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Moxon's Waving Engine - A Practical Application  

10/04/2011

During my last visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art I once again visited their exhibit on boxes and I was stuck once again by a ebony box with spectacular inlay. In addition all the panels and corners of the box are decorated with applied moldings and I thought here was a fine example of carved applied moldings that I could use along with more mundane examples. However as looked the piece over I realized that the molding wasn't carved. The regular designs were too perfect and didn't really have the depth and distinction you get with carving. I got hit with a lightbulb and I realized that the moldings were more probably done with a waving engine as described in Joseph Moxon's 1678 Mechanick Exercises. A belated reading of the caption to the piece confirmed my suspicion. The maker was Herman Doomer, Amsterdam c. 1640-50. Doomer son studied with Rembrandt and the master himself painted Doomer's portrait which is also at the met. You can see the portrait and learn more here.

The piece is oak, veneered in ebony with ivory and mother-of-pearl inlay and without any additions it would still be quite magnificent, but the wave moldings give the carcass lots of additional interest which plain molding would not do.

It makes sense that Moxon who began his carrier in Holland was familiar with the machine because the machine originated in Holland.

Essentially the machine is a fancy scratch beader. As you scrape the wood back and forth to produce the molding a ridged master pattern raises the cutter and you get a wavy molding. Scratch beading works perfectly in brittle dense materials like ebony and ivory that you find in high end work.

In the closeup photos, the best I could do through glass, you can see the moldings the machine produced. For a far more detailed and useful explanation of the history of the machine and how it works read Jonathan Thornton's excellent article here. Different versions of the machine would work vertical moldings as in this piece or with the addition of lateral motion you could make wiggly molding in both dimensions.

Hand powered machines like the engine were not uncommon in the pre-industrial age. They were used all over not so much to save labor - the machine worked by hand power, but to save skilled labor. And that's really important. It's important now for the same reason it was important 350 years ago. Considering the availability of machined parts the machine would be a lot easier to build now than then. If you want to make interesting pieces, especially if you are trying to make a living at it building a machine like this might be a simple way of creating tons of new effects that will wow your customers.



Tags:Historical Subjects
Comments: 5
10/04/2011Tom Knighton 
Wow. There's a tool chest in a local museum with a very similar molding on the inside lid. I personally hadn't seen anything like it before and was curious what it was and how it could have been done. It's exact date is unknown, but the museum seemed confident that it was pre-1920's at the latest.

I've wanted to rebuild the chest to some extent at least, but wasn't sure about the molding. Now I have an idea how to do it.
10/04/2011Stephen Shepherd http://www.fullchisel.com/blog
A number of years ago I restored an old chest that had wavy molding of ebony detailing the front. One part was curved in a half circle to trim out an arch above an opening. The straight part was made on this type of machine, but the curved part was made of a black composite material and was probably applied with a pastry bag and a matching tip. It was put on like icing on a cake and was a very good match for the solid wood.

So when is Tools for Working Wood going to offer one of these wavy machines?

Stephen
10/05/2011Bruce Wedlock 
You referenced Moxon's 1678 Mechanick Exercises with a link. But the text is 350 pages over many topics. Can you give the page number where the waving engine is described?
10/05/2011Chuck Nickerson 
In terms of function, this seems to resemble the rose machines that turners are using/recreating.

I've got to make one! 2014 is looking pretty clear.
10/05/2011joel http://www.toolsforworkingwood.com
The text is on page 106 in the 1703 edition
Comments are closed.
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the blog's author and guests and in no way reflect the views of Tools for Working Wood.
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