Full Chisel Blog

September 18, 2009

What we can learn from History

Filed under: Hide Glue,Historical Material,Moxon,Of Interest,Techniques,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 5:56 am

We get to look at and work with old tools and some things don’t change and others do.  We have this historic record in books, publications, newspapers, advertisements, etc. of the period and they can shed a good deal of light on what was being done in the nineteenth century and earlier.  We get works like Diderot, Roubo, Moxon, Holtzhaffle, et al and those are great sources in both what they provide visually and verbally but they can also have another important piece of history.

Moxon said to avoid adding weak beer to Hide Glue to thin and extend its working time, saying that that didn’t work.  Well apparently enough people were doing just that or he wouldn’t have spoke up against the practice.  This is just what some people were doing.

In other publications, if the author say not to do something, that needs to be looked at, as apparently there were a number of people doing it to justify a caveat.  Not that you are reading anything into the history, but sometimes what is said can have more meanings than just on the surface.

Glean what information is there and look at what is not.  Some methods were not described by some authors as it was common knowledge.  Well that is fine if you have the common knowledge of the 17th, 18th or 19th century but not all of us have that.  And how close was the author to the trade?  Did they have passing knowledge and put together data from other sources or did they actually know the craft?  Moxon knew bookbinding, publishing and mathematical instrument making, how much did he know of bricklaying?

But at least we have that information and we can look at it from all angles, with different perspectives and with differing view points.  We should analyze the stuff, we should scrutinize the information and we should put it to the test to see if it works and what contribution it can make.



  1. Stephen,
    So – dont leave us in suspense! As the hide glue guru, what, in your opinion, is the value of adding beer to hide glue? Besides ruining the beer, that is. (grin)

    To your primary point, what is admonished against is often as important as what is espoused, with this I agree.


    Comment by Mike Holden — September 18, 2009 @ 8:29 am

  2. And the meaning of words change, particularly nouns. Weak beer is not the same thing as Budweiser. Actually, beer is not the same thing as Budweiser, but I digress…

    Reading old text is almost like learning another language, except worse because you think you know what the words mean.

    Comment by Ken Pollard — September 18, 2009 @ 9:06 am

  3. This concept – Moxon as a non-expert collector of other people’s untested wisdom – came up in the comments on another blog, and since the exchange was deleted I won’t mention which blog it was (as the owner obviously wasn’t so happy to have it). I lean strongly towards the notion that Moxon was simply looking for things to publish. In the absence of anything better he would collect together a treatise and print it in the hopes of making a good living from it. He may well have been an expert printer, but to think that he was also an expert joiner, an expert cabinetmaker, an expert bricklayer, etc. all at the same time… well, it seems preposterous to me.
    There are authors in this day and age that do something similar. Albert Jackson is one. He has written probably two dozen books on woodworking, period houses, finishing, plumbing and central heating, electrical wiring, restoration of furniture, etc. Is he an expert in all of these fields? I doubt it.


    Comment by Metalworker Mike — September 18, 2009 @ 10:10 am

  4. But would stronger beer be a good additive? Especially if, once the beer was added, there was more beer left in the bottle…

    Comment by Joe Cottonwood — September 18, 2009 @ 11:21 am

  5. Mike,

    I am one of those people Moxon warned you about. I have used beer to thin hot hide glue, I have even used it to thin liquid hide glue for certain applications where I needed a thin glue.


    And some words go out of use. I think all beer here in Utah is weak beer 3.2% alcohol.


    Moxon capitalized on what he could do, print books and collected the wisdom of those that knew what they were doing. In some instances I am sure some ‘trade secrets’ were not shared, but at least we have something from his efforts.


    I think the strength of the beer probably doesn’t matter, in hot hide glue at 145 degrees the alcohol doesn’t stay around a long time. And the hops would probably act as a preservative. It is pure, slightly sterile and convenient.


    Comment by Stephen Shepherd — September 18, 2009 @ 2:38 pm

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