The shaving horse remained prevalent throughout the Western world, especially in rural contexts, well into the 20th century. This is not to say it was never used in industrial production, however. It is, for example, depicted amongst coopers’ tools in Diderot and d’Alembert’s mid-late 18th-century scientific publication, Encyclopédie, which was “the cornerstone of the Enlightenment, representing the most important collection of scientific and technological knowledge at the time.”
Even though the shaving horse had a place in early industrialism, it could rightly be considered a folk tool because it did not originate from the academic or economic elite. It’s always been the workholding technology of the commoner. Peter Follansbee has put it, “Shaving horses are a folk tool, like a folk song, and you will see hundreds of variations on them – all kinds of different ways to make them from the ridiculous to the sublime. And some are strictly functional, some are fantastical, some are over engineered.” And it is this lack of standardization that is exactly what many find so appealing about the tool.
–Joshua A. Klein, excerpt from “Iterative Design in Vernacular Workholding, or, A Dumbhead’s Guide to Holding Stuff,” in Issue Nine