With every generation, styles and attitudes change. Both professional and amateur workshops evolved over the last 300 years from being exclusively guild-oriented workplaces to spaces where anyone who has the tools can attempt the creation of fine work. No longer is the shop the domain of the professional. For some, this is a degradation of the skill required to do first-class work. With each shift in the use of a workshop, the furniture and appliances change as new discoveries come naturally when greater numbers participate in a craft.
While it is accepted that the Romans, and before them the Egyptians, used a rudimentary form of a workbench (basically a slab to rest the work on while working a project into submission), it was only in the 1500s that the modern style of bench appeared, along with dedicated clamping devices to hold the work. Yes, the Romans used a bench dog for virtually the same purpose as we do today and they were also well versed in the use of the hold-down, a tool that has regained popularity. These tools required a piercing or hole in the workbench to work effectively, and the option of nailing or pegging a fixture to a bench was often impractical unless one had a local source for nails or pegs. The evolution of the workspace often took the tradesperson from the job site into a shop. With that came the modern style of workbench with self-contained clamping fixtures. No longer did one use a site-built slab-like device.
Having never seen one of these devices in use before, we relegated it to the pile found in a toolbox long after all the good items had been pillaged. Subsequent discoveries showed that while this tool was commercially made, it was not done so in great numbers. Its appearance (hand forged) suggests that a local smith made some for a client and others came forth to order copies. Numerous style variants have been observed. We have no idea of age or when it became part of a tradesperson’s kit, anywhere from 1750 – 1900. The method of using it on a slab surface, however, suggests it was prior to 1840 in North America. We may be wrong, and these dogs may be an essential part of a forgotten woodworking trade.
Often referred to as a bench stop, we feel it would be better named a planing stop. Its use on a slab surface allows a joiner to fully plane long boards without repositioning hold-downs that encroach on the surface being worked. No doubt, it was developed prior to the use of an end vise for clamping the work with regular bench dogs.
D.S. Orr has been a collector, user and student of woodworking and metalworking tools and practices for more than 40 years. Now retired, he has devoted even more time to these endeavors.