Now Available: The Complete 'Mechanick Exercises' - Popular Woodworking Magazine

Now Available: The Complete 'Mechanick Exercises'

 In Chris Schwarz Blog, Required Reading, Woodworking Blogs

“And tho’ the Mechanicks be, by some, accounted Ignoble and Scandalous yet it is very well known, that many Gentlemen in this Nation, of Good Rank and high Quality, are conversant in Handy-Works…¦”

– Joseph Moxon, preface to “Mechanick Exercises”

If you are interested in the early development of Western woodworking , including joinery, turning and carpentry , here is some important news. Joesph Moxon’s complete 1703 “Mechanick Exercises: Or the Doctrine of Handy-Works” is now available again for the first time in about a decade.

Gary Roberts of Toolemera Press has spent the last few years restoring and digitizing an original 1703 edition of this landmark work and now offers the book for sale on CD.

The book is a fully featured pdf, which means you can search it by keyword and skip easily to certain sections with bookmarks.

However, what makes this product delightful is how Roberts has recreated the feel of reading the original. Through careful digital manipulation of the scans, Roberts made the text readable and yet preserved the character of the book itself, including notes that were scribbled in the margins of the pages.

“Mechanick Exercises” was the first English-language book to discuss the practices of the trades, including those of the blacksmith, joiner, carpenter, turner and bricklayer. (There’s even a later section on how to create a sundial.)

The book contains a fair number of plates that show the tools of each trade and Moxon’s explanation for how each tool is used.

While the section on “The Art of Joinery” will be most interesting to woodworkers who are interested in hand work, the sections on carpentry, turning and blacksmithing are also good reading because all those trades overlap in some way.

I won’t lie to you, the verbiage of the book takes a little getting used to. Some of the characters and words will be unfamiliar at first. And the rhythm of the sentences will seem strange until you become accustomed to it. I’ve read Moxon about 10 times, and I barely even notice the antiquated touches.

In the end, it’s definitely worth your effort. Anyone who has a deep interest in craft and history will find interesting details about hand work and perhaps even see themselves reflected a bit in this 300-year-old text.

The CD is a bargain. While reprinted copies of “Mechanick Exercises” can fetch $100, this digital version is $21.65 plus 75 cents shipping and handling. It’s available now for immediate delivery via Click here to get to the ordering page and download a free sample of the pdf to give it a test drive.

– Christopher Schwarz

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  • Gary Roberts

    Dave… well, I didn’t pay that much. But the seller of this edition advertised it as a an ‘early carpentry book’. The earliest editions, consisting of separate serial issues, are in the 6 figure range if you can find one. The 1703 edition, compiling the serial parts into one volume (not including the two volume set on Printing), is in the 4-5 figure range, depending on condition. If you can find one.

    This equals the chance of finding a Stanley #1 at a yard sale, MIB, for a quarter. I doubt this will happen to me again. At least not until next weekend. I’m looking for a copy of the complete Roubo, preferably signed by the author.


  • Dave Brown

    Not a bad price, considering an original copy of Moxon’s book is worth almost $200.000. 5 are known to exist in private hands.

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