In Defense of the ‘Notched Batten’


When Richard Maguire posted his fantastic entry on using a notched batten to hold work in place on the bench, he was eviscerated by a certain segment of the woodworking populace because Richard said it was an old technique and yet he did not offer up footnotes and cites.

Today I’m going to set the record straight on that.

But first, a little begging. If you haven’t tried using a notched batten, stop reading. Close your laptop and go down to the shop. Make a notched batten and try it out. The notched batten is the difference between needing an end vise and not needing an end vise.

And now back to our regularly scheduled exoneration. Today while editing one of the translated sections for “Roubo on Furniture” (due in early 2015), I came across this passage:

To trim [set right] the planks on their edges, you hold them along the length of the bench with holdfasts, or even when they are too short, you hold them at one end with a holdfast, and the other with a planing stop [figure 17], which is itself held on the workbench with a holdfast, and which you close against the end of the plank with strikes of the mallet. The planing stop is a piece of hard wood, at the end of which is made a triangular notch, in which enters the end of the planks, see figure 19.

Fig17Yup. It is the notched batten, albeit a little shorter than the one currently on my bench. Curious, I went back to the original French to take apart some of the words. Roubo calls the device a le pied de biche, which in modern French comes out as “crowbar.” But more literally is “doe’s foot,” which is much more evocative. Fig. 19, by the way, shows a board being planed on its face, not just its edge.

So now we have a name for it. We have a solid 18th-century account of its use and a drawing.

And so I say to Richard’s critics: Shut it.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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25 Responses to In Defense of the ‘Notched Batten’

  1. Jason says:

    Really? People have nothing better to do than demand sources and cited references for woodworking techniques? I agree with Chris: people need to just shut it. Better yet, let THEM do the research and post their findings for the world. If they do, I expect a formal report with appropriate citations and a full bibliography, appendices detailing their research methods and real-worlds tests, and interviews conducted with traditionally trained masters of the craft who’ve used the technique in question. Anything less would make their statements suspect and we simply couldn’t trust their information.

    People need to get over themselves and start directing their righteous indignation at issues of actual importance to the world. It’s just another work-holding method for cry out loud.

  2. bernardnaishb says:

    I agree. We do not want to hear negative comments particularly regarding very tallented and respected hand wood workers. My father and Grandfather used these so I know we are looking at English joiners methods dating back to at least 1890 and probably very much earlier. I am glad Richard reminded me about this very practical device.

  3. delaneyp2014 says:

    A timely post, I just made a notched batten to help secure a stretcher I was planing for my Roubo Workbench build. It works flawlessly, I got the information from Richard’s website and excellent video. I appreciate Richard’s efforts and time for sharing this valuable information.

  4. amen to the preacher.

  5. paul6000000 says:

    Yes. People are weird. Even about valuable advice they’re getting for free.

  6. Damien says:

    Already proposed then, just after our inquisitive commentator, we can read: “Derek Olson (Old Wolf Workshop) points to Roubo’s “L’art du Menuisier” plate 14, figure 17 for an example. Guess we’ll know for sure when the translation comes out in print.” Apparently Derek Olson knows his classics.

    • I’d say it’s better to be lucky than good!! Still it’s a pretty cool feeling to know I’d found it. Thanks Damien for calling me out. 🙂

      I think this only proves how valuable the upcoming “Book of Plates” really will be. Without text or context I was able to find evidence of this technique from some online scans of the plates. I cannot wait to get my hands on the full size, high quality version.

      Here was my post about the Doe’s Foot. (I love that it has a name like that!)

  7. calebjamesplanemaker says:

    It’s simple. It works. That’s good enough for me but it’s interesting to see we are just rediscovering what was already there and a historical reference to back it up.


  8. I ran to the shop the second I saw Richards video. It is a fantastic tool that actually makes planing and checking square super easy. People have nothing better to do I swear.

  9. Ron Harper says:

    It is so very simple, and should have been obvious to us a long time ago.. I made mine the minute that I finished the video a few months ago.

  10. premodernbloke says:

    I read all of the comments on Richard’s original post and could only find one person who asked about the historicity of the device. It appeared to me that they did so in a civil, kind and sincere fashion. Virtually the entire remaining 80+ comments were all either thankful, complimentary or re-enforcing of the usefulness of the technique based upon their own experience. No “evisceration”, and certainly no justification for the rather blustering demand to “shut it”.

  11. Mike Baggett says:

    Well we wouldn’t want to do anything without documented proof that someone else has already done it.

  12. tsstahl says:

    I often look at my bench and exclaim “ain’t that a biche!”

    Now I have a citation shut anyone up–er, justify talking to myself.

  13. I’m curious if, all else being equal, would you recommend and end vice to the average woodworker? I have used the batten and it works great, but if I could snap my fingers and have a end/wagon vice it seems like that would work better in most situations? Or do you actually prefer not having an end vice?

    • I tell people to go with their gut because either way works. You can always add an end vise later. Or you can use the doe’s foot and ignore your end vise.

      I have a personal preference, but it is nothing more significant than that.

  14. I think that board’s grain is giving the critics the bird.

  15. I use one of these often, rather than use a holdfast to hold it into place, I have one made with dowels installed through the stop so they can fit in the dog holes on one of my benches. BTW, use two dog holes and it won’t move around. Never really occurred to me to care about where it started in the historical record – some people need to get themselves a life!

  16. Time for Veritas to come out with an extruded aluminium precision version of this with integrated hold down?

    • dndculp says:

      By boring a hole the size of the hold down in the end opposite the notch and dropping the hold down through it you’ve just saved the price of a custom extruded Veritas version and it keeps it lined up properly:-)

  17. I don’t have an end vise, but wish I did. A while ago I made a doe’s foot to edge plane small parts that don’t work well in my face vise, and it works great. I don’t remember where I got the idea, but it sure wasn’t from some dead Frenchman, and even if it was, I wouldn’t give him the credit. Mine is 3/4″ thick which makes it great for edge planing, but I’ll have to make a thinner one a try it for face planning. It seems like it wouldn’t work, but I’ll try it. Chris’ word is all the documentation I need.

  18. toolnut says:

    “Roubo calls the device a le pied de biche, which in modern French comes out as “crowbar.” But more literally is “doe’s foot,” …”

    In Don’ s upcoming translation, does he translate it to crowbar or doe’s foot? Just trying to understand the translation process. I could see it going either way although I do have a preference toward doe’s foot.

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