When I first started working at joinery, I had a modern German workbench with an end vise and bench dogs to clamp the stock firmly to the bench. About 8 years ago I finally got around to making a bench more in keeping with the seventeenth-century joiners’ benches I was studying. For that bench I needed a “bench hook” – in essence, a stop for planing. In the 1680s, Joseph Moxon’s Mechanick Exercises illustrated a joiner’s bench, with its fittings. His hook is marked “b” and his paltry description is:
“b. The Hook in it, to lay Boards or other Stuff flat against, whilst they are Trying or Plaining.”
Later, to describe the use of the planes, Moxon again mentions the bench hook:
“to plane this Square, lay one of its broad Sides upon the Bench, with one of its ends shov’d pretty hard into the Teeth of the Bench-hook, that it may lie the steddier.”
Here is a close-up detail of the first photo, showing the characteristic marks the bench hook can leave on the end grain of the stock. I have sometimes seen this on seventeenth-century originals; a nice piece of evidence of shop practice.
Another seventeenth-century source that Alexander & I have consulted a lot over the years is Randle Holme’s Academy of Armory (1688). Holme’s manuscript illustrations depict most of the tools and equipment used by many trades, including joiners. Here is his joiner’s bench, showing the hook before it’s mounted in a wooden block. There is no sense of scale in Holme’s drawings; a bench hook excavated in Virginia has a shank about 8″ long. Because my bench is only 4″ thick, I chose to have the smith make my bench hooks’ shanks shorter than that.
If I am reading them correctly, the eighteenth-century engravings illustrating Andre Jacob Roubo’s L’art du Mesuisier seem to show the bench hook bearing against the outside of the bench’s leg. The plane pushes the stock against the teeth of the hook, and the wooden block the hook is mounted in bears against the bench leg, resisting the stroke of the plane. This action reduces the chance of the bench hook working itself loose. Maybe the Virginia bench hook from the early seventeenth century used the same principle. But the eighteenth century is none of my business…