Full Chisel Blog

January 28, 2009

Delving into Moxon

Filed under: Historical Material,Moxon,Of Interest,The Trade,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 7:28 am

The Art Of Joinery by Joseph Moxon in London in 1703 was a collection of pamphlets originally published in 1678 and was the first English language book describing woodworking.  It is a unique insight into eighteenth century woodworking practices, many of which are familiar today.  Moxon did have some experience, his mention about glue for one and he was a mathematical instrument maker, so he had some hands on knowledge of the period.

He also took it upon himself not to state the obvious, giving short shrift to many things we would love to read.  Then there is the problem with reading some of his text, for example his explanation of the plow plane (let alone the engraving is reversed) is senseless when you read it, he refers to both the body/fence and two beams as staves.

               Moxon plow

Here is the plow plane in its non reversed configuration.

Then there is the problem of the engravings, of course scale is not there unless it is the ruler.  And the text doesn’t match the engraving as Chris Schwarz points out in his analysis.  There is also a problem with the engraving in that the number 2 in 12 is off the end of the ruler.

Moxon’s description of the pricker (not wanting to call it the vulgar ‘awl’) with a square (as opposed to round) shaft and scoring the wood to prevent splitting says a lot.  Some of his text about the techniques may seem counter-intuitive but once they are given a go, the results can be surprising.

Using a sharpening stone upside down was nothing new to me, I have used this method since I first learn to properly sharpen tools.  The great advantage is that you can easily view the progress of your sharpening without having to reverse the blade.  This works especially well on knife blades.

Also using the strike block plane upside down seems odd, yet I have reversed planes and pulled small pieces over the blade, I will have to try some other things like miters.  I have yet to subject a saw blade to his particular description of using a saw wrest, but I intend to in the near future.

I have also added a Category ‘Moxon’ because I am sure there will be more said latter.  Also check out Leif’s review over on Norse Woodsmith of the Schwarz edition.


January 23, 2009

A Swiss Spinning Wheel

And this one is in cherry and ivory with some maple parts.  I will not have all of the parts to show the complete wheel but I have been promised pictures from the owner when it is finished.  It has a shellac finish.

Swiss Wheel

It is laying on its side on my bench, one leg is broken.

I had to make a couple of parts, instead of repairing them, this is one of those pieces.

Spinning wheel part one

Here it is after I have split off the sides and reduced it to its proper size.  I still need to drill a hole.

Spinning wheel part two


I need to make another similar piece that is slightly smaller and with no hole.  The replacement looks bigger than it is because of the brighter color.  When it is stained it will ‘look’ and be the same size.



January 21, 2009

Handcart 1856

Filed under: Historical Material,Of Interest,Techniques,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 3:03 pm

The following text is from Hand Carts to Zion by the Hafens.  Most of it is a footnote.




“The open handcart was made of Iowa hickory or oak, the shafts and side pieces of the same material, but the axles generally of hickory. In length the side pieces and shafts were about six or seven feet, with three or four binding cross bars from the back part to the fore part of the body of the cart; then two or three feet space from the latter bar to the front bar…

“The carts were the usual width of the wide track wagon. Across the bars of the bed of the cart we generally sewed a strip of bed ticking or a counterpane [bed sheet]. On this wooden cart of a thimbleless axle, with about a 2 1/2 inch shoulder and one inch point, were often loaded 400 or 500 pounds of flour, bedding, extra clothing, cooking utensils and a tent. How the flimsy Yankee hickory structure held up the load for hundreds of miles has been a wonder to us since then.” Josiah Rogerson, in the Salt Lake Tribune, Jan. 4, 1914 as quoted in Handcarts to Zion p. 54 – 55.





(footnote 1, p.53)

Upon being requested for suggestions relative to the construction of handcarts, C.R. Dana wrote to F.D. Richards from Manchester, England, on Feb. 7, 1856: “Supposing that a suitable person should be sent to the Iowa for that purpose, he should in the first place eek out some good timber adjacent to a saw mill, and near the outfitting point.  He should select hickory for axle-trees, red or slippery elm for hubs, white oak for spokes and rims to the wheels, white ash for fills or shafts, and for making cribbs or beds.  I am of the opinion that the axle-trees should be sawed two and a half by three and a half inches.

            “The oak for the rims should be sawed into boards about three quarters of an inch thick, and ripped into strips three inches wide, or two and a half might possibly do.  The timber for them should grow on low ground, as that kind is much easier to bend, and very tough.  The axle-trees, hubbs, and spokes should be first prepared, so that they could have time to season.

            “When the hubbs are prepared, the spokes driven and tenoned, the rims should then be mortised, or bored, to receive the spokes.  The inside corners of the rims should also be rounded off to prevent the sand from gathering and remaining on them…I am confident that carts could be cuilt that would be substantial, light, and easy to draw; and I will venture to say that they need not cost more than four or five dollars each; for there would be no necessity for any planing, or any polishing, only the arms or spindles at the axle-trees, and a very little about the shafts.”  Millennial Star, XVIII (1856) 127-28.

            The carts of the Fourth and the Fifth companies were made in great haste, due to the lateness of the season.  John Chislett, who came in the Fourth Company, says of their construction:

            They had to be made on the camp-ground.  They were made in a hurry, some of them of very insufficiently seasoned timber, and strength was sacrificed to weight until the production was a fragile structure, with nothing to recommend it but lightness.  They were generally made of two parallel hickory or oak sticks, about five feet long, and two by one and a half inches thick.  These were connected by one cross-piece at one end to serve as a handle, and three or four similar pieces nearly a foot apart, commencing at the other end, to serve as the bed of the cart, under the centre of which was fastened a wooden axle-tree, without iron skeins.  A pair of light wheels, devoid of iron, except a very light iron tire, completed the “divine” handcart.  Its weight was somewhere near sixty pound.”-“Mr. Chislett’s Narrative,” in T.B.H. Stenhouse, The Rocky Mountain Saints (New York, 1873), 314.




Hafen, LeRoy R. and Ann W. Hafen, Handcarts to Zion.  Glendale, CA: The Arthur H. Clark Company, 1960.

This is my take on the handcart from the description.


I think I got it right.


January 20, 2009

Taking a closer look

Filed under: Of Interest,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 8:01 am

I was inspired by Chris Schwarz’s mention of this ‘toy’ on his blog, so I went out and bought one.  It is a toy called EyeClops and is a digital microscope.  It is fussy to focus and low magnification, I can imagine the problem of focusing on high resolution.

Maple 100x

These are the medullary rays of hard maple.

Flat Bastard File 100x

This is a flat bastard file magnified one hundred times, the shiny spots are dull spots.

Mill Bastard 100x

And this is a Mill Bastard file, magnified 100 times, again the shiny spots are dull.  These are a pair of 4 inch long tapered flat files with fine teeth.

I will use this fine philosophical instrument to look at cutting edges of tools, when they are dull and when they are sharp.  I also want to examine wood grain after different treatments such as split wood, sawn wood, planed wood, scraped wood, sanded wood, etc., to compare the differences.

I still have to work on focusing as well as lighting, although the tool has built in lighting on darker surfaces it isn’t quite enough.


January 19, 2009

Not Me?

Filed under: Historical Material,Of Interest,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 8:56 am

A friend of mine sent me this old photograph and asked how old I really was?  He is convinced that the person standing next to the platform (left of center) just below the boys is me.

Old Image

Well I don’t remember this photograph being taken, the character with his hands in his pocket, wearing that bowler does look a lot like me?


January 15, 2009

The uses of the compasses

Now Joseph Moxon does give us three sentences with one of them describing their office of describing circles and to set off a distance from the rule…


[The above are a bit later than Moxon’s time and the distance between prickers can be set with the quadrant and thumbscrew.]

This is another tool that I think Moxon may have not gone on about because of its ubiquitous nature.  This tool is used by sailors at sea to plot their course, surveyors to measure maps, carpenters to transfer measurements, turners to replicate work, joiners, cabinetmakers, instrument makers, &c,

Everyone knew how to use the compasses, right?  Well today we call them ‘a compass’, perhaps ‘a pair of compasses’, although not that common or more often ‘dividers’.  We think circles and certainly they are used for that, more often they were used to scribe parallel lines.  Or they were used to scribe odd shapes by maintaining an equal measuring distance.  For scribing coped moldings, to scribe odd shapes, etc.

A pair of dividers can be set at a certain distance (taken from a rule) and that mark transcribed repeatedly.  One wing of the dividers can act as a fence, ride along the edge of a board and scribe a uniform mark as with a marking gauge.  The compasses can be used to walk off (and leave a mark if you push the pricker hard) distances.

Cutting dovetails?  The most important mark when gang cutting tails of dovetails is the square across the end-grain.  Using a compass will put both marks on the end-grain with just one set of the square.  Reduces time in layout for dovetails and the length of mortises.  Also great for laying out the extra shoulders on tenons when a marking gauge just won’t quite fit.

If you can’t read numbers, can’t see well, only have a metric rule or are otherwise encumbered, the compass give an accurate representation of what you are measuring, properly transfer the measurement and not transposed numbers or the like, the compasses ascribe accurately.  And they can make two marks at once.

Then there is determining the number of segments in a circle, laying out a Dutch star, walking off distance and the other things that this fine philosophical instrument is capable.  Again I think this tool doesn’t get the attention of fancy tools like saws and hand planes and its capabilities are not fully realized.  I also think trammels or a beam compasses are also largely overlooked tools and go beyond the span of a pair of dividers.

So pick up a compasses and be mindful of the two sharp prickers and you will see it is more than I described.


January 12, 2009

Extrapolating Moxon’s The Art Of Joinery {1703}

Because Moxon’s work is one of the first English language books about woodworking has grabbed my attention.  And because of the early engravings and text it is possible to determine some shop practices of our ancestors.  (Look familiar?)

Moxon Study 1

I will make a shorter hand screw to fit in the face vise, but it works great.  I jam the wood into the cleat then snug up the hand screw.  I had made the drawing of the Moxon bench last summer but I couldn’t finish it because I was uncertain as to how the vise looked.  Then thanks to Chris Schwarz’s edition of this seminal work, I put text to engraving.

I do have to do some work on the Moxon Smoother as the curves on both the front and the back are not severe enough.  I finished it off today and didn’t have the book with me at the shop.  I will round over the front and back, perhaps carve a date, stamp my mark, slap on some oil and figure out what is the next arcane tool I will make.

Moxon Smoother

This one is in maple, thick beech eludes me.  It went quicker that the first coffin smoother that I made, is the same 50 degree bed but is about two inches longer than the boat shaped smoother.

As helpful as the text in Moxon about workbenches and other items, certain tools were given short shriff.  For instance, the compasses or dividers and the two sentences about the smoothing plane, woefully inadequate.  And why is this?  I think that a lot can be gotten from Moxon as much by what is not said as what is said.  Why are some of these tools just given tertiary mention?  Probably because of familiarity, one wouldn’t necessarily state the obvious.  And that would have been obvious to people at the time period, it would have been general knowledge, so why say it again?

For such a slim volume, Moxon speaks a great deal.  There is much that can be gleaned from this tome.


January 11, 2009

Ironing out this pressing issue…

Filed under: Historical Material,Of Interest,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 4:21 pm

I am not sure why I said that other than I can.  And it is not like I need another ironing board, I have a nice old smaller wooden ironing board from the late nineteenth century.  And this one also dates from the last half of the nineteenth century, but is earlier.  It was at the local flea market and I just couldn’t pass it up for the price.

Wooden Ironing Board

It is larger that my old one, measuring 15 1/2″ wide, single board by 60″ long and goes from 27 inches on its lowest adjustment to 35 inches tall at its highest setting.  It has power planer marks, the ends are cut with a bow saw and the edges finished off with a hand plane and perhaps a spokeshave.


This signature appears on the top; A. Waltrup Iona ????? Idaho, and is written in pencil.  It was originally put on the bottom as the top has been reversed, hinge shadows on the top.  I do not know if it is the maker or the owners name.  Square nuts and hand made iron hardware.  I removed 4 nails, one staple and seven carpet tacks from the edge of the top.  The original covers were tacked on, there is evidence of several coverings on this board.  (Iona, Idaho settled in 1884)

The legs are tapered thinner at the ends, the stretchers are shouldered and wedged in place.  There is a reinforcing cleat on the rear (underside) of the top secured with two pointed screws.  The top is split on the end with the cleat and one stretcher is also fractured, but will be easy repairs.

Considering its age it looks like it has only one scorch mark on the top.  I seldom use the one I have for ironing but it is a nice horizontal surface to accumulate crap and this one has more square footage, so it will replace my small one until someone offers me enough for this one.  I will not mention what I paid for it but I didn’t even beat the guy up on the price.

It is made of clear pine.


January 9, 2009

The Moxon Workbench

Filed under: Historical Material,Moxon,Of Interest,Proper Tools,Uncategorized,Workbench — Stephen Shepherd @ 5:55 pm

Well here is my take on the Moxon Workbench from The Art of Joinery, 1703.  The bench is rendered correct in the engraving, others such as the plow plane is reversed as does happen with engravings of the time period.  The reason the engraving is correct is the catch is in the proper position for working right handed.

Moxon Work bench

And here is how the vise can also be used.  I think the front vise on the right is for dovetailing and other joinery, not for holding boards when planing, that is the job of the single screw vise on the left.  The double threads don’t need to be that long and are contained within the back chop.

Moxon Bench 2

The twin screw vise can be repositioned as mentioned in Moxon’s text and secured with a holdfast.  I am not sure how the vise is secured to the front of the bench, where it is in the position it is in the engraving.

The perspective is raked in the engraving of Moxon’s workbench and that may account for the direction of the single hand screw on the vise on the left, the first vise that Moxon describes.


January 8, 2009

Tenons: Shoulders or Cheeks first?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 9:49 am

Here is another can of worms, together with dovetail pins or tails, air dried verses kiln dried wood, &c.  I honestly don’t care which is first or best, well that is not quite true, I always cut tails first and air dried wood is much better, I just don’t care for a lot of controversy.  Well that is not true either.

Here is an illustration from Country Furniture by Aldren A. Watson, 1974, and that book together with Eric Sloan books were major influences in my early corruption development of an obsession fascination with hand tool woodworking and history.  This drawing just didn’t get it correct.

Miter Box ?

Here is what it is suppose to look like, there is a saw involved and I would call this a backed tenon saw, but not in the way that the term is used today.

Tenon Clamp & Saw

The properly marked stuff being tenoned is placed in the clamp with the proper offset to match the offset of the blade in the saw with the sole of the saw.  This saw is more like a plane than a saw, it has a tote, knob and sole.  The saw works against the clamp and the shoulder cut is made to the cheek marks left by the mortise gauge.

I intend to make one of these but I will build a slightly simpler version, not all tenon clamps have the multiple angled jaws.

This tool allows for cutting both, or even three or all four shoulders, without repositioning the stuff as you would have to do using a side rest (bench hook) or miter box.

Does this answer the controversy?  No, you could just as easily cut the cheeks first, then the shoulders.  That is just not the way I was taught, nor how I make tenons.  I cut the shoulders first, reduces possible splitting when making the cheeks.  Another reason I cut shoulders first is that I almost never saw the cheeks, I almost always split and pare the cheeks with chisels


Older Posts »

Powered by WordPress