Chris Schwarz's Blog

Joseph Moxon's Double-screw Vise

When I was a young nerdling, I loved the video game “Ultima” , not because of the raping and the pillaging, but because you spent most of your time exploring a huge map of the world. Every place on the map that you had never been was pitch black, lightening up only when you stepped foot into the unknown.

I think that’s one of the reasons I like woodworking. My best days in the shop are when I’m trying to master something for the first time, or I’m exploring something I saw in an old woodworking book that didn’t make sense and left me in the dark.

This week I think I finally understand the so-called “double-screw” vise shown in Joseph Moxon’s “Mechanick Exercises” , the first English book on woodworking. Now that I’ve built it and put it to the test (I was up until 1 a.m. last night messing with it), I’d like to give you a look.

Why should you care? This vise solves a lot of problems that we joiners have. It allows you to hold stock of almost any size (mine holds up to 24-1/8″-wide material) with an incredible grip. More so, it raises your work above your benchtop surface. The vise as shown is 6″ high, so the top edge of the vise is 39″ from the floor. The board I’ve clamped in the vise is 44″ off the floor and is as stable as something clamped between two boulders. What does that mean?

No more stooping to saw dovetails, tenons or other joinery.

Wait, there’s more. Instead of following Moxon’s drawing, which shows the vise attached to the front of the bench, I did what Moxon said to do in the text: put it on top of the bench and clamp it down.

That means I can:

1. Put the vise wherever I want on the bench. On an end, on the back edge, wherever.

2. Remove it when I don’t need it and hang it on the wall , most woodworkers don’t need a twin-screw vise every day.

3. Leave it unclamped on the benchtop, using it like a giant handscrew clamp (Peter Follansbee hipped me to this function).

Before I give you the details of the vise, let me bore you with a bit of history and add a major caveat. The vise, as shown here, is not how I would recommend building it. This prototype was built to prove a hypothesis. Later in the week I’ll show you how to build one using four pieces of wood (instead of 10) in a couple hours.

Boring History Stuff
Moxon’s bench from plate four of “Mechanick Exercises” never made sense to me. The “double-screw” vise looked like it got in the way of every major operation. Plus, my copy of Moxon was poorly printed, and it was almost impossible for me to see the single bench screw in the crochet.

So I misinterpreted Moxon.

Then I finally got my hands on an electronic copy of AndrÃ?© FÃ?©libien’s “Principes de l’architecture, de la sculpture, de la peinture, &c.” (1676-1690), which is where we’re almost certain that Moxon got his drawings. FÃ?©libien’s illustration of a bench shows it in a shop. (Click here to see it on Follansbee’s blog.)

FÃ?©libien’s bench is similar to Moxon’s, but without the double screw. But wait. What’s that in the shadow? It’s the double-screw leaning against or hanging on the wall. Then I started putting the pieces together. (Literally. And I really mean “literally.”)

So I Built One
I had some wooden screws sitting around (doesn’t everyone?), so I started building it on Saturday. The rear jaw is 2-3/8″ x 6″ x 34-1/2″ and is tapped for the two wooden screws. The front jaw is 1-3/4″ x 6-1/8″ x 32″ and has clearance holes for the screws , there is no garter.

The whole thing is clamped to the bench either with holdfasts or (as shown) f-style clamps.

After working with the vise yesterday and today, I can tell you that the thing is as solid as rock. It is like it grew out of the benchtop.

But, like I said earlier, this is a prototype. Stay tuned. Later in the week I’ll show you an easier way to build this.

- Christopher Schwarz

Other Workbench and Workholding Resources

- “Workbenches: From Design & Theory to Construction & Use” by Christopher Schwarz

- “Mechanick Exercises” by Joseph Moxon

- “Build the 21st Century Workbench” DVD with Robert W. Lang

- “The Workbench” DVD with Christopher Schwarz

22 thoughts on “Joseph Moxon's Double-screw Vise

  1. rel1946

    I was wondering about what a garter was also, so I googled it and got this from the http://www.BigWoodVice.com/faq/ site. Hope this helps.

    I also have an old B&D workmate and use it alot. I would not get rid of it for anything.

    Bob Lewis

    What is a "Garter" and "Garter Groove"? What does it do?

    A garter simply engages the "chop" or front jaw of the vise with the screw -so that it makes the jaw travel outward with the screw when opening the vise (the hub of the vise screw moves the jaw inward, and applies the clamping load – not the garter).
    A "Garter Groove" is the circular groove on the vise screw that engages the garter to the screw.
    However, you must limit the racking of the vise jaw when a garter is used – or you can break the vise screw (this is the same on metal vises as well) or possibly the garter.
    I have decided to standardize on using at 3/8" garter on all screws – unless someone really objects or specifies that they do not want it.
    I locate the new standard garter groove to engage the approximate middle of a 2 inch thick vise chop (or jaw).
    I standardize the Outer Diameter of the Garter Groove area – so that the end consumer can drill a 1-5/8" hole (a common forstner bit size) in their 3/8" thick garter material – cut it in half at the center of the hole – and you have a garter!

  2. Jim Staurd

    Hey guys,
    Interesting post Chris. Maybe Ron Hickman was channeling your dead Euro-dudes when he ‘invented’ the Workmate, but it looks like it would do all the stuff these gigantor double screw thingies would. I just need to find a way to attach one to my bench ;-)
    Incidentally, I have one of the original, cast aluminum ‘H-frame’ workmate monstrosities that is almost as versatile as my pattern makers vise.
    Sorry for not being around much but duty calls…
    -J

  3. Bill Melidones

    Chris,

    I went to google and looked at André Fibien’s
    "Principes de l’architecture, de la sculpture, de la peinture, &c.". Wow, wish I could read it. Looksas though there’s a lot of George Walker’s subject matter in there. For those of us who can’t read french, any chance of Lost Art Press re-publishing this in english?

    How about Moxon’s "Mechanick Exercises"?

  4. Gary Roberts

    On the Crochet… From the Gregg reprint of Felibien:

    Page 134-135, Plate XXX
    Item B in the illustration is what we call a bench hook, placed in a hole in the top of the bench. The term given is "Crochets", which translates from French to English as "hook" or "bracket".

    Gary

  5. Joe Heasley

    Chris,
    FYI for anyone interested, Google has a downloadable vesion of "Principes de l’architecture, de la sculpture, de la peinture, &c." Just search thier book section.

  6. Gary Roberts

    As Mr. Peachey has pointed out for me, Perspective was well known by the time Moxon authored his book. That said, whoever did the engravings was, shall we say, less than good? After looking over the Gregg reprint of Felibien and the original Moxon (and Nicholson and Martin for good measure), I have a theory that the engraver did the bench first. Moxon then decided that the double screw vise, as noted in his text, should be included but there was no space left on the copperplate for it. So the engraver simply took Mr. Moxon’s words literally and stuck it on the front of the bench.

    As for the sizes of the various hooks, holdfasts and mallets, I shudder to think of what this engraver would have done with an architectural rendering of a house frame.

  7. www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawmR-XUXGXPuXRctP5JQkuh1CfOm1-7wJUc

    This is where I’m going with my bench.

    But to take it a step further…I’m considering tapping THREE holes in my benchtop, each about 24" or so away. That way I can have my "default" setup as described above, which would screw into two adjacent holes, but if I need a hugemongous vise I could whip out a long board and use the outer holes in the benchtop and voila – a 5′ wide double-screw vise. You don’t even need to tap the holes in your long board, although I suppose I could tap a hole somewhere in the middle of it to let a screw provide a little extra support in the middle.

    Not sure if all that is worth the trouble, but just a thought.

  8. Ryan M

    >Bore holes in the front edge of the benchtop and tap those.

    I’m liking this idea – tap one on the leg and 2 in the benchtop and switch between leg or twin screw. Awesome.

  9. openid.aol.com/docragan

    I have made a few of those screws, using a kit from Woodcraft, for making the "male" screw, and tapping the "female" part as well. After trying all kinds of inch or inch and a quarter (I forget) very straight dowels, birch, and other kinds of wood, waxing them, etc. I gave up and decided I would just need to pay upwards of $100 per screw from an internet provider.

    My apparatus was "binding" (not racking), screaching (thus the paraffin), and generally intolerable. I tried many times (I’m stubborn at times); have some of you successfully made your own screws and "female" part-whatever the name is? I would love to put the whole thing back on the bench.

    Thanks for any input, David

  10. Christopher Schwarz

    Doug,

    I have a very early holdfast that is big like that. The shaft is 1-1/8" in diameter. All that mass in it is *excellent*. It almost sets itself without a beat-down from the mallet.

    Chris

  11. Bob Rozaieski

    Ha! Yeah, I’m in.

    That’s exactly what I was thinking too though. Having two rear "jaws" wouldn’t make sense and the only logical way to "Fix it to the side of the bench" would be if the bench top were tapped. Interestingly though, Fleibien’s plate shows no sign of the double screw being attached to the side of the bench, and his description of it is less than helpful. Like all other things though, I suspect there were regional differences.

    I think you have the right idea with the short screws too. My screws are 18" long, and while the length isn’t a big deal when just adjusting for working 1-2" thick stock, unscrewing the entire 18" length to remove the vise is tedious. I’ve been contemplating cutting them shorter but I know as soon as I do, I’ll ned to clamp something 1/2" wider than I have thread.

  12. Doug F.

    Very interesting! A vice like that could be really useful to people with small workbenches and big projects.

    It could answer a question that has been puzzling me for a while. It always seemed to me that the holdfasts in some of the old illustrations were "drawn too big". The one in the illustration above seems, to me, a bit oversized when you compare it to the mallet and the benchdog. But if you had one of these twin screw vices you would need a good sized holdfast or two to keep it in place. An idle thought from an idle fellow.

  13. Christopher Schwarz

    Bob,

    Pure speculation follows: If I wanted a twin screw that attached to the front of the bench AND to the benchtop (like Moxon suggests), here is what I would do:

    Make the vise like Felebien and Moxon show. Tap the back jaw.
    Bore holes in the front edge of the benchtop and tap those.
    Remove the rear jaw when I wanted to attach the vise to the bench. Use the rar jaw when I wanted to use it on the benchtop.

    I need to buy a Ouija board. Maybe we can try to summon Moxon at WIA. You in?

    Chris

  14. Bob Rozaieski

    Chris,
    Moxon does say in the text though that sometimes the double screw is attached to the side of the bench (as in the drawing) OR sometimes its farther cheek is laid an edge upon the flat of the bench and fastened with a holdfast or two. So do you think he flat out mis-spoke, or do you think it might have been used both ways.

    After using my own twin screw for some time attached to the front of the bench (not identical to Felibien’s, only a single "cheek", the bench is the second cheek), I’m inclined to think it was used both ways, on and off the bench. It’s just too useful when actually attached to the front of the bench. But it is also nice to be able to remove it when not needed, and not having any garters really makes this easy.

COMMENT