Issue 9 T.O.C. – "Iterative Design in Vernacular Workholding; or A Dumbhead’s Guide to Holding Stuff” – Joshua Klein

This is part of a blog series revealing the table of contents of upcoming Issue Nine. As is our custom, we’ll be discussing one article per weekday in order to give you a taste of what is come. 

Please note that the subscription window which includes Issue Nine is open now through August 28th.



“Iterative Design in Vernacular Workholding; or A Dumbhead’s Guide to Holding Stuff” – Joshua Klein

There is no more evocative symbol of vernacular woodworking than the humble shaving horse. Commonly found in barns or front porches in much of the Western world until quite recently, this foot-powered workholding vise allows for efficient use of the whole body in shaping, rounding, and peeling stock with a drawknife or spokeshave. 

Author Joshua Klein takes a no-nonsense look at this vital tool. After delving into the history of the form and its more recent revival in green woodworking and chairmaking circles (including some designs that are “ridiculous” and “over-engineered,” in the words of Peter Follansbee), Klein sets out to build his own. 

“Because the shaving horse is a folk tool,” Klein writes, “there are no perfect designs or measurements.” The use of available, at-hand materials was and is a defining characteristic of vernacular woodworking, and historic examples of the shaving horse show this clearly: no two are alike. From sourcing a bent section of a standing tree for the “dumbhead,” to establishing dimensions based on experimentation and the stock available, the design of this horse emerged naturally as the project took shape. This kind of adaptation was a common trait of folk craftsmen and -women of the past, and Klein notes, “We too will find empowerment in taking our tools into our own hands.”


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