get Moxon

If you have read much of this blog, or listened to me or Alexander at any length, eventually you hear us come around to Moxon.  For those who are not familiar with his name, Joseph Moxon (1627-1691) was a printer in London, and in the last quarter of the seventeenth century he wrote a book called Mechanick Exercises, or the Doctrine of Handyworks. Chapters covered include joinery, turning, carpentry, as well as blacksmithing, “bricklayery” and Mechanick Dyalling (the making of a sun-dial).

Moxon's Mechanick Exercises


Moxon won’t teach you how to build a piece of joined furniture; but he illustrates and discusses the tools necessary for the work, and describes the techniques of making a mortise and tenon joint, how to plane the stock, etc. The book has been out of print again for the past few years; after going thru several reprints in the 2nd half of the 20th century.

Now Gary Roberts of Dedham, MA has brought it back again, in a facsimile edition. About a year or so ago, Gary released a CD version; I got that too, then when the book came along recently, I grabbed that as well. I already have a couple of editions (modern ones, not antiques!) and Alexander has others I don’t have. But better to have too many, than not enough. It’s not like there’s a lot of 17th c books on the subject.

If you don’t have a copy, bop over to Gary’s site & get one. cheap and clean. If you have one, maybe you need a shop copy in addition to a shelf copy.

(all that disclaimer stuff – I have never met Gary, tho we have exchanged some emails. I have no interest in this gig, and I paid for my copies…so there. If it stunk, I would have said little or nothing. It’s worth getting.)

If you have Schwarz’ version of Moxon,  you still need this one, that one is only the chapter on joinery.

18 thoughts on “get Moxon

  1. I picked up one of the digital copies when it first came out, and I’ve loved it. Especially the chapters on turning (my first love). I’m considering pickup up the physical version as well, since it’s just more satisfying to hold a real book.

    I agree, this book is a must have.

  2. Actually, if you have a moment, maybe you could help me with a question I’ve had for ages.

    The more I look back at the historical references for joinery, I am puzzled by something.

    Why do all the Squares have “scalloped” ends? They look like they are profiles of molding, or something. But that doesn’t seem to serve a practical application. You can see it in Moxon in the Joinery section, second plate that shows the Bench and Tools. I’ve seen in this in a lot of period illustrations, and I’m not sure why it would be so.

    You’ve spent more time in this arena than I, do you have any insight? I’m new to this area of research, so maybe I’m missing some key data point?


  3. Peter: Indeed, why do period squares have ends, often on both handle and tongue, that resemble the cross section of a complex molding? Moxon and Holme both illustrate and use the same terms for the parts.Felibien shows the same styling of the ends.

  4. Well, I’ve always thought that the extraneous styling is simply decoration. Much like the machine age industrial design of the mid-1900’s (ouch, I feel old now), these early tools had some pizazz added just because they could.

  5. If purposeful rather than decorative, you’ld have to ascribe the same reasoning to the horned wooden planes, rife with decorative elements that have nothing to do with function. This was an era of over-the-top decoration for houses and personal ornamentation. I think tools were deserving of some individuality too!

    • Speaking of individuality, I wonder if maybe a worker would develop his own molding profile, and maybe this was his way of retaining that?

      I’m just making stuff up, but it seems kind of plausible. Who knows.

      Molding is something I’m a bit away making yet, still learning the basics but I can see where I might want to start soon.

  6. If you people think for one minute that I am willing to become embroiled in a discussion regarding the shaped ends of a joiner’s square, you probably also think I’ll bite on the topic of the saw nib…

    you might as well try to catch a Bandersnatch.

    • Speaking of saw nibs, I’ve always wondered if they are related to Cocoa Nibs, and if so, which came first? And what about the British phrase: “his Nibs”?

      This is all too confusing for me. I’ll just go back to my library and cogitate.

    • Nah, I’m just having fun. I told Alexander just the other day not to yell at people on the blog…

      for the record I THINK the shaped ends of a square are decorative. If one has a long life ahead of them, then they can google “saw nib” and sit back & read…..

  7. FYI a PDF version of Moxon’s book is also available on Google books. The one I downloaded is a 3rd edition from 1703.

  8. On the question of squares: I assume that you make these wooden squares and thus have a way to ensure that they are square. I am curious as to the traditional method of making a square, well, square! Could you please enlighten us on the mater? Or perhaps point me in the right direction.



    • Phillip

      Plane a straight edge on a long piece of oak. Set your square’s handle against this edge, with the handle to your right. strike a line against the square’s blade, across the face of the board. Now flip the handle over to your left, bump the blade up to the struck line. If the blade & the struck line agree, the square is square. If not, then you make appropriate adjustments by planing a bit off the blade’s edge. Does that make sense, or do we need some pictures?

      • Of course that makes sense. Would you adjust the inside of the square the same way? I suppose you would need a bullnose plane to be able to adjust the inside.

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