Melencolia Square, Part 4: Look for a Sign


One of the signs that this near-vanished square was an important part of the woodworker’s kit is that it was used in signs and heraldry related to the craft.

The above image is the Cabinetmakers Coat of arms of the Vienna Commercial Co-operatives, circa 1900 (thanks to Jeff Burks for digging these images up). What makes this image particularly interesting is the metal sleeve around the blade of the square.

Could the metal sleeve be movable? Perhaps secured by a screw at the end of the brass flower? If so, it might be the long-lost ancestor to the Veritas Sliding Square.


Exhibit B: This is a 1554 wooden sign commemorating work done by the cabinetmakers guild in the Church of the Brethren; the photo is from the microfilm collection at the Städtisches Museum in the city of Braunschweig.

The Melencolia square is shown intertwined with a try square, next to a compass and above a plane – three of the most iconic early woodworking tools.


Exhibit C: An 18th-century shop sign from France. The square is crossed with a compass and try square. Thanks to Maurie Pommier, author of “Grandpa’s Workshop,” for pointing out this one, which is featured in W.L. Goodman’s “The History of Woodworking Tools.” This image was hiding in the section on saws.


And lastly, here is the square shown in the coat of arms for the joiners guild in Germany during the last decade of the 19th century. In this image there is no try square – only a compass, plane and the Melencolia square.


Next up: The easy-to-make Wierix Square. Or, as I call it, “Die Fledermaus.”

— Christopher Schwarz

The other articles in this series:
The Melencolia I Square, Part 1
Melencolia Square, Part 2: An Angular English Friend
Melencolia Square, Part 3: Construction


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15 Responses to Melencolia Square, Part 4: Look for a Sign

  1. frpaulas says:

    Cool series. Thanks!

  2. pracofnia says:

    Maybe you try it here It is a small museum not far from Vienna lead by Mr. Friedrich Hartl with a pretty impressive collection of old planes and tools.

  3. Roger Benton says:

    The lee valley link needs massaging. Any plans for a smoother sized version?

  4. Could the decorative side of the Melencolia blade be used to mark or tick off standard widths for mortices such as shelfs in a bookcase?

  5. jonathanszczepanski says:

    “Die Fledermaus”… Nice!

    • toolnut says:

      Wouldn’t that make a great LAP t-shirt? (Probably get sued by DC comics though.)

  6. Peter Buchin says:

    I understand the version for frustrated woodworkers in Amsterdam was known as The Flying Dutchman!!

    (These are the times that try men’s squares.)

  7. Kevin says:

    I really like the new Batman logo.

  8. carpenterman says:

    These images are intriguing. Perhaps there is a clue to the purpose of this ‘square’ not so much in what these coats of arms ARE showing, but in what they are NOT showing. There seems to be a representation of every essential/iconic tool in the toolbox except a ‘yardstick, ruler or it’s modern cousin a tape-measure.

    Growing up in Europe, wooden folding rulers (not widely spread here in the US) where as iconic to the trade as a plane. I know measuring is the enemy of accuracy, but look there are no numbers on the ‘square’. It reminds me a bit of those ‘ruler stops’ that places like Lee Valley are offering.

  9. frpaulas says:

    I should be adding value somewhere, but all I can think about is the non-straight edge being used as a story stick. When I make one, that is what I am going to use it for. Even so, when I looked at all the drawings etc. most of the curves looked concave. Two convex curves meeting could mark a fairly precise location. I single concave curve meeting a more or less straight line doesn’t seem that useful for lay out. But then, I am not a historian nor very good woodworker.

  10. toolnut says:

    Three observations (for what they are worth): First it is interesting how (in most images of this post) it is always intertwined with another tool, in this case what looks like a framing or layout square. I’m guessing the artist wants to make sure you know that these two tools always go together.

    Second, anyone else notice the speed square in the top left of exhibit ” C”?

    Third, I think you might be on to something with the metal bracket and the sliding square.

    • miathet says:

      I agree the sliding portion and using it like a simple story stick for repeated operations. It would be good for drawer fronts and stair treads where repeated straight sides are required.

  11. Mike Siemsen says:

    I am thinking that this is not a square at all but a tool used in the old guilds to beat apprentices with, hence the name,”Melancholia” .

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