One of the earliest images of a try square that I know of is a carpenter from the tomb of Rekhmire in Egypt, a New Kingdom official from the 18th dynasty (1543-1292 BC). The image shows a carpenter in a traditional (plaid flannel) loincloth using a straightedge on a piece of work. On the floor is a miter square, a form that remained unchanged until the 18th century.
And on the wall is a try square that looks darn modern. It looks nothing like a Melencolia I square.
Many of the hand tools we use today are descended in some way from Egyptian tools that later made their way to Asia and Europe – via Greece and Italy. But as far as I can tell, the Melencolia square emerged sometime after the Egyptians and then disappeared. We woodworkers reverted back to the Egyptian-style try square for some reason.
After making at least a dozen of these Melencolia-style squares, I can assure you that I’ll be keeping the form alive – at least in Kentucky. They are simple, compact and easy to use.
Today I made a pair of squares that are the last in this series. I must get on with building furniture that puts food on the table. These last two squares are the improved “Romanian” form of the Melencolia I square. The improvement is that the blade is a bit wider than the stock, making them easier to true up.
Both of the squares I made today were slightly out of true, and it was indeed much easier to bring them into line because the blade was wider. If you make one of these squares, I recommend this modification.
As a final note, thanks to Jeff Burks for his research and for pointing out these squares to me in the first place. Without his keen eye, I’d have never noticed them.
Once you start looking, it’s easy to see (or think that you see) Melencolia squares in many old drawings.
Suzanne Ellison sent me this 1863 ink drawing of a Sikh carpenter that is in the collection of the University of California. Look at the guy’s feet. One is next to a marking gauge. The other is next to an odd angular thing.
As there is no try square shown in the illustration, it’s plausible that the thing touching the carpenter’s big toe is a simple square with a shaped blade.
If you are building a Dutch Tool Chest, you have a number of good choices when it comes to the hardware. Here is some of the hardware I’ve had success with.
Black Bear Forge. John Switzer, the blacksmith at Black Bear Forge, can provide everything you need for the chest at a reasonable price for handmade work. The strap hinges and hasp are $250 as a set. Chest lifts are $65 a pair. This is gorgeous stuff and is what I have on my personal chest.
John makes things one at a time, so be sure to give him some lead time when planning your project.
Lee Valley Tools carries a lot of hinges that work well with this project.
Unequal Strap Hinges. The two longer hinges (with the 9-1/2”-long leaf) are best for the Dutch chest. With these hinges, you screw the short leaf onto the back of the chest. Yes, it’s traditional.
Equal Strap Hinges. These are also surface-mounted on the back of the chest and the inside of the lid. No mortising is required – only a small notch in the lid to house the hinge’s barrel.
Large Strap Hinges. If security is a real concern, these hinges are a good choice. One end is mortised into the case and the strap is screwed to the lid. I don’t think these look quite as nice as any of the above options, but I’m a hardware snob.
The chest handles for this project can be difficult to source. I have some old brass ones, which are difficult to find for some reason. Lee Valley offers these nice iron ones. I also encourage you to search on eBay. I’ve had good luck there.
Van Dyke’s Restorers also carries a lot of strap hinges. Here is a good place to start. Most of the hinges that have one leaf that is a butt hinge and the second leaf is a strap will work. But check the measurements to make sure the leaves aren’t too big. Some of these hinges are for architectural woodwork.
Van Dyke’s also carries some reasonably priced hasps, including this one.