I think Joseph Moxon may have been a crazy drunkard….and a self-bloated thief for sure.

Everyone knows that Moxon stole his plates from Felibien…even a child could match the two as having a shared origin. Chris Schwarz wrote a lot about the saw discrepancies in his version of, ‘The Art of Joinery’ (which I highly recommend).

As I was re-reading the description of a handsaw for the umpteenth time the other day, I was struck by how similar it sounds to modern saws. I kind of smacked myself in the head for never really dissecting this passage before…I think I was focusing almost completely on the plates, like everyone else. I don’t know why, but most people always refer to the image of the strange saw shown in Plate 4 (above)…and I had been too. I think we have almost collectively assumed that THIS is the handsaw of that age. But none of the saws pictured in the plates sound anything like Moxon’s description.

Clearly, Moxon is describing a handsaw with two critical features:

1) A blade that can be bent by the workman to test its tension and smithing quality (Sec. 26, paragraph 2). This must be more like a handsaw as we know it…not like the small scale saw that is shown in plate 4 (but not referenced anywhere in the text). You couldn’t bend the plate of the small saw shown above…regardless of the quality of the steel, you would injure the blade significantly by bending it as instructed. And we know he isn’t referring to the blade of the frame saw shown in the Plate….you can’t bend the blade. Its in a frame, silly.

2) It has a handle on one end, not both, like a frame saw. We know this from the instructions on sharpening the saw about which end the handle should face in the whetting block. Once again, while Moxon shows the frame saw in Plate 4 (P) we know he cannot be referring to this saw in his text….frame saws have two identical handles on each end of the frame.

Here’s where I really wanted to smack myself. The saws in the plate are FRENCH and Moxon was a bloody Limey!!! DUH!!! He’s describing English saws but lacked the means to make his own plates (apparently borrowing plates like this was common at the time) so he used French images.  And we have long known the divide between French and English tool forms, and those of continental Europe in general.

Maybe I’m making mountains out of mole-hills here, but this was very intriguing to me. I think this is clear evidence that saws of the 17th century would have looked not too different from what we know today: a thin steel blade about 26 to 30 inches long and about 6 inches broad (capable of being bent to test its hammering) with a handle on one end.

So why is this a big deal? Because I’ve been under the general impression that 17th English century joiners primarily used frame saws…not handsaws like ours. I don’t know where I got this impression…it seems to be one held by many of us today. And I don’t think that the strange saw Moxon added to his plate was very representative of a common tool, either. I think the scale is waaaaaaaaay off. And I’m not too keen on the saw pictured in Randle Holme’s work either. Talk about issues with scale!

So what gives? The Stent panel seems to show a saw more akin to what may have been used. Ugly looking thing though.

Anyway, its always fum reading this stuff. Maybe next time I’ll share my thoughts on Nicholson….that guy was a REAL quack!!! ;)


4 Responses to “Moxon”

  1. Rob says:

    How should your English readers interpret ‘Moxon was a bloody Limey!!!’ ?

    Cheers, Rob

    • matt says:


      They should interpret it with a pint of ale…


      • jb says:

        Here, here! …and a dark one at that!

        I have been consuming the histories of woodworking from Brittan, France, eastern Europe and the US. The different perspectives and approaches to the craft from these different regions has been very interesting. I suppose it started with doing research for a workbench and has spread to planes and saws.

        I never suspected such an easy out to be taken by Moxon and just assumed there was something I was missing. Now that you mention it it all makes so much sense. Just goes to show how assumptions can foul things up.

        Great website

        A bloody yank

  2. Kees says:

    Hi Matt,

    Maybe interesting in this light are the Dutch saws from the 18th century and older. They had a rather thick blade, breasted toothline and a pistol grip. They look a little bit like that French saw. You can find some pictures on this museum site:

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