Choose your wood
You can make this shaving horse out of any
strong wood, such as oak, ash, hard maple
or Douglas fir. Tom Donahey uses southern
yellow pine construction lumber because it’s
economical, strong and relatively lightweight.
He’s figured out a way to get virtually all the
parts of a shaving horse from one 10 ft.-long
2x10 (Photo 1, left, and Fig. L, below). Tom
selects clear, straight-grained stock for maximum
Southern yellow pine isn’t his top choice
for the horse’s ratcheting mechanism, however.
These pieces take a lot of stress, so
he uses hard maple for the pivot piece (K)
and sycamore for the ratchet (F). Any wood
that’s hard to split is suitable for these
pieces, though. A wood that’s hard to dent,
such as maple or white oak, is preferable for
the rotating jaw (L), which clamps down on
You’ll need a small amount of 3/4-in. Baltic
birch plywood for the work support (Q), seat
(R), treadle (S) and treadle cleat (T).
Start with the back legs
1. If you’re making the horse from a 2x10,
it into three pieces: 4 ft., 4 ft. and 2 ft. long
(Fig. L). As with any project, parts are easier
to mill and join if the wood is flat and straight.
If you use southern yellow pine construction
lumber, chances are that it’s neither flat nor
straight. Run these pieces through a planer
or drum sander before making any further
cuts. It’s OK if they end up less than 1-1/2-in.
thick, as specified in the cutting list (below),
as long as they’re all the same thickness.
2. Lay out and cut all the solid-wood pieces
to size. The back legs (C) require special
attention. It’s a good idea to make a couple
practice ones first to get the hang of it. Make
both legs from one blank (Photo 2). On your miter saw, tilt the blade to 15 degrees and
rotate the table to 15 degrees (Fig. D). Make
three cuts at this setting to obtain both legs.
3. Stand both of the legs together and orient
them so they make a matched pair (Photo 3).
In order to make the legs splay out and rake
back, you’ll saw off a wedge-shaped piece from
one side of a leg and glue it back to the opposite
side. The cutting is easy–
it’s the layout
that’s hard. Draw the wedge all around the left
leg, as shown in Fig. D, then draw the right leg
as a mirror image.
4. Saw the legs (Photo 4). It’s fast using a
bandsaw, but you could also use a handsaw. If
you orient each leg so that its angled top end
leans forward, all you have to do to make the
cut using a bandsaw is to follow the one line
on the board’s top edge. There’s no need to
tilt the bandsaw table, even though the layout
lines seem to call for it. It’s a 90-degree cut.
5. If the wedge-shaped cutoffs cup or distort,
sand them until they’re flat. Glue the pieces to
the opposite sides of the legs they came from
(Photo 5). To prevent the pieces from slipping
when you clamp, nail some short brads into
one piece and clip off their heads near the
surface. Press the pieces together by hand, to
drive in the brads, before applying clamps.
6. Temporarily screw the two rails (A)
together. If your stock is a full 1-1/2-in. thick,
plan on drilling shallow holes on both rails to
accommodate washers for the bolts that hold
on the front leg (B, Fig. B). Without these
holes, the bolts will be too short to fully thread
through the nuts (although you could use
longer bolts and skip the washer holes). Lay
out these washer holes on both rails and drill
them before drilling the smaller dia. bolt-holes
completely through the rails. If, after planing,
your stock is 1-3/8-in. thick or so, you can
omit the large dia. washer holes. Lay out and
drill all the 1/2-in. holes for bolts and 5/8-in.
holes for dowels all the way through both rails
7. Separate the rails, then clamp each back
leg to the appropriate rail and drill through
the leg, using the holes in the rail as a guide
(Photo 7). Use the same method to drill holes
through the rear spacer (M) and front leg.
Temporarily assemble the horse and test the fit
of the backup bar (H) between the rails. Glue
the backup together (H, J, Fig. F), clamp it to
one rail, and drill the dowel holes through it.
Use a drill press to make the 3/8-in. bolt hole that passes through all three pieces of the
8. Rout a 5/16-in.-wide chamfer on all the
exposed edges of the rails and legs.
9. Support the rails with boxes or blocks
and assemble the rear end of the horse.
Install the backup (Photo 8). Note that it’s
not glued, so you may remove it later for
modifications, if necessary.
10. Make the pivot (K and Fig. E). It
should be 1/8-in. thinner than the front
leg and rear spacer, so it may swing freely.
Drill its hole using the drill press. The pivot
is spring-loaded with an elastic shock or
bungee cord so that it will automatically tip
forward into the ratchets (Photo 9). Attach
a 6-in.-long cord halfway up the pivot’s front
face using a large electrician’s staple. Place
the pivot between the rails and pound in the
dowel on which it rotates. Clamp the pivot
in a horizontal position. Grip the free end
of the cord and stretch it back underneath
the pivot an extra inch or so to some point
on the underside of one rail. Mark the
point, then release the cord and remove
the dowel and pivot. Fasten the other end
of the cord to the rail, then re-install the
pivot. Make sure the pivot rotates easily; you
may have to sand the middle of its dowel to
achieve the proper fit.
Make the lever arms
11. Drill holes in the levers (D) and notch
their bottom ends to receive the treadle
support (N). Chamfer all four sides of both
levers. Note that the distance between the
levers is about 1/4-in. greater than the width
of the horse’s body, so the levers are free
to swing without binding. In addition, note
that the length of the rotating jaw is about
1/4-in. shorter than the distance between
the levers, so it, too, is free to swing. Glue
a piece of thick leather to one side of the
rotating jaw to help it grip a workpiece. The
rotating jaw may be placed in one of three
positions; install it in the upper position
for now. You may move it later, as needed,
without taking the horse apart. The treadle
(S) slides in between the treadle support
(N) and the treadle cleats (T). To fasten
the treadle in place, just use a loose-fitting
duplex head nail in a pre-drilled hole or a screw (Fig. A). This arrangement makes the
treadle easy to remove.
12. Bolt together the lever arm assembly.
There are two washers that act as spacers
between the lever arms and the backup. To
install these washers, tape them to the inside
faces of the lever arm assembly. Slide the
assembly over the horse’s front end (Photo
10). Install the bolt through the levers and
backup, then remove the tape. Bolt on the
horse’s front leg.
Build the work support
13. Glue together the ratchet bar (E)
and ratchet (F). Plane them 1/16 to 1/8-in.
thinner than the space between the horse’s
rails. Test the fit of this assembly between
the horse’s rails. It should easily slide up and
down. Lay out the ratchets (Fig. G) and cut
them on the bandsaw (Photo 11).
14. Screw and glue the ratchet cheeks (G)
to the ratchet bar. Glue and screw the lower
part of the work support to this assembly.
Saw a v-shaped notch in the upper half of
the work support, then glue and screw it
to the lower half. The notch will help hold
15. To install the work support, tilt the
lever arm assembly forward. Push down on
the pivot’s back end and slide the support
down between the horse’s rails (Photo 12).
When you release the pivot, it will spring
into one of the ratchets and secure the work
support in position.
Add the seat
16. Build the seat using plywood, foam
rubber and leather or other durable upholstery
material. Make the cleat (P) 1/16-in.
thinner than the distance between the rails,
so the seat is free to slide back and forth.
You’re ready to make shavings!
These plans are easy to modify to suit
your needs or style of work. The seat is about
20-in. high, so you may want to change the
length of the legs if you’re tall or short.
Tom Donahey uses bolts and dowels
to fasten together the major parts of the
horse, which allows the user to take it
apart for storage, transportation, modification
or maintenance. Alternatively, you
could glue the parts together for a classier
look, but that would limit your options for
1. All of the
parts for this
can be cut from
lumber. It’s a
many other hardwoods,
maple or oak.
2. Cut both back
legs from one
long blank. Adjust
your miter saw to
a 15-15 compound
angle, then place
the blank to the left
of the blade and
cut the right end.
Slide the piece
over to cut the
middle, then cut
the left end.
3. Stand the
two back legs
together as a mating
pair, then lay
out the same cut on
each leg, going in
4. Turn over the
legs and bandsaw
them. This is
a simple, straight
cut, with the table
set at 90 degrees. It
looks odd from this
angle because the
end of the leg is a
5. Glue the offcut onto the opposite side of
the leg it came from, and you’re all set.
6. The main
horse is composed
holes for the
7. Separate the
use the holes
as guides. Drill
through the rails
and into the legs
to complete the
holes. This horse
is easy to disassemble
when not in use,
as all the parts
just bolt together.
8. After attaching
the rear legs,
install the “backup”
large dowels, but
no glue. This part
prevents the work
support from tipping
you apply clamping
9. Install a
pivot piece behind
the backup. It
rotates on a
through the rails;
an elastic cord
the pivot to click
into the ratchets
on the work support
It swings on a
bolt that passes
There’s a washer
lever arm and the
back-up, so the
arms will swing
free. Tape these
washers in place
11. Saw ratchets
column that holds
the work support.
It’s made from
two pieces glued
together. Use a
hard to split, such
as sycamore or
hard maple, for the
piece that receives
install it by tipping
back the springloaded
13. When all is
add the seat.
It’s not fastened
down, but slides
horse’s rails. This
way, you can
easily adjust the
to a comfortable