It’s quite difficult to determine a species of wood from a 16th-century engraving of it.
So we don’t know for certain what sort of wood would be used to make early squares, rules and levels. One clue comes from W.L. Goodman, who wrote a two-part history of marking and measuring tools for The Woodworker magazine in 1964.
Here’s what he wrote:
“Mediaeval building accounts often refer to the purchase of old wine casks, usually made of Baltic oak or wainscot, for the carpenters to make their straight-edges, rules, and squares from this well-seasoned hardwood.”
Goodman also briefly discusses the Melencolia-type squares in the article and said they were for “setting out.”
So if you want to build some old squares, drink up!
British woodworker Richard Arnold recently discovered an abandoned hand-tool joiner’s shop located only a few miles from his workshop.
Arnold says it looks like the shop was abandoned just before the second world war and looks as if it had never been mechanized. The pit saws were still hanging undisturbed on the walls.
Even more extraordinary are the pine or fir workbenches left in the shop. Each is about 30” tall and looks like it was built right out of Peter Nicholson’s treatise on joinery.
Two of the benches sport planing stops and leg vises with a traditional parallel guide. Yet neither appears to have a garter, as far as I can tell from the photos. Both benches have massive legs plus bearers that pierce the front and rear aprons and support the tops.
Perhaps most remarkable is that Arnold said the benchtops were only about 5/8” thick.
Arnold said there is a third workbench, not pictured, that appears to be an even earlier piece of work and didn’t have any vises attached to it. He promised that he would go back for a closer look and would report back.