Machine your wood for the two back legs. Use the bandsaw to mark a cross for centre, or use a pencil and then an awl (photo 2). The reason I like to use the bandsaw is it makes a nice slot for the drive spur on my lathe to get a good grip.
3. Bandsawing the shoulder in preparation for the lathe work.
I like the V-shaped jig shown in photo 3 where I’m cutting the shoulders on the legs in preparation for turning the spigots on the lathe.
4. Turning the spigot on one of the back legs.
This technique is really useful for giving you a good clean shoulder to turn to (photo 4).
5. Sizing the spigot.
Another simple jig helps to size the spigot (photo 5). I make these gauges to use on the lathe using my most common forstner bit sizes. It’s a safer way where the actual drill bit has made the gauge. Finish off with a coarse paper until the gauge slides along the spigot.
6. Cutting the slot for the back leg wedge.
The V-jig comes in handy again here when bandsawing the wedge slot for the back legs (photo 6). Now that the joinery is finished on the back legs, you can shape and clean them up any way you like.
Front leg joinery
7. Ripping the front leg spigot on the bandsaw.
The front of the shavehorse is supported by one leg with a wide base. For the joinery, first bandsaw relief cuts in from each side before ripping down to what will be your spigot (photo 7).
8. Shaping the front leg.
Complete the cut by bandsawing to the line back from the other end (photo 8). Keep the wedge offcuts as they can be used for the riser block or quoin. You can clean up the leg afterwards with a handplane.
Prep the front leg for the lathe by crossing for centre with a pencil and ruler. Use an awl to make a good centre locator, then hand cut the corners of the spigot off.
9. Turning the front leg spigot.
Be very careful that you have a good tight fit and ‘pulse’ start the lathe to make sure of this (photo 9). I run at a slower speed for this turning (under 900).
10. Cutting the slot for wedge.
In photo 10 I’m cutting the slot for the front leg wedge.
Back and front leg mortises
11. Drilling the angled mortise.
We need to drill mortises for the leg spigots at an angle from the top (photo 11). For the back legs I’m using a 25mm forstner bit or sharp spade bit. It’s a bit hard to do this, so I find this drilling jig does the job.
You may reach the full depth of the drill press before you go through the board. If that is the case take the jig away and finish it off freehand. There should be enough of a hole for the drill to relocate. Clamp a piece of scrap to the underside to minimise tear out.
To drill the front leg mortise, use the centre line on the seat as a guide to set the drilling jig to. Drill the 30mm hole in the same way as you did the back legs.
Riser block slot
12. Cutting a slot for the riser block.
I like to cut the slot in the bench seat for the riser block on my tablesaw. In this way the board can be clamped to the fence and the blade brought up through the timber. Find the centre of your blade and mark it onto the saw fence (photo 12).
13. T-bolts are used for smooth travel.
Adjust the width of the slot by turning the board 180° and repeating the same upward plunge cut. This will ensure the slot is in the centre of the plank and you can slide the bolt through easily. I am using 5/16" T-bolts so I make the slot 8mm wide so the bolt will travel smoothly (photo 13).
Shape the bench seat
14. Shaping the sides of the seat plank.
You can bandsaw the curves on the seat sides (photo 14), or if your blade is too wide use a jigsaw and then clean up with a spokeshave and sandpaper.
Making the treadle frame
I am using some recycled messmate (dressed 45mm square) for the treadle frame (fig.1), whatever you choose make sure it is quite dense as it needs to take the weight of your feet in the clamping position without flexing. The ‘weight ‘of this frame makes the shavehorse a pleasure to use as it ‘grips’ the workpiece easily with a minimum of force.
15. Drilling the uprights of the frame.
Drill the uprights of the frame with a 25mm forstner bit, the same as you used for the back legs, keeping the distance the same from both ends (photo 15). This will ensure your work is parallel and the frame is square.
16. Thicknesser edge jig.
Prepare your crosspieces for the lathe and I then like to use a jig in the thicknesser to dress the edges off (photo 16), or of course you could use a handplane.
Carefully measure the width of your seat as the ‘shoulders’ of crosspieces must be longer by 3mm to allow for a washer on each side to be inserted when fixing the frame to it.
Proceed with the lathe work to create the spigots in the same way as for the back legs. The foot bar has of course a much longer spigot so you can place your feet on it.
When you are happy that you have got the internal spacing right you can glue the frame up. The washers and the spacing are critical to allow the frame to pivot easily. If it is too tight you can plane a little off the seat – if it’s too loose add extra washers.
Dry fit the legs to the seat. You will need to adjust the shoulders on the legs to accommodate the angles, scribe off the base of the seat onto the legs, handsaw the corners being careful not to saw too deep, and then chisel.
Hand cut or bandsaw wedges
I like to make these long (50mm) and with fine tapers (1.5–2°). Do a test fit and if they haven’t enough ‘grip’ trim the point back until the spigot expands completely to fill in the mortise.
When you are happy with the dry fit, glue up the legs to the seat. When dry, test the bench seat for height and then decide if you want to add an additional seat (if any) as it will affect the height.
Mark and trim the angles on the leg bases by hand. To do this sit the shavehorse on a level surface, scribe the angles, cut and clean up.
17. Showing the riser block base with the T-bolt glued in.
Cut a 200mm piece of 150 x 19mm wood, mark a cross for centre, drill and countersink for your 90mm T-bolt then epoxy in place being careful not to get glue on the thread (photo 17).
18. Riser block glued up.
To make the riser block simply glue some offcuts to the base you have prepared, and add the wedges that came from the front leg shaping, this will give you a starting point for working out the best working angle height (photo 18). The angle of the riser block from the horizontal seat is around 18°.
19. Incline board with hinge attached.
Cut 560mm off a piece of 150 x 19mm hardwood, taper the sides down to the width of your hinge. Mine is 90mm, then screw the hinge on (photo 19).
Slip the frame over the front leg and use a spacer (about 6mm), on the floor to keep the foot bar clear and able to pivot. Drill and install the T-nut into the side of the seat plank, 280mm back from the front. The fit needs to be tight so test drill into a piece of your scrap wood. Add a little epoxy as you hammer it home, just to be sure!
20. Installing the treadle frame.
Measure up from the base of the upright, then drill and countersink for your threaded fixing (photo 20).
The height will vary with each shavehorse. The only critical factors are firstly that the treadle is free to pivot above the floor level; secondly, that the foot bar doesn’t hit the front leg before you have gripped the workpiece; and thirdly that the holes are at the same height so it stays parallel.
There are many variations to this project. You may choose to add a seat or you could add the ‘spoon mule’ that I’ll show how to make in the next issue. Think about making a bench in the same way and you have a great place to keep your tools when you’re working, and a useful saw bench.
21. Using the shavehorse. Portability is another of the strength of this workbench and workholding system.
I’ve cut a notch in the crossbar so that small work is held securely and lining the notch with leather will help you from marking the work (photo 21). The addition of sandpaper to the top and base of the riser block will help things from moving around. The shavehorse is a wonderful workshop addition to any workshop (photo 22). Really make it your own and enjoy using it!
Phoebe Everill is a furniture designer maker who runs her own woodworking school in Drummond, Victoria. She is a regular teacher at Sturt School for Wood in Mittagong, NSW. Contact her via www.phoebeeverill.com