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?Â© FÃ?Â©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?Â©libien’s illustration of a bench shows it in a shop. (Click here to see it on Follansbee’s blog.)
FÃ?Â©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