In “The Anarchist’s Workbench” (download it for free here) I mention that the device we now call a “Crisscross” from Benchcrafted was once called “St. Peter’s Cross” or “Croix de St. Pierre.”
Several people have called foul, saying (as the record states) that St. Peter was crucified on an upside-down cross, not the X-shaped cross shape created by the mechanism. It was instead St. Andrew who was executed on an X-shaped cross. So the mechanism should be called the St. Andrew’s cross.
The reason I continue to call it St. Peter’s cross has nothing to do with religion, personal ignorance or trying to offend. I promise. Instead, the first place I can find a reference to the mechanism calls it “St. Peter’s Cross,” so I use the original name until I can find an earlier reference.
The reference is in the 1890 book “Every Man His Own Mechanic” (Ward, Lock & Co., London) by Francis Young. Young writes:
“This ingenious contrivance for keeping the inner surface of the cheek of the bench-vice parallel to the outer surface of the board that forms the front of the bench is the “Croix de St. Pierre,” or, “St. Peter’s Cross,” as it is called on the continent, where it is very generally adopted and used by all carpenters and joiners.“
Young might very well have been mistaken in calling it “St. Peter’s Cross.” Or perhaps Young called it that name for a reason we don’t know. Until I can find an earlier reference, I’ll continue to use the name that Young used when I talk about the mechanism’s history. And I’ll use “Crisscross” when referring to the modern mechanism.
— Christopher Schwarz
25 thoughts on “About the ‘St. Peter’s Cross’ Mechanism”
Me thinks people have too much time on their hands and an insufficient backlog of wood shop projects. “Crisscross” it shall be. I’m off to measure neighborhood hopscotch courts for rules violations.
They shall not press down upon the brow of readers this crown of thorns. They shall not crucify woodworkers upon a cross of pedantry.
Blasphemy. That’s what the internet is for!
In french carpentry, this cross is definitely called “Croix de Saint André”. Here is a earlier reference, in a 1878 book “Traité de l’art de la charpenterie. Tome 1” by Amand-Rose Emy:
“La fig. 1 de la pl. XXII présente une projection horizontale sur les faces
de parement d’une croix de Saint-André formée par l’assemblage à mi-
bois de deux pièces A, B, qui se croisent sous un angle quelconque.”
and the referenced figure:
Thank you! I have not seen that!
« À la fin du XIXe siècle, dans le faubourg Saint-Antoine, des forgerons eurent l’idée d’une croix de Saint-André en fonte qui, pour la première fois, libérait l’utilisateur de la contrainte d’un réglage adapté à l’épaisseur de la pièce. » (At the end of the 19th century, in the suburb of Saint-Antoine, blacksmiths had the idea of a cast St. Andrews cross which, for the first time, would free the user from the obligation of adjusting [the vise] to the thickness of the piece.)
From this website: https://www.l-atelier-bois.com/une-version-modernisee-pour-letabli-roubo/4801
There is no reference to the source of this affirmation however. I am trying to find something, but I have not succeeded yet.
Thank you Francis. This is why the internet is amazing.
Hey for what it’s worth I have just realized that “La Forge Royale”, the tool makers, were located on the rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine.
For what it’s worth as a contribution to the research, in this French joiner’s manual from 1880 (https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k96563209/f21.image see p. 11 f.) the bench, it says, is the first and most important tool of the joiner, should be made from beech, have a planing stop and holes for holdfasts, and also a leg vise:
“La presse à vis, adaptée à l’établi et fixée au pied de devant, a la forme d’une mâchoire d’étau, elle
porte à la partie inférieure un tasseau traversant le pied de l’établi, il est percé de trous placés à distance de façon à ce que la broche qu’on y introduit éloigne assez le bas de cette presse, pour que le mors, seul, serre la pièce de bois.”
[The leg vise, adapted to the bench and fixed to a front leg, is shaped like a vise jaw, and has in the lower part a lath that traverses the bench’s leg, that is pierced by holes placed at such a distance that the pin that one inserts there sufficiently distances the lower end of this vise, that only the jaws tightens on the piece of wood.]
In other words, this clearly describes a parallel guide.
In an aside on the same pages, the authors also claim that, although screw-down holdfasts exist, these are expensive and not in much use …
We should just call it Crisscross Applesauce, until the Applesaucians get offended and have nothing else to complain about.
I keep waiting for Christopher Cross (the singer) to weigh in.
There are some amazing finds here. You guys are great. You should sign your names followed by S.A., Schwarz’s Army.
With apologies to A. Conan Doyle, the Willard St. Irregulars?
I have an old, simple, cast iron version of this on my leg vise. Tough to install, but works well.
Ahhh, Labels.The one last thing in the world that everybody can agree on.
When I built my home just over 20 years ago near Montréal, I remember one of the framers saying that a well-built floor always has enough croix de Saint-André between the joists to prevent them from twisting. These croix are fixed in place of course. So the term croix de Saint-André is still in everyday use among carpenters in Québec, and probably by the same or another name elsewhere too.
Interesting info here. Nice to see people want to get woodworking history right. This is equally important as art history.
Canadian Woodworking issue #126, June/July 2020, has an article on making an auxiliary tall vice that features a St.Peter’s Cross mechanism. It gives full instructions for making the mechanism, which could easily be scaled up for a full-size leg vise.
I’ve taken to calling it, “That leg vise thingy”.
The flag of St Petersburg in Russian Federation has X shaped anchors in cross shape. Perhaps the 19th century English writers had seen this flag in Russian ships, because very similar looking X shaped flags, so called “Peter The Great flags) were used in Russian warships before the 1917 revolution.
Perhaps the cross keys of St. Peter?
Interesting discussion on name of the guide. Does the crisscross provide better functionality over the parallel guide with a pin? I can see it being a convenience item but does it hold better?
I put one on the leg vise of my new workbench. It works great–you don’t even know it’s there. No adjustment like the parallel guide. i didn’t find it hard to install, but I have a better equipped shop than most folks.
I’m quite certain that Mr. Young himself was set upon by corrective individuals post original publication.🧐
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