Planing stop or bench hook on the Vasa bench

My last post in Norwegian was about bench hooks (planing stops) on older Norwegian workbenches. I have done a study of what they have been called, both in written sources, and what was common language among Norwegian woodworkers about 80 years ago. My main source for this is a survey from about 1934 (it spanned over several years) when 168 woodworkers where questioned about their craft, with a special focus on the workbench (høvelbenk). I found that the terminology from the litterature (benkehake, translates to bench hook) was not so much in use among the craftsmen. Some of the names (høvelbit, tang, klo, kam and bitehest) could indicate that the function or shape of the «bench hook» could be of the type seen on (older) benches without endwise but with a fixed bench hook that «bites» into the stock you are planing. Similar as the planing stop to Christopher Schwarz inspired by Roubo, or the bench hook to Peter Follansbee inspired by Moxon. Some of the answers from the survey did also have drawings to explain the shape of the «bench hook» in question.

On the workbench from Vasa there are a hole of 23 x 25 mm for a bench hook. It is placed close to the left front leg, the leg is seen coming trough the benchtop to the left on the photo. It is a countersunk area for the head of the bench hook. Photo: Roald Renmælmo
On the benchtop of the workbench from Vasa there are a hole of 23 x 25 mm for a bench hook. It is placed close to the left front leg, the leg is seen coming trough the benchtop to the left on the photo. It is a countersunk area for the head of the bench hook. Photo: Roald Renmælmo

There is also another post about the traces of the bench hook from Vasa, the text is in Norwegian. In other posts I write about how the bench was found in the wreck of Vasa that sank in 1628 and was rescued 333 years later. There are a lot of wear on the wood surfaces after all those years on the seabed. All parts of iron on the bench have eroded or rusted away. In the other post about the Vasa bench hook, I have tried to interpret the shape and size of the bench hook that the hole was made for. The hole for the shank seems to be parallel and does not taper. Most of the old bench hooks I have found in Norway and Sweden have a shank that tapers. I think the parallel shank could work a similar way as the bench hooks from Roubo and Moxon where the iron hook is mounted on a block of wood which is mounted in a through-mortise in the benchtop.

I have searched for old bench hooks that could fit in the hole in the Vasa bench. I have not found any in Sweden and Norway yet. I found some references to an interesting bench hook in a blog entry on the blog of Peter Follansbee. He write about a bench hook with 8″ long shank from an archaeological excavation in Virginia. On my question by e-mail he was helpful and sent me a scan from the book he got the information from. It is the Article «The Archaeological Evidence of Tools Used in Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century Virginia», by David Harvey, from the book «Eighteenth-Century Woodworking Tools», James M. Gaynor, 1997. The bench hook was from the excavations at Flowerdew Hundred in Virginia and is probably  from 1690-1730.

Drawing of the bench hook found in Virginia. From the book: Eighteenth-Century Woodworking Tools. James M. Gaynor, 1997
Drawing of the bench hook found in Virginia. The Moxon bench for comparison. It might match the hole in the Vasa bench but i do not have the exactly measures. When i measure on the drawing I find the lenght to be 9-10″ and the cross section of the shank about 1″ and parallel. From the book: Eighteenth-Century Woodworking Tools. James M. Gaynor, 1997

It is relevant to ask what an, at least 70 years younger, bench hook from Virginia have to do with the Vasa workbench? The only connection could be that the shape and measures make a match? When Vasa was built there was a lot of Dutch carpenters working on the ship. There was also some woodcarvers from the area that today is northern Germany. There was also joiners working on the interior paneling and furniture for the cabins in the stern. The joiner who used the bench hook in Virgina could have been English or Dutch and  working in a northern European tradition. The Vasa bench could also be interpreted to be a part of a northern European tradition of joinery? The connection could be stronger than that the shape and measures match?

With this information, and a glance to other old bench hooks, the blacksmith, Mattias Helje in Lima in Sweden set out to forge a bench hook for the copy of the Vasa bench that Tomas and I are building in Mariestad.

The shank of the bench hook are made parallel and  about 23 x 25 mm cross section. Photo: Mattias Helje
The shank of the bench hook are made parallel and about 23 x 25 mm cross section. It is forged by a solid piece of steel, probably similar as the original bench hook. Photo: Mattias Helje
Two bench hooks forged according to the size of the hole in the Vasa bench. Photo: Mattias Helje
Two bench hooks forged according to the size of the hole in the Vasa bench. Theese where forged today and are not tested yet. Photo: Mattias Helje

About Roald Renmælmo

Snikkar med fokus på handverkstradisjon og handverktøy. Universitetslektor og PhD stipendiat på NTNU i Trondheim. Eg underviser på tradisjonelt bygghandverk og teknisk bygningsvern og restaurering.

7 thoughts on “Planing stop or bench hook on the Vasa bench

    1. Hello Ernest
      My main language is Norwegian and I try to understand these terms from reading English litterature on the subject and by using a dictionary. When I read English terms I also compare them to the equivalent Norwegian terms, but such terms is not easy to translate to words with the same meaning. I think your question should be answered by someone with English as their main language and knowledge on the subject.

      I think that bench stop is a more general term than bench hook, but a more common term? The modern use of it is often about more «technical» versions of bench stops. If you search google images with the term «bench stop» you will see a lot of different patented versions.

      Both planing stop and bench hook are old terms that have a different meaning today. Bench hook is also the wooden bench hook, like the one from Vasa i wrote about. I feel that the term bench hook describe how it works and how it is made in a good way, similar as some of the older Norwegian terms. I my post I use the terms «bench hook» and «planing stop» with references (and link) to blog posts by Peter Follansbee and Christopher Schwarz.

      Roald

      1. Yes, the span of history with its overlapping cultural exchanges can lead to confusion. I have always learned the distinction between bench stop and bench hook, but really they are only labels in the end.
        I understand the reality of translating technical terms, being a native English speaker living and learning in a non-English speaking land myself.

        Greetings,

        E.DB.

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