A 1781 Workbench and Many Questions


The workbench shown above is featured in Johann Georg Krünitz’s “Oekonomische Encyklopädie,” a remarkable work of 242 volumes. I don’t have the translated text that accompanies this plate, so I’m going to make some educated guesses about this workbench. (In other words, you get what you paid for with this blog entry.)

This 1781 plate looks like a French workbench, not just in its form but also based on the handplanes shown on the floor (that tote is tres French). Also, this bench is shown on a page of “Oekonomische Encyklopädie” with other benches that are quite obviously Germanic, perhaps as a contrast between the forms.

My best guess is the engraver copied it from another work, which is why the bench is shown in reverse – the crochet and planing stop are on the right side of the bench.

Several things are notable about this bench. Briefly:

  1. It shows a “doe’s foot” in use on the benchtop, secured under the pad of a holdfast.
  2. And look: A fathom leaning against the wall to the left of the bench.
  3. The most titillating part of the plate is the double-screw device shown on the floor at bottom left. It looks like half of a Moxon-style vise that is missing its back chop. My best guess is that the screws thread into the holes shown on the left side of the benchtop. This is what Moxon’s engraver seemed to be showing in his 17th-century plate. I measured the distance between the two screws on this plate from Krünitz, and it matches the distance between the two holes on the left end of the benchtop. And this is exactly where I would put such a device.

For me this plate raises a lot of questions about the original source material. I have always assumed that Joseph Moxon copied his bench from André Félibien and modified the engraving to add a double screw vise and some other bits and pieces. This plate makes me want to search a little harder for French drawings of benches in the 17th century in addition to André Félibien’s. I know this sounds like a grassy knoll theory. That’s because it is.

— Christopher Schwarz

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10 Responses to A 1781 Workbench and Many Questions

  1. fitz says:

    Yellow pine journalism. Nice. (And yes, it took me 5 months to notice that tag.)

  2. Jeff Burks says:

    That illustration was copied from an earlier French text about scientific experiments. I just sent you my copy of the image that is not reversed.

    L’ Art Des Expériences (Vol 1) – Jean Antoine Nollet – 1770

  3. Rachael Boyd says:

    love this history stuff. I have made a bunch of the old wooden tools that they show in Moxon and Roubo

  4. derekcohen says:

    Chris, I’d say that this is likely to be a left hand bench, rather than a picture in reverse. Also, there is a sector on the bench top.

    Regards from Perth


  5. Given your little Dallas tie-in it will be ironic if it turns out Félibien acted alone.

  6. My dovetail clamp (Moxon vice) also slides into holes on the back of my bench. I am thinking of adding holes at the front as well or making a new back chop to use it on top of the bench.

  7. alexandermes says:

    Chris, your correct that the double screw device fits the holes on the left site of the bench. In the text it explains how it works. For me the surprising part was that it sais it has 3 holes in the chop and 3 in the bench, so you could use it for small an big pieces .

  8. jkvernier says:

    At least you have a smoking gun for the doe’s foot; that’s pretty unambiguous. I think that’s just a four-fold rule on the bench top. Apparently they were available by the later 18th century (Christopher Gabriel offered them), although the two-fold rules were more common until some decades later.

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