Saturday, January 30, 2010

Shaving Horse, or a strategic weapon.

Quite a while back I put some photos of something that I found, out beside an old blacksmith shop at Dinsmore California. I thought that it might have some thing to do with the making of wagon wheels. It was obviously very old, and the limbs (legs) were almost rotted off of it.

There were some very good guesses as to what it was, and a few wise-guys made up some pretty fantastic stories as to what it was, and I'm ashamed to say that I believed them.(most notably Ekovox's story, who said that it was part of a Trinity gold mining operation) The last laugh is on Ekovox because it may have had something to do with mining in an indirect way.

I have to give Don Orazem credit for sleuthing out that the item is most likely a shaving horse. He was just guessing, but what you see in the photo could very easily be used as a shaving horse. I know you people are all wondering how you shave a horse. But, it is not like that at all. The piece of white oak is the backbone of a clamp that was used to hold a piece of wood while you drew wood shavings off of it, to shape and smooth the wood.

I found some other photos on the Internet so you could get a better idea of how it was used. I went on to conclude that it was a “coopers shave”. A coopers shave was used to shape the staves in a barrel. The reason that I concluded that it was a coopers horse is because it had the shape of a barrel stave carved intricately onto the back of it, and it was probably used as a gauge to make perfectly formed barrel staves.

You can gather which pieces are missing from the photos of the complete horse below. The person carving the stave with a draw knife would straddle the bench, the wood would be held by pushing the treadle below, forward. The clamp on the top would press down and hold the stave firmly in place.

In ancient history clay flasks were used to seal and transport goods from place to place. The flasks were called amphoras ( to the linguists out there, I know that more than one amphora is called amphorae) About the time of the birth of Christ wooden barrels came into use, and became popular. Wooden barrels were much more durable and stood up to rugged handling.

The barrel maker was called a “cooper”. The cooper was a highly skilled craftsman. In order to make a good barrel he had to split lumber radially out of a white oak tree. The lumber had to be stacked and cured for three years in order to dry and stabilize the wood. That was done to make a barrel that would seal and not leak. After the wood was cured he would hand carve the staves of the barrel to form them. As he put the barrel together he would build a fire inside of it to help bend the stave inward at the ends. Metal bands were placed around the barrel and driven down to tighten it. Heads were made to fit the ends. The barrel was made to be liquid tight when finished. A hole was drilled into it and a bung was driven into the hole to seal it. The hole is called a “bung hole”. I'll bet that you always wondered where that expression came from didn't you?

Barrels were used extensively in the early history of the United States. Grain, that needed to be kept dry, was sealed into barrels. Horseshoes, nails, and other goods were shipped in barrels. When the pioneers came to California, they sealed most of their goods in barrels to keep them dry and safe. Wool blankets and yarn were shipped in barrels to keep them dry and safe, and away from wool moths and rats.

The mining industry used many barrels. Their provisions were shipped to them in barrels. Gunpowder and blasting powder had to be kept completely dry. The way that they did that was by storing and shipping it in barrels. So the joke is on Ekovox, because if the old moss covered thing that is in the top photos is a Coopers Shaving horse, it was most undoubtedly used to make barrels that they would  have used in the Trinity County mines.

As I was reading about the history of barrels, and the importance that they had in early history, one story really stood out above the others. The story goes that in 1588 the Spanish Armada was preparing to invade England. Sir Francis Drake learned of the Spanish plans, he knew that England was not nearly as prepared as the Spanish Armada and would most likely be defeated. Drake sent saboteurs that burned the barrel wood that was being cured for the necessary three years. Because the barrel wood is cured in natural weather the stacks of oak were easily accessed and destroyed.

Because the Spanish lost all of their cured oak, they were forced to make their barrels out of uncured oak. Their barrels leaked and destroyed their food, their water, and their gunpowder. As you know there are many factors to a successful battle. But, I found it interesting that Sir Francis Drake would think that Barrel making would be a strategic front.

Video on making a modern wine barrel.

Shaving horse explained.

Shave horse Wikipedia


Anonymous said...

Good thing saw makers came up with stave saws so the barrel makers had it a little easier.


Ernie Branscomb said...

Yep, the saw makers solved a big problem, and the shaper machine, with the curved carriage for the edges solved another, but the barrel is still hand fitted and steamed into shape. Wine barrels are "toasted" by puting white oak shavings inside and burning, while gently rolling the barrel around for and even toast. How heavily it was burned is rated with a stamp on the outside that tells you if it has a light, medium, or heavy toast. Do that with a fancy machine, saw guy!

Anonymous said...

You are right about smoking barrels, saw filers would be out of their league on that one.
I always had appreciation for the old time barrel makers and wheelwrights along with cabinet makers.



many good old mechanics and craftmen are gone!glad i learned a little bit from some of them!

the older i get,the more i think about "IF ITS NOT BROKEN,DON"T FIX IT"

Ekovox said...

I plead the 5th.

Ben said...

Didn't they use a shaving horse to trim shakes?

Ben said...

OK Ernie... Another vaguely outre (my mother would have said vulgar, I won't go that far) word verification... Are you making these up?

Ernie Branscomb said...

No Ben, whatever comes up for word varification is from blogspot, not me. It sure stopped the spam that was getting posted on the back pages though.

I'm going to drop it for a while and see what happens. It you think the words are nasty, you aught to see what they post when i'm not looking.

Anonymous said...

Ben, I think all shakes are done by hand.

Viagra Online said...

Mining industry became popular for the use of barrels for storing purposes. Now mining is not a usual thing for example in Latin countries so the barrels are being used for other purposes.