German wooden square

A. Durer, Melancolia I, detail, 1514
A. Durer, Melancolia I, detail, 1514
A reader asked about an object seen in the foreground of the Weirix title page I posted the other day…asking if it was a square. Yes, it is & here is another view of a similar square, this one is a detail of Albrecht Durer’s Melancolia I (1514). You won’t find a better period illustration than that.
Here it is again in another German illustration, on the workbench right behind the man planing. I’m sorry I don’t have a citation for this, but it seems that this was used as the model for Jost Amman’s woodcuts for Hans Sachs’ Book of Trades (1568) or vice-versa. Maybe a reader can clue me in…

Here is Jost Ammon’s version, which I found as an online version of the whole set of woodcuts

Jost Ammon Der Schreiner 1568
Jost Ammon Der Schreiner 1568
















Notice that the man sawing has switched legs to hold down the stock. There’s numerous other differences, sort of a child’s game to compare & contrast.


I imagine there are more illustrations of this type of square. Although I have never made one, I bet it functions like the miter square I discussed previously. 

A reminder that there is a search function on the right-hand column on this blog; sometimes I use it to see what I have said before…otherwise I might come up with what I think is a brilliant idea, only to find out that I already did it!


4 thoughts on “German wooden square

  1. The square is actually part of the tools shown in the guild/trade insignia for joiners. Three tools are featured in the insignia: Hobel, Winkel, Zirkel – plane, square, compass.
    The difference between Schreiner vs. Tischler is regional: Northern Germany uses Tischler, in the South it tends to be Schreiner.


  2. Peter;

    These are great! Thanks for sharing with us…

    Interesting, the squares; as another reader had mentioned, suggest their used in an upright fashion… Broad base difficult to tip over, when using gimlets or saws. the square in the fist plate, looks a bit tipsy for this, better suited for striking a line. I would think…

    There doe’s seem to be slight differences between the two lower plates. Everything seems a bit high in the second. looks like there maybe hold fasts on these benches.
    tops anyway.

    thanks again,


  3. Would I be right in thinking these squares are peculiar to northern europe? Here in the Philipines the old spanish era squares don,t seem to be of this type although the time period is later.Also I am curious if they are as accurate as a more modern style given the short main body, if they indeed need to be that accurate . And I must say the Germans all have very untidy benchs, tut tut tut.

  4. Maybe this has been covered elsewhere but I wonder if the the function of these kind of squares was more for laying out carvings or other decorative elements.

    The Durer square looks like it might have been used for marking off arcades at two depths from the top or bottom of a plank. In the other woodcuts the squares also show cutouts in the middle of the angle that could have helped space and mark decorative elements on carved or decorated panels — especially if each shop had a more or less standard size for the various elements and objects.

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