mjm timber works

Serving Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire and the Surrounding Area
Formerly Southdowns Green Wood Centre
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Shakes & Shingles

Emergency Shavehorse

So I lent out my trusty old shave horse...And agreed to do some demonstrations. Whoops... Time to make a new one quick smart.

Shave horses are essential to a green wood worker. They are a sort of quick clamping vice. They allow the user to quickly apply a gripping force of their own body weight as fast as you can stamp your foot. No need for winding handles. When combined with a draw knife they can be used to make timber framing pegs, make tent pegs, dress shakes or staves or lathes or shave any peice of wood, such as preparing timber for turning on a pole lathe. The quick release allows flat things to be flipped or pegs turned and reclamped in about a second. With both feet on the foot rest pushing and your arms pulling almost all your body weight is being applied to clamping and cutting. One day I'll do some tests to check the clamping force achieved, it'll but a 1/16 th dent in oak if you try, that is for certain.

If you want to know how to make a nice neat shave horse to go with your nice shiny new drawknife. This probably isn't the place for you.
However. If you want a quick and dirty shave horse then perhaps your in the right place.
My Horses tend to get left lying around in the open or in the back of a truck because they get used a lot for getting stuff done.
(The first horse I made was designed from scratch planed and oiled, someone offered to buy it off me and I didn't say no, since then my practical gadgets are all a little rough and ready but does that matter when they are earning you a living?). This one probably took about 3 hours start to finish, which I did over a couple of days between rainstorms and tea breaks.
Anyway on with the show.

Quick and Dirty Shave Horse

Here is the finished horse... It's based on a Danish Design rather than the English Pattern you often see. More for speed than anything else. You will need among other things..

Bored leg holes

Bore your three leg holes into the largest bit of timber you've got using the fattest bit you've got. The Bigger the hole the stronger the joint the more splayed out the legs the more stable the horse. You will need to splay them further than you think. Stand your horse up and take it to some level ground. The splay in the legs will allow them to bend a little, and the 3 legs will allow the horse to sit on unstable ground, but they may need some adjustment. You should only need to trim one of the legsto get it to sit reasonable level. What happens if it's gone wrong? If the splay is not far enough out, then the horse might topple too easily. To remove a friction fit leg I find the best way is to get an oil filter remover. If you get one of the ones which are made wrom webbing and have a square for a socket set in you can wrap it round the leg a few inches from the hole attach a breaker bar and turn the whole thing. It'll make an awful creak but should turn and twist out, if it doesn't snap off. Reposition further up the body and try again.

Bored leg holes

Here is the drill I use. You may struggle with anything less than a 800W. It's a GSB 162-2 RE. Hold on tight.

Bored leg holes

Using your axe start to shape one third of the stick to fit the leg holes. Start by shaving down the last 5 inches till its slightly bigger than the hole.

Tapering the legs

Then but a lead on the last 1/2 inch of the stick tha will definitiely fit the hole. Place that in the hole and push it in and wiggle it about a bit. You'll get some witness marks where it "fits where it touches" trim these bits and repeat. Do this for the bottom inch or so then use the final shape as a guide to trim down the rest of the last 5" so that it is just bigger than the hole. This is going to be a friction fit.

Fitted Leg

When confident that you will get a good tight forced fit, take your mallet and smack the leg into the hole.
Repeat for all three legs.

Chain Drilling the Mortice

Mark out roughly where you think the slot will need to be for the plank. A bit forward from the middle. Once you've got your legs in and levelled them up offer the plank up and guess. Mark it out longer than you think. To stop the grain splitting along the ends mark them with the chisel. Using the 35mm bit chain drill through the timber. This ended up being way too short and was probably three times as long when I finished.

Trial Fit the Lever

Slot the lever into the hole and make sure it can be moved backwards and forwards easily. It's nice if your horse opens its gob when you take release the pressure to allow you to turn your work piece without forcing it open. Beeswax can sometimes help, oil will probably cause the wood to swell and clamp up having the opposite effect.
With the lever in place you have to use a bit of guess work to see where a comfortable position is for your arms and where the clamping peice will end up. Roughly mark out on the lever where you think the head should end up. You can use a set square to something to help eye it in, the clamp ended up perturuding forward from the lever about 4 inches. You'll also need about 4 inches above the clamp so that there is enough strength in the top of the lever so that the pressure does not cause the peg to push through along the grain. See below.


The long traingular pieces again cut from corner to corner from the extra length from the lever, using a circular saw. These ended up being about 32" long from memory. Again position these using your eye and make sure there is enough room above the slot we cut earlier for a 1" peg hole for the pivot and approximately 1 inch above and below.

Pivot Pieces Attached

I clamped the two triangles to the level making sure everything was in line and bored through the whole lot with a 1" auger.
I put in extra holes above and below and again on the triangles to give an amount of adjustment for big and small peices. These were screwed onto the main body lining the pivot hole above the slot. A plate is positioned at the end where the clamp piece will bear down on the pivot peices and screwed down holding the whole lot together. If it's a bit mobile, add more screws. Although I'm using screws and not some sort of wooden wedge arrangement to hold this together I still counterbore to keep it looking reasonably neat, also this keeps the screw heads well away from that lovely sharp drawknife. Since my timber is Oak I am using stainless steel screws. Stainless is highly rsistant to corrosion but it is difficult to work with, since when subjected to pressue or impact it work hardens and becomes brittle. Pre drilling is a must, and I use a larger pilot hole than I normally would since they will break if they bind up before they fully seat.

Mark out the top

We can now mark out the tenon on the top of the lever. It will be a through tenon, parsing through a slot or mortise that we cut through the clamp. We need to make sure that we leave enough wood past where the peg will be that will hold the clamp onto the lever. I'll be putting some gauging holes into the tenon to help with sizing when the horse is in use, so we'll leave much more than enough. So 5" should be enough. This needs to be added on to the length of the tenon, so it ended up being about 7" in length above where we want the bottom of the clamp to go. Since we will be using a peg to hold the clamp we need something for it to bear against. In the photo we have cut back some "shoulders" onto the tenon. This leaves 3" tenon width out of the 5" lever width to be cut thrugh the clamp. I have cut the tenon using a circular saw. This requires finishing with a handsaw and can be tidied up with a chisel. Next we cut the slot into the clamping piece. It should be a little bigger than the tenon to ease putting it on. But not too sloppy. Maybe an extra 1/8 of an inch in width and length. Now we fit the clamp over the tenon and draw a line where it intersects the tenon. This shows us where the peg hole will need to be. Take the assembly apart and get your 1" drill bit. Mark a cross in the centre of the tenon and 3/8 of an inch above the line we marked. This leaves a little overlap so we can be assured the peg will be clamping the clamp to the shoulders even after the wood has compressed a little. Now for the clever bit. When drilling rather than holding the drill perpendicular to the tenon lean it slightly so that the drill will point slightly towards the foot of the lever. We are aiming to have the hole offset from the top of clamp peice by about an 1/8" on one side and with the lean about 1/4" on the other. Reassemble and get a piece of dowel. With an axe slightly flat off one side of the dowel getting deeper towards one end. This turns our peg into a wedge. Trial fit and adjust the angle so that it matches the angle of the hole. Give it a tap and make sure it clamps the clamp securely.

Fit the clamp

You can now sit on the horse and try it for size and clamping. Drill extra holes to get the positioning right. We can now mark the foot. Since we need as much leverage as possible, we do not want a whopoping long tenon sticking through the foot piece. So this time we will use a thick lump of wood that can take a 1" peg right through it, allowing it to be sited close to the foot of the lever and still allowing enough wood in the though tenon. We will not need shoulders as we will be relying on the peg alone in this case. I used a 3"x4" lump nabout a foot and a half long. I cheated and used my chain morticer to cut through it for speed.

Mortice the foot

Clamp it up and test it feels right and drill a 1" hole. Slap the rest of your dowel through. Done.

Quick and Dirty Shave Horse

The extra room at the back of the horse can be used for anything, but I often use it as a small chopping block, since it saves having to lug around, when I'm doing shows. I have also cut a slot into it so it will operate as a small cleaving break for when I am making shingles. Hope you enjoyed reading. Till next time. Matt