Shaving Mule

I was expecting plenty of response to the post “In praise of the homegrown shavehorse” which is a good thing as I want to encourage folk to debate and think about what they’re doing. I thought the first reply warranted a longer reply than is possible in the comments section.

‘r francis’ wrote:

Your ignorance amazes me. The original mule design was by Brian Boggs and made to do the job better and to help him with a back problem. Look up what he designed and how it works.
Both designs have their place. The differences are as apparent as the differences in the finished products made with them

Actually, I was aware that Brian Boggs originally designed a sawn-wood shavehorse but just to check it hadn’t changed I followed your advice and looked it up here. Below you can see the design alongside a picture of me on my own shavehorse for comparison.

The site boasts the innovative new features of this “hybrid design” but I am at a loss to see any that aren’t present in my own horse; the “full adjustability” in the cross piece and support heights, easy assembly (I don’t need the adjustable wrenches), extended work support and compactness are all there. No, I don’t have a “padded genuine leather seat” but I then I can easily add a cushion if I feel that way inclined and I’ve seen plenty of examples of horses with wide comfortable seats carved into them. If your horse has a narrow seat then use a wider plank like the little girl on the ‘clydesdale’.  As for the idea that the foot crossbar “requires the user to fully extend a leg in order to get a good grip on a work-piece” this is simply a matter of  ensuring you have the support and cross piece set to the appropriate positions for the size of the work – the kayak stringer I’m making in the picture is only ¾” but it’s securely held and my legs are comfortably bent. To avoid back problems you need a device that is made to suit your body size which is only possible if you make it yourself.

My main point though, which you seem to have missed, is that in making my shavehorse I used a whole lot of greenwood working techniques that I wouldn’t have learned by buying or making the mule, skills which are then essential for going on to actually produce chairs and other products from parts made on the shavehorse. What those finished products look like is down to the skill of the user, not the design of the workbench.


About Steve Tomlin

I am a greenwood worker and scythe tutor. I carve spoons, bowls and other products from locally sourced greenwood. During the summer I teach scything around the UK.
This entry was posted in SteveTomlinCrafts, tools and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Shaving Mule

  1. r francis says:

    I did not miss your point, just thought it unnecessarily self-righteous. I have used several varieties of horse including your english version and Drew Langsner’s dumb-head iteration.
    Brian Boggs came up with an interesting solution and you will find that in its original version, as explained by him in Fine Woodworking #139, he does not use any metal parts. The version that you showed is not his but another derivation at Country Workshops. I agree that it is not as elegant.
    Best to be accurate with your references.

    • stevetomlin says:

      I chose this reference as it is essentially the same as Brian’s horse and, being marketed by Country Workshops, likely to be the one people make and use.
      In my opinion, it’s the process of making your own shavehorse which is valuable, you don’t get that from any sawn-horse no matter how elegant.

  2. Mike Abbott says:

    Thanks for sending me this interesting and amusing thread. I was about to order a lorry load of 4×2 to stock up for people wanting horses. What can I say? I used to be as opinionated as you, Steve, when I was younger. The thing is that I believe the novice no longer needs to use and axe, an adze, a pole-lathe or drill at all angles to make a lovely chair. I admit that obtaining high quality chair-making wood is still an obstacle but one that I am intent on overcoming. I hope that in 5 years B&Q will have it in stock!
    My mission in life is to enable as many people as possible to experience the delight of working green wood by fair means or foul. Once they are hooked, like you, then they can go on and hew their own horse from the woodland and give their ugly horse to the next budding green wooder.
    Now back to ordering my 4×2!
    All the best, Mike

  3. stevetomlin says:

    Mike, I’ve edited out the self-promotion, please try to leave it at home for once.
    Removing the opportunity for beginners to learn the skills as they go dumbs-down the process and leaves them too daunted to start chairmaking on their own. I suppose they are then meant to book on a course?
    Here or on the APT forum is a fine place for the discussion.

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