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.


Re-siding the shed

The shed in my backyard is over 10 years old now, and I have been slowly renovating it over the last couple of years. The original siding was inexpensive pine (6″, rabbeted)  that I attached directly to the plywood carcass, i.e. no furring strips. The siding was stained years ago, and just looked tired, and I wanted to allow it to breath better, so I decided to replace it with something that will last the remainder of the shed’s life. So I ordered some 6″ rabbeted siding from Quebec company Maibec. The old siding went to a good home, to be re-cycled into a new shed. One benefit of this siding is that it comes pre-painted – factory painted lumber is great because it has been added in an environment-controlled facility, and is painted all-six-sides. Another benefit is that there is a whole bunch of matching trim. Even the nails to attach the siding come colour-matched.

A half complete wall.

Maibec have a bunch of different options, and a bunch of different systems, and I have to say the material is a pleasure to work with. The siding is kiln-dried spruce-fir, as opposed to generic siding that is a hodge-podge of species, and often warped. I used 1×3 furring strips, aligned with the 2×6 walls, so 14-16″ apart. The siding is attached using ring shank nails, and Maibec provide a special plastic hammer-cap to prevent marring the nails. They also provide a multitude of perforated ventilation strips for the top and bottom of walls to allow for ventilation behind the siding, and preventing pests from entering.

Ventilation strips

It is not inexpensive (likely C$6 a square foot all in for materials), but there are inherent labour savings from not having to paint the siding, and deal with warped siding.

Framing a picture

Sometimes when we travel we go to art galleries. I’m not a big fan of modern art, but I do have a soft spot for those large historical landscapes, the ones that are 6’×8′ or larger. However the one thing that I always find fascinating, but most people likely ignore, are the frames. These masterpieces are usually just used to support the picture, but they should be on show by themselves. The frame makes the picture. Their intricate hand-carved details, and gilded surfaces, like the paintings they frame are a slice of history we may never build in the same way again.

A very strange block plane indeed – a Siegley No.18

A couple of years back I posted about two No.18 block planes which seemed oddly configured. One was very odd, because it didn’t fit any time frame for the No.18. No markings, no nothing… or so I thought. On the back side of the blade was a trademark for SIEGLEY, almost shrouded by the depth adjustment grooves. This is the trademark of the Siegley Tool Co.  The company was founded in New York, and was active 1878-1905, before it was sold to, you guessed it, Stanley. Also on the back of the blade was the mark “SBS” which supposedly means Stanley and Siegley, and “B” indicates a block plane. But honestly there isn’t too much information out there on Siegley.

So this is what the Siegley No.18  looks like (and I’ll call it a No.18 because I have seen a catalog with Siegley block planes all having similar Stanley nomenclature):

The trimmings all appear nickel plated. The two things that had me flummoxed were: (i) the lack of a trademark on the lever cap (I just couldn’t find any Stanley lever caps  without trademarks), and (ii) the weird eccentric lever mechanism. This does look similar to the Stanley patent for the eccentric lever, but again I could find no examples of Stanley planes that used this. Of course the other thing about this plane is that the parts just did not fit together. The centred hump of the plane body, and Hand-y make it circa 1898 from Stanley’s perspective, and the lever cap fits because it existed until the improved version  replaced it in 1914. But the eccentric lever *seemed* like something from pre-1898, maybe something closer to Stanleys patent date of 1894? A first trial?

So it’s entirely possible that this plane is post 1905, making use of the new body shape/Hand-y and knuckle lever cap from Stanley, and the eccentric lever from Siegley, which may have been of knock-off of Stanley’s patent. A similar mechanism is shown in this article from the Early American Industries Association, describing some knuckle-lever planes from the Stanley Model Shop (i.e. not production models).



Too many things = collection

This is a question I ask myself a lot. Is it when going into your workshop seems overwhelming? Maybe it’s impossible to have too many tools. Maybe the problem is collecting. Ahhh… that’s it.

c   o   l   l   e   c   t   i   n   g

It”s such a simple thing. You start with one block plane. You get a second. before you know it you have ten of them, and you think, hey, why not start a collection. Then you have 20. 30. 40. You start to think of sub-categories – a nice collection of pressed-steel block planes? Maybe block planes from Sargent? Maybe aluminum block planes. Partially collecting provides a sense of preserving the past, and is there anything wrong with that? It happens in other things. Books? Why *not* collect mysteries set in Ancient Rome? Or books on tools. Cookbooks? Everyone has their own thing. I’m sure there are people that collect French copper pans.

The question of course is to define what “too many tools” is. Is 90 block planes to many? What about a couple of hundred No.4 smoothers, or a thousand different hammers? But collecting isn’t just about the physical object, it is also about exploring toolmakers, tool studies, tool design and aesthetics, and looking at how tools have evolved. As time progresses, collecting may become harder, as your collection fills up, and rare pieces become harder to find (or more costly). A tool collection is a living entity, implements which can be used – not every piece in a collection has to be a museum piece.

Or if you can’t get over the collecting bug, then maybe join the worlds largest tool collecting organization, the Mid-West Tool  Collectors Association. I think I might just join myself.



Deciphering an Austrian wooden plane

Last fall I bought a 60cm wooden jointer plane made by Johann Weiss & Son, from Vienna (Austria). It is challenging finding wooden planes made in Europe, and for C$20, it was a bargain.

The date at which this company was founded seem a little vague. After reading the literature, it seems as though the factory was founded in the 1820s by Bavarian cabinetmaker Johann Baptist Weiss, who emigrated to Vienna in 1809. The plane is a “Doppel-Rauhbankhobel mit Griff” – jointer plane (1909).

In the 1861 catalog, this plane was marked as a No.474, with a double-blade, and depth adjustment mechanism. This plane is likely constructed of beech, and has a laminated sole, which is laminated using a “V” shaped series of diagonal groves. The plane is stamped with the companies logo

The trademark on the blade is an Austrian eagle above a C-clamp surrounded by the company name. Apparently, prior to taking over iron manufacturer Franz Wertheim in 1911, plane irons were supplied by the firm Herman, and therefore have HERMAN stamped on the iron. This blade lacks that marking, so I would imagine it was manufactured after 1911. The art for the trademark on the blade seems to have been modified in 1897.

There are some cracks in the handle (which is also slightly warped), and there is de-lamination of the sole at one end, but I will try and re-glue it (a future post). This plane is likely constructed of beech, and has a laminated sole, which is laminated using a “V” shaped series of diagonal groves( as shown below).