some chair terms illustrated w period examples

some pictures, spurred on by Chris Schwarz’ last 2 posts on his blog, and my earlier one from today.

A stool. common as can be, but early ones (16th/17th centuries) are less common than hen’s teeth. This one’s from the Mary Rose (1545)


Joined stool. simple, you’ve seen this sort of thing here hundreds of times.

MET stool small file

Its cousin – the joined form. same thing, just stretched out.



While we’re at it, let’s get the wainscot chair out of the way.

wainscot chair Pil Hall


a variant – the “close” chair, “settle chair” of Randle Holme, although his illustration might be a different version.

metcalfe chair


This is what Holme illustrated, I can’t imagine a more difficult way to build a chair.

dug out chair 001

Turned chairs. Ugh. these get weird. First, the “turned chair”  “great (meaning large) chair” “rush chair” – lots of names could mean this item.


This is the one Holme said made by turners or wheelwrights, “wrought with Knops, and rings ouer the feete, these and the chaires, are generally made with three feete.’ = I would say, except when the have four feet.

welsh chair overall 2 welsh chair 12


Like this one: the real kicker here is that these chairs have beveled panels for seats, captured in grooves in the seat rails. Thus, sometimes called: a “wooden chair” = chairs often being categorized by their seating materials.

DUTCH turned chair



Now we have a “wrought” chair, “turkey-work chair” – and so forth. I mentioned in a comment on Chris’ blog the other day, forget the construction here, (joiner’s work, w turned, and in this case, twist-carved bits) it’s the upholstery that makes the splash. These were top-flight items in the 17th century.



Same gig, only leather. (this photo is I think from Marhamchurch Antiques)



Randle Holme’s turner’s chopping block looks a lot like Chris’ image today from Van Ostade, of a “country stool” – I’d have a chopping block in my kitchen if I could…but we’re out of space.

turners chopping block



That was fun, I never get to use much of that research these days.

Back to spoon stuff tomorrow…there’s a mess of them available here =


Here’s what Chris was talking about

the other day, Chris Schwarz wrote about a new double-screw vise he’s been making for Jennie Alexander. In that post, Chris mentioned that JA & I used these devices in ways different from what we’re now used to seeing.

Chris made quite a splash with these things (think Moxon vise…) but it’s funny how different craftsmen come at at thing like this. Schwarz, Alexander & I all read the same passages in Moxon’s book, and Randle Holme’s about these bench fittings. 

But what we made depended on what we wanted to do. JA & I were interested in frame & panel joinery. Mortise & tenon; narrow framing parts; panels that might be a maximum of 10″ wide. So our double-bench screws were small compared to what Chris came up with for his work that featured lots of dovetailing of large carcasses. 

Just the other day I was using one JA made to plow grooves in a chest frame. Here a short, narrow muntin. This gives you an idea of the scale of my bench screw = and this is my large one! The muntin might be 15″ long. I have it clamped in the double screw, which is held down by the holdfast. Then the muntin is jammed up against the bench hook. 


double screw w plow plane


Here is another version, even smaller. This is the one I made when Alexander made that above. Here I’m splitting tenon cheeks on a joint stool apron. (this exact photo might be in the joint stool book – I know the tool/device is…( )

I think of these like their descendants, the hand-screw. They come in many sizes, for many functions. 


tenon splitting


One more. This setup is for mortising the chest rail. It’s probably four feet long. Hold fast secures the rail in place, but its 1″ thickness can wobble a little. So I stabilize it by clamping the double screw to its nether end. 

double screw in use


JA has now adapted this joiner’s device for ladderback chairmaking. So we’ll see that surface some day..but while it was on my mind, I wanted to give you some ideas of how we used them in joiner’s work. 

(as usual lately, when I sit down to write a post, I see I’ve written it before – here’s tonight’s post only from 3 years ago!

shaving horses again

If  you read Chris Schwarz’ recent post about a possible 17th-century image of a shaving horse

Here’s how it came about. When talking with the EAIA crowd last week at Plimoth, part of what I discussed was our research over the years. Way back when, Plimoth had many shaving horses in the 1627 village. I first visited there in 1989 or so, and it looked like they all rode in on them.

germanic horse
…stuck a feather in his cap…

germanic horse tiny legs

anglo horse

By the time I got to working there (1994) they were gone. All gone. They had done some re-evaluation of the research behind that, and came up empty with 17th-century references. The best-known early images are the 15th-century German ones from the Mendel Hausbuch, etc.  (these portraits are now online, Chris Schwarz recently posted the link to them, here it is again:


There is a well-known 16th century one, also German, from a book on mining, De Re Metallica. (the only time you will see the word “Metallica” on my blog) – I think 1566 is the date, or thereabouts.

de-re-metallica shaving horse 1556

18th-century versions are well represented; Roubo, (copied here from one of Roy Underhill’s books) and Hulot…maybe even Plummier. Hulot as I recall isn’t properly a horse/vise arrangement, but a low bench with a notch to brace the far end of the workpiece against, and the near end bumps into a breast bib. ( I can’t find my picture of that right now…)



For the 17th century, what do we have? Moxon’s uncomfortable description of how to use a drawknife:

“…When they use it, they set one end of their Work against their Breast, and the other end against their Work-Bench, or some hollow Angle that may keep it from slipping, and so pressing the Work a little hard with their Breast against the Bench, to keep it steddy in its Position, they with the handles of the Draw knife in both their Hands, enter the edge of the Draw-knife into their work, and draw Chips almost the length of their Work, and so smoothen it quickly. ”


Years later, I found an Essex County, Massachusetts court record that mentions an accident in which a ship’s mate injures himself while shaving or drawing hoops.

“Unice Maverick, aged about forty‑three years, deposed that riding to Boston with her son Timothy Roberts, they met with Richard Hollingworth upon the road, who inquired for a man to go to sea with him. Her son told him he would go and thereupon Hollingsworth shipped him at 35s per month. The voyage was to Barbados, thence to Virginea, thence to England and home to New England, and in case he received any of his wages in England, then he was to be allowed part of his wages for his payment there. He was upon the voyage about eleven months. She further testified that Hollingsworth only desired him to carry his adze with him, which he yielded to, but utterly refused to be shipped cooper. Sworn in court.

 Moses Maverick, aged about sixty years, deposed that upon Hollingsworth’s return from Barbados, he met him at Boston and told him he was sorry for what had befallen Timothy Roberts on his voyage…

  John Cromwell, aged about thirty‑five years, deposed that on the voyage “one morning Timothy Roberts comeing Auft upon the house Mr Hollingsworth asked him why he did not draw the hoops or shaue some hoops. Timothy told him he could not the vessel did roule soe. Mr Hollingsworth spoke Angerly to him and bid him make a horke or a galloss or some such like word he spake and timothy went forward againe and a little while after came Auft upon the house crying and sed O lord I am undone I have cutt my kne.” Sworn, 24:4:1671″

So the boy tore open his knee. If only he had a “horke or galloss or some such word” – so not only do we have what might be a weird case of transcription, but even the man making the deposition says “some such word” – so not a term known to him. Ahh, well.

Randle Holme discussed a wooden rig for coopers to shave stock with, the paring ladder.

1688 or so:

Randle Holme, 1688
Randle Holme, 1688

Early 20th century:

Jenkins, Traditional Country Craftsmen
Jenkins, Traditional Country Craftsmen

a couple of years ago, Plimoth

shaving stock on paring ladder
shaving stock on paring ladder


I know of one documentary reference from the 18th century, there must be many more. “a coopers horse” is listed in a 1773 inventory from New York. No drawknife interestingly. I saw this in New World Dutch Studies: Dutch Arts and Culture in Colonial America, 1609-1776 (Albany Institute of Art, 1987)

Nineteenth century is beyond me, but there are images and documentary references. This one’s from Nancy Goyne Evans’ book Windsor Chair Making in America: From Craft Shop to Consumer

German, 1830-50
German, 1830-50

So there’s the background. Jeff Burks came up with a possible 1690s French one, but it might be 1720s too. So if anybody can find it, Jeff can. We’ll see.

Then, when did the English style come in? The only images I know of this one historically are photographs, not very old then! Here’s Daniel years ago using mine…

Daniel shaving white cedar
Daniel shaving white cedar


paring ladder, not shaving horse

Two years ago, I started this blog with a post about shaving horses, and the lack of 17th-century evidence for them. Here is that post:

In it, I showed Randle Holme’s “paring ladder” and also a photograph from early 20th-century England showing the same device for drawknife work.

Today I stopped down in the museum’s English village to see the carpenters there, here is a repro early 17th-century house they are working on:

new old house


There’s lots to see in it, but I was there for one thing – my friend Michael French said he would showe me how he uses the paring ladder they have made…

paring ladder

I think they said this is the second one they’ve made; you can see it’s two uprights, joined by three rungs. Sticking between two rungs is a thin riven board of oak, this is the work surface.  Below you see Michael with a small stick of sassafrass pinched between the work surface and the rung – his hip bears against the bottom end of the work surface, and that is enough pressure to keep the workpiece (the sassafrass) in place. The top of the ladder is leaning against a timber in the house that is under construction… the uprights are about 8′ long.  They are sassafass, and I bet the rungs are white oak, but I didn’t even check.

shaving stock on paring ladder


Here is a detail of a notch cut in the back side, upper end of the work surface. This reduces the chance that the work surface will slip down and out…

work surface detail


 I was impressed by how quickly Michael could shift the stock; and with some practice it would be quite handy to use…he said you could also just lean it against a building, rather than this timber inside here. I imagine it could also be made as a free-standing tripod too. Everybody who uses it has a slightly different approach, but the whole crew spoke highly of it…

shifting the stock


Its feet are wide apart so there’s room in there for the workman; depending on what sort of stock you use, you might adjust the spacing near the top of the ladder. These guys are making clapboards and wattle with it, so some narrow and some wide stuff…

paring ladder in use


a nice apparatus, I tried it for a minute, and I would like to work on it again. It’s quick. Maybe I’ll rive some more basket stock and try it out… thanks to Michael, Rick McKee, Tom Gerhardt & Justin Keegan et al for working this device up, and putting it through its paces… I hope to sneak more of their work onto this blog. I think you’d like it…

the other horse’s mouth – Randle Holme

Randle Holme, joiners' bench etc


the beat goes on, as they say. Here’s Gary Roberts’ post:

and Chris Schwarz’ next one –

(probably if you are reading one of these threads, you’re reading them all, but I put them here just in case you missed one. )

I will add a few things to the fray here. Above is a cropped image of Randle Holme’s joiners’ bench – the nice thing about this one is that it’s a drawing, not an engraving. Thus perhaps one step closer to the actual bench. BUT…it’s not all that enlightening. Sometimes Holme has more detail in his text than Moxon, sometimes less. sometimes they are essentially the same. Below is the pertinent text.

Now, I’m really leaving. I will see the rest of this junk when I get back next week. No doubt Alexander will chime in…JA – you there?

Randle Holme, Academy of Armory & Blazon, 1688 [from CD:  N. W. Alcock and Nancy Cox, Living and Working in Seventeenth-Century England: An Encyclopedia of Drawings and Descriptions from Randle Holme’s original manuscripts for The Academy of Armory (1688) (London: The British Library, 2000)

 “the Joyners Working Bench, with all the Appurtenances belonging thereunto, as
First the Plank or Board for the top. in which are made several round holes for the Bench Hook and the Hold Fast; as they have occasion to hold the Work on it.
The Bench Feet, those of the Workmans side being made full of holes, in which are Pins put for the Board or other things to rest upon, while its edges are to be wrought, either by shooting with the Plain, or otherwise, which Pins are to be removed to higher or lower holes, as the breadth of the Board shall require.
The Bench Screw, set on its higher side, to screw Boards to the Bench side, while their edges are plaining or shooting, that they shake or tremble not, but remain steady while they are in working.
The Hold-Fast, which is to keep the Work fast upon the Bench while the Joyner either Saws Tenants, or or cuts Mortesses, or doth any other Work upon it.
The Bench Hook in it, which is to stay or hold Boards, or any other Stuff that is laid flat against it, while they are trying or Plaining.

the Bench Screw, it is made of Wood, the out part flat, which lieth or is nailed to the Bench side, the other part opened by degree or steps wider and wider, to fit Boards of all thicknesses that shall be put between the Bench and it, through the higher Tang or Lip is put a Wooden Screw, the same being screwed through the hole, its end holds the Board fast to the Bench side.

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.
The Mallet, it is always to rest only on the Bench, because of its continued use.

 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.

 the Joyners Bench Hook, or the Work Bench Hook, which is an Iron with a long Tang to go through a hole in the Bench, and a flat half round head, with Teeth on the streight side, to hold any thing that should be set against it: So that in it there is the foresaid parts, Viz. the Tang or tail, the Head or flat, and the Teeth, and all but one Bench Hook. “

17th-century workbench questions continue

There was a big jump in the numbers of views here on my blog the other day, & I don’t think it had to do with bird-watching. As some of you know, I have been distracted by spring migration & haven’t written much wood-working lately. Views on the blog went about 500-600 a day, then a quick spike up to 954 views yesterday.

 The explanation is that I got “quasi-Schwarz-ed.” Chris Schwarz is writing this week about Joseph Moxon’s workbench, and in a teaser-post on the subject he mentioned my work… (it’s a “quasi-Schwarz-ing” because he didn’t post a link, making his readers work to get to me…a “full-Schwarz-ing” would have a link.

 Chris is dealing with the bench screw as it’s called by Moxon and Randle Holme. We’ll see how he gets on with it; it has always perplexed me. I’ll be away for a while up in Maine; so I will miss the fun. I have some notes about it here:

 One thing about Moxon’s bench that I did differently with my bench is that the front edge of the bench top overhangs the frame’s front face. This seems impractical to me, so when I made my bench I cut the joints so that the front face of the frame and the front edge of the top form a plane.

Moxon's joiner's bench, London 1680s
Felebien’s bench, top overhangs the front of the frame.

plate XXX of Felebien

The bench in Wierix’ Childhood of Christ also shows the top overhanging the front…funny, isn’t it? Has anyone made one that way?

Wierix, workbench detail

Seventeenth Century tool kit

Chris Schwarz had an interesting post today concerning the tools listed in the new old book he & Joel Moskowitz are working on. and

Chris and I traded notes today and he suggested it would be interesting to compare what tools were minimal in seventeenth century versus 200 years later…so here goes some notes about beginner’s and others’ tool kits in that period. For now, I will skip the turner, and just concentrate on the joiner.

Stent panel
Stent panel

W.L. Goodman pulled out all the itemized tools listed in some sixteenth-and-seventeenth-century apprenticeship contracts in England. This contract from Bristol is between joiner John Sparke, who contracted to provide the following tools to his apprentice Humfrey Bryne, upon the completion of his term of seven years. (the article’s citation is: W. L. Goodman, “Woodworking Apprentices and their Tools in Bristol, Norwich, Great Yarmouth, and Southampton, 1535-1650” Industrial Archaeology 9, no. 4, (November 1972) 376-411)


1594 John Sparke to Humfrey Bryne: . . .

a Rule a compass a hatchet a hansawe a fore plane a joynter a smothen plane two moulden planes a groven plane a paren chysell a mortisse chesell a wymble a Rabbet plane and six graven Tooles and a Strykinge plane


So, the translation for a few of the more cryptic terms. The first few are straightforward enough. The “fore” plane is the modern-day scrub plane, described by both Joseph Moxon and Randle Holme. Here is Moxon’s take on this tool:

 “It is called the Fore Plain because it is used before you come to work either with the Smooth Plane, or with the Joynter. The edge of its Iron is not ground upon the straight, as the Smooth Plane, and the Joynter are, but rises with a Convex-Arch in the middle of it; for its Office being to prepare the Stuff for either the Smoothing Plane, or the Joynter, Workmen set the edge of it Ranker than the edge either of the Smoothing Plane or the Joynter”

The “groven” (grooving) plane is the plow plane, essential for a joiner who is going to make his furniture with frames and panels.

“Paren” chisel is phonetic for “paring” chisel.

A “wimble” is a brace and bit, sometimes one brace per bit, sometimes a brace and interchangeable bits, i.e. “a wimble and bitts” found in period probate inventories. Moxon calls it a piercer.

wimble & bit; probably 17th c; New England
wimble & bit; probably 17th c; New England














The rabbet plane somehow got separated from the other planes, but here it is.

 The “graven” tools are “engraving” i.e. carving gouges.

The striking plane is discussed in Moxon, although it has always left me confused. He describes using it to trim miters and such. It’s too complicated to go into here & now.


In New England, one of the earliest probate inventories that itemizes woodworking tools is that for “John Thorp, Carpenter” of Plymouth Colony, who died in 1633. There are tools here for both joiner’s work and carpenter’s work too. The values are in pounds/shillings/pence, 12 pence to the shilling, 20 shillings to the pound.


1 Great gouge £00-00-06 ;one gr brush & 1 little brush at 00-00-10; 1 square 00-02-00; one hatchet 00-02-00; One Square 00-02-06; 1 short 2 handsaw 00-02-00; A broade Axe 00-02-00; An holdfast 00-01-06; A handsaw 00-02-00; 3 broade chisels 00-01-06; 2 gowges & 2 narrow chisels 00-01-00; 3 Augers Inch & ½ 00-01-00; 1 great auger 00-01-04; inboring plaines 00-04-00; 1 Joynter plaine 00-01-06; 1 foreplaine 00-00-00?; A smoothing plaine 00-00-00?; 1 halferound plaine 00-01-00; An Addes 00-02-06; a felling Axe 00-03-00

 the appraisors of Thorpe’s inventory dropped the ball on the fore plane and the smoothing plane, not assigning a value to them. But the jointer plane is 1 shilling, 6 pence. To give an idea of the worth of these planes, here is a record from Massachusetts Bay roughly the same time, that lists wages for tradesmen:

“28 Septembr 1630: …that noe maister carpenter, mason, joyner, or brickelayer shall take above 16d a day for their worke, if they have meate and drinke, & the second sort not above 12d aday, under payne of xs both to giver & receaver”

This record was preceeded one month earlier by a declaration that these same tradesmen should not receive more than 2 shillings a day…so they took a pay cut right away.  So in September of 1630, if the workmen are fed, they get 1 shilling, 4 pence per day…the “second sort” are not yet masters, thus amount perhaps to a journeyman. Note that the fine for charging more is 10 shillings, more than a week’s wages.  

In Thorp’s inventory, the “holdfast” implies a bench, but none is listed. It’s not unusual to omit the fittings of the shop, i.e. a bench or a lathe. Many of these tools are simple enough, a little seventeenth-century linguistics helps. “Great” is opposite of small; and of course “narrow” and “broad.” The “inboring” planes are sometimes called “imbowing” planes as well; these amount to molding planes.


But there’s always tools missing…let me see if I can compile a list of minimal tools to build an oak carved chest from a tree. Let’s say the log is cut to length; I have no interest in felling large-diameter oak trees anymore.


Wedges & beetle (I substitute a sledge hammer for the wooden beetle)

 Hatchet, froe & club (maybe add a brake)

froe & brake
froe & brake











Broad Hatchet

Planes: fore, smooth, jointer, plow, and rabbet 

Bench, bench hook (i.e. planing stop), holdfast(s), a “double-bench screw” which is comparable to a modern handscrew, but used differently.

Straightedge, winding sticks


Mortise gauge

marking gauge



Ruler (can act as the straightedge too)

Mortise chisel


Paring chisel, (broad chisel)

Brace & bits

Tenon saw

Carving tools, maybe 6.




That might be it. I use more than that, drawbore pins for instance. But you don’t need them. I use a wooden bench hook for sawing tenons, but you can skip that too. I didn’t put molding planes in my list, but easily could. I often use scratch stocks instead. You could carve the whole facade, and skip moldings altogether. (whoops – I have moldings on the side frames of this chest, and turned drawer pulls…oh well. more tools.)

chest with drawers, 2008
chest with drawers, 2008












I’m sure there’s more I have left out, but not many. As you can see, it’s a lot of tools. But wait a minute, I have way more than that…we’ll see what Alexander says.


If you don’t have Moxon, get it here:

shaving horses

One thing I hear from people about a lot is the shaving horse I made, based on one designed by my friend John Alexander. It’s discussed on Alexander’s website – in my intro on that site, I mention that the shaving horse is an old tool, but how old, and where the English version came from are still open questions. We illustrated one from the sixteenth century in that article, from De Re Metallica, (1556) a German text concerning mining, of all things.  

This week, J. Alexander kindly lent me a copy of Das Hausbuch der Mendelschen Zwolfbruderstiftung zu Nurnberg, where there is a slightly earlier German shaving horse, (1485) this time used by a cooper, as would be expected. So, although this painting is lacking some small details (no legs for this shaving horse, for instance) it is clearly a “dumbhead” style shaving horse -easily recognized today. 





 But, my work is concerned with reproducing seventeenth-century joined and turned furniture. Sometimes, I use a drawknife. So, the question arises, what did the English use in the seventeenth century for drawknife work?  Joseph Moxon, writing in the 1670s and 80s, describes using a drawknife while bracing the stock against your breast, and shoving the other end against part of the workbench.

Ҧ 5. Of the Draw-knife, and its Use

 The Draw-knife described Plate 8E is seldom used about House-building, but for the making of some sorts of Household-stuff; as the Legs of Crickets, the Rounds of Ladders, the Rails to lay Cheese or Bacon on, &c.  When they use it, they set on end of their Work against their Breast, and the other end against the Work-bench, or some hollow Angle that may keep it from slipping, and so pressing the Work a little hard with their Breast against the Bench, to keep it steddy in its Position, they with the Handles of the Draw-knife in both their Hands, enter the edge of the Draw-knife into the Work, and draw Chips almost the length of their Work, and so smoothen it quickly.”


 That could be done, but it must have been uncomfortable. 




Randle Holme’s Academy of Armory (1688) has a “paring ladder” – a sort of brake:  

“… the paring Ladder, or Coopers Ladder, with a pareing Staff in it: By the help of this all Barrel Staves or Boards are held fast and safe while the Work-man is paring or shaving them fit for his purpose.”







The same device is depicted a little less than three hundred years later in J. Geraint Jenkins’ Traditional Country Craftsmen (1965) showing a hoop-maker using something similar to shave his stock. Jenkins called it an upright horse. It seems his left leg applies the pressure that holds the stock against the “paring staff” both of which are held under a cross piece at the top. there’s no date for the photograph, the presumption is c. 1920s-40s. [illustration from J. Geraint Jenkins, Traditional Country Craftsmen (London, Boston & Henley: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1965,1978) figure 23.] 



But, where the English style shaving horse came from is still to be discovered. I still like mine, it’s a little weary by now. I’d guess it’s about 15-20 years old. I use it less than I used to, it’s just that most of my work is planed at the bench, rather than shaved these days. But it still holds up all right. I simplified Alexander’s design, by eliminating metal fastners and fixings, and I used pine for the bench and work surface.  



  This detail photograph shows how the work surface is hinged. A block that is essentially the same as the poppets on a wooden lathe receives a wooden pin through its head. This pin also pierces the end of the work surface. A bevel on the bottom corner of the work surface facilitates the hinge motion.