Full Chisel Blog

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.



  1. Nice! I have plans to Moxonize my bench (sort of) since I think it will be so easy to do based on it’s current state. It works ok now but there are just some things that need to be changed, i.e. the height needs to be shortened by about 3-4 inches and the vise needs to be moved to the right hand side as it’s just in the way too often where it is now. Of course it’s removable which is nice but I think having it on the right hand side will require me to remove it less often. ANd of course I want to add the hook/jam cleat to the front edge and a new planing stop to the top as the 3/4″ dowel I’ve been using is getting loose in it’s hole and frequently falls out or moves while in use. Do you find a big improvement by having the screw on the jam cleat? I wouldn’t really think it would be that necessary based on the design of the cleat and I would think the screw would be in the way often times like having a vise on the front left would be. I do see how the screw might be good to aid in holding shorter pieces in the cleat.

    Love the plane too!


    Comment by Bob Rozaieski — January 13, 2009 @ 7:29 am

  2. Bob,

    Yes those little Moxonisms can add to (or in the case of vises removed from) the bench. This has been my opinion about workbenches for years, they can be to complex and some stuff can get in the way.

    As for the screw in the jam cleat, I haven’t had much of a chance to use it, but it does hold the stuff better. I jam the stuff into the cleat then just tighten the screw to just push the piece a bit toward the edge of the bench. It gives two points of contact (albeit close together) and it does deaden the piece, much as Moxon said to stabilize the work so it doesn’t ‘tremble’ or ‘shake’. The screw is easily removed and the jam cleat can also be removed.

    As soon as I find some suitable wood for the chops, I will make a double hand screw vise. I know how to hold it to the top of the bench (with a holdfast, thanks Mr. Moxon) but its method of attachment to the front of the bench still eludes me. I think it might be held like some other French woodworking appliances, but not sure.


    Comment by Stephen Shepherd — January 13, 2009 @ 9:04 am

  3. Stephen

    One theory kicking around is that Joseph Moxon did not do his own engravings. Rather, his son did them. Either way, neither was a professional engraver which would explain the less than precise renderings of some of the plates. Some plates were pulled directly from earlier French works which would explain the extra details, such as in the lathes. Whichever is true, Moxon did have a working knowledge of hand tools from his work as an instrument maker and even as a printer. Too bad perspective was not a commonplace skill at that time.

    Comment by Gary Roberts — January 13, 2009 @ 3:58 pm

  4. Gary,

    You are right about Moxon, he had some experience, although his comments on glue (and beer) I find interesting considering the chemistry of (hide) glue. Reversing images is not uncommon, look at his rabbit plane, the wrong end is rounded over and of course the plow plane. But then the Moxon text of the plow is as confusing as a Norwegian Saga or Leviticus.

    The bench indicates an attempt at perspective, however scale is confusing, the compass saw is probably smaller than imagined and not telling how long the whip saw is, other than the technological capabilities of the tool makers of the period.

    There is a lot of low hanging fruit here that needs picking.


    Comment by Stephen Shepherd — January 13, 2009 @ 6:04 pm

  5. Came across your website by accident… lots of neat stuff here to read through. Lots of old/new/good ideas. I tried emailing you with the two email addy’s… they got kicked back as undeliverable. How is one supposed to contact you these days to ask questions?

    If you want, ya’ll can email me at the addy I provided.



    Comment by Billy — January 13, 2009 @ 7:08 pm

  6. Billy,

    My contact information is posted on the blog up on the right hand side. I don’t type it as I don’t want any more web bots sending me stuff.


    Comment by Stephen Shepherd — January 13, 2009 @ 7:38 pm

  7. I did a bit more work on the smoother and got it more in line with the engraving.

    Moxon Smoother


    Comment by Stephen Shepherd — January 14, 2009 @ 3:40 pm

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