You say “Moxon vise” I say “double-screw”

By now, you have seen Chris Schwarz’ effect on the so-called Moxon vise. Chris has turned the entire hemisphere, and more, onto this bench fixture. Jameel Abraham even makes them complete with bells & whistles. What, no racing stripes, Jameel?

Chris uses his mainly for dovetailing – but in Moxon’s era English joiners didn’t cut dovetailed carcasses. So how were they used? Jennie Alexander & I have been tinkering with this fixture for some time, we were curious to see just what they were for. What Moxon says leaves a lot to be desired.


“Sometimes a double Screw is fixed to the side of the Bench, as at g; or sometimes its farther Cheek is laid an edge upon the flat of the Bench, and fastened with an Hold-fast, or, sometimes, two on the Bench.”


Randle Holme adds one key phrase,  “to have their edges wrought” (i.e. worked):

“The Double Screw, is sometimes fixed to the side of the Bench, and sometimes the farther Cheek is laid an edge upon the flat of the Bench, and fastned there with an Hold-Fast, and sometimes two are fastned to the Bench to hold fast some sorts of Stuff, that are to have their edges wrought.”

He then goes on to describe this fixture a bit more:


Randle Holme 1688


“the double Screws, mentioned before in the Joyners Bench, numb.139. they are made of Spar, the Screws are fitted with holes or Screw Boxes in the Spars fit to receive them, which being turned, the two pieces are drawn together so hard, that they hold firmly any thing set between them.”


So then we wondered, what is a “spar”? Is it a specific size of timber? Holme runs down a whole list of joiners’ timber:

Joiner’s timber

Terms of Art used by Joiners in their way of Working and explained.

First for the Names of their Timber.

Raile, it is a piece of Timber, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 foot or more long, and carrieth four inches broad, and an inch or more thick. A Raile is an half Spare.

Spare, is two inches thick, and four inches broad; in some places it is termed a single Quarter.

Joyce, it is four inches square. In some Counties called a double Quarter.

Bed posts, such as Beds either for Standards, Bed sides, or Beds feet are made of.

Stool feet.

Chair backs.

Munton, the short down right pieces in Wainscot.

Stile, the over cross pieces in Wainscot, in the riget of which two, the Panell or middle pieces are fastned.

Boards of several sorts, as

Plank, of any length, but never under 2, 3, or 4 inches thick.

Inch Boards.

Half Inch Boards.

Vallens, narrow Boards, about 5 or 6 inches broad, and half inch thick, and of all lengths.

Pannell, little cleft Boards, about 2 foot high, and 16 or 20 inches broad, of these Wainscot is made.

Shingles, cleft Wood about 6 or 8 inches long, and 4, or 5 broad; with these in Wood Countreys they cover their Houses.


Alexander made a nice double screw that I now use a lot; its “spars” are 1 ½” x 3 ¼” x 21” long. I have one I made with even smaller spars…its use is somewhat limited.  Here, I have a long rail for a joined chest, ready for chopping mortises.

chest rail ready for mortising

I fix the rail to the bench with a holdfast; but secure one end in the double screw to keep it from tilting this way or that under the pressure of the holdfast. The forward end of the rail is jammed against the bench hook.

After I mortised the rail, then I plowed the groove in it for the panels. Again, the double screw is a key element in this operation. I fasten the back end of the rail in the double screw; and jam the forward end against the hook, so I can run the plow plane along the rail to cut the groove. In this case, the holdfast secures the double screw, not the rail, to the bench. But if I keep the rear end of the rail on the bench, and in the screw – the spars of the fixture interfere with the fence on the plane.


double screw holding rail stock


So I bump the rail up onto the screw itself.

rail stock propped up in double screw


And there is one detail that Alexander incorporated into this version of the double screw that is really subtle, but useful – JA bored the holes for the screws off-center in the height of the spar. So the one-inch screw has 1 3/8” above it one way, and 5/8” the other. If I needed more clearance than what’s here, I’d flip the fixture over, and re-fit the rail in it.

plowing groove in chest rail


9 thoughts on “You say “Moxon vise” I say “double-screw”

  1. Peter
    I prefer wooden screws. I like to keep as much tool destroying metal off the bench as possible. I have a nifty threader made of cast aluminum sold years ago by Woodcraft. If currently available wooden threaders are diffucult I suggest some one design and sell. I have never had a problem with mine. Jennie

  2. If I remember correctly, Schwarz always refers to this as a twin screw vise, and sometimes also a double screw vise.

    It is only from his readers I have noticed that, generally, this is now called a “Moxon vise”.

    I am also with Alexander. Steel or anything iron will destroy tool edges, etc. Call me traditional, even if I do use power tools to do all the heavy lifting :)

  3. In the short term I’m using the wooden jawed clamps I have for the same purpose, although I want to get a couple of the double screw clamps in play for the purpose of removing the metal bits.

    They also look so much nicer than the cheap wood jaw clamps I got.

    Great post, thanks for putting this stuff out there for people. the more we know about the way it was done, the better we can all educate ourselves in how to do it today.

  4. I agree that the ubiquitous “Moxon” terminology is misplaced. The majority that are using this on top of their bench for joinery are really using what is traditionally thought of as a book press design. This was shown in Landis’ Workbench book back way back when but did not gain much steam until Schwarz popularized it.

    However, your use of the twin screw is really no different that the common use of a hand screw.

  5. I was recently perusing the Forest Products Laboratory tech notes researching woods used in adirondack guide boats when I noticed under other common names for red spruce a listing for Canadese spar and then Canadese rode spar. I remembered that you had written something about an unidentified spar, so I looked at all the other spuce species tech notes. All of them have a spar name. Black spruce is Amerikaanse zwarte spar, Engelmann spruce is Engelmann spar. Sitka spruce is menzies spar or Sitka spar. White spruce is Alberta spar or Witte spar. Googling zwarte, rode, and witte leads me to believe that spar is the Dutch term for spruce.

    I think Randle Holme was specifying timber species rather than size. Why was he using a low countries term? Perhaps European spruce timber was imported through there? Or perhaps the term was current in English in his experience. Spruce is a good timber for boat spars (masts, booms, yards, sprits, gaffs, etc.) and the use may have lent its name to the raw material or vice versa. It would be interesting to check the etymology.

    Using spruce would have the advantage of minimizing the weight of a large twin screw.

    I hope you find this useful. And I look forward to reading more on your twin screw experiments.

  6. That cradle idea is very useful. I made something very similar to support the 3 legs for a cricket table, which have kite shaped cross sections (60/90/120/90 instead of 90/90/90/90 all square) while morticing. It meant the legs were firmly supported without the arrises (especially the 60 deg one) getting damaged in the vice, so I could chop as normal without worrying!

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