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



I haven’t written here in a while. It’s a long story, another time perhaps. Meanwhile, I’m knocked out with something just under the flu. One thing on my to-be-done list has been  learning how to convert JPEGs to PDFs, not for woodworking, but for the many books Rose has written.

But I practiced on Felebien first. So as a thank-you to all the blog readers here for their patience while I was busy bungling the latest tool sale, I’m posting the Felebien stuff I have here. The PDF here is the chapter on joiner’s work, from a reprint of the 1699 edition. Felebien’s first edition was 1676, i.e. pre-Moxon.

So while you’re waiting for Chris to finish up on the Roubo volume, now you can reach back to an earlier time in Paris, and see what Moxon was copying some of his stuff from…

plate 30

Felebien PDF

Now, somewhere I have some attempts at translation done for Alexander & I almost 15 years ago. Paula Marcoux (now the Magnificent Leaven ) took a whack at it for us… so here is a “warts n’ all” translation. this is done as a Word document, I have had enough, so I’m not converting it to anything. Have fun.

Felibien w edits accepted

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


another benefit of a simple workbench

Give me ten years or so & I catch on all right. I was for some reason last week using my old German workbench, with its end vise and steel dogs. I forget why, and it doesn’t matter. I was planing some short-ish stock, under 2 feet long. And what I found was the shavings piled up in the midst of the bench’s length, and then got swept onto the floor right in front of the bench. In other words, in the way…

I built what I call my joiners’ bench just about 9 years ago, and within a year or so really settled into it.


planing at the bench

You can see in Moxon’s lousy engraving that the bench hook, (the planing stop w iron teeth) is set way back near the end of the bench.


Moxon's bench hook

(here is a recent re-take on the bench hook, with a link to an earlier post too )


In part this is so you can work the longest stock without any special arrangement, but also I think it’s so the shavings fly off the end of the bench, out of your way. And that is another benefit of the joiners’ style bench – less frequent sweeping.

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

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

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.

braces or wimbles

a quick one today, about braces. I showed a couple the other day from the collection formerly at Heritage Plantation. Here’s the last one of those I have, a small brace, fitted with a permanent bit. Now snapped off. A ferrule fits on the stock where the bit is secured into the brace.

small brace

 I have an old wooden brace, sent to me by Jennie Alexander (like many of my tools, thanks JA) that shows evidence of having had a ferrule also.

brace, oak?


embossing and staining from ferrule

This brace seems to be made of oak. It is impossible to date, I think. Could be 70 yrs old, could be 200 years old. I think more likely the former. Not sure if the head is original, it’s fixed on with an iron nail or brad through its protruding tenon.

head of brace

There’s some layout lines scribed on the stock to align the bit and the head:

layout lines

A nice, simple brace, fitted with just one bit. So this craftsman had several braces, presumably, for different sized holes. Here is a brace from Pilgrim Hall, showing a removeable “pad” – thus a brace that could have several bits. The caption uses a common period term, “wimble” for the brace. Moxon called the whole thing the “piercer”.

wimble & bit; probably 17th c; New England


and here it is, in the early 15th century, in the Merode Altarpiece. St. Joseph boring holes for foot warmers:

brace & bit, c. 1425
I often point out to folks that the tools depicted in this painting are fully-developed. Not a transition phase, so the early 1420s is the date of the painting. the tools’ forms are older than that still..there’s more to come. Randle Holme has a nice illustration identifying the parts of the brace…but I’m out of time.