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Hand Tools

The Best Marking Knife - The English Woodworker

Giant Cypress - Fri, 11/03/2017 - 3:18am
The Best Marking Knife - The English Woodworker:

Richard Maguire:

I stumbled across some Japanese knives, did a bit of an ‘ip dip’ and chucked one in the basket. It turned a boring order of glue and screws into bloody Christmas. Blimey Charley, the knife was perfect.

it's a libella........

Accidental Woodworker - Fri, 11/03/2017 - 1:25am
I got a few comments on what the name of the 'A' thing is.  Sylvain traced it to the Egyptians and Diego said he saw one in a museum in France. I located my book on Roman Woodworking and I found it in there too. I knew that this was a level but I wanted to put a name tag on it. I'm sure the Egyptians had a name for it but I couldn't find it so I am settling for the Roman one. And I'm sure Rome borrowed this from some other culture and called it a libella. This type of level has also been around since dirt was invented. I wonder if the ancient Sumerians invented it. Or if they got it from the Gods as a gift as their cuneiform clay tablets says it was.

Simple Green
I found the Simple Green at Ocean State Job Lot today. It isn't exactly what I was looking for but I took it anyways. I wanted the Simple Green degreaser formula and it says that on the bottle. This one doesn't so I doubt I got that. BTW for Steve - OSJL has the shop lights in stock again for $14.99. I asked the Manager of this one if they would ship between stores and she said no. But she said that other stores should have the same lights in stock.

round 2 of the stripper
I think that this will do it for stripper. I put some on the back of the frog and the yoke.

pile of shavings for round #2 cleanup
the shavings will clean up the stripper
The shavings worked well for this purpose. They absorbed the stripper and they acted like an abrasive and scrubbed some of the japanning off the metal.

forgot the before pic
I would guess-ta-mate that about 90% of the japanning on this is now gone. What little is left I am sure I'll be able to remove by sanding.

plumbline stick is done almost
Still no string for either of these. I looked at the mason's string at Ocean State Job Lot but it looked like it was too thick for the plumb bobs I have.  I am going to make another libella. I rushed in making this one and made a few assumptions that I think are now wrong.

the new libella
Three pieces of stock 1 x 1 1/2 x 16 is what I need for the new one. There aren't any instructions anywhere that I could find on making this. So what I am doing now is again mostly conjecture on my part as to the how and what. On the first libella I just eyeballed what I thought was a good angle, height, and spread on the legs and went from there.  That was mistake #1.

Mistake #2 was not taking sufficient care to layout the top angled half lap properly. I didn't layout the angle on each piece from the same spot and that is why they came out mismatched. That mismatch on the angle caused other problems with getting the legs even and the brace parallel with the bottom of them.

making a full scale pattern
Just about every picture I dug up on a libella showed the 'A' to be an isosceles triangle. I don't know that for sure but they sure looked like that. That makes sense to me as it makes it easy to make the 'A' as precise as I can. The half lap at the top will be at 90° and the leg bottoms will sawn at a 45° angle as will the ends on the brace.

Here I set the brace on the legs until the length of it matched the length of the two legs. Once this is glued up I can then lay a square on the brace and have it align on the apex with the legs. That mark should be where the plumb bob will hang too. I sawed the 3 parts for the libella and stickered them until tomorrow.

this is why Frank
The question was why couldn't I leave the iron in the plane?  I only have a slot in this piece of oak for the skate to fit in. In order to leave the iron in the plane I would have to chop a slanted mortise at 90° to the skate slot. I'm not sure that I could retract the iron high enough and still put the plane in the slot as is.

I am going to make the holder for the 6mm iron tonight. This piece is to match the angle of the iron which is 25° too.

4 of the 5 pieces to make up the iron holder
This is pretty much self explanatory. The small middle piece has the 25° angle on it. I will glue this in place so it's bevel is facing in. That way the bevel of the iron will be sandwiched between it and the back.

by saw, chisel, and sandpaper
Drew an arc on the top back piece first. I then sawed off most of the waste, chiseled it close to the lines, and smoothed it with sandpaper. I left all the pencil marks as this side will be glued  to the box hiding it all.

using the rapid fuse glue again
It did well on the walnut banding for the box so I'm going to try it here too.

all 5 of the parts
The bottom and top pieces are slightly oversized. Once everything is glued up and set, I will plane everything flush and square.

2 frog hairs of room on either side of the holder
backer for the holder
This may or may not happen. This will be out of sight inside the box so I don't see the need to make it pretty. But that hasn't stopped me in the past.

accidental woodworker

trivia corner
What are you if someone says you are gracile?
answer - you have a slender build

It’s OK (Good Even!) When They Hate Your Work

Chris Schwarz's Pop Wood Blog - Thu, 11/02/2017 - 4:59pm

The city council candidate was screaming at me through her phone as I sat hunched over my desk in the newspaper’s newsroom. “How about I pull down my pants and you come and watch me go to the bathroom?” she screamed. “You’d like that wouldn’t you?” This impolite invitation was issued after I inquired about a long string of tax troubles the candidate had suffered during the last few years. […]

The post It’s OK (Good Even!) When They Hate Your Work appeared first on Popular Woodworking Magazine.

Categories: Hand Tools

A side rebate plane’s fence, fix solution

Journeyman's Journal - Thu, 11/02/2017 - 4:51pm

A side rebate (rabbet) plane widens dado’s (housing) or trench (Europe) and grooves, wow so many names for one joint.   Sometime a dado is a little too tight to accept a shelf or a groove for a drawer bottom needs to be a little wider for a perfect fit, this is where these planes excel.

There are several versions and makers of these planes, I believe Stanley only produced two of the No.79 and the 98 and 99 which Lie Nielsen now produces. 98_99

Then there was Edward Preston, whom Veritas based their design on and not to forget record. When Preston left the tool making scene, Record took over the production of the Preston planes.

Some time ago I began my hunt for a decent no.79 and I found one on eBay. I can’t remember what I paid for it, but they’re stupidly expensive now. The one I found was in near perfect condition. Here are the eBay pictures I downloaded at the time.

Whoever bought it must have thrown it in the toolbox and forgotten about it.  It’s rare to see these planes in such good condition. Well, I was lucky. There is another version of the no.79 you should avoid. They have slotted round screws instead of the thumb screws like I have.


I suspected at the time that the slots in the screws would wear out through repeated use, so I asked my friend Tony as he has one and he hates it for that reason alone. Tony’s tool chest was featured in Jim Tolpin’s book “The Toolbox Book.” page 28.  He fits over 400 tools in his chest and it weighs in at a whopping 400lb (181.43kg). That’s an entire workshop of tools he can carry to any job site and only taking up a small corner in the back of his pickup.
Let me see anyone do this with modern machinery.

Anyhow, the purpose of this blog was not to go into any detail about different versions of the side rebate planes, but to discuss a manfacturer’s flaw in the fence and the quick solution I came to fixing it.

So even though it’s basically new for a vintage plane, it still had a manufacturing fault. The fence wasn’t 90° to the surface of the plane. This rectification was on my to do list for many months, but I didn’t give it much thought on how to fix it since I don’t have a square metal block, I’ve left as is till this morning.  My day typically begins at 4 am when I’m not working my other job, this is the best part of the day as your mind is fresh with new ideas and it’s peaceful as the world is still asleep. It’s very serene.

I started off with a pair of pliers trying to bend it into shape and all I managed to do was create small teeth marks ruining what was once a pristine surface.

If Stanley did their job right in the first place, I wouldn’t have had to do this.

So, I kept bending it like a moron not realising that I was also creating a hump in the middle.  Now I was frantic and I looked around in desperation for anything that was square that could handle a beating and there she was. My lathe.

I threw a square up against the outside face and no go, so I tried the inside and alas she’s square.



I placed the fence against the metal bar on the lathe and with the hard part of a rubber mallet I struck several light blows across the surface.

Yes, it worked! The fence is square, but the hump is still there. To fix that I used a normal metal hammer and got rid of the hump.


Had I given this proper thought beforehand, I wouldn’t have left teeth marks on a pristine surface. Lucky for me these marks are not sharp where it would mar the work. Surprisingly though they are smooth as a baby’s butt.

Is this a must have tool?

It’s a toughie to answer, yes and no. Yes, when you need one and I have used it more often than not, but it’s not an everyday “usage tool.”  I think it’s one of those tools you tend to forget you have until the day pops up when nothing else will work as the tool you forgot you had.

Categories: Hand Tools

The Horse Garage Chronicles

Lost Art Press: Chris Schwarz - Thu, 11/02/2017 - 3:50pm


With a bruised right rib and something seriously wrong with my elbow today, I thought about titling this blog entry: “Burn Horse Garage, You Sputum of Satan – Ptttttth, I Hate You – Love Chris.” Instead I decided to focus on the ridiculous aspect of this project: What I will do to create my workshop.

During the last 12 months I have failed to install the new screen door for the front of our house. It’s an easy job – probably only half a day. But apparently I’d rather spend weeks mired in rebuilding concrete block walls, heaving old mattresses to their doom and ripping out 40 square yards of disgusting detritus all for a 25’ x 30’ bunker to hold a few machines and a wood pile.

For the last three years I have neglected to make and install 5’ of moulding on the stairway of our home. It’s an insanely easy bit of work. I could do it with moulding planes or a router in an hour or two. Lucy would be so happy. But no, I’d rather rip out weird tile and ceiling boards for four days straight. (Asbestos? I hope not.) All for a dark cave that is as inspiring as a Communist debriefing room.

Our house’s lamppost and doorbell haven’t worked since the Clinton Administration. The risers of our stairs need a quick coat of paint. My office walls need to be painted after a plaster repair five years ago.

I’m a horrible person. And apparently I am also a sociopath because I don’t care. Today we spent hours restoring the jambs of the Horse Garage – resetting them to their original place in 1906. We filled all the nail holes with an all-weather putty. We sanded. Scraped. Primed and painted.

Honestly, this blog entry could be entered into evidence in a divorce proceeding.

And that’s fine. I deserve it.

As long as I get to keep the shop.

— Christopher Schwarz

Filed under: Lost Art Press Storefront, Uncategorized
Categories: Hand Tools

Last Chance for ‘Sharpen This’ Sticker

Lost Art Press: Chris Schwarz - Thu, 11/02/2017 - 1:14pm

My daughter Maddy reports she has fewer than 50 sets of stickers left, a set that includes the “Sharpen This” sticker that is showing up on the boxes for sharpening stones everywhere. (Wish I had thought of that.)

If you want a set of these high-quality stickers, here are the details. You can order a set of three from her etsy store here. A set is $6 delivered ($10 for international orders).

Or, for customers in the United States, you can send a $5 bill and a SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope) to by daughter Maddy at:

Stick it to the Man
P.O. Box 3284
Columbus, OH 43210

As always, this is not a money-making venture for me or Lost Art Press. All profits help Maddy through college. (Only one more college payment due!)

After this set is exhausted, we’ll be printing three new stickers. I’m working on the new designs now.

— Christopher Schwarz

Filed under: Uncategorized
Categories: Hand Tools

The Best Marking Knife

The English Woodworker - Thu, 11/02/2017 - 10:44am
The Best Marking Knife

All my tools are fairly rough and basic.

I’ve never had much bother finding tools that work, although two things have always troubled me.

The first; finding drill bits that don’t rag out the work in slow hand powered drills.

And finding a good marking knife.

The drill bit hunt is still on, but I have finally got on top of the iron dagger.

My favourite knife for many years was a bit of old hacksaw blade, sharpened to a spear like point, so it could be used right or left-handed.

Continue reading at The English Woodworker.

Categories: Hand Tools

The Best Marking Knife

The English Woodworker - Thu, 11/02/2017 - 10:44am
The Best Marking Knife

All my tools are fairly rough and basic.

I’ve never had much bother finding tools that work, although two things have always troubled me.

The first; finding drill bits that don’t rag out the work in slow hand powered drills.

And finding a good marking knife.

The drill bit hunt is still on, but I have finally got on top of the iron dagger.

My favourite knife for many years was a bit of old hacksaw blade, sharpened to a spear like point, so it could be used right or left-handed.

Continue reading at The English Woodworker.

Categories: Hand Tools

M&T Shop Building: Installing Sheathing

The Mortise & Tenon Magazine Blog - Thu, 11/02/2017 - 9:45am

Because of a wind storm that knocked the power out this week (stalling progress on the Tables video edit), Mike and I have been working on sheathing the shop the past few days. We are just about finished with the first floor and we have one of the gable ends upstairs complete. This part of the project has been fun as we are able to work to carpentry tolerances rather than furniture tolerances.

This is no normal carpentry job, though. Choosing the right board for each spot has definitely made this a slower process because we’ve got all kinds of random lengths and widths (often tapering) to work with, not to mention the waney edges and ragged ends. We are also selecting the most attractive (and wide) boards for the more prominent areas in the shop. Needless to say, each board selection is the result of careful consideration of many factors before we do the custom shaping to fit the adjacent board.

We know we’ve still got a long way ahead of us until the shop is complete but each step is an exciting glimpse of it taking shape.

- Joshua


Categories: Hand Tools

The Creative Streak

Northwest Woodworking - Thu, 11/02/2017 - 6:57am

Why do we make things? Why do we do this creative work?

A dear friend came by last night and looked at a kitchen table of mine made some decades ago. She saw the Cloud Rise curves shaped into the edge of its top. She noticed the Chinese foot at the base of the piece. She remarked on the table, admired its shapes, color, wood. These details were ones that I had put in to train myself at the bench. They made no difference to the integrity of the table. It stood still.

There are efforts we make that have nothing to do with structure, with longevity or use. They are done simply because they are important to me, the builder. They are important to how I feel when I’m done with the piece. That I have given it some character, some part of me as well. These painstaking details are done because they inform the piece. They are a gift of intention by its maker. “Here I hope you enjoy this.”

Nothing more. Done as much for me, the builder, as for the eventual viewer who will never know how many hours it took to create the details that her eyes glanced down to and admired in a few minutes of time. It is how it is.

The work was done for her but also for my own selfish needs to satisfy my simple creative urge. That streak of me-ness that will flash briefly and be seen little more.

Read more of my musings on creativity in my new book: Handmade, Creative Focus in the Age of Distraction.

An image of the first chunk of wood I made into a piece of crude furniture.



Categories: Hand Tools

Live-Edge Slabs from NYC with Roger Benton – 360w360 E.256

360 WoodWorking - Thu, 11/02/2017 - 4:10am
Live-Edge Slabs from NYC with Roger Benton – 360w360 E.256

In this episode of 360 with 360WoodWorking, we talk with Roger Benton, co-owner of Re-Co BKLYN (recobklyn.com), a woodworking shop that builds fine furniture and produces live-edge slabs and boards. And the majority of the lumber is taken directly out of the city’s waste stream. Roger shares how the business got started, and reveals a few facts about New York city and its vast lumber resources.

Join 360 Woodworking every Thursday for a lively discussion on everything from tools to techniques to wood selection (and more).

Continue reading Live-Edge Slabs from NYC with Roger Benton – 360w360 E.256 at 360 WoodWorking.

Here’s yours truly fielding some questions on Japanese...

Giant Cypress - Thu, 11/02/2017 - 3:28am

Here’s yours truly fielding some questions on Japanese woodworking — specifically, using Japanese saws with western saws, taking care of Japanese tools, where to start with Japanese tools, and sharpening. This was filmed while making my videos on Japanese tools for Popular Woodworking, as a sort of behind-the-scenes featurette.

As a side note, I’m happy to answer questions on woodworking, Japanese or otherwise, or any other subject, for that matter. You can contact me via the “Ask” link at the top of the page, and my other contact info is at the bottom of the page.

a no title post....

Accidental Woodworker - Thu, 11/02/2017 - 1:54am
Almost zero shop time tonight. I had to make a pit stop at Wally World tonight and they don't sell Simple Green. Benny's is or was a Rhode Island institution and it was the first store I remember going in as a kid. They sold Simple Green cheap but they went out of business last week. They weren't exactly a hardware store nor were they a department store.  They were kind of the two but small scale and a few tics above a dollar store. Another memory I can talk about to other people and watch the vacant expressions on their faces.

I will have to wait for the weekend and go to Ocean State Junk Lot and see if they have it. It is a hit or miss affair with that store. You never know what they have in stock. Lowes sells it but for almost 3 times the price Benny's used to sell it for. That will be the absolute last resort.

two for Miles and one for me
Paul Sellers recommends a flat file as an essential tool and I agree. It works wonderfully on smoothing end grain. It will serve double duty filing scrapers too. The japanese square is one I have and I like it. I don't use it much because it is hidden away in a cabinet. Maybe he'll use it more than I use mine.

got this for me
Woodcraft sells 6mm plywood. This 6mm iron will make a groove for it. If it doesn't you will hear me screaming my displeasure that it doesn't.

won't fit in here
I really don't want to keep the 6mm iron in here. I can put the 1/4" iron in the plane and 6mm in it's slot. Or I could just put the 6mm in the plane. I don't like either scenario. I think it would be too easy to confuse one for the other. Besides, I would have to chop a slot in the plane body holder in the box so I can stow the plane body with an iron in it.

what I plan on doing
I will make a holder for the 6mm iron and glue it to this end of the box. I put this box on the sharpening bench so I'll remember to do it this weekend.

dadoes chopped
The chopping went real quick with the 2" chisel. Two whacks covered the 3" + on the width. Used the 1" chisel to knock down the wedge in the middle and flatten it.

router got me to depth
It has taken me quite a while to get to this point with the housing joint. Both of these fit snug and both are self supporting. Worth the struggle to get here and finally to be able to make good fitting housing dadoes repeatedly.

this way
Long grain facing out and end grain facing out on the ends.

or this way
End grain facing up and long grain on the ends.  With this orientation I'll be gluing end grain to long grain. I'll need some kind of fastener to help secure the joint. I could use miller dowels or long screws. With the spacer installed this way I don't have to worry about expansion and contraction  changing the distance from the back to the front edge of the spacer. But I do have to look at the end grain which I don't like.

I went with the first way - long grain facing out. I'll have a strong and secure long grain to long grain glue joint. Expansion and contraction may or may not be a problem. The spacers are about 3 3/8" wide so I'm betting that I won't have to worry about it. And they are both sequential pieces from the same board.

planing the face
This planing run was to clean up all the pencil marks. I've been doing my planing wrong as I usually start here and plane forward.

the way I should be doing it
I don't recall the video I saw this in but Paul Sellers explained how to do it. He said you plane the board is sections, starting at the left end and working back. If you are left handed you would start at the right and work to the left. Paraphrasing what he said, doing it this way you are planing from an unplaned area into one that is planed. The plane isn't going over a freshly planed spot as it would be if I did my way. He's been right on a lot of other things so I'll give a try too.

I'm glad I checked this
The one on the left is square to the back but this one was off. It was leaning to the right a few frog hairs. It took me a few whacks with the mallet to get it square and to keep it there. I came down after dinner to make sure it was still square - it was.

I wanted to get the second round of stripping on the plane done but it will have to wait. I got a throw away brush to slop the stripper on and I hope that it'll last so I can do the other two planes with it too.

accidental woodworker

trivia corner
What is hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia (36 letters)?
answer - a fear of long words

PS I found my Roman Woodworking book and the 'A' thing is a libella in Latin and was used by stone masons and woodworkers.

Rabbet Plane Build Split in Half

Journeyman's Journal - Thu, 11/02/2017 - 12:36am

I had some free time on my hands, yeah, I know, shock, horror I got free time. I returned to an unfinished project I started a few months ago building a wooden rabbet plane.  I was boring a 1″ hole near the escapement when CRACK the bit split the timber in two.

Rather than chuck the plane away, I glued it back together again with fish glue.  Those cam clamps provide just enough pressure without risking crushing the fibres.  I say that because I reattached it as is without doing disturbing the break. Fortunately for me the break was clean with no missing parts.


I left the plane oversized in length, width and thickness. When I inserted the iron and wedged it, I noticed the plane bowed ever so slightly.  Maybe when I put the cover on the rabbeted grip, the bow may not return.  I guess I’ll have to wait and see.

Categories: Hand Tools

A small barn for the summer house 14, starting on the staircase.

Mulesaw - Wed, 11/01/2017 - 12:27pm
In the evenings I have tried to start out on the staircase for the  small barn. The work is not very efficient, since both Gustav and Asger have started some projects in the shop too. I try to help them out, and once they are tucked into bed, I'll have something like an hour where I can use the shop by myself.
I have milled the steps, and they are pretty close to the thickness of the floor boards (1.75"). The two longitudinal parts of the staircase (I have no idea what the correct English word is?) Are a bit thinner. I would have liked them to be the same size, but the two boards that I had of the correct width were fairly twisted, so it took some thickness to get them flat and level. I suppose that I could have milled some new boards, but they would not have been as dry as those, and they finally ended up something like 1 3/8" which I think will be strong enough.

I have been looking as Das Zimmermannsbuch  for some inspiration, and they suggest that for the more modern approach you should attache the steps by means of sliding dovetails.
An older and simpler method is to just use a groove and either make a tenon on half of the steps or secure the steps by means of nails. I think that I'll go with the groove and nails model. Because the barn is supposed to be kept a bit simple.

Right now I have had to devise some special workholding, in order to be able to joint the edges of the longitudinal parts.
10' is a bit too long for my workbench, but perhaps that could justify building another and larger one?

There will be very 8" in height difference between each step, and the angle of the stairs will be 58 degrees. So it will be a fairly steep staircase, but this is to avoid that it will take up too much space in the relatively small room of the barn.

Asger sanding a cutting board. Gustav's apple crates are in the background-

My co-driver Bertha sniffing the fresh autumn air.

Workholding of the long parts of the staircase.

Categories: Hand Tools

Greenwood Fest June 5-10, 2018

Peter Follansbee, joiner's notes - Wed, 11/01/2017 - 11:57am
photo Marie Pelletier

People’s lives get busier every year. Ours too. Good thing we have all these time-saving devices…

today’s post is just a “save the date” sort of thing. Plymouth CRAFT’s Greenwood Fest will be early June again, same venue = Pinewoods Dance Camp, Plymouth, Massachusetts, USA.

Festival June 8-10; pre-Fest courses June 5-7. TICKETS GO ON SALE FEBRUARY 2, 2018. We will let you know details as we get it together – this is just so you can get the time off of work, quit your job, cancel graduation/wedding, etc and tell your family you’ll be in the woods.

2017 group photo, Marie Pelletier

Here’s the beginnings of the website. https://www.greenwoodfest.org/

Dave Fisher, photo Marie Pelletier

See you there, OK?

What are the very very wide kanna called and used for? You posted a photo of a 13" one back when you were at NYKEZ. Most kanna I've seen for sale (complete or as just a blade) tend to top out at around 70mm, rarely going to 80mm.

Giant Cypress - Wed, 11/01/2017 - 10:08am

The very wide kanna are called okanna (sometimes ookanna). The “standard” kanna size is a 70mm blade. The ones I use for bench work range from 60-70mm. Okanna can be 120-150mm wide.

I’ve only seen an okanna used for demonstrations, and haven’t heard of anyone using them for routine work. There are a couple of reasons why you might not want to do that. I’ve pulled ookannas before, and it’s noticeably harder to pull, which isn’t a surprise given that you’re planing close to twice the width of a regular shaving. Twice the width means twice the work.

Also, the blade is going to be harder to sharpen given its size. Maintaining the dai is going to be more difficult for the same reason. And then you have to make sure that the blade and dai match up well.

That’s not to say that there isn’t someone out there using an ookanna in their shop on a regular basis. It’s just that I haven’t heard of that happening.

Celebrating Five Years!

Paul Sellers - Wed, 11/01/2017 - 4:15am

Hard to imagine though it is, it’s been 5 years to the day that we posted our first video series on woodworkingmasterclasses.com. Since then we have published 400 video episodes and that does not include YouTube. I won’t prolong this blog post because the video speaks for itself. I would like to thank you all […]

Read the full post Celebrating Five Years! on Paul Sellers' Blog.

Categories: Hand Tools

Where Moxon Got His Mojo

Tools For Working Wood - Wed, 11/01/2017 - 4:00am

For over a decade I've been looking for a copy I could afford of Andre Felibien's masterwork, "Des Principes de l'Architecture, de la Sculpture, de la Peinture et des ..." [Principles of Architecture, Sculpture, Painting and ..] A copy finally popped up on the internet and I grabbed it. I have been spending the last week studying it. The book is well known, and you can get a scan on Google books here. I collect books. While it's wonderful to be able to read the book online from practically anywhere, I find having a real book in front of me is far more satisfying. The book's woodworking section starts at page 170, with all the plates are in the following pages.

There are several editions of the book, the first from 1676. This is the book that Joseph Moxon used to copy drawing from when he published the woodworking section of "Mechanick Exercises" two years later in 1678. If you haven't read Moxon, we stock the Lost Art Press version, or you can read the 1703 third edition here.

Moxon's "Mechanick Exercises" is important because it is the first book in English that tries to be a handbook on how to make things. Beginning in 1677, every few months or so Moxon released a chapter on a different subject. Blacksmithing, carpentry, house-righting were a few of the topics. In 1683, after a hiatus of several years while England was in turmoil, Moxon resumed the series, this time writing about something he know about personally: printing and typemaking. Whereas Felibien's book was really an encyclopedia of tools and objects - this is a hammer, this is a nail - Moxon pioneered the "How-to." The point of Felibien's book, in my view, was to give rich, educated people the ability to find out the basics of the world around them. Studying Plato at University was fine and dandy, but an educated person should not be confused by the real life going around them.

Moxon took it a step further. "Mechanick Exercises" tells a little about the tools; instead, it instructs. Here is the way to grind a tool, how to chop a mortise, etc. Fairly short in length, and written by someone who was far from an expert or a craftsperson in anything except printing, the book falls short of being comprehensive. But Moxon gets full marks or trying, and it's exciting to read his result.

It is pretty obvious - and has been known for a long time - that Moxon used Felibien as a source for all his tool illustrations. Seeing the original engravings started me thinking. First of all, if Moxon's book used French pictures, then one can assume that what is in Moxon are actually drawings of French tools. And in fact, many of the few surviving English tools from that era look different than the tools illustrated in Mechnick Exercises.

Another point I am pondering: the vise that we now call a Moxon Vise is hanging off in space on the side of the workbench, but are shown much larger hanging on the wall in Felibien's workshop. I love my Moxon Bench because the modern incarnation sits on top of my bench, raising the height for dovetailing and other joinery. But Moxon doesn't mention it in the text and neither book shows the vise in a modern usages. Felibien calls it a wood press, or vise, but that's doesn't help much, although the size of the vises in his book suggest that they were used for clamping things together, not as a vise raiser.

Probably the most obvious conclusion I can reach from comparing the photos is that Moxon really did a crappy job. The images are all crammed together on one plate, and two of the tools - the workbench and the frame saw - are cut off at the edge. The engravings are crude compared to Felibien's.

How were the engravings done? And who was the engraver? We really don't know. At the time of publication, Moxon was a successful printer so he would have had staff, but he also probably had enough skill to do the not-so-great engravings himself. I consulted by phone with my friend Jeff Peachey, a noted book conservator (who hasn't seem this copy in the flesh yet) His guess is that the engraver (whoever it was) just propped up the Felibien up and then directly sketched out the tool images on the copper plate. This would explain why the images are all reversed in the final print. We suspect the engraver might have used some sort of optical aid to help with the copying on some of the images. Moxon's image are greatly reduced in size from the original French ones, probably because he was trying to fit about 4 pages of tools onto one smaller page. That being said, and the reason why I suspect the involvement of an aid of a sort, is that planes drawings are a pretty good copy of the original image, but one of the saws is missing a little off the right side. The problematic saw would have been the last one engraved if the engraver worked from left to right (as you would if you were right handed). I think that if he was drawing freehand and just using the book as a reference he would have scaled it to fit. As it is it looks like he was in a rush, started off doing a pretty good engraved copy, but then ran out of space. Some of the smaller tools are pretty crude, as if he didn't see the need for a careful copy. The biggest change from Felibien is on the workbench. The wood press on the wall became something hanging in front of Moxon's bench. One interesting fact is that Moxon's bench has a hook front on the left and Felibien's doesn't. This suggests that Moxon might have copied the images but he was trying at least on some level to do more than just condense and copy a picture.

While I find the facts of the case interesting, and speculation on how the books came about fun, the real thrill for someone like me who loves history is just seeing these real-live books together. We don't know for sure how Moxon got the idea for "Mechanick Exercises," but I can tell you it is very possible that being a printer he had a copy of the French book soon after publication in 1676 and got the brainwave to take it one step further. I know when I was looking at Felibien and starting to understand some of the text, I found myself wondering: Okay, I know it's a woodpress, but describing it isn't enough. How do you use it? And, nice chisels! What do you use them for?

I guess that's the same question Moxon asked himself. But unlike me, he got off his duff and published a book about it.

Ask M&T: “What is a Fore Plane?”

The Mortise & Tenon Magazine Blog - Wed, 11/01/2017 - 3:57am


Mike and I just posted a new installment of our YouTube series: “Ask M&T”. In this video, we cover one of the most frequent questions we get online or at shows: What is a fore plane? Mike recounts his early struggles with hand tools using a little block plane to remove bulk material and eventually realized he was using the wrong tool for the job. What he needed was the coarse roughing tool called a fore plane. In this video, we explain why we believe this tool is absolutely essential for every hand-tool woodworker. 

We then touch on the history of the terms “fore” plane, “jack” plane, and “scrub” plane and explain our preference for the wooden version. There is also some discussion about where to get them and what to look for. 

The three key features of a fore plane are:

  1. 16” length (give or take a couple inches)
  2. Convex iron
  3. Wide open mouth 

Enjoy the video and send us more questions for future installments!

- Joshua


Categories: Hand Tools


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