I have often found myself admiring the different clamping devices I see for spoons, bowls, and anything that can be shaped with a draw knife. Dawson of Michigan Sloyd sells plans for a Spoon Mule. Tim Manney sells plans for a Shave Horse. Dave Fisher has published drawings of his Bowl Horse. Sean Hellman published a great book that shows just about every type of woodland vice you can imagine. With all of this input deciding what to do can be a project in itself. I recently read somewhere that one thing accomplished people have in common is that they start things. Seems a bit silly, but that seemed to bang around the cavern above my shoulders every time I admired a post on Instagram with one of these holding devices.
I ended up purchasing plans from Dawson and Tim, as well as Sean’s book. I studied David’s design as well and realized that each design has a base with 3 legs and 2 rails.
As I couldn’t decide what I wanted to do, I made the decision to pursue all three designs, but using a single base. Some might ask why make all three. A Spoon Mule pinches wood by clamping materials using arms that are pushed out perpendicular to the base. A Shave Horse clamps materials down on a platform with the force being applied by pushing a lever forward in line with the base. A bowl horse squeezes material horizontally with the same lever action as the Shave Horse. As I like to make spoons and bowls, those two were easy to pursue. I decided on building the Shave Horse to make tool handles for now, and maybe some staked furniture in the future.
Before I go too far in this post I should note that while the ideas to do this project were mine, this wouldn’t have gotten done without my son. My 18 year old son was a major contributor to this effort. I never would have completed this in the time I had during my Christmas break. It also would not have been nearly as enjoyable a project. He’s quite a capable young man and I was was thrilled to have his company and skills on this project.
I decided to start with the Spoon Mule as spoons are what really hooked me on green wood carving. Dawson’s plans are excellent. The cut list and companion document make the base a breeze to build. His companion document on building the Spoon Mule is a very detailed document that even someone like me can follow. All the complexities are spoon fed to the weekend wood worker. Sorry, couldn’t resist. Anytime you get confused, stop. Take a break and re-read the document and plans. The information you need is there. This is another time having a partner on the build is a huge advantage. I added some length to the base in order to accommodate the additional room needed for the Bowl Horse, other than that I followed the plans. Building the Spoon Mule head was straight forward, even with some mistakes on my part.
Below are a few things I learned that might help out others that don’t regularly take on these types of projects.
- Take your time, read all the plans, cut lists, companion documents, or find information on the web before you start.
- One step at a time, build the base, revel in the fact that it is standing and solid. Just a bit of confidence goes a long way.
- If you think you have enough clamps, try clamping things together before you introduce glue.
- Mark out everything on the wood. I’ve got notes (“don’t cut here”, “top”,” bottom”), and angles, and arrows that indicate the front of the sled. You’ll remove material from pieces you glued up, you want to check twice before you start cutting.
- Before you drill a hole, check to make sure you are vertical from front to back and side to side. Did I mention take your time?
- When creating a through mortise, if you don’t have a drill bit large enough to remove the vast majority of the hole, create a pilot hole and use a coping saw. Drilling a number of holes and then trying to remove lots of waste with a chisel led to tear out in my case.
Regarding tools, I think this can be done using a circular saw, hand saw, plane, drill, a few wrenches, and chisels. That being said, a chop saw and table saw can speed things up, and cover you in annoying sawdust. I would suggest a longer drill bit. It makes a few of the bolt holes much easier to align.
Making spoons on the mule is much different than just using an axe and knife. Most of the time I save is hogging away material that those with better axe skills most likely remove with an axe. Using a drawknife and push knife is new to me, but it’s always fun learning to use a tool with a sharp edge. I’ve got three fairly simple designs for a cooking spoon, serving spoon, and spatula that I think I can produce quickly and with some good consistency. If that works out, maybe I’ll actually start selling some spoons.
I’ll do my best to write up Part 2 & 3, the Bowl Horse and the Shave Horse as soon as possible. That being said, after a few weeks of night time temperatures in the teens or lower, it is supposed to be a bit warmer, so don’t hold your breath.
If you enjoyed this little view into my greenwood journey, feel free to like, comment, and or follow. I know some people look at these posts; I would enjoy getting some feedback.