workbench fittings, 17th-c style

"single bench screw" PF bench

Here’s my take on the bench screw(s) of Moxon & Holme. The “single bench screw” is the one fitted through the piece fixed to the front edge of the bench. For edge-planing and similar applications I found I need some way to support the other end of the stock & I opted for a “deadman” that slides on runners attached to the lower rail of my bench & the bench top’s underside. I have NO EVIDENCE for the deadman in the 17th-c reference material. So that is a case where I stole something from a later period… the deadman has a row of holes, not for holdfasts but for a peg on which to rest the nether end of the stock.

 The screw in this device can’t grab the way a vice can – it’s really just to pin the stock against the bench’s edge. If I have to really hold it tight I use a holdfast in the bench’s legs…

holdfast in bench leg
holdfast w stock vertical

For edge planing of stock that fits on the bench top – I use the “double bench screw” described by both Moxon & Holme. Instead of thinking of this as a precursor to a vice, I think of it like a clamp, in essence, it relates to the handscrew of the 19th & 20th centuries;  except in this case, both screws move in the same direction, and the action is quite slow.  But it holds.

 I have two. One made by me, one by Alexander. Mine is smaller, about a foot & a half long maybe. I use it to prop stock up on edge oin the bench top, for planing the edges of boards. Sometimes I set the back end of the stock up above the wooden screw, and tilt the forward end of the stock downwards against the bench hook. Other times, the double bench screw is just grabbing the end of the workpiece with the two inches or so beyond the screw. I use it a lot this way, for planing, to steady pieces under the holdfast for mortising. I also use the double bench screw to hold tenoned stock upright on the bench top for splitting the waste off tenons, after sawing the shoulders.

"double bench screw" on PF bench
Here is a slide of one of Jennie Alexander’s benches; its front edge is quite deep/high. This allows Alexander to bore a row of small-diameter holes for steel pins to catch the nether end of stock held in the single bench screw for edge planing. Eliminates the need for my deadman solution…
JA's bench w/ screw, holdfast & hook


Now back to Moxon. I think that Moxon’s illustration of the double bench screw is not reliable for scale – remember that he talks about planing stock that is 7 feet long – so if his bench is say 8 feet long, then the double  bench screw there is what, about 4 feet long? Seems awkward. But who knows? 

Moxon's joiner's bench


My take on the notion of attaching the double bench screw to the front edge of the bench top is that it’s hokum. I see no reason to try to do so, I can’t understand what operation would leave a joiner needing a device like that. Remember, joiners did not regularly dovetail stuff, rarely if at all. When I need to really hold stock upright, I blam it agsinst the bench legs/front edge of the bench with a holdfast in the leg.

 So that’s my view. I have used a bench like this for almost 10 years now. Almost never use a vise for anything; and certainly not for joined furniture. You just don’t need it. I started out using a modern Ulmia bench with two vises; and making the shift away from that was intimidating at first. But once I threw the switch in my head that told me it would be difficult, things went smoothly. The toughest stuff to hold is small-dimensioned thin stock. but there are ways…

Another fitting that Alexander & I both use, but have no period evidence for is the wooden bench hook – (not to be confused with the toothed planing stop that in the 17th century is called a bench hook) – this one’s the small board with cleats fastened at opposite ends of oppsite faces. It hangs against the edge of the bench for sawing tenon shoulders; and for paring tenons’ cheeks. Oh, yea, I shave pegs on mine too. I finally retired this one, & made a new edition. JA & I would love to hear the history of this bench accessory. 25 cents to anyone who can provide it with documentation.

wooden bench hook

15 thoughts on “workbench fittings, 17th-c style

  1. Peter,
    It is not very early but Nicholson shows one in his 1832 Mechanic’s Companion, Plate 12 figure 11, Which he calls a side hook and says, “Every joiner should be provided with two side hooks of equal size”. Probably not worth a quarter but a good place to start.

    • Might absence of the wooden bench hook from earlier northern-European sources have to do with a reliance on frame-saws? In my experience, the problem of clearance above the bench top seems to shift sawing with these tools to the ends of the bench.

      I’m guessing the oblong object at the right of the bench Weirix engraves is a holdfast placed as a fixture for crosscutting.

      So, I wonder whether the relatively nimbler wooden bench hook appeared in addition to the holdfast as smaller, nimbler, handled saws made sawing within the length of the benchtop more convenient.

  2. Hi Peter, thanks for all that info! I’m in the final prep stages of what I thought was a Roubo but might be more like a Moxon bench.

    I was thinking I might tap holes in the front of the bench and use this double bench screw vise as a kind of removable face vise, although admittedly I think the main purpose would be to support long stock in conjunction with the hook on the left. I’m not sure that’s all that worthwhile, actually (in that case, why not just use the screw? and then in that case, why a screw, why not just a peg?). But I might make it “beefy” enough to mount into the top’s dog holes with long dowels.

  3. Peter,

    Great article/posting. Love the wear marks on the bench hook. Could you please elaborate/demonstrate how those three holes/divots were created (presumably through your peg-making — but I can’t envision it).



  4. Peter

    Throwing all caution to the winds, how’s this for a guess… The engraver of the bench forgot to include the double screw clamp/vise and so added it as an afterthought to the only place it would fit, the front. Or, Joe Moxon came along, spotted the mistake in the engraving and not really caring all that much about the tools (after all, everyone knew what a tool was but not everyone knew how to frame a house) he said “just put it wherever there is room on the page and damn the torpedoes, forget about perspective. I don’t know what perspective is anyhow. After all, I make globes and I’ve never been around the world!”

    • Hello James, thanks for sending the link to the Vasa bench. I knew there was a photo around, but I had lost it, and likewise had forgotten it had a deadman. I’ll sleep better now…

  5. About Bench Fittings

    Peter: Thanks for your spot on comments about bench fittings. I have been at other tasks so I will jumble together a number of comments.
    Peter Follansbee is a nifty person and a 17th century joiner, turner, carver and researcher. Though he has passed me by and regressed centuries, we still work together and are working on a book about 17th joinery basics. By accident Follansbee and I suffer from a wonderful gift. Neither of has been a cabinetmaker or a user of power tools. Peter gave away the motor to his Delta lathe years ago and converted it to a pole lathe. In 1978 I stopped turning my chair parts and now entirely shave my stick chairs. We make stick chairs out of rived wood.
    In the mid 80’s my dear friend Charles Hummel at Winterthur Museum showed me without comment the inside of a 17th century New England joined chest. I saw that the stock was rived, not sawn. I said to myself, “I’ll never go to the lumberyard again.” Nor has Peter. Free of more advanced wood woodworking practices, we were babes in the woods and fell comfortably backwards into 17thcentury joinery. I was intrigued and started puttering and sputtering about it. Peter was completely at home with the program from the beginning. I suggest those with cabinetmaking and more advanced practices in mind consider the 17th century bench and its fitments with caution. What we know of them, they are wonderful for joinery.

    VASA BENCH DEADMAN The front surfaces of the stiles and the Vasa deadman are not in the same plane. Perhaps, after recovery, the deadman was reinstalled improperly but I can’t figure out a correct installation. Also the stile and deadman holes do not appear to be bored all the way through. Any suggestions? The good news is that we have a period example of the creature and Peter is absolved for his reckless introduction of this device into the 17th century.
    THE WOODEN BENCH HOOK Ha! I hear you calling out for period support for this simple and very useful device. I say use it anyways. I do and I even slightly modify it. Let’s say the wooden bench hook is 8 inches wide. I use centered 6-inch cleats. This prevents accidently sawing into the bench top. The wooden bench hook in time is easily replaced. The device may be used as a simple mitre box for small stock such as applied moldings. Attach the cleats with glue and wooden pegs, no metal. Phew, last but not least, make two of them for supporting long stock-the price is right. I do suggest that we uniformly refer to this fitting as the “wooden bench hook” to avoid confusion with the metal “bench hook.” You know, the one I call the “toothy critter”. I offer another 25 cents for period wooden bench hook evidence.
    Eric: You suggest that the double bench screw shown behind the workbench in Felibien’s Plate XXX G is quite long. Felibien’s text is about architecture. Chapter XVIII is about architectural joinery and its tools. Long holding devices are necessary for doors and wainscot paneling.

    jennie alexander

    • I was inspecting the Vasa bench deadman this week in Stockholm. I was also trying to fit it correctly. In my opinion the front surface of the stiles and the Vasa deadman are in the same plane. It might have been mounted wrong earlier?

      I did also find at wooden bench hook from the Vasa wreck. It was 24″ long and had also been used as a simple “mitre box” for small stock. I will post some pictures of that on my blog soon.

      Roald Renmælmo, Norway

  6. Sorry for the late post, but I have recently started to review your blog. Can I ask about the “double bench screw”. What is the diameter of the screw and how long is it? How wide between the screws? Thanks – Bill

  7. Thanks for the reply. I have built and used the Schwarz twin screw. However, I found it to be very heavy and cumbersome in use but better for dovetailing than a regular vice. I had remembered seeing this smaller version a number of times but could not find the citing again until I read your blog.

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