Finally, A new work bench

Over a year ago I acquired several slabs of red oak. There were two 4″ thick slabs sawn from about the center of a single tree, about 14 feet long and 17 to 22 inches wide. The tree had been leaning up against a barn for nearly twenty years, this having more than sufficient time to air dry. It’s actually surprising they did not go to bugs or rot. Regardless, I took the two and cut them into shorter boards, closer to usable lengths with the intention of making a work bench. I haven’t had a work bench since I moved a year and a half ago, and have been making do with some very creative work surfaces. No more.

I’ll expand more on the details as the build continues, but I’m looking to dive right in.

First things first: form. I’m working from a few examples found in the Die Hausbucher der Nurnberger Zwolfbruderstiftungen. Picking two from the first half of the 15th century:

Karl Scheyner, D. 1414

Peter Sreiner, d. 1444


We have a pretty simple construction in both of these benches. Wide top, stake legs, and various dog-holes for stops. Forced perspective as used in these illuminations makes for some weirdnesses, but nothing that can’t be overcome with simple logic.
Obviously, my four inch thick slabs will be quite a bit heftier than the apparent thicknesses of the benches depicted here.Next time, preparing the benchtop.

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Mechanical Exercise

Sometimes we stumble into things while looking for other things. This morning I was researching more on taps for threading nuts and came across an interesting image from Das Mittelalterlich Hausbuch von Schloss Wolfegg. Hausbuchs were common record keeping documents of the activities and operations of the households of the nobility and wealthy merchant class in the late Medieval and Renaissance Germanies. I’ve pulled quite a bit from the Zweibruder house book in other tool research.

The Wolfegg housebook (dated 1480) has a rather intriguing set of devices on folio 53.

House book Wolfegg 53v 53v1 lathe scale Steiggeräte Verso

House book Wolfegg 53v 53v1 lathe scale Steiggeräte Verso

The two items at the top of the page are attributed to be a screw-cutting lathe and cutter. I’m going to noodle about to figure out how the cutter actually mounts to the lathe and operates. The object at the bottom of the page casts a disappointing light on the viability of trusting the English translation of this book. According to the translation, that item is a scale. Anyone with the slightest familiarity with engineering can see this is not a scale, but a angle(bevel) gauge for spotting elevation. Some might refer to this as a “Military Sector,” as used for measuring the elevation and range of early gunpowder artillery.

I may need more thick boards in the near future.

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Calling in the Wilderness, pt 3

Today we’ll be rounding out this accelerated series of the recent competition pieces. I must note that while the body of these posts is copied directly from the documentation I prepared to support the projects, the format has been altered for the blog. If anyone would like to get the “unedited” originals, that could be arranged.

This last piece is the source of the title for this series. I am hardly above making jokes about my own weirdness. I started down the track on whole-number proportioning and dimensioning several years ago. It started with noticing that related pieces of furniture, though not the same actual measurements, tended to have about the same relationships in their dimensions. This first led me to the golden section, then to Vitruvian Design, and finally through additional research to Boethian Design. It really was a vindication when George Walker and Jim Tolpin published “By Hand and Eye” last year. It proved I was not wholly alone in operating under these general principals and my discovery of their historical application. To my knowledge, however, I am currently the only person woodworking by Boethian Design, which makes me still a little bit weirder than the “weird”.

Dovetail Joined Reliquary Box with Sliding Lid, Early 14th Century, Constantinople


Reproduction based on the historical example with different artwork


Reliquary box with scenes of the Life of St. John the Baptist. Cleveland Museum of Art






The original box is extant, in the collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio. It was a reliquary box depicting scenes of the life of St. John the Baptist. It exists as a historical curiosity as it is the earliest example of narrow dovetails with mitered corners and a sliding lid in a Medieval European context. These construction elements do not appear together with any consistency in Western Tradition woodworking until the 17th century.
Both the original and inspired piece depict scenes from the lives of their subject. The original depicts, in order: The annunciation of John’s birth to Zacharias and the visitation of Elizabeth and Mary, John’s birth and first bath as well as his name being written on a small tablet. On the other side the story continues with John baptizing Jesus, then a scene of John’s imprisonment and execution.
In the inspired piece, the scenes depict not the life of St John the Baptist, but of the craftsman who built this box. As the life of the craftsman is not over, no more than two of the panels have been filled in. The order of the panels remains the same as the original, however, in that they are “read” from right to left. Typically such progressive story panels are read left to right, but this is another oddity of the original that separates it from almost every other known reliquary. The “first” panel depicts a young Vels being introduced to the Society for Creative Anachronism by Boudicea Ravenhair, the shield in the fore bearing the unit heraldry of the US Army 10th Mountain Division (L.I.), where they were both assigned. The second panel shows a stylized depiction of Vels being given the byname “Viggladi” (meaning: Fond of Warfare, or Battle-Happy) and being inducted into Calontir’s Order of the Iren Fyrd. The rough model for the positioning of Valens and Susannah in this scene is the mosaic of Justinian and Theodora in the Basilica of San Vitale, Ravenna. While surrounded by spears, Vels is offered the symbolic spear of the Order by Susannah.

The reliquary held a relic attributed to Saint John, though which in particular is unknown. It is recorded that two fragments of a skull, a right arm, and locks of blood-clotted hair were kept and venerated in churches and monasteries in Constantinople during this period. It is certainly not the arm, which is a well known gilded relic, but may have housed a bone fragment or lock of hair.

The Cleveland Museum of Art does not have a catalogue reference of the wood used for this piece, they simply have it listed as “wood.” Contacting the curators of the museum gained no further insight. Close inspection of the exposed joinery and worn surfaces of the box indicate a ring-porous hardwood that patinas to a deep brown over time. Given the political and economic situation of the Eastern Mediterranean in the late 13th and 14th centuries, the most likely timber may have been walnut from Northern Italy (specifically, imported by the Genoese to their portage at Galata). After the piece was finished, I recalled that the Acacia was referred to as “St. John’s Wood” and confirmed the likelihood of Vachellia nilotica (Nile Acacia/Locust) being used to construct the original. Trade in the lumber and products of the sap and seed pods remained high throughout the middle ages into the modern era (being the source of Gum Arabic), availability as well as dogmatic relation to the original subject suggests Locust as the most likely wood.
The decorative scenes were painted according to the rules of Ikonographic Tradition: egg tempera and gold leaf over gesso. Aside from modern pigments being largely used, and the small amount of gold leaf being imitation, all traditional techniques for panel painting were followed [See: Cennini].

Rough milling into boards in the original is unclear by the parts evident. That is, there is no indication of the boards being flat sawn or riven from a trunk. Given that both Walnut and Locust are resistant to being riven, sawing seems the most likely first step in preparation of the materials. It is possible the boards were then sawn to rough thickness by either handsaw, water-powered mill, or a reciprocating attachment to a lathe. Flat-sawn walnut was acquired for this project.
Measurement by divider indicates the board thickness of the original box is about 1/6th the height of the box. The Cleveland Museum of Art reports the box is 9.25 x 3.9 x 3.54in. One sixth of 3.5 inches is slightly more than one half an inch. In the reproduction, the boards were thicknessed to about one-half inch by planing.
The boards were then rip sawn to width and crosscut for length at the proscribed dimensions of the original. Given that the length of the box is approximately the distance of a forearm, from the bend of the elbow to the wrist, this was likely the base dimension with the shorter dimensions (3.54 and 3.9 in) being one third (minus the joinery) of the length in height, and one third and a sixth the same in width . This follows a Boethian geometric proportion of 3:1 and 1:1 with a musical accent tone.

Boethian ScaleVisual depiction of the “Musical” intervals described in Boethius’ Arithmetica 6th Century, and used as a basis for design and proportion until the rediscovery of Vitruvius’ Ten Books of Architecture in the 15th Century. 3:1 is described as an Octave and a half, while 1:1 is a consonance. By adding 1/6 of one, an accent (tone equivalent to 9:8) creates a harmonic to the base.





The groove for the sliding lid created specific complications for executing this design when accompanied by the dovetail joinery. If the joinery were cut across the entire width of the ends, the gap of the groove would be apparent on the outside faces. To cover the groove on the “closed” end of the box, a mitered corner was required. Obviously, the long boards of the sides were cut with miters at either end to allow the determination of which end would be “open” to come later in the process. This order of construction was repeated in the inspired piece. The exposed miter at the open end also allowed the determination of how thick the lid should be. In this case, about one half the thickness of the box sides. The lip between the groove and the top edge of the box was approximated to match the thickness of the side boards. With these elements in place, the layout of the joinery of all elements could be completed, with the “opening” box end being cut flush with the bottom of the groove. The groove itself may have been ploughed with a plough plane, but more likely the edges were sawn and then the waste removed with a narrow chisel. A stair saw was used to set the width of the groove in the Vels’ reliquary, and a narrow chisel used to remove the waste.

Miter Dovetail Detail

Detail of the layout of mitered dovetail corners and the groove for the lid during construction.

corner detail

Detail of damaged corner of the original, showing the joinery.

Though definitely triangular, the dovetails show slight rounding rather than distinctly straight edges. This indicates that a turning or fret saw was used to cut the joinery, rather than a plate-saw as would be more common in the coming centuries. The inconsistency has minor impact on the operation of the joint, but that technique is rather tricky to execute with a “wire” bladed saw. Hence, the toolmarks indicate via the of bowing on the tails which type of saw was used.



A coping saw was used in the inspired piece, however practice with this technique and tool combination have yielded superior results to the original maker. The remaining waste was paired away with chisels, as would have been required in the 14th century. The tails were used to layout the corresponding pins and the process continued for the mating boards. The layout and number of the dovetails were determined as slightly less than the thickness of the boards. Each pair of tails and pins were decided to be, on average, one sixth the width of the boards. Given the need for the mitered corners surrounding the groove for the lid, the total number of pins and tails was reduced to four of six possible points of center.
There is no indication of the thickness or construction of the bottom of the box in either the Cleveland Museum’s documentation nor the publicly available photographs. It is inferred that the bottom of the box is of the same thickness as the lid (if not thinner) and is nailed to up into the bottom edges of the sides. Small brads were used to secure a bottom panel to the rest of the case, while the thickness was the same as the lid.
A small nub protrudes from the lid, presumably to make it easier to open the sliding top. A dowel was split and shaved with a chisel from a scrap, then tapped into a snug hole bored in the tongue of the lid. This was reinforced with casein glue and allowed to cure before being trimmed. The actual lid is a piston fit that locks snugly when fully closed.

Following Ceninni’s instructions for painting on panels, which appears to follow from decorative painting tradition of Ikons, the finished box was gessoed on all faces with a traditional mix of crushed gypsum and rabbit skin glue. As the layers were built up, the surface was smoothed with a metal scraper to give a dead flat surface. When sufficient layers were accumulated, the areas for the scenes were stepped off with a set of dividers and marked with a straight edge and knife. The scenes themselves were sketched with a silver-point stylus , then painted with an egg tempera binder of modern water-soluble pigments. Historically this box would have been handed over to an Ikoniker’s Studio for design, guilding, layout and painting. Chronologically, this reliquary was commissioned shortly after the end of the Latin Empire in Constantinople (1204-1261), when the forces of Michael VIII Palaiologos recaptured the city from Baldwin II, a man of French descent. During this period of the 13th century, a great many treasures were carried off or damaged. The techniques used in the replacement of the reliquary may have indicated the height of the art of joinery at the time it was commissioned in the opening years of the 14th century. This suggests that at least a familiarity with this type of construction might have been carried back to Western Europe as early as the Fourth Crusade, though there is no evidence of dovetails (let alone ones so delicate) being used in any context for at least another century in Western Europe.
The final layer of finish that has been layered over the painted sections is glair varnish, made of egg-whites and consistent with traditional Ikon painting of the middle ages. A wad of cloth was used to apply even coats of glair to the painted surfaces. While this will seal and protect the painting, it will not greatly inhibit any further painting that may be done to the piece. At worst, the glair may be scraped off and any lost painting repaired once the glair is removed for adding additional “panels.” Six gessoed panels were protected from varnishing to allow easy access for the future painting of scenes.

On the construction of this box I have no improvements. Over time I do intend to continue filling in panels and decorations, but that is not the purpose of this entry. Being such an oddity of time and place, techniques are used in this piece that are not repeated elsewhere in Europe until after the close of the Renaissance, nor do they seem amply supported to reuse in other similar inspired re-creations. In truth, my motivation to create a piece based off of this original was entirely the novelty of the design and execution of the joinery.

References and Resources:

-Cennini, “Il Libro dell’ Arte”, Translated by Daniel V. Thompson Jr, Dover Publications, NY 1960
-Walker & Tolpin, “By Hand and By Eye,” Lost Art Press, 2013
-Antoine, Beth, “Metalpoint Drawing: The History and Care of a Forgotten Art” 2007
-Padding, Koen, “A Rational Look at the Classical Italian Coatings” VSA Papers, 2005

And finally a full pictorial gallery of the extant original and the reproduction.


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Calling in the Wilderness, pt 2

The second entry in this series has very little woodworking involved. It does rely heavily on the same design principles, adhesives, tooling, and decorative techniques as other things from Medieval and Renaissance Europe. The only tool I had to add for this one was a needle and thread.

Girdlebook, 15th Century, Holy Roman Empire

GB ImageAn example of a girdlebook, popular in Germany and the Low Countries in the 13th to 16th centuries. The cover is split leather dyed blue with decorative brasses, mounted to walnut plates binding 112 individual pages in seven octavos.

Girdlebooks are commonly considered to have contained Books of Hours among the clergy and aristocracy of late Medieval and Renaissance Europe. Boethius’ “Consolation of Philosophy” is one of the more famous non-liturgical manuscripts to be found in this form.


Extant Girdlebook traced back to the scribe Jens Nielsen. It contains legal manuscripts – the Law of Jutland. The book is in the collection of the Royal Library of Copenhagen, Denmark.

A girdlebook in the Royal Library of Denmark is a 1540 rebinding of a previously bound volume of the Law of Jutland, a legal guide used by traveling judges .
Such a book is bound with a leather cover that greatly extends beyond the


Detail from Bosche’s “Last Judgement” showing a pilgrim or monk with a girdle book.

bottom of the bound pages and wraps around the open leaves of the pages. The long tail terminates with a tightly bound, functional and decorative, knot. The knot serves as a stop so the tail of the book may be tucked under the belt and carried, with sufficient length to read the book without pulling it from under the belt.

Leather and cloth have been known to be used for cover materials in extant girdlebooks . Hardwood front and back covers provided rigidity to the cover material and protection to the bound pages. Thread binds the folio pages to each other and to lacings of chord or leather that keep the boards together. An adhesive, usually wheat paste for the pages to the boards and proteinaceous glues for the binding of leather covers to binding boards, completes the list of common materials found in all girdlebooks. Many also include decorative brasswork, gold, precious gems, or more modest tooling. Almost all are secured with a hasp-like closure.
This piece has boards of walnut, linen lacing thread, twisted hemp cords, dyed leather of a very light weight for the cover, and decorative brasses for the hasp and decoration. The glues used to bind the pages is a wheat paste while hide glue was used to secure the leather cover to the front and back boards.

Construction of a girdle book does not vary greatly in the initial steps from the binding of other books common in the Gothic Period . The process begins with the sewing of signatures into quires or octavos to exterior cords. These cords are then laced through covers, in this case, walnut. This example being blank, it is intended as a ledger, it forgoes organizing printed or manuscript pages in order. Instead, a nominal dimension of length and width was determined based on the original sheet size. Paper of a medium-heavy weight was chosen as a balance of materials investment and quality. Eight pages per stack was chosen for this book, for no reason than it met the traditional requirement of a multiple of four . Having taken a preference to Boethian Mathematics for design which is based on Greek Musical systems, a base of eight offers a bit of poetry to the finished product. The pages themselves were measured to approximate a proportion of 4:3 (Perfect Fourth). Each of the octavos were then placed in a book press to even out the open ends. This is required as when equal sized sheets of paper are folded around one another, those in the center of the stack will protrude from the outer sheets.
A well known article published in Tournaments Illuminated indicates that a drawknife was often used for the trimming of quires and octavos. A 16th century woodcut by John Amman showing a bookbinder at work instead John Ammon Bookbindershows a heavy wooden plane being used to evenly shear the pages of a book, while the stack of pages is held in a double-screw vise. A flat-handled knife with an angled paring edge is often cited as a middle ground between these other two period options. In a previous book binding attempt, I opted to use a plane to shear the sheaf of quires even. This method proved effective and efficient. I tried the drawknife in this endeavor, and was far less pleased with the results, despite the drawknife being razor sharp. Some pages folded and tore rather than shearing evenly. This resulted in a less attractive finished product than was anticipated. I also erred in shearing the pages by the octavo rather than all of them at once. After bending the binding in Gothic Style, the inner octavos of the book are retracted due to the rounding of the spine.
A double pair of cords were sewn to the seven octavos, binding them together for the boards. The boards themselves were sized slightly larger than the signature stack, and the excess trimmed to have a nominal proportion of 3:2 (Perfect Fifth). The cords are laced through six holes through the front and back boards. On the inside faces of the boards a stopped dado was chiseled between the holes for the two center cords. The outer cords only pass once through the board and are pegged into place with small dowels cut from a scrap of the walnut. The inner pairs of chords are run outside the boards, then continue into the stopped dadoes before being pegged back to the outward face through the deeper pair of holes. These holes were drilled with a 5mm brad point bit, rather than a spoon or auger bit which would have been used in the Middle Ages. Dowels were, as in the historical method, tapped through to fasten the cords through this second set of holes as they were for end cords. A small amount of casein glue was spread on the dowels to assist in holding the cords in place. Once all this was dry, the dowels were pared flush on each face of the boards and the entire book was placed in a book press to adhere front and rear leaves to the boards. These leaves were off-cuts of the same paper used in the remainder of the book, but cut to relatively narrow strips and bobbed at the board-side corners. Wheat paste was used for this, with bees-waxed paper slipped between layers to reduce adhesion to pages that should not be glued. The book was placed in a book press and nutted down to dry.
The following day, the book was removed from the press and the exterior board faces were smeared with a thin but consistent layer of hide glue. The leather cover of the binding was stretched over the glued surfaces. Once I was content with the placement of the cover on the binding boards, the entire book was placed back into the book press to dry. Having been cut to an oversized dimension before being glued, trimming the leather cover to be overhanging and still square to the board edges was a simple task accomplished with a straight edge and a sharp knife. Sufficient length of leather was maintained from the bottom edge of the book to allow for hanging from a belt.


15th Century girdle book in the Dusseldorf Stiftung museum kunst palast. Note the repousse brasswork decorating the cover

Brass hardware was chosen to decorate the front cover of the book and hasp. Many of the extant girdlebooks show a variety of highly decorative styles and materials . The exceptional level of decoration on most extant book covers from the Gothic Style, I believe, more indicates the interest in museums presenting the most glamorous pieces rather that what was most common among even already expensive products. An early 16th century folio page from Die Hausbucher der Nurnberger Zwolfbruderstiftungen shows a bookbinder at work. Of the four books shown in the illuminated page, all show some


Amb. 279.2° Folio 21 verso (Landauer I)

decoration that would be considered very modest when compared to the most ornate extant examples. One book in particular shows L-shaped brackets on the corners.

In reviewing similar, though far more ornate examples, corner pieces are not flush-mounted as they wrap around the outside edges of the boards. This not only provides decoration but protects the corners of the boards from damage along the most fragile edges.
Rather than casting custom pieces, I elected to modify off-the-shelf commercial hardware to suit my needs. A set of brass corners and a decorative hasp intended as box hardware were purchased and heavily modified. The corners were cut to better fit the depth and shape of the book, especially the bound edge where the wrap around facet of brass needed to be removed to fit on the book cover correctly. A 1:2:1 composition of ogee arches were cut and filed by hand to conform to a popular High Medieval decorative theme that matched with the L-shaped silhouette found in the very simple decoration on Landawer’s book cover. 75-Amb-2-279-21-v.tifThe tongue of the hasp was also modified to be 1:2:1 composite cyma curves, terminating with a stylized spear point akin to a fleur-de-lis. The decorative brasses and hasp were then punched and clenched to the front cover using brass brads. The tongue for the hasp was sewn to the selvage of the back cover, allowing a full layering wrap of leather on the open edge of the book. This tongue and hasp allow the book to be closed and hung without the likelihood of opening to the elements while the book is worn.
The final element of this girdlebook was to tie the tail with a turks’ head knot. This knot is what allows the tail of the book to be carried under the belt and still be read, or hang closed. This is not an easy knot to master. A thong was cut of the same thin leather that the rest of the cover is made of to tie the knot. The very thin, flat leather does not make for particularly good skein material, but it does suffice to cinch the end of the tail into a belt.

I would like to try several things with a future version of this girdle book. Casting my own brasswork would be an exciting experiment, as would adding precious stones. Were that I had a book that I wished to actually bind, rather than making a blank ledger or note book I would welcome the opportunity to bind an illuminated manuscript.
The Turks’ Head Knot came out poorly. This may be as much my lack of familiarity with this knot as it was a problem of selecting a flat rather than round cording material to tie the knot.
Illumination and calligraphy are not skills I have sufficiently developed to date. I am considering transcribing Boethius’ Arithmatica into this particular girdlebook even though it would break the traditional order of manufacture for a bound manuscript.

References and resources:

-Erik Petersen (ed.), Living Words & Luminous Pictures. Medieval book culture in Denmark. Catalogue, Copenhagen: The Royal Library 1999, pp. 42-45
-Margit Smith, Jim Bloxam, The Medieval Girdle Book Project, International Journal of the Book 2005/2006
-Szirmai, JA, “The Archaeology of Medieval Bookbinding”, Ashgate Publishing (1999 and 2000)
-Hulan, Nancy; Binding a Late Gothing Book, Tournament Illuminated, Spring 2007

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Calling in the Wilderness. pt 1

Sometimes competition is a good motivator. We may choose to challenge ourselves, or enter a challenge with others. In these times we may find reason to do our best work as efficiently as possible. Having a paying gig helps that too, but rarely results in making something we would just like to make. In the modern world there are several furniture and art exhibitions that have a competition element. Many of my readers, like myself, are members of historical reenactment and re-creation societies. Often these groups have such competitions several times a year with one or two major competitions annually.

I recently entered several items in a regional championship (Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, small part of Arkansas) competition for my particular organization, and very surprisingly to me took the championship. Many present asked to have pictures and the documentation that supported my entries posted online. This and the next few articles will present those entries. I will note that some concepts are particular to the organization. In the overall, I find the documentation requirements have propelled much of my background knowledge related to woodworking. Even for one’s own benefit in learning the craft, I would recommend adding in depth research to the reproduction preliminary design phases of making a new piece. All three of the projects in this series were completed, including written documentation, in under a month while working 40 hour weeks. Deadlines are also great motivators.

With no further ado:

Book Press, 16th Century, Nuremberg

Bookpress imageA reconstruction of book press as depicted in the professional workshop  of Hanns Landawer (d. 15 August 1532) from the Landauer I housebook, folio 21 verso.


Detail of Amb. 279.2 Folio 21 verso (Landauer I)

The book press serves two primary purposes during the process of bookbinding. During the preparation of quires, the press allows a folio stack to be securely held with consistent pressure while the quires are cut to uniform thicknesses. This is important as to allow a consistent edge on the pages once the book is bound. As sheets of paper are folded over one another, the center leaves of a quire find their edges beyond the plane of outer leaves. Planing or shearing them even provides a fairer edge than what occurs naturally in this process.
The press later provides firm and consistent pressure across the surfaces of the book when the cover material is adhered to the boards which provide stiffness to the cover. This is not at all unlike modern bench vises or double-screw vises of the same era except the action of the press is along a vertical axis rather than horizontal.
Threaded dowels and matching nuts provide the tension on objects placed between the cheeks of the press.

John Ammon Bookbinder

Woodcut by John Ammon, 16th Century, depicting a Flemish bindery in operation. Notice the two “vises” in the foreground. These are more similar to “modern” double screw vises than the Landawer press.

No extant book presses were found while researching this project. It is by likely conjecture, given the coloration of the vise in this image, that a light colored wood was used to manufacture such an object. The requirements of the cheek boards would be resistance to splitting and stability in flatness. The threaded dowels and nuts must be of pore-diffuse hardwood, lest the threads tear or crumble apart under stress. Even the stress of cutting the threads would compromise oak, ash, or most any common European softwoods. This leaves any variety of maple as the most likely choice for the screws and lower cheek. Simplicity of construction suggests that the upper cheek would also be made of the same material.
Maple was used to make the nuts and screws on this reproduction. Flat sawn walnut was chosen for the cheeks, as a large board of walnut had been acquired for another project. Walnut had the added benefit of not being easily split, and would accept threading across the grain without great risk of tearing under strain.
It is intriguing to note that in this form the nuts traverse the threaded rod while the lower plate should hold stationary and the upper cheek “float” between them. Most wooden and metal vises tend to operate with the screw turning rather than a nut to provide tension.

The cheeks were flat sawn from the mill, as would likely have been the same in 16th Century Germany. At that point in time walnut would likely have been imported from Italy. German woodworkers had also been significantly migrating between Northern Italy and the German Principalities during this time frame. Italian Walnut differs in color and slightly in texture from American Black Walnut. Given the availability of European species, a North American member of the same genus was preferred.
The boards were cut by handsaw, jointed and surfaced by planing. These handtool techniques are largely unchanged over the last two thousand years. Any indication of plane tracks were removed with card scrapers. A basic cruciform design was then carved into the top cheek for decorative effect. While there is no indication of this in the Landauer image, this designer took it as a time to practice compass layout and carving technique on a flat plane.
The boards themselves follow a 2:1 interval, an Octave in Boethian Design. The thicknesses of the boards were assigned as approximately one finger in thickness. This all appears in keeping with the proportions of the original as indicated in the folio page.
Meanwhile, the borders and “cross members” of the carving are based on 1/6th divisions of the long and short ends, with full, half, and quarter circles having a boarder.  Variations in the concentric arcs (borders) are proportioned at 3:2 and 4:3 the respective radii.
Threading the dowels was an entirely different endeavor. Historically it is assumed that threaded rods were cut by hand using a lathe. Nuts were then, as now, cut with a tap. Close scrutiny of the Landawer Folio suggests that the ends of the threaded dowels were tapered, however. While it could be an error of the artist, it is also possible that the ends were in fact tapered. This tapering is consistent with the preparation of dowel stock for threading with a “modern” threading box. Though it is inconclusive as there are no references to such a device until the 17th century, it is possible that the innovation of a threading box is significantly older. Most of the resources that reference cutting of threads describe metal screw techniques which are cut on a lathe due to mechanical characteristics of that material. Wood, unlike iron or steel, may be cut relatively easily with a threading box.
The dowels for this press were formed from square billets the length of a forearm that were turned to rounds on a lathe. The diameter of them was limited to the size of a commercially available wood threading kit, in this case, 1″. Two sets were made, the first was discarded as the maple was too dry and brittle to hold the threads and tore significantly during cutting. The nuts were cut from similar scraps of maple and bored with a forstner bit in a drill press. In the same way were the pass-through holes of the cheeks bored out. In 16th century Germany this would have been accomplished with an auger or spoon bit.
Once the parts were completed the device was assembled. It had been planned to tap the lower cheek to feed the threaded dowels into, then secure with a casein glue. A size error was made while boring the holes in the lower cheek, meaning a wedge and glue technique was required to secure the ends of the dowels to the bottom plate.

It was noticed in the original artwork that the screws are not placed equidistantly from the long arisses of the boards, but rather offset about one third the width from the “front” edge. This was initially believed to be an artists error of depth perspective. While this press was used in binding a girdle book, however, it was discovered that the cheeks begin to cantilever once pressure begins to be applied to a folio stack. Offsetting the screws toward one long edge would lessen this levering action and provide greater force on the working edge of the press. This refutation of “artists error” seems to support the plausibility of a threading box as mentioned above.
I would like to replace the lower cheek with one that is correctly bored to accept threading. Time and financial constraints denied the possibility of simply replacing the board once the error had been discovered. Operation of the nuts for driving the force of the press originally left much to be desired. As the threaded wooden rods dried further, the action of the nuts improved considerably.

Top Plate

Top plate removed for clarity of carved relief.

Additional information:
-Boethius, Arithmetica (and) De institutione musica, 6th century
-Description of the Duke of Urbino Writing Desk, Item W.1-1958, V&A Museum, London, England

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