Shave Horse Make

Making A Shave Horse or Pole Lathe at The CherryWood Project with Tim Gatfield

For a picture gallery to go with this story CLICK HERE

Having caught the greenwood working bug with an introductory course in early spring I was determined to make my own shave horse to use at home. Tim runs a course once or twice a year during which participants can make either a shave horse or a pole lathe over a 2 ½ day course starting on a Friday lunchtime.

With great anticipation and my new, hand-made, draw knife (made on a course with Ben Orford) I joined the other participants for a briefing at 12.30 on a sunny Friday in July .

The food at Cherry wood is exemplary

with Alison, the cook, providing stunning food at all times, utilising the earth oven and waist high wood burning hob. Lunch comprised of roast pepper and onion quiche (with eggs from their own chickens), Jackets potatoes with home grown salad leaves topped with Nasturtium flowers. Followed by a baked tart of hand picked wild Strawberries and Raspberries from the  forest garden, with real custard.

An abundance of home made cakes, biscuits, scones, griddle cakes and fruit loaves are available for morning and afternoon breaks and any other time you feel the munchies coming on, while the evening meal is made by the participants as a joint effort for evening fun around the fire. Breakfast is  self service with some competition to acquire the fresh eggs, which are truly delightful. The larder has all the basics to prepare many meals but no meat is provided so take your own if you need. I took a rib of beef on this occasion which cooked up a treat in the earth oven.

The camp site is level and flat and at a very reasonable rate. Also available is a log cabin or Yurt if you want a little more luxury. Alternatively there are local B&Bs or 3 miles away are the bright lights of Bath if you or your partner want a hotel for a night or 2 with lots to do and see.

The sanitation arrangements are superb with clean, smell free, compost toilets with views to die for (one is in a tree with a rope walkway). The shower is a triumph of woodland living as it is fed by spring water and heated by an ingenious log burner, feeding a lagged holding tank by gravity. As one guest quipped “its more like a Spa than camping”.

Making The Shave Horse

Following on from Mike Abbotts design for a modern shave horse in issue 1 we should now call the design we are making a traditional English shave horse. Tims preferred design is three legged with a fixed wedge and is a substantial beast.

As traditional as this horse was going to be, lack of space at home meant I had a need to extend its use to a general purpose bench and carving base. To this end I needed to incorporate a couple of modern twists in the guise of a removable wedge (to be replaced with a clamp) and a vice type arrangement to hang on the back end.

The body is made from a huge slab of Poplar some 4” deep and some 4ft x 2ft in scope which we collect from a storage area deep in the woods in a sheltered and dark spot having been felled and Milled on site earlier in the year. Poplar is chosen as it is inexpensive and that when dry it is light and manoeuvrable around the woods as necessary. The wedge is also cut from a block of poplar.

A stickler for tradition, Tim assured me that my desire for 4 legs would not be of benefit and that the three legs were ideal for uneven ground. In practice he has been proved quite correct. The legs and other components are being made out of Ash that was felled just 2 days before ensuring that working it was as easy as possible.

The Clamping Frame

Is made of two side arms which are cleaved and drawn from a single bent pole of ash. The curvature accentuated towards the feet to gain the maximum clamping pressure with the least effort. These will be clamped together and drilled through as one to ensure that they align correctly.

The other 3 elements which all need to be drawn and then turned at the pole lathe are;-

The Clamping Block – a hexagonal section with a turned 7/8th pin at either end, enabling it to rotate freely in the side arms.

The Pin – which holds the clamping frame suspended at an appropriate height in the wedge.

The Foot Rest – turned with a belly in the middle to hold the frame secure and square and then pegged tight.  (pic of all three)

Due to my lack of experience on the pole lathe the drawing, turning and assembly of the completed frame to me a good half a day working on into the evening.

The Legs and Body

The legs were standard tapered shaped cleaved sections of ash with as much splay as possible for stability, with a long 1&1/2” tennon to go through the bed. These were left pretty rough and long as they needed to dry out for a while and I was not yet sure of a working height I would enjoy. A few weeks later the tennons have shrunk hard to the shoulders and I have trimmed the bottoms to be flat and level.

The seat area is twice as wide as the head so with stop cuts in place cleaving took most of the slab away. The sides were then side axed to the finished width and tidied up with the draw knife.

The geometry of the leg holes are carefully worked out to give sufficient play for stability and drilled out with a 1&1/2” auger

Wedge and Seat Carving

Day three saw me making the wedge which took an extra hour or 2 due to me wanting to make it removable. We accomplished this after some thinking and by turning 2 location rods which were glued into the bottom of the wedge, located through the bed and held in place with wedges.

The seat carving could take as long or as little as you want and of course does not have to be done straight away. Following a design of Tim’s (his first ever) which I found very comfortable I spent several hours ensuring I had a stylish and comfortable saddle but finishing only a dusk was falling.

Pole Lathe

At the same time a number of participants completed pole lathes and shave horses with equal satisfaction and packed their cars to take their prizes home.

It may be controversial but whereas the shave horse is a true woodland craft with very low tolerances and plenty of freedom of shape and materials, the pole lathe is more of a wood engineering exercise. needing more precision and repetition of cuts to achieve an accurate, stable lathe.

As a consequence Tim is considering bringing this course into his indoor workshop and using precision power tools to make the lathe itself in a day and a half leaving a day for real testing and tuition on your own lathe. But more of that in a future report, as I make a pole Lathe.

Post Script -The modern twists

With the wedge removed a  series of ¾” holes drilled in the bed a Veritas Holdfast transforms the shave horse into a superb seated bench suitable for many tasks including the bowl carving pictured which I demonstrated at a friends 40th birthday party.

Attaching a full vice to the back end would have made it very heavy and difficult to pack up and move. The solution was in the end obvious. with the addition of a 2 x 2 block of Ash with ¾”holes screwed to the underside of the rear end with the holes missing the legs. With a ¾” peg at one end and the holdfast at the other any length of timber can be held vice-like and worked on. (pic)


It was a real pleasure to have achieved this under the guidance of a gentleman and very professional coach. Tim is an inspiration, highly skilled craftsman, free with his knowledge and a great teacher. I can thoroughly recommend his courses and hospitality. A great weekend, in a great location, with great facilities and very good company.