The aesthetics of Moxon

Over the last 400 years, planes have evolved from being  constructed of wood, to being largely constructed of metal, and the ubiquitous infill planes which are hybrids of a sort. No woodworking tool has undergone the type of evolution that planes have.  Prior to 1600, there are very few specimens, apart from a few Roman planes some of which pre-date Pompeii in A.D.79. This could be largely because they were made of wood, and discarded when worn out – the metal blade used in another plane, or recycled into a new blade. They existed in a time when there were likely very few collectors.

Joseph Moxon (1627-1691) was an English printer of mathematical books and maps. In 1703, the 3rd printing of his book “Mechanick Exercises: or the Doctrine of handy-works” appeared, which described the five trades of smithing, joinery, carpentry, turning, and bricklayery. Within the section on joinery, he describes the various tools of the joinery trade. His description starts with “Plains of Several Sorts“.


From Joseph Moxon’s “Mechanick Exercises”, (3rd ed. 1703).

One of the most interesting aspects of Moxon’s drawings is the aesthetic appeal of the planes. Compared to planes that came later, these planes are extremely curved, which likely makes them quiet ergonomic to use. The curve of the handle is most interesting because it provides a more top-down approach to applying pressure (?). The use of curves shows a deep reverence for the plane makers craft, something that would disappear with the introduction of industrialized plane making. Features like the curve to the upper front throat is unusual because it likely doesn’t serve a functional value.

Plane curves.

joynt – joint
plain – meaning “flat, smooth”, from the Old French plain. Often used in lieu of the term plane.

Moxon describes the basic parts of a plane, as (a) the Tote, (b) the Mouth, (c) the Wedge, (d) the Iron, (e) the Sole, (f) the Fore-end, (g) the Britch, (h) the Stock – “all together a Plane”. Below are some interpretations:

B.1 A Fore Plain – It is called the Fore Plane because it is used before working with either the Smooth Plane or with the jointer (joynter in 1600s English). Described as using a blade with a convex arch in it as opposed to a blade with a straight edge which could in Moxons words “dig gutters on the surface of the stuff”. 

B.2 Of the Joynter – Somewhat longer than the fore-plane, it has a sole perfectly straight from end to end. It’s purpose is to follow the fore-plane, and to shoot an edge perfectly straight, and not only an edge, but also a board of any thickness. Moxon also mentions that the blade of the joynter must be set very fine.

B.3 The Use of the Strike-block – The strike-block is a plane shorter than the joynter having a sole which is exactly flat and straight, and is used for the shooting of a short joynt, because it is more handy than the long joynter. It is also used for the framing, and fitting the joints of miters and bevels.

B.4 The Use of the Smoothing Plane – The smoothing-plane has a very fine iron, because its work is to smoothen the irregularities made by the fore-plane.

B.5 The Use of the Rabbet Plane – The rabbet-plane is used to cut part of the upper edge of a board, i.e. square down into the board, so that the edge of another board cut in the same manner, may fit and join into the square of the first board cut this way. When two boards are lapped like this on the edges over one another, this lapping is called rabbetting.


Block planes: Stanley No. 9¼

The Stanley No.9¼ block plane was a late entry into the Stanley catalog, appearing in 1947, and disappearing in 1982. This is one of many block planes Stanley seemed to produce in this period. This plane is 6″ in length, has a 1-5/8″ wide cutter, and a  bed angle of 20°, with both blade depth and lateral adjustment mechanisms. Unlike many of its contemporaries, such as the No.9½, this plane does not have an adjustable throat, but does provide a brass front knob (really a thumb rest). In fact, aside from the adjustable mouth, it is a carbon copy of the No.9½. Construction of the plane did not vary much over its lifespan, with the major difference being the change in colour from japanned black to painted, dark blue to red.




Architectural heritage… another one bites the dust

Sometimes it seems as if Toronto is a city of constant construction. But there is also a darker side to many cities, and that is the destruction that occurs, and often it very much goes under the radar. I’m talking about historical buildings of course. Toronto has a varied history in making historically significant buildings disappear. I think one of the most significant losses was the Toronto Armouries. Built in 1891, it was demolished in 1963 to make way for the provincial courthouses that sit on the site today. Many such buildings have disappeared, often due to a lack of interest in maintaining historic architecture for the future.

The Toronto Armouries after 1900 (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1568, Item 0220)

Another classic loss is that of Chorley Park, the fourth Government House built in Ontario (and the last). It was built between 1911-1915, and lasted a mere 45 years before it too was demolished in 1960 after the city of Toronto bought the house for $100,000. The 1960s of course marked a time when Toronto demolished much of its architectural legacy. Chorley Park is today parkland.

Chorley Park (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 1128)

You have to wonder when there are books dedicated to Toronto’s lost architectural treasures, like Doug Taylor’s “Lost Toronto“. Lost not because of natural disasters, or war, but because of progress. Look, I’m not against progress, as long as that progress is achieved in a way that balances the history of a city, and the need to build non-descrip, monolithic buildings. And let’s face it much of what is built in the modern world lacks character. The demolitions continue however, sometimes an “accident” by a developer, often planned. One of the more recent victims, the buildings of the Davisville Junior Public School, being demolished to make way for a new school. I do whole-heartedly understand the new for new facilities, but it does lend itself to the gradual erosion of both our cultural, and architectural heritage.

Nixing the Davisville Junior Public School buildings.

Davisville Junior Public School was built in 1962, and represents (or did represent) a prime example  of the mid-century modern style that flourished in Toronto after WW2. At the time the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) had its own in-house architects, lead by chief architect Frederick Etherington. Ultimately a lack of funds to maintain the building (leaky roof anyone?), and upgrade it, has lead to its doom (note that two architects, Carol Kleinfeldt and Roman Mychajlowycz offered the TDSB two pro bono expansion plans that would have saved the building). At the end, as you can see it will be all gone by the end of next week. I photographed the school just after Christmas, and decided to post it as a B&W photo, to indicate that the building will soon be just a memory (and I should have spent more effort photographing it).

Other cities like Montreal seem to do a much better job at maintaining and promoting their architectural heritage, even restricting the building of huge monolithic towers. Toronto on the other hand seems to love the concept of facadicide (but we’ll leave that to another post).