Sandpaper and Shaved Legs


When I make early chairs, I prefer a surface finish for the legs and spindles that is faceted and created by shaving instead of turning.

I also use sandpaper to help me see what I’m doing (he wrote, pausing and waiting to be slapped by an unseen hand). So here’s what’s going on in the photo above.

I don’t own a shavehorse because I don’t have enough room in my shop. My shaving pony ran away many years ago, or is hiding in our basement. So I make spindles and legs in my leg vise. It is slower than using a shavehorse, but you get pretty good at it. Don’t let the lack of a shavehorse stop you from making chairs.

On the leg above, I have turned the tapered tenon on my lathe and have added a small V-shaped notch where the tenon diameter will more than fill its mortise. The notch is a reminder to stop shaving at that point.

I taper the leg with a spokeshave. Then I finish with a gunstock scraper, which is the tool I’m using in the photo. Once I get the surface looking semi-acceptable, I remove the leg from the vise and quickly hand-sand the shaved section with #150-grit (the grit isn’t really important). This creates a powdery, dull finish on the leg.

Then I put the leg back in the vise and shave the leg to its final surface with the gunstock scraper. The sanded sections of the legs peel away and I can see exactly what needs to be shaved and can make the facets nice and semi-regular.

In reading what I just wrote above, I sound like a fussbudget. But I do this operation to save time and prevent me from over-shaving sections of the leg or spindle.

— Christopher Schwarz


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28 Responses to Sandpaper and Shaved Legs

  1. clmb512 says:

    Chris, are you leaving a ring of material on the tip of the tenon to protect it during this part of the process? Am I seeing that right?


    • That ring is left over from the lathe. I don’t like to get my tools too close to the drive center or the tailstock. It will be knocked off with a hammer when I do the final shaping of the tenon.

  2. jonathanszczepanski says:

    I haven’t heard of a gunstock scraper before. What differentiates it from a spokeshave?

  3. Wesley Beal says:

    Surely on a plate in an old and near forgotten book somewhere there’s an image of some strange device on top of a bench that is holding spindles so a mechanic can shave them. All along people thought it was a weirdly oriented holdfast and blamed it on the artist, but upon further examination we’ve realized this was a mistake made when the artist copied the image from another book.

  4. Sean Hughto says:

    Chapter 1
    Necessity is the mother of Invention

    Plato said this a long long time ago, and boy was he right. When forced to meet a need, a maker will use what is to hand and solve problems for herself that will automatically help her create something original and delightful because these very acts of overcoming will imbue the work with the character of the maker. The piece of furniture becomes a vehicle for expression – sometimes naïve or folk, and sometimes very sophisticated and everything in between. In short, the charms of the furniture of necessity owe a lot to the invention at every step of the creative process.

    A make-do process approach like working a chair leg without a shave horse …

    Chapter 2
    Necessity is Sincere

    As jazz legend John Coltrane once remarks, “you can play a shoestring, if you are sincere.” Sincerity is the enemy of the kitsch ….

    Chapters 3 & 4
    Necessity is honest

    Necessity refuses to suffer indecision – ya gotta try something.

  5. Brian Clites says:

    Thanks Chris! Any advice for those of us who also want to make the tenon by hand? I’ve been trying to replace the handles on some flea-market hammers and socket chisels, but I can’t seem to get a good round fit on the tenon-like parts. (sorry, I don’t know what they’re called on tool handles). I don’t own a lathe of any sort, and have neither the budget nor the interest to invest in one. Thanks again!

    • Before I owned a lathe I made chair tenons with a drawknife, spokeshave and then finished with a tapered tenon cutter.

      Tool handles are similar but different. I start with a drawknife then switch to rasps to fine-tune the fit to the eye of the head. You probably should throw away your first three attempts….

  6. Marilyn says:

    You’re using the the flat gunstock scraper not the ones with the concave sections correct? This summer, I’m off to take a Peter Galbert class so I can start getting chairs under my belt. So glad to hear I don’t HAVE to have a shavehorse. No room here either. My future lathe will take my last small space.

  7. Daniel Roy says:

    People don’t like to admit they’re ignorant but, I sure am, and don’t mind saying.
    You say you prefer this method over turning for early chairs. Now lathes go way back.
    Were very old spindles more likely to be made this way than on a lathe?
    Or, is it nothing more than you like the appearance?


  8. Jennie here
    Sandpapering before shaving or scraping? Bad for cutting and scraping tool edges.
    No need for sandpaper. Dry shavings have enough silica to do the job.
    The price is right. No horse or pony? Shave horizontally between two fids.
    One fixed in an end vise. No end vise? then, fix one fid in a hole in a bench and use a pointed acme threaded bolt thru the other. hole. The set up will take no room. No bench? Fix a dead center on the wall. The live center is in a wooden bib you hang around your neck. This center is live because you are live. With any of these systems you are in total visual contact and total tool control. I bet wall fid and bib fid will take the least room of all. At the end of the day, stick a cork on the wall fid.

  9. Bob Jones says:

    John Brown used a machinst vise on top of the workbench. Lets see you try that 🙂

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