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Title: Woodworking Tools 1600-1900
Author: Welsh, Peter C.
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Woodworking Tools 1600-1900" ***

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_Cover design after engraving from Diderot._


  PAPER 51


  _Peter C. Welsh_


  CONFIGURATION         194

  CHANGE                214

  BIBLIOGRAPHY          227

  _Peter C Welsh_



     _This history of woodworking hand tools from the 17th to the 20th
     century is one of a very gradual evolution of tools through
     generations of craftsmen. As a result, the sources of changes in
     design are almost impossible to ascertain. Published sources,
     moreover, have been concerned primarily with the object shaped by
     the tool rather than the tool itself. The resulting scarcity of
     information is somewhat compensated for by collections in museums
     and restorations._

     _In this paper, the author spans three centuries in discussing the
     specialization, configuration, and change of woodworking tools in
     the United States._

     THE AUTHOR: _Peter C. Welsh is curator, Growth of the United
     States, in the Smithsonian Institution's Museum of History and

In 1918, PROFESSOR W.M.F. PETRIE concluded a brief article on "History
in Tools" with a reminder that the history of this subject "has yet to
be studied," and lamented the survival of so few precisely dated
specimens. What Petrie found so discouraging in studying the implements
of the ancient world has consistently plagued those concerned with tools
of more recent vintage. Anonymity is the chief characteristic of hand
tools of the last three centuries. The reasons are many: first, the tool
is an object of daily use, subjected while in service to hard wear and,
in some cases, ultimate destruction; second, a tool's usefulness is apt
to continue through many years and through the hands of several
generations of craftsmen, with the result that its origins become lost;
third, the achievement of an implement of demonstrated proficiency
dictated against radical, and therefore easily datable, changes in shape
or style; and fourth, dated survivals needed to establish a range of
firm control specimens for the better identification of unknowns,
particularly the wooden elements of tools--handles, moldings, and plane
bodies--are frustratingly few in non-arid archaeological sites. When
tracing the provenance of American tools there is the additional problem
of heterogeneous origins and shapes--that is, what was the appearance
of a given tool prior to its standardization in England and the United
States? The answer requires a brief summary of the origin of selected
tool shapes, particularly those whose form was common to both the
British Isles and the Continent in the 17th century. Beyond this, when
did the shape of English tools begin to differ from the shape of tools
of the Continent? Finally, what tool forms predominated in American
usage and when, if in fact ever, did any of these tools achieve a
distinctly American character? In the process of framing answers to
these questions, one is confronted by a constantly diminishing
literature, coupled with a steadily increasing number of tool types.[1]

[Illustration: Figure 1.--1685: THE PRINCIPAL TOOLS that the carpenter
needed to frame a house, as listed by JOHANN AMOS COMENIUS in his _Orbis
Sensualium Pictus_ were the felling axe (4), wedge and beetle (7 and 8),
chip axe (10), saw (12), trestle (14), and pulley (15). (Charles Hoole
transl., London, 1685. _Courtesy of the Folger Shakespeare Library_.)]

[Illustration: Figure 2.--1685: THE BOXMAKER AND TURNER as pictured by
Comenius required planes (3 and 5), workbench (4), auger (6), knife (7),
and lathe (14). (From Johann Amos Comenius, _Orbis Sensualium Pictus.
Courtesy of the Folger Shakespeare Library_.)]

The literature of the subject, both new and old, is sparse, with
interest always centering upon the object shaped by the craftsman's tool
rather than upon the tool itself. Henry Mercer's _Ancient Carpenters'
Tools_, first published in 1929, is an exception. It remains a rich
source of information based primarily on the marvelous collections
preserved by the Bucks County Historical Society. Since 1933, the Early
American Industries Association, both through collecting and through its
_Chronicle_, has called attention to the vanishing trades, their tools
and techniques; the magazine _Antiques_ has occasionally dealt with this
subject. Historians of economic and industrial development usually
neglect the tools of the woodcrafts, and when considering the
toolmakers, they have reference only to the inventors and producers of
machine tools. The dearth of written material is somewhat compensated
for by the collections of hand tools in American museums and
restorations, notably those at Williamsburg, Cooperstown, Old Sturbridge
Village, Winterthur, the Henry Ford Museum, and Shelburne; at the latter
in particular the extensive collection has been bolstered by Frank H.
Wildung's museum pamphlet, "Woodworking Tools at Shelburne Museum."
The most informative recent American work on the subject is Eric
Sloane's handsomely illustrated _A Museum of Early American Tools_,
published in 1964. Going beyond just the tools of the woodworker,
Sloane's book also includes agricultural implements. It is a delightful
combination of appreciation of early design, nostalgia, and useful fact.

[Illustration: Figure 3.--1703: THE TOOLS OF THE JOINER illustrated by
Moxon are the workbench (A), fore plane (B. 1), jointer (B. 2),
strike-block (B. 3), smoothing plane (B. 4 and B. 7), rabbet plane (B.
5), plow (B. 6), forming chisels (C. 1 and C. 3), paring chisel (C. 2),
skew former (C. 4), mortising chisel (sec. C. 5), gouge (C. 6), square
(D), bevel (F), gauge (G), brace and bit (H), gimlet (I), auger (K),
hatchet (L), pit saw (M), whipsaw (N), frame saw (O), saw set (Q),
handsaw (unmarked), and compass saw (E). (Joseph Moxon, _Mechanick
Exercises_ ..., 3rd ed., London, 1703. Library of Congress.)]

[Illustration: Figure 4.--1703: ONLY THE PRINCIPAL TOOLS used in
carpentry are listed by Moxon: the axe (A), adz (B), socket chisel (C),
ripping chisel (D), drawknife (E), hookpin (F), bevel (G), plumb line
(H), hammer (I), commander (K), crow (L), and jack (M). (Moxon,
_Mechanick Exercises_ ..., 1703. Library of Congress.)]

Charles Hummel's forthcoming _With Hammer in Hand: The Dominy Craftsmen
of East Hampton_--to be published by the Yale University Press--will be
a major contribution to the literature dealing with Anglo-American
woodworking tools. Hummel's book will place in perspective Winterthur
Museum's uniquely documented Dominy Woodshop Collection. This extensive
collection of tools--over a thousand in number--is rich in attributed
and dated examples which range from the early 18th through the mid-19th
century. The literature of the subject has been greatly enhanced by the
English writer, W.L. Goodman. Extending a series of articles that first
appeared in the _Journal of The Institute of Handicraft Teachers_,
Goodman has put together a well-researched _History of Woodworking
Tools_ (London, 1964), one particularly useful for its wealth of
illustration from antiquity and the Middle Ages.


Given the limitations of precise dating, uncertain provenance, and an
uneven literature, what can be learned about woodworking tools after
1600? In some instances, design change can be noted and documented to
provide at least a general criteria for dating. Frequently, the original
appearance of tools can be documented. For some hand tools,
characteristics can be established that denote a national origin. Not
infrequently a tool's style, decorative motif, or similarity to other
objects that coexisted at a given time can suggest, even in relatively
modern times, the values of the society that produced it. The source of
such information derived from the hand tool is generally visual,
recorded in the tool itself or in pictures of it and supported by
manuscript and printed material.

Survey the principal printed sources of the 17th, 18th, and 19th
centuries. The first thing that is apparent is a remarkable
proliferation of tool types without any significant change in the
definition and description of the carpenter's or joiner's task. Begin in
1685 with Charles Hoole's translation of Johann Amos Comenius' _Orbis
Sensualium Pictus_ for use as a Latin grammar. Among the occupations
chosen to illustrate vocabulary and usage were the carpenter (fig. 1),
the boxmaker (cabinetmaker), and the turner (fig. 2). "The Carpenter,"
according to Hoole's text, "squareth Timber with a Chip ax ... and
saweth it with a Saw" while the more specialized "Box-maker, smootheth
hewen-Boards with a Plain upon a Work-board, he maketh them very smooth
with a little plain, he boarth them thorow with an Augre, carveth them
with a Knife, fasteneth them together with Glew, and Cramp-irons, and
maketh Tables, Boards, Chests &c." Hoole repeated Comenius' plates with
the result that the craftsman's tools and his work have the same
characteristic medieval flavor as the text.[2]

Joseph Moxon in his well-quoted work on the mechanic arts defined
joinery as "an Art Manual, whereby several Pieces of Wood are so fitted
and join'd together by Straight-line, Squares, Miters or any Bevel, that
they shall seem one intire Piece." Including the workbench, Moxon
described and illustrated 30 tools (fig. 3) needed by the joiner. The
carpenter's tools were less favored by illustration; only 13 were
pictured (fig. 4). The tools that the carpenter used were the same as
those of the joiner except that the carpenter's tools were structurally
stronger. The axe serves as a good example of the difference. The
joiner's axe was light and short handled with the left side of the
cutting edge bezeled to accommodate one-handed use. The carpenter's axe,
on the other hand, was intended "to hew great Stuff" and was made deeper
and heavier to facilitate the squaring and beveling of timbers.[3] By
mid-18th century the craft of joiner and carpenter had been completely
rationalized in Diderot's _Encyclopédie_ and by André Roubo in his
_L'Art du menuisier_, a part of Duhamel's _Descriptions des arts et
métiers_. Diderot, for example, illustrates 14 bench planes alone,
generally used by the joiner (fig. 5), while Roubo suggests the steady
sophistication of the art in a plate showing the special planes and
irons required for fine molding and paneling (fig. 6).

[Illustration: Figure 5.--1769: THE BENCH PLANES OF THE JOINER increased
in number, but in appearance they remained much the same as those
illustrated by Moxon. (Denis Diderot, _Recueil de planches sur les
science et les arts libéraux_, Paris, 1769, vol. 7, "Menuiserie."
Smithsonian photo 56630.)]

Despite such thoroughness, without the addition of the several plates it
would be almost impossible to visualize, through the descriptive text
alone, the work of the carpenter and joiner except, of course, in modern
terms. This is particularly true of the numerous texts on building, such
as Batty Langley's _The Builder's Complete Assistant_ (1738) and Francis
Price's _The British Carpenter_ (1765), where building techniques are
well described but illustration of tools is omitted. This inadequacy
grows. In two 19th-century American editions of British works, _The Book
of Trades_, printed at Philadelphia in 1807, and Hazen's _Panorama of
the Professions and Trades_ (1838), the descriptions of the carpenter's
trade are extremely elementary.

Thomas Martin's _Circle of the Mechanical Arts_ (1813), although far
more thorough than many texts, still defined carpentry "as the art of
cutting out, framing, and joining large pieces of wood, to be used in
building" and joinery as "small work" or what "is called by the French,
_menuiserie_." Martin enumerated 16 tools most useful to the carpenter
and 21 commonly used by the joiner; in summary, he noted, as had Moxon,
that "both these arts are subservient to architecture, being employed in
raising, roofing, flooring and ornamenting buildings of all kinds" (fig.

In Peter Nicholson's _The Mechanic's Companion_ (figs. 8, 9, and 10),
the all-too-familiar definition of carpentry as "the art of employing
timber in the construction of buildings" suggests very little of the
carpenter's actual work or the improvement in tool design that had
occurred since Moxon's _Exercises_. From Nicholson's list of the tools
required by the carpenter--"a ripping saw, a hand saw, an axe, an adze,
a socket chisel, a firmer chisel, a ripping chisel, an auguer, a gimlet,
a hammer, a mallet, a pair of pincers, and sometimes planes"--there
would seem at first glance slight advance since the 1600's. The
enumeration of the joiner's tools, however, indicates a considerable
proliferation, particularly when compared to earlier writers. By the
early 19th century, the more refined work of joinery required over 50

     The bench planes [instructed Nicholson] are, the jack plane, the
     fore plane, the trying plane, the long plane, the jointer, and the
     smoothing plane; the cylindric plane, the compass and forkstaff
     planes; the straight block, for straightening short edges. Rebating
     planes are the moving fillister, the sash fillister, the common
     rebating plane, the side rebating plane. Grooving planes are the
     plough and dado grooving planes. Moulding planes are sinking
     snipebills, side snipebills, beads, hollows and rounds, ovolos and
     ogees. Boring tools are: gimlets, bradawls, stock, and bits.
     Instruments for dividing the wood, are principally the ripping saw,
     the half ripper, the hand saw, the panel saw, the tenon saw, the
     carcase saw, the sash saw, the compass saw, the keyhole saw, and
     turning saw. Tools used for forming the angles of two adjoining
     surfaces, are squares and bevels. Tools used for drawing parallel
     lines are gauges. Edge tools are the firmer chisel, the mortise
     chisel, the socket chisel, the gouge, the hatchet, the adze, the
     drawing knife. Tools for knocking upon wood and iron are, the
     mallet and hammer. Implements for sharpening tools are the grinding
     stone, the rub stone, and the oil or whet stone.[5]

Reflecting what the text writers listed, toolmakers by the end of the
18th century gave buyers a wide choice. The catalogue of Sheffield's
Castle Hill Works offered 20 combinations of ready-stocked tool chests;
the simplest contained 12 carpenter's tools and the most complex, 39,
plus, if desired, an additional assortment of gardening implements (fig.
11). In 1857, the Arrowmammett Works of Middletown, Connecticut,
producers of bench and molding planes, published an illustrated
catalogue that offered 34 distinct types that included everything from
hollows and rounds to double jointers and hand-rail planes (fig.

[Illustration: Figure 6.--1774: ANDRÉ ROUBO'S _L'Art du menuisier_
contains detailed plates and descriptions of the most specialized of
woodworking planes: those used to cut panel moldings. The conformation
of these tools was still distinctly in keeping with the Moxon type and
suggests that, at least in Europe, no remarkable change had yet occurred
in the shape of planes. (André-Jacob Roubo, _L'Art du menuisier_:
Troisième partie, troisième section, l'art du menuisier ébéniste [Paris,
1774]. Smithsonian photo 49790-D.)]

[Illustration: Figure 7.--1813: THOMAS MARTIN ILLUSTRATED ON ONE PLATE
the tools of the carpenter and joiner dividing them as follows: the
tools most useful to the carpenter, the axe (7), adz (6), saw (24),
socket chisel (13), firmer chisel (5), auger (1), gimlet (3), gauge
(16), square (9), compass (36), hammer (21), mallet (22), hookpin (11),
crow (12), plumb rule (18), and level (19); and the tools most often
associated with joinery, the jack plane (30), trying plane (31),
smoothing plane (34), tenon saw (25), compass saw (26), keyhole saw
(27), square (8), bevel (23), gauge (17), mortise chisel (4), gouge
(14), turnscrew (15), plow plane (29), molding plane (35), pincers (37),
bradawl (10), stock and bit (2), sidehook (20), workbench (28), and rule
(38). The planes are of particular interest since they show clearly a
change in form from those previously illustrated. (Thomas Martin, _The
Circle of the Mechanical Arts_, London, 1813.)]

[Illustration: Figure 8.--1832: PETER NICHOLSON ILLUSTRATED an
interesting mixture of old and new forms. An updating of Moxon,
Nicholson's carpenter required an axe (1), adz (2), socket chisel (3),
mortise and tenon gauge (4), square (5), plumb rule (6), level (7),
auger (8), hookpin (9), and crow (10). (Peter Nicholson, _The Mechanic's
Companion_. 1st American ed., Philadelphia, 1832. Smithsonian photo

was little improved over Moxon's, although the planes--jack (1), trying
plane (2), smoothing plane (3), sash fillister (7), and plow
(8)--followed the form seen in Martin (fig. 7). The inception of this
shape occurred in the shops of Sheffield toolmakers in the last half of
the 18th century, and it persisted until replaced by metallic versions
patented by American innovators during the last quarter of the 19th
century. (Nicholson, _The Mechanic's Companion_. Smithsonian photo

[Illustration: Figure 10.--1832: THE BRACE AND BIT, GIMLET, CHISELS, AND
SAWS, having achieved a standard form distinctly different than those of
Moxon's vintage, were, like the plane, slow to change. The metallic
version of the brace did not replace the standard Sheffield type (1) in
the United States until after 1850. For all intent and purpose the saw
still retains the characteristics illustrated in Nicholson. Of interest
is Nicholson's comment regarding the saws; namely, that the double
handle was peculiar to the hand (6) and tenon saws (7), while the
compass (9) and the sash saws (8) had the single handle. In addition the
tenon saw was generally backed in iron and the sash saw in brass.
(Nicholson, _The Mechanic's Companion_. Smithsonian photo 56632.)]

TOOLMAKERS indicated the diversity of production. The Castle Hill Works
at Sheffield offered to gentlemen 20 choices of tool chests designed to
appeal to a wide variety of users and purses. The chest was available in
either oak or mahogany, depending on the gentleman's tastes (fig. 49).
(Book 87, Cutler and Company, Castle Hill Works, Sheffield. _Courtesy of
the Victoria and Albert Museum_.)]

[Illustration: Figure 12.--1857: THE DIVERSITY OF TOOLS available to
buyers made necessary the illustrated trade catalogue. Although few in
number in the United States before 1850, tool catalogues became
voluminous in the last half of the century as printing costs dropped.
(Smithsonian Institution Library. Smithsonian photo 49790.)]

American inventories reflect the great increase suggested by the early
technical writers and trade catalogues cited above. Compare the content
of two American carpenters' shops--one of 1709, in York County,
Virginia, and the other of 1827, in Middleborough, Massachusetts. John
Crost, a Virginian, owned, in addition to sundry shoemaking and
agricultural implements, a dozen gimlets, chalklines, bung augers, a
dozen turning tools and mortising chisels, several dozen planes (ogees,
hollows and rounds, and plows), several augers, a pair of 2-foot rules,
a spoke shave, lathing hammers, a lock saw, three files, compasses,
paring chisels, a jointer's hammer, three handsaws, filling axes, a
broad axe, and two adzes. Nearly 120 years later Amasa Thompson listed
his tools and their value. Thompson's list is a splendid comparison of
the tools needed in actual practice, as opposed to the tools suggested
by Nicholson in his treatise on carpentry or those shown in the
catalogues of the toolmakers.[7] Thompson listed the following:

  1 set bench planes                       $6.00

  1 Broad Axe                               3.00

  1 Adze                                    2.25

  1 Panel saw                               1.50

  1 Panel saw                               1.58

  1 fine do--                               1.58

  1 Drawing knife                            .46

  1 Trying square                            .93

  1 Shingling hatchet                        .50

  1 Hammer                                   .50

  1 Rabbit plane                             .83

  1 Halving do                               .50

  1 Backed fine saw                         1.25

  1 Inch augre                               .50

  1 pr. dividers or compasses--              .71

  1 Panel saw for splitting                 2.75

  1 Tennon gauge                            1.42

  1 Bevel                                    .84

  1 Bradd Hammer                             .50

  1 _Architect Book_                        6.50

  1 Case Mathematical Instruments       3.62-1/2

  1 Panel saw                               2.75

  1 Grafting saw                            1.00

  1 Bench screw                             1.00

  1 Stamp                                   2.50

  1 Double joint rule                    .62-1/2

  1 Sash saw                            1.12-1/2

  1 Oil Can                                  .17

  1 Brace & 36 straw cold bits              9.00

  1 Window Frame tool                       4.00

  1 Blind tool                              1.33

  1 Glue Kettle                          .62-1/2

  1 Grindstone without crank                1.75

  1 Machine for whetting saws                .75

  1 Tennoning machine                       4.50

  Drafting board and square Bevel--         1.25

  1 Noseing sash plane with templets & copes  4.50

  1 pr. clamps for clamping doors           2.17

  1 Set Bench Planes--double irons.--       7.50

  1 Grindstone 300 lbs @                    6.25

  1 Stove for shop--$7.25, one elbow .37 & 40
  lbs second hand pipe $4.00               11.62

  1 Bed moulding                            2.00

  1 Pr. shears for cutting tin.--            .17

  1 Morticing Machine                      10.75

  1 Grecian Ovilo                           1.13

  1-3/16 beed                                .67

  1 Spirit level                            2.25

  1 Oil stone                                .42

  1 Small trying square                      .48

  1 pareing chisel                           .37

  1 Screw driver                             .29

  1 Bench screw                              .75

  1 Box rule                                 .50

  1-3/4 Augre                                .41

  11 Gouges                                 1.19

  13 Chisels                                1.17

  1 small iron vice                          .52

  1 pr. Hollow Rounds                        .86

  4 Framing chisels                         1.05

  1 Grove plough & Irons--Sold at 4.50      5.00

  1 Sash plane for 1-1/4 stuff              1.50

  1 Copeing plane                            .67

  1 Bead 1/4--                               .75

  1 Bead 3/4                                1.00

  1 Rabbit (Sold at .92)                     .92

  1 Smooth plane                            1.50

  1 Strike Block                             .92

  1 Compass saw                              .42

  6 Gauges                                  1.83

  1 Dust brush                               .25

  1 Rasp, or wood file                       .25

  1 Augre 2 in.                              .76

  1 Augre 1 in.                              .40

  1 Do 3/4                                   .30

  1 Spoke shave                              .50

  1 Bevel--                                  .25

  1 Box rule                                 .84

  1 Iron square                             1.42

  1 Box rule                                1.25

  1 Spur Rabbit (Sold--1.17)                1.33

  1 Pannel plane                            1.25

  1 Sash plane                              1.25

  1 pr. Match planes                        2.25

  1 Two inch chisel or firmer--              .42

  1 Morticing chisel 3/8                     .25

  1 Large screw driver                      1.00

  1 Pr. small clamps                         .50

  1 pr. Spring dividers                      .92

  1 do-nippers                               .20

  1 Morticing chisel 1/2 in.                 .28

  1 Ovilo & Ostrigal 3/4--                  1.25

  1 Scotia & Ostrigal 5/8--                 1.08

  1 Noseing--                               1.08

  1 Pr. Hollow & rounds                     1.33

  1 Ogee-- 1/2 inch                         1.00

  1 Ostrigal 7/8 inch                       1.00

  1 Bit--                                    .15

  1 Beed 1/2 inch                            .83

  1 Claw hammer                              .67

  1 Fillister                               2.50

  2 Beeds at 5/8                            1.83

  1 Pair Quirk tools                        1.50

  1 Side Rabbit plane                        .83

  1 Large steel tongued sq.                 1.71

  1 Saw & Pad                                .67

  1 pr. fire stones                          .50

  1 small trying sq.                         .50

  1 Set Bench planes double ironed without
      smooth plane                          6.00

  1 Bench screw                              .75

[Illustration: Figure 13.--EARLY 18TH CENTURY: In addition to their
special function and importance as survivals documenting an outmoded
technology, the hand tool often combines a gracefulness of line and a
sense of proportion that makes it an object of great decorative appeal.
The dividers of the builder or shipwright illustrated here are of French
origin and may be valued as much for their cultural significance as for
their technical importance. (Smithsonian photo 49792-G.)]

By 1900, the carpenter's tool chest, fully stocked and fit for the
finest craftsman, contained 90 or more tools. Specialization is readily
apparent; the change in, and achievement of, the ultimate design of a
specific tool is not so easily pinpointed. Only by comparing
illustrations and surviving examples can such an evolution be
appreciated and in the process, whether pondering the metamorphosis of a
plane, a brace and bit, or an auger, the various stages of change
encountered coincide with the rise of modern industrial society.

[Illustration: Figure 14.--1688: FRONTISPIECE FROM JOHN BROWN, _The
Description and Use of the Carpenter's Rule_, London, 1688. (Library of


Hand tools are often neglected in the search for the pleasing objects of
the past. Considered too utilitarian, their decorative appeal--the
mellow patina of the wood plane or the delicately tapered legs of a pair
of dividers--often goes unnoticed. Surprisingly modern in design, the
ancient carpenter's or cabinetmaker's tool has a vitality of line that
can, without reference to technical significance, make it an object of
considerable grace and beauty. The hand tool is frequently a lively and
decorative symbol of a society at a given time--a symbol, which,
according to the judges at London's Crystal Palace Exhibition in 1851,
gives "indications of the peculiar condition and habits of the people
whence they come, of their social and industrial wants and aims, as well
as their natural or acquired advantages."[8] The hand tool, therefore,
should be considered both as an object of appealing shape and a document
illustrative of society and its progress.

[Illustration: Figure 15.--18TH CENTURY: Cabinetmaker's dividers of
English origin. (Private collection. Smithsonian photo 49789-B.)]

[Illustration: Figure 16.--1783: CABINETMAKER'S dividers of English
manufacture, dated, and marked T. Pearmain. See detail, figure 17.
(Smithsonian photo 49792-C.)]

[Illustration: Figure 17.--1783: DETAIL OF CABINETMAKER'S DIVIDERS
showing name and date.]

[Illustration: Figure 18.--18TH CENTURY: Carpenter's dividers of English
origin, undated. (Smithsonian photo 49792-B.)]

On first sight, it is the conformation rather than any facet of its
technical or social significance that strikes the eye; perhaps the most
decorative of tools are early dividers and calipers which, prior to
their standardization, existed in seemingly endless variety. The great
dividers used by the shipbuilder and architect for scribing and
measuring timbers not only indicate building techniques (accession
61.548) but also document 17th-and early 18th-century decorative
metalwork, as seen in figure 13. Well before the 17th century, artists
and engravers recognized them as intriguing shapes to include in any
potpourri of instruments, either in cartouches or the frontispieces of
books (fig. 14).

[Illustration: Figure 19.--1855: THE FRONTISPIECE FROM EDWARD SHAW, _The
Modern Architect_ (Boston, 1855), shows the carpenter's dividers in the
foreground unchanged in form from those illustrated in figure 18. Of
further interest in Shaw's plate is the dress of the workmen and the
balloon frame of the house under construction. (Smithsonian photo

The two pairs of cabinetmaker's dividers illustrated in figures 15 and
16 suggest significant changes in the design of a basic tool. The
dividers shown in figure 15 are English and would seem to be of early
18th-century origin, perhaps even earlier. They are Renaissance in
feeling with decorated legs and a heart-shaped stop on the end of the
slide-arm. In character, they are like the great dividers shown in
figure 13: functional, but at the same time preserving in their
decoration the features common to a wide variety of ironwork and wares
beyond the realm of tools alone. The dividers pictured in figure 16 are
a decided contrast. Dated 1783, they are strongly suggestive of
Sheffield origin. Gone is the superfluous decoration; in its place is
the strong, crisp line of a tool that has reached nearly the ultimate of
function and manufacture, a device which both in general appearance and
precise design is very modern in execution. Equally intriguing are the
smaller, more slender dividers (accession 319557) of the 18th-century
house-builder as seen in figure 18, a form that changed very little, if
at all, until after 1850--a fact confirmed by the frontispiece of Edward
Shaw's _The Modern Architect_, published in Boston in 1855 (fig. 19).
The double calipers of the woodturner (fig. 20) have by far the most
appealing and ingenious design of all such devices. Designed for
convenience, few tools illustrate better the aesthetic of the purely
functional than this pair of 19th-century American calipers.

[Illustration: Figure 20.--EARLY 19TH CENTURY: THE DOUBLE CALIPERS of
the woodturner permitted double readings to be taken without changing
the set of the tool. Inherent in this practical design is a gracefulness
of line seldom surpassed. (Private collection. Smithsonian photo

[Illustration: Figure 21.--1704: THE FLOOR PLANE OR LONG JOINER of
Norwegian origin exhibits the characteristic decoration of the stock and
mouth, patterns common on tools of northern European and Scandinavian
origin. (_Courtesy of the Norsk Folkemuseum, Oslo, Norway._)]

Intended to establish proportion and to insure precision, it seems a
natural consequence that dividers and calipers should in themselves
reflect the same sense of balance and grace that they were designed to
govern. Still, even the most prosaic examples of woodworking tools,
completely divorced from the quasi-mathematical devices of measure and
proportion, have this quality and can be admired solely as decorative
objects. This is most evident in the three European bench planes
illustrated in figures 21, 22, and 23: one Norwegian, dated 1704; one
Dutch (accession 319562), dated 1756; and one German, dated 1809. The
Norwegian and German examples, with their elaborately carved bodies and
heart-shaped mouths, are typical of the type that Swedish and German
colonists in America might have used in the 17th and 18th centuries.
They are important for that reason. Also, all three exhibit elaboration
found on other material survivals from these countries in their
respective periods. For example, the incised rosette of the Dutch plane
(fig. 22) is especially suggestive of the rosettes found on English and
American furniture of the 1750's and 1760's, specifically on high

The decorative motifs that characterized European tools of the 17th and
18th centuries obscured technical improvement. By contrast, in England
and America, tools gained distinction through the directness of their
design. Following English patterns, tools of American make were
straightforward. Only later, in new tool types, did they imitate the
rococo flourish of their European predecessors. In America, as in
England, the baroque for things functional seemingly had little appeal.
This is particularly true of woodworking planes on which, unlike their
continental cousins, embellishment is rarely seen. Exemplifying this
tradition are three early 19th-century American planes: a plow, for
cutting channels of various widths on board edges, marked "G. White,
Philda" (fig. 24); a rabbet, for notching the margin of boards; made
by E.W. Carpenter of Lancaster, Pennsylvania (fig. 25); and a jack or
foreplane, for rough surfacing (accession 61.547), made by A. Klock and
dated 1818 as seen in figure 26.

[Illustration: Figure 22.--1756: THE HIGHLY elaborated stock and
rosette-incised wedge of the smoothing plane recall the decoration on
furniture of the period. The plane is of Dutch origin. (Smithsonian
photo 49792-F.)]

[Illustration: Figure 23.--1809: THIS BENCH PLANE of German origin is
dated 1809. It is of a traditional form that persists to the present
day. The planes pictured in figures 21, 22, and 23 are similar to the
type brought to North America by non-English colonists. (Private
collection. Smithsonian photo 49793-F.)]

[Illustration: Figure 24.--ABOUT 1818: This plow plane, used to cut
narrow channels on the edges of boards, was made by G. White of
Philadelphia in the early 19th century. It is essentially the same tool
depicted in the catalogues of Sheffield manufactures and in the plates
from Martin and Nicholson. The pattern of the basic bench tools used in
America consistently followed British design, at least until the last
quarter of the 19th century. (Private collection. Smithsonian photo

[Illustration: Figure 25. 1830-1840: THE DESIGN OF the rabbet plane,
used to cut a groove of fixed width and depth on the edge of a board,
was not improved upon in the 19th century. The carpenter's dependence on
this tool lessened only after the perfection of multipurpose metallic
planes that could be readily converted to cut a "rabbet." (Private
collection. Smithsonian photo 494789-H).]

The question of dating arises, since only the Klock piece is firmly
fixed. How, for example, is the early 19th-century attribution arrived
at for the planes inscribed White and Carpenter? First, the nature of
the stamped name "G. White" is of proper character for the period.
Second, G. White is listed in the Philadelphia city directories as a
"plane-maker" between the years 1818 and 1820, working at the back of 5
Filbert Street and later at 34 Juliana Street. Third, internal evidence
on the plane itself gives a clue. In this case, the hardware--rivets and
furrels--is similar if not identical to that found on firearms of the
period, weapons whose dates of manufacture are known. The decorative
molding on the fence of this plane is proper for the period; this is not
a reliable guide, however, since similar moldings are retained
throughout the century. Finally, the plane is equipped with a fence
controlled by slide-arms, fixed with wedges and not by adjustable screw
arms. After 1830, tools of high quality, such as White's, invariably
have the screw arms. The rabbet plane, made by Carpenter, is traceable
via another route, the U.S. Patent Office records. Carpenter,
self-designated "toolmaker of Lancaster," submitted patents for the
improvement of wood planes between 1831 and 1849. Examples of
Carpenter's work, always stamped as shown in figure 27, survive, both
dated and undated. There are several of his planes in the collections of
the Bucks County Historical Society, and dated pieces are known in
private collections.

Inherent in the bench planes is a feeling of motion, particularly in the
plow and the rabbet where basic design alone conveys the idea that they
were meant to move over fixed surfaces. Of the three examples, only the
brass tippings and setscrew of the plow plane suggest any enrichment,
and of course these were not intended for decoration; in later years,
however, boxwood, fruitwood, and even ivory tips were added to the more
expensive factory models. Also unintentional, but pleasing, is the
distinctive throat of the rabbet plane--a design that developed to
permit easy discharge of shavings, and one that mass manufacture did
not destroy.

[Illustration: Figure 26.--1818: THE JACK PLANE, used first by the
carpenter for rapid surfacing, is distinguished primarily by the bezeled
and slightly convex edge of its cutting iron. As with the plow and the
rabbet, its shape is ubiquitous. Dated and marked A. Klock, this
American example follows precisely those detailed in Sheffield pattern
books. (Smithsonian photo 49794-C.)]

[Illustration: Figure 27.--1830-1840: DETAIL OF the rabbet plane (fig.
25) showing the characteristic stamp of E.W. Carpenter. (Smithsonian
photo 49794-D.)]

[Illustration: Figure 28.--ABOUT 1631: THE PRECEDING ILLUSTRATIONS
emphasize the divergent appearance of European and Anglo-American tools.
This, however, was not always the case. The woodworker's shop by the
Dutch engraver Jan Van Vliet suggests the similarity between English and
European tool types in the 17th century. Note in particular the planes,
axe, brace, and auger as compared to Moxon. (Library of Congress,
Division of Prints and Photographs.)]

[Illustration: Figure 29.--1690: THE CABINETMAKER'S SHOP from Elias
Pozelius, _Orbus Pictus nach Zeichnugen der Susanna Maria_ _Sandrart_,
Nürnberg, 1690. (Library of Congress.)]

[Illustration: Figure 30.--1568: THE WOODWORKER'S SHOP from Hans Sachs,
_Eygentliche Beschrerbung Aller Stande ... mit Kunstreichen Figuren_ [by
Jost Amman], Frankfurt, 1568. (Library of Congress.)]

The divergence from European to an Anglo-American hand-tool design and
the approximate date that it occurred can be suggested by a comparison
of contemporary illustrations. The change in the wooden bench plane can
be followed from the early 17th century through its standardization at
the end of the 18th century. Examine first the planes as drawn in the
1630's by the Dutchman Jan Van Vliet (fig. 28), an etcher of Rembrandt's
school at Leiden, and also the examples illustrated by Porzelius (fig.
29) and by Jost Amman (fig. 30). Compare them to Moxon's plate (fig. 31)
from the _Mechanick Exercises_ (3rd ed., 1703) and to the splendid
drawing of the bench plane from André-Jacob Roubo's _L'Art du
menuisier_, published in 1769 (fig. 32). In all of them, the rounded
handle, or tote, and the fore-horn appear, characteristics of both
European and English planes of the period before 1750. The similarity
ends with the mass production of hand tools from the shops of the
English toolmaking centers, principally Sheffield. An illustration from
a pattern and design book of the Castle Hill Works, Sheffield, dating
from the last quarter of the 18th century (fig. 33), shows the achieved,
familiar form of the bench planes, as well as other tools. The use of
this form in America is readily documented in Lewis Miller's
self-portrait while working at his trade in York, Pennsylvania, in 1810
(fig. 34) and by the shop sign carved by Isaac Fowle in 1820 for John
Bradford (fig. 35). In each example, the bench plane clearly follows the
English prototype.

[Illustration: Figure 31.--1703: DETAIL OF THE BENCH PLANES from Moxon's
_Mechanick Exercises_.]

[Illustration: Figure 32.--1769: ANDRÉ-JACOB ROUBO'S PRECISE RENDERING
of the bench plane retains the essential features shown by Moxon--the
rounded tote or handle and the curved fore-horn. (André-Jacob Roubo,
_L'Art du menuisier_, 1769.)]

[Illustration: Figure 33.--EARLY 19TH CENTURY: The bench plane
illustrated in Roubo or Moxon is seldom seen in American tool
collections. The bench planes, smoothing planes, rabbets, and plows
universally resemble those shown in this illustration from the pattern
book of the Castle Hill Works, Sheffield. (Book 87, Cutler and Company,
Castle Hill Works, Sheffield. _Courtesy of the Victoria and Albert

[Illustration: Figure 34.--ABOUT 1810: LEWIS MILLER WORKING AT HIS BENCH
in York, Pa. In a predominantly Pennsylvania-German settlement, the
plane used by Miller conforms to the Sheffield type illustrated in the
catalogue of the Castle Hill Works as shown in figure 33. (York County
Historical Society, York, Pa.)]

[Illustration: Figure 35.--1820: JOHN BRADFORD'S shop sign carved by
Isaac Fowle is a unique documentary of early 19th-century tool shapes
and is in the Bostonian Society, Boston, Mass. (Index of American
Design, The National Gallery, Washington, D.C.)]

[Illustration: Figure 36.--1703: THE JOINER'S brace and bit--a detail
from Moxon, _Mechanick Exercises_ ..., London, 1703. (Library of
Congress, Smithsonian photo 56635.)]

[Illustration: Figure 37.--1769: ROUBO'S ILLUSTRATION OF THE BRACE and
bit differs from Moxon's only in the precision of the delineation.
Contrast this form with that of the standard Sheffield version in figure
38 and the metallic braces illustrated in figures 40 through 44. From
these plates can be seen the progression of the bitstock toward its
ultimate perfection in the late 19th century. (André-Jacob Roubo, _L'Art
du menuisier_, 1769.)]

of the wooden brace and bit took the form illustrated in Book 87 of
Cutler's Castle Hill Works. (_Courtesy of the Victoria and Albert

[Illustration: Figure 39.--18TH CENTURY: THE TRANSITIONAL FORM of the
wooden brace and bit incorporated the overall shape of the mass-produced
version but retained the archaic method of fastening the bit to the
chuck. The tool is of Dutch origin and suggests the influence of
Sheffield design on European tools. (Smithsonian photo 49792-E.)]

[Illustration: Figure 40.--1769: ROUBO ILLUSTRATED THE METALLIC BRACE
and, in addition, suggested its use as a screwdriver. (André-Jacob
Roubo, _L'Art du menuisier_,1769.)]

[Illustration: Figure 41.--ABOUT 1775: FORD, WHITMORE AND BRUNTON made
and sold clockmaker's braces of metal with a sweep and shank that was
imitated by American patentees in the 19th century. (Catalogue of Ford,
Whitmore and Brunton, Birmingham, England. _Courtesy of the Birmingham
Reference Library._)]

[Illustration: Figure 42.--1852: NEARLY ONE HUNDRED YEARS after Roubo's
plate appeared, Jacob Switzer applied for a patent for an "Improved Self
Holding Screw Driver." The similarity of Switzer's drawing and Roubo's
plate is striking. (Original patent drawing 9,457, U.S. Patent Office,
Record Group 241, the National Archives.)]

[Illustration: Figure 43.--1866: THE SIMPLICITY AND STRENGTH of the
brace proposed by J. Parker Gordon is in sharp contrast to the heavily
splinted sides of the wooden brace commonly used in mid-19th-century
America. (Original patent drawing 52,042, U.S. Patent Office, Record
Group 241, the National Archives.)]

[Illustration: Figure 44.--1865: MILTON NOBLES' PATENT perfecting the
chuck which held the auger bit was an important step along the path
which led ultimately to the complete acceptance of the metallic brace.
Barber's ratchet brace shown in figure 66 completes the metamorphosis of
this tool form in the United States. (Original patent drawing 51,660,
U.S. Patent Office, Record Group 241, the National Archives.)]

The carpenter's brace is another instance of divergent design after a
common origin. Refer again to Van Vliet's etching of the woodworker's
shop (fig. 28), to the detail from Moxon (fig. 36), and from Roubo (fig.
37). All show the brace in a form familiar since the Middle Ages, a
shape common to both delineators and craftsmen of the Continent and the
British Isles. But, as the plane changed, so changed the brace. The
standard form of this tool as it was used and produced in the United
States in the 19th century can be seen in another plate from the
catalogue of the Castle Hill Works at Sheffield (fig. 38). This English
influence on American tool design is no surprise, since as early as 1634
William Wood in _New England's Prospect_ suggested that colonists take
to the New World "All manner of Ironwares, as all manner of nailes for
houses ... with Axes both broad and pitching ... All manners of Augers,
piercing bits, Whip-saws, Two handed saws, Froes ..., rings for Bettle
heads, and Iron-wedges."

[Illustration: Figure 45.--19TH CENTURY: THE UPHOLSTERER'S HAMMER is an
unknown; it is not dated, its maker is anonymous, as is its user. It is
of American origin, yet of a style that might have been used in England
or on the Continent. This lack of provenance need not detract from its
significance as a material survival. This hammer, the brace (fig. 46),
the bevel (fig. 47), and the compass saw (fig. 48) are sufficiently
provocative in their design to conjure some image of a technology
dependent upon the skilled hand of craftsmen working in wood and of the
relationship between the hand, the tool, and the finished product.
(Smithsonian photo 49793-A.)]

[Illustration: Figure 46.--18TH CENTURY: THE BRACE AND BIT in its
nonfactory form conforms to a general design pattern in which none of
the components are ever precisely alike. This aspect of variety of
detail--sophistication, crudeness, decorative qualities or the
like--reflects something of the individuality of the toolmaker, a
quality completely lost in the standardization of the carpenter's brace.
(Smithsonian photo 49794-A.)]

English tool design in the 18th century also influenced the continental
toolmakers. This can be seen in figure 39 in a transitional-type
bitstock (accession 319556) from the Low Countries. Adopting an English
shape, but still preserving the ancient lever device for holding the bit
in place, the piece with its grapevine embellishment is a marked
contrast to the severely functional brass chucks on braces of English
manufacture. No less a contrast are metallic versions of the brace.
These begin to appear with some regularity in the U.S. patent
specifications of the 1840's; their design is apparently derived from
18th-century precedents. Roubo (fig. 40) illustrated a metal bitstock in
1769, as did Ford, Whitmore & Brunton, makers of jewelers' and
watchmakers' tools, of Birmingham, England, in their trade catalogue of
1775 (fig. 41). Each suggests a prototype of the patented forms of the
1840's. For example, in 1852, Jacob Switzer of Basil, Ohio, suggested,
as had Roubo a hundred years earlier, that the bitstock be used as a
screwdriver (fig. 42); but far more interesting than Switzer's idea was
his delineation of the brace itself, which he described as "an ordinary
brace and bit stock" (U.S. pat. 9,457). The inference is that such a
tool form was already a familiar one among the woodworking trades in the
United States. Disregarding the screwdriver attachment, which is not
without merit, Switzer's stock represents an accurate rendering of what
was then a well-known form if not as yet a rival of the older wooden
brace. Likewise, J. Parker Gordon's patent 52,042 of 1866 exemplifies
the strengthening of a basic tool by the use of iron (fig. 43) and, as a
result, the achievement of an even greater functionalism in design. The
complete break with the medieval, however, is seen in a drawing
submitted to the Commissioner of Patents in 1865 (pat. 51,660) by Milton
V. Nobles of Rochester, New York.[9] Nobles' creation was of thoroughly
modern design and appearance in which, unlike earlier types, the bit was
held in place by a solid socket, split sleeve, and a tightening ring
(fig. 44). In three centuries, three distinct design changes occurred in
the carpenter's brace. First, about 1750, the so-called English or
Sheffield bitstock appeared. This was followed in the very early 19th
century by the reinforced English type whose sides were splinted by
brass strips. Not only had the medieval form largely disappeared by the
end of the 18th century, but so had the ancient lever-wedge method of
fastening the bit in the stock, a device replaced by the pressure-spring
button on the side of the chuck. Finally, in this evolution, came the
metallic stock, not widely used in America until after the Civil War,
that embodied in its design the influence of mass manufacture and in its
several early versions all of the features of the modern brace and bit.

[Illustration: Figure 47.--18TH CENTURY: The visually pleasing qualities
of walnut and brass provide a level of response to this joiner's bevel
quite apart from its technical significance. (Private collection.
Smithsonian photo 49793-B.)]

[Illustration: Figure 48.--18TH CENTURY: THE HANDLE OF THE COMPASS SAW,
characteristically Dutch in shape, is an outstanding example of a
recurring functional design, one which varied according to the hand of
the sawer. (Smithsonian photo 49789-C.)]

Henry Ward Beecher, impressed by the growing sophistication of the
toolmakers, described the hand tool in a most realistic and objective
manner as an "extension of a man's hand." The antiquarian, attuned to
more subjective and romantic appraisals, will find this hardly
sufficient. Look at the upholsterer's hammer (accession 61.35) seen in
figure 45: there is no question that it is a response to a demanding
task that required an efficient and not too forceful extension of the
workman's hand. But there is another response to this implement: namely,
the admiration for an unknown toolmaker who combined in an elementary
striking tool a hammerhead of well-weighted proportion to be wielded
gently through the medium of an extremely delicate handle. In short,
here is an object about whose provenance one need know very little in
order to enjoy it aesthetically. In a like manner, the 18th-century
bitstock of Flemish origin (fig. 46), the English cabinetmaker's bevel
of the same century (fig. 47), and the compass saw (accession 61.52,
fig. 48) capture in their basic design something beyond the functional
extension of the craftsman's hand. The slow curve of the bitstock, never
identical from one early example to another, is lost in later
factory-made versions; so too, with the coming of cheap steel, does the
combination of wood (walnut) and brass used in the cabinetmaker's bevel
slowly disappear; and, finally, in the custom-fitted pistol-like grip of
the saw, there is an identity, in feeling at least, between craftsman
and tool never quite achieved in later mass-produced versions.

[Illustration: Figure 49.--EARLY 19TH CENTURY: THE DESIGNATION
"GENTLEMAN'S TOOL CHEST" required a chest of "high-style" but
necessitated no change in the tools it held. (Book 87, Cutler and
Company, Castle Hill Works, Sheffield. _Courtesy of the Victoria and
Albert Museum_.)]

[Illustration: Figure 50.--19TH CENTURY: THE SCREWDRIVER, which began to
appear regularly on the woodworker's bench after 1800, did not share the
long evolution and tradition of other Anglo-American tool designs. The
screwdriver in its early versions frequently had a scalloped blade for
no other purpose than decoration. (Smithsonian photo 49794.)]

[Illustration: Figure 51.--1870: THE USE of a new material prompted a
departure from the traditional in shape and encouraged surface
elaboration. The tendency, however, was short lived and the
mass-produced metallic plane rapidly achieved a purity of design as
pleasing as its wooden predecessors. (Private collection. Smithsonian
photo 49789.)]

Occasionally, ruling taste is reflected in the design of the carpenter's
equipment. Notable is the "gentleman's tool chest" (fig. 49) advertised
in the pattern book of the Castle Hill Works. The bracket feet, brass
pulls, and inlaid keyholes imitate the style of the domestic chest of
drawers of the period 1790 to 1810--undoubtedly, features included by
the manufacturer to appeal to a gentleman of refined taste. In contrast
to this Sheffield product is the plate from Shaw's _The Modern
Architect_. The concept of the builder-carpenter as a gentleman still
prevails, although the idea in this American scene is conveyed in the
mid-19th century through fashionable dress. The tools and in particular
the tool chest reflect only the severest of functional lines (fig. 19,
p. 196).

In deference to ruling taste, some tools lost for a time the clean lines
that had long distinguished them. The screwdriver, simple in shape
(accession 61.46) but in little demand until the 1840's, occasionally
became most elaborate in its factory-made form (fig. 50) and departed
noticeably from the unadorned style of traditional English and American
tools. The scalloped blade, influenced by the rival styles rather than a
technical need, seemed little related to the purpose of the tool.[10]
No less archaic in decoration was the iron-bodied version of the plow
plane (fig. 51). The Anglo-American tradition seems completely put
aside. In its place is a most functional object, but one elaborately
covered with a shell and vine motif! Patented in 1870 by Charles Miller
and manufactured by the Stanley Rule and Level Company, this tool in its
unadorned version is of a type that was much admired by the British
experts at Philadelphia's Centennial Exhibition in 1876. What prompted
such superfluous decoration on the plow plane? Perhaps it was to appeal
to the flood of newly arrived American craftsmen who might find in the
rococo something reminiscent of the older tools they had known in
Europe. Perhaps it was simply the transference to the tool itself of the
decorative work then demanded of the wood craftsmen. Or was it mainly a
compulsion to dress, with little effort, a lackluster material that
seemed stark and cold to Victorians accustomed to the ornateness being
achieved elsewhere with the jigsaw and wood? Whatever the cause, the
result did not persist long as a guide to hand-tool design. Instead, the
strong, plain lines that had evolved over two centuries won universal
endorsement at the Centennial Exhibition. The prize tools reflected
little of the ornateness apparent in the wares of most of the other
exhibitors. American makers of edge tools exhibiting at the Centennial
showed the world not only examples of quality but of attractiveness as

in design and ease of use. European observers praised it as distinctly
American. At the Centennial Exhibition in 1876 Collins and Company of
New York City was singled out as one of the outstanding manufacturers
exhibiting these axes, a reputation that persisted. (_Tools for all
Trades_, Hammacher, Schlemmer and Company, New York, 1896. Smithsonian
photo 56625.)]

[Illustration: Figure 53.--1876: DISSTON AND SONS LONG CONTINUED to
remind prospective buyers of the company's success at the Philadelphia
Centennial Exhibition by retaining the "Centennial Saw, No. 76" as a
brand name. (_Illustrated Catalogue_, Baldwin, Robbins and Company,
Boston, 1894. Smithsonian photo 56627.)]


American hand tools in 1876 did not achieve the popular acclaim accorded
the Corliss engine, yet few products shown by American exhibitors were
more highly praised by foreign experts. It seems justified to suggest
that American edge tools displayed at the Centennial had reached their
high point of development--a metamorphosis that began with the medieval
European tool forms, moved through a period of reliance on English
precedents, and ended, in the last quarter of the 19th century, with the
production of American hand tools "occupying an enviable position before
the world."[11]

[Illustration: Figure 54.--1809: THE INTRODUCTION of the gimlet-pointed
auger followed Ezra L'Hommedieu's patent of 1809. From this date until
its general disuse in the early 20th century, the conformation of the
tool remained unchanged, although the quality of steel and the precision
of the twist steadily improved. (Wash drawing from the restored patent
drawings awarded July 31, 1809, U.S. Patent Office, Record Group 241,
the National Archives. Smithsonian photo 49790-A.)]

[Illustration: Figure 55.--1855: RUSSELL JENNINGS' improved auger bits,
first patented in 1855, received superior citation at the Philadelphia
Centennial; in the years following, the trade name "Jennings" was seldom
omitted from trade catalogues. (Original wash drawing, patent drawing
submitted by R. Jennings, U.S. Patent Office, Record Group 241, the
National Archives.)]

The tool most highly praised at Philadelphia was the American felling
axe (fig. 52) "made out of a solid piece of cast steel" with the eye
"punched out of the solid." When compared to other forms, the American
axe was "more easily worked," and its shape permitted an easier
withdrawal after striking.[12]

Sawmakers, too, were singled out for praise--in particular Disston &
Sons (fig. 53) for "improvements in the form of the handles, and in the
mode of fixing them to the saw." The Disston saw also embodied an
improved blade shape which made it "lighter and more convenient by
giving it a greater taper to the point." Sheffield saws, once supplied
to most of the world, were not exhibited at Philadelphia, and the
British expert lamented that our "monopoly remains with us no

[Illustration: Figure 56.--1894: THE PERSISTENCE OF "JENNINGS" AS A
TRADE NAME is suggested by the vignette from the "Illustrated Catalogue"
of Baldwin, Robbins and Company, published in 1894. (Smithsonian photo

Augers, essential to "the heavier branches of the building trade ...
[and] in the workshops of joiners, carpenters, cabinetmakers, turners,
carvers, and by amateurs and others," were considered a "most important
exhibit" at the Centennial. The auger had attained a perfection in "the
accuracy of the twist, the various forms of the cutters, the quality of
the steel, and fine finish of the twist and polish." The ancient pod or
shell auger had nearly disappeared from use, to be replaced by "the
screwed form of the tool" considerably refined by comparison to
L'Hommedieu's prototype, patented in 1809 (fig. 54). Russell Jennings'
patented auger bits (figs. 55-56) were cited for their "workmanship and
quality," and, collectively, the Exhibition "fully established the
reputation of American augers."[14] Likewise, makers of braces and bits
were commended for the number of excellent examples shown. Some were a
departure from the familiar design with "an expansive chuck for the
bit," but others were simply elegant examples of the traditional brace,
in wood, japanned and heavily reinforced with highly polished brass
sidings. An example exhibited by E. Mills and Company, of Philadelphia,
received a certification from the judges as being "of the best quality
and finish" (fig. 57). The Mills brace, together with other
award-winning tools of the company--drawknives, screwdrivers, and
spokeshaves--is preserved in the collections of the Smithsonian
Institution (accession 319326). Today as a group they confirm "the
remarkably fine quality of ... both iron and steel" that characterized
the manufacture of American edge tools in the second half of the 19th

[Illustration: Figure 57.--1876: JAPANNED AND SPLINTED WITH HEAVY BRASS,
this brace was among the award-winning tools exhibited at the Centennial
by E. Mills and Company of Philadelphia. (Smithsonian photo 49792-D.)]

[Illustration: Figure 58.--1827: THE BENCH PLANES exhibited at
Philadelphia in 1876 were a radical departure from the traditional. In
1827 H. Knowles patented an iron-bodied bench plane that portended a
change in form that would witness a substitution of steel for wood in
all critical areas of the tool's construction, and easy adjustment of
the cutting edge by a setscrew, and an increased flexibility that
allowed one plane to be used for several purposes. (Wash drawing from
the restored patent drawings, August 24, 1827, U.S. Patent Office,
Record Group 241, the National Archives.)]

[Illustration: Figure 59.--1857: THE ADDITION OF METALLIC PARTS to
critical areas of wear as suggested by M.B. Tidey did not at first
radically alter the design of the bench plane. (Wash drawing from U.S.
Patent Office, March 24, 1857, Record Group 241, the National

It is the plane, however, that best exemplifies the progress of tool
design. In 1876, American planemakers were enthusiastically credited
with having achieved "an important change in the structure of the
tool."[16] Although change had been suggested by American patentees as
early as the 1820's, mass production lagged until after the Civil War,
and the use of this new tool form was not widespread outside of the
United States. Hazard Knowles of Colchester, Connecticut, in 1827,
patented a plane stock of cast iron which in many respects was a
prototype of later Centennial models (fig. 58).[17] It is evident, even
in its earliest manifestation, that the quest for improvement of the
bench plane did not alter its sound design. In 1857, M.B. Tidey (fig.
59) listed several of the goals that motivated planemakers:

     First to simplify the manufacturing of planes; second to render
     them more durable; third to retain a uniform mouth; fourth to
     obviate their clogging; and fifth the retention of the essential
     part of the plane when the stock is worn out.[18]

By far the greatest number of patents was concerned with perfecting an
adjustable plane iron and methods of constructing the sole of a plane so
that it would always be "true." Obviously the use of metal rather than
the older medium, wood, was a natural step, but in the process of
changing from the wood to the iron-bodied bench plane there were many
transitional suggestions that combined both materials. Seth Howes of
South Chatham, Massachusetts, in U.S. patent 37,694, specified:

     This invention relates to an improvement in that class of planes
     which are commonly termed "bench-planes," comprising the foreplane,
     smoothing plane, jack plane, jointer, &c.

     The invention consists in a novel and improved mode of adjusting
     the plane-iron to regulate the depth of the cut of the same, in
     connection with an adjustable cap, all being constructed and
     arranged in such a manner that the plane-iron may be "set" with the
     greatest facility and firmly retained in position by the adjustment
     simply of the cap to the plane-iron, after the latter is set, and
     the cap also rendered capable of being adjusted to compensate for
     the wear of the "sole" or face of the plane stock.

The stock of Howes' plane was wood combined with metal plates, caps, and
screws. Thomas Worrall of Lowell was issued patent 17,657 for a plane
based on the same general principle (fig. 60). Worrall claimed in his
specifications of June 23, 1857:

     the improved manufacture of [the] carpenter's bench plane or
     jointer as made with its handle, its wooden stock to which said
     handle is affixed, and a separate metallic cutter holder, and
     cutter clamping devices arranged together substantially as

Finally patentees throughout the 19th century, faced with an increasing
proliferation of tool types, frequently sought to perfect multipurpose
implements of a type best represented later by the ubiquitous Stanley
plane. The evolution of the all-purpose idea, which is incidentally not
peculiar to hand tools alone, can be seen from random statements
selected from U.S. patents for the improvement of bench planes. In 1864
Stephen Williams in the specifications of his patent 43,360 stated:

     I denominate my improvement the "universal smoothing plane,"
     because it belongs to that variety of planes in which the face is
     made changeable, so that it may be conveniently adapted to the
     planing of curved as well as straight surfaces. By the use of my
     improvement surfaces that are convex, concave, or straight may be
     easily worked, the face of the tool being readily changed from one
     form to another to suit the surface to which it is to be applied.

The announced object of Theodore Duval's improved grooving plane (pat.
97,177) was "to produce in one tool all that is required to form grooves
of several different widths." None was more appealing than Daniel D.
Whitker's saw-rabbet plane (pat. 52,478) which combined "an adjustable
saw with an adjustable fence or gage, both being attached to a stock
with handle similar to a plane, forming together a tool combining the
properties of the joiner's plow and fillister" (fig. 61). Nor was
Whitker's idea simply a drawing-board exercise. It was produced
commercially and was well advertised, as seen in the circular reproduced
in figure 62.

[Illustration: Figure 60.--1857: IN A VARIETY OF ARRANGEMENTS, the
addition of metal plates, caps, and screws at the mouth of the plane, as
shown in Thomas Worrall's drawing, proved a transitional device that
preserved the ancient shape of the tool and slowed the introduction of
bench planes made entirely of iron. (Wash drawing from U.S. Patent
Office, June 23, 1857, Record Group 241, the National Archives.)]

[Illustration: Figure 61.--1865: NOT ALL MULTIPURPOSE INNOVATIONS
resulted from the use of new materials. Daniel D. Whitker patented a
combination saw and rabbet plane little different from one illustrated
by André-Jacob Roubo in his _L'Art du menuisier_ in 1769. (Wash drawing
from U.S. Patent Office, October 4, 1865, Record Group 241, the National

In sum, these ideas produced a major break with the traditional shape of
the bench plane. William Foster in 1843 (pat. 3,355), Birdsill Holly in
1852 (pat. 9,094), and W.S. Loughborough in 1859 (pat. 23,928) are
particularly good examples of the radical departure from the wooden
block. And, in the period after the Civil War, C.G. Miller (discussed on
p. 213 and in fig. 63), B.A. Blandin (fig. 64), and Russell Phillips
(pat. 106,868) patented multipurpose metallic bench planes of excellent
design. It should be pointed out that the patentees mentioned above
represent only a few of the great number that tried to improve the
plane. Only the trend of change is suggested by the descriptions and
illustrations presented here. The cumulative effect awaited a showcase,
and the planemakers found it at the Centennial Exhibition of 1876 held
in Philadelphia.

[Illustration: Figure 62.--ABOUT 1865: THE PROGRESS OF AN IDEA from an
18th-century encyclopedia through an American patentee to commercial
reality can be seen in this flier advertising Whitker's saw-rabbet.
(Smithsonian Institution Library. Smithsonian photo 56629.)]

The impact of these new planes at the Exhibition caused some
retrospection among the judges:

     The planes manufactured in Great Britain and in other countries
     fifty years ago were formed of best beech-wood; the plane irons
     were of steel and iron welded together; the jointer plane, about 21
     inches long, was a bulky tool; the jack and hand planes were of the
     same materials. Very little change has been made upon the plane in
     Great Britain, unless in the superior workmanship and higher
     quality of the plane iron.[19]

The solid wood-block plane, varying from country to country only in the
structure of its handles and body decoration, had preserved its
integrity of design since the Middle Ages. At the Centennial, however,
only a few examples of the old-type plane were exhibited. A new shape
dominated the cases. Designated by foreign observers as the American
plane, it received extended comment. Here was a tool

     constructed with a skeleton iron body, having a curved wooden
     handle; the plane iron is of the finest cast-steel; the cover is
     fitted with an ingenious trigger at the top, which, with a screw
     below the iron, admits of the plane iron being removed for
     sharpening and setting without the aid of the hammer, and with the
     greatest ease. The extensive varieties of plane iron in use are
     fitted for every requirement; a very ingenious arrangement is
     applied to the tools for planing the insides of circles or other
     curved works, such as stair-rails, etc. The sole of the plane is
     formed of a plate of tempered steel about the thickness of a
     handsaw, according to the length required, and this plate is
     adapted to the curve, and is securely fixed at each end. With this
     tool the work is not only done better but in less time than
     formerly. In some exhibits the face of the plane was made of beech
     or of other hard wood, secured by screws to the stock, and the tool
     becomes a hybrid, all other parts remaining the same as in the iron

The popularity of Bailey's patented planes (fig. 65), the type so
praised above, was by no means transitory. In 1884 the Boston firm of
Goodnow & Wightman, "Importers, Manufacturers and Dealers in Tools of
all kinds," illustrated the several planes just described and assured
prospective buyers that

     These tools meet with universal approbation from the best
     Mechanics. For beauty of style and finish they are unequalled, and
     the great convenience in operating renders them the cheapest Planes
     in use; they are SELF-ADJUSTING in every respect; and each part
     being made INTERCHANGEABLE, can be replaced at a trifling

By 1900 an advertisement for Bailey's planes published in the catalogue
of another Boston firm, Chandler and Farquhar, indicated that "over
900,000" had already been sold.[22]

Other mass-produced edge tools--axes, adzes, braces and bits, augers,
saws, and chisels--illustrated in the trade literature of the toolmakers
became, as had the iron-bodied bench plane, standard forms. In the last
quarter of the 19th century the tool catalogue replaced Moxon, Duhamel,
Diderot, and the builders' manuals as the primary source for the study
and identification of hand tools. The Centennial had called attention to
the superiority of certain American tools and toolmakers. The result was
that until the end of the century, trade literature faithfully drummed
the products that had proven such "an attraction to the numerous
artisans who visited the Centennial Exhibition from the United States
and other countries."[23]

[Illustration: Figure 63.--1870: THE METALLIC VERSION OF THE PLOW PLANE
later produced by Stanley and Company was patented by [Charles] G.
Miller as a tool readily "convertible into a grooving, rabbeting, or
smoothing plane." In production this multipurpose plow gained an
elaborate decoration (fig. 51) nowhere suggested in Miller's
specification. (Wash drawing from U.S. Patent Office, June 28, 1870,
Record Group 241, the National Archives.)]

[Illustration: Figure 64.--1867: THE DRAWING accompanying B.A. Blandin's
specification for an "Improvement in Bench Planes" retained only the
familiarly shaped handle or tote of the traditional wood-bodied plane.
This new shape rapidly became the standard form of the tool with later
variations chiefly related to the adjustability of the plane-iron and
sole. (Wash drawing from U.S. Patent Office, May 7, 1867, Record Group
241, the National Archives.)]

Collins and Company of New York City had been given commendation for the
excellence of their axes; through the end of the century, Collins' brand
felling axes, broad axes, and adzes were standard items, as witness
Hammacher, Schlemmer and Company's catalogue of 1896.[24] Disston saws
were a byword, and the impact of their exhibit at Philadelphia was still
strong, as judged from Baldwin, Robbins' catalogue of 1894. Highly
recommended was the Disston no. 76, the "Centennial" handsaw with its
"skew back" and "apple handle." Jennings' patented auger bits were
likewise standard fare in nearly every tool catalogue.[25] So were bench
planes manufactured by companies that had been cited at Philadelphia for
the excellence of their product; namely, The Metallic Plane Company,
Auburn, New York; The Middletown Tool Company, Middletown, Connecticut;
Bailey, Leonard, and Company, Hartford; and The Sandusky Tool Company,
Sandusky, Ohio.[26]

An excellent indication of the persistence of the Centennial influence,
and of the tool catalogue as source material, is seen in Chandler and
Farquhar's illustrated pamphlet of 1900. Their advertisement for
Barber's improved ratchet brace (fig. 66), a tool much admired by the
Centennial judges, amply illustrates the evolution of design of a basic
implement present in American society since the first years of
settlement. The Barber brace represents the ultimate sophistication of a
tool, achieved through an expanded industrial technology rather than by
an extended or newly found use for the device itself. It is a prime
example of the transition of a tool from Moxon to its perfected form in
the 20th century:

     These Braces possess the following points of superiority: The Sweep
     is made from Steel; the Jaws are forged from Steel; the Wood Handle
     has brass rings inserted in each end so it cannot split off; the
     Chuck has a hardened Steel antifriction washer between the two
     sockets, thus reducing the wear. The Head has a bearing of steel
     balls, running on hard steel plates, so no wear can take place, as
     the friction is reduced to the minimum. The Brace is heavily
     nickel-plated and warranted in every particular. We endeavor to
     make these goods as nearly perfection as is possible in durability,
     quality of material and workmanship, and fineness and beauty of

[Illustration: Figure 65.--1900: AMERICAN PLANEMAKERS had been cited at
the Philadelphia Centennial as having introduced a dramatic change in
the nature of the tool. Although wood-bodied planes continued to be
used, they were outdated and in fact anachronistic by the close of the
19th century. From the 1870's forward, it was the iron-bodied plane,
most frequently Bailey's, that enlivened the trade literature.
(Catalogue of Chandler and Farquhar, Boston, 1900. Smithsonian photo

[Illustration: Figure 66.--1900: FEW TOOLS SUGGEST MORE CLEARLY the
influence of modern industrial society upon the design and construction
of traditional implements than Barber's ratchet brace. It is not without
interest that as the tools of the wood craftsman became crisply
efficient, his work declined correspondingly in individuality and
character. The brace and the plane, as followed from Moxon through the
trade literature of the late 19th century, achieved perfection in form
and operation at a time when their basic functions had been usurped by
machines. (Catalogue of Chandler and Farquhar, Boston, 1900. Smithsonian
photo 56626.)]

The description of Barber's brace documents a major technical change:
wood to steel, leather washers to ball bearings, and natural patina to
nickel plate. It is also an explanation for the appearance and shape of
craftmen's tools, either hand forged or mass produced. In each case, the
sought-after result in the form of a finished product has been an
implement of "fineness and beauty." This quest motivated three centuries
of toolmakers and brought vitality to hand-tool design. Moxon had

  He that will a good Edge win,
  Must Forge thick and Grind thin.[28]

If heeded, the result would be an edge tool that assured its owner "ease
and delight."[29] Throughout the period considered here, the most
praiseworthy remarks made about edge tools were variations of either
"unsurpassed in quality, finish, and beauty of style" or, more simply,
commendation for "excellent design and superior workmanship."[30] The
hand tool thus provoked the same value words in the 19th as in the 17th

The aesthetics of industrial art, whether propounded by Moxon or by an
official at the Philadelphia Centennial, proved the standard measure by
which quality could be judged. Today these values are particularly valid
when applied to a class of artifacts that changed slowly and have as
their prime characteristics anonymity of maker and date. With such
objects the origin, transition, and variation of shape are of primary
interest. Consider the common auger whose "Office" Moxon declared "is to
make great round holes" and whose importance was so clearly stressed at
Philadelphia in 1876.[31] Neither its purpose nor its gross appearance
(a T-handled boring tool) had changed. The tool did, however, develop
qualitatively through 200 years, from a pod or shell to a spiral bit,
from a blunt to a gimlet point, and from a hand-fashioned to a
geometrically exact, factory-made implement: innovations associated with
Cooke (1770), L'Hommedieu (1809), and Jennings (1850's). In each
instance the tool was improved--a double spiral facilitated the
discharge of shavings, a gimlet point allowed the direct insertion of
the auger, and machine precision brought mathematical accuracy to the
degree of twist. Still, overall appearance did not change. At the
Centennial, Moxon would have recognized an auger, and, further, his
lecture on its uses would have been singularly current. The large-bore
spiral auger still denoted a mortise, tenon, and trenail mode of
building in a wood-based technology; at the same time its near cousin,
the wheelwright's reamer, suggested the reliance upon a transport
dependent upon wooden hubs. The auger in its perfected form--fine steel,
perfectly machined, and highly finished--contrasted with an auger of
earlier vintage will clearly show the advance from forge to factory, but
will indicate little new in its method of use or its intended purpose.

Persons neither skilled in the use of tools nor interested in technical
history will find that there is another response to the common auger, as
there was to the upholsterer's hammer, the 18th-century brace, or the
saw with the custom-fitted grip. This is a subjective reaction to a
pleasing form. It is the same reaction that prompted artists to use
tools as vehicles to help convey lessons in perspective, a frequent
practice in 19th-century art manuals. The harmony of related parts--the
balance of shaft and handle or the geometry of the twist--makes the
auger a decorative object. This is not to say that the ancient
woodworker's tool is not a document attesting a society's technical
proficiency--ingenuity, craftsmanship, and productivity. It is only to
suggest again that it is something more; a survival of the past whose
intrinsic qualities permit it to stand alone as a bridge between the
craftsman's hand and his work; an object of considerable appeal in which
integrity of line and form is not dimmed by the skill of the user nor by
the quality of the object produced by it.

In America, this integrity of design is derived from three centuries of
experience: one of heterogeneous character, the mid-17th to the
mid-18th; one of predominately English influence, from 1750 to 1850; and
one that saw the perfection of basic tools, by native innovators,
between 1850 and the early 20th century. In the two earlier periods, the
woodworking tool and the products it finished had a natural affinity
owing largely to the harmony of line that both the tool and finished
product shared. The later period, however, presents a striking contrast.
Hand-tool design, with few exceptions, continued vigorous and functional
amidst the confusion of an eclectic architecture, a flurry of rival
styles, the horrors of the jigsaw, and the excesses of Victorian taste.
In conclusion, it would seem that whether seeking some continuous thread
in the evolution of a national style, or whether appraising American
contributions to technology, such a search must rest, at least in part,
upon the character and quality of the hand tools the society has made
and used, because they offer a continuity largely unknown to other
classes of material survivals.


[1] W.M. FLINDERS PETRIE, "History in Tools," _Annual Report Smithsonian
Institution_, 1918, pp. 563-572 [reprint].

[2] JOHANN AMOS COMENIUS, _Orbis Sensualium Pictus_, transl. Charles
Hoole (London, 1685), pp. 130, 143.

[3] JOSEPH MOXON, _Mechanick Exercises or the Doctrine of Handy-Works_,
3rd. ed. (London, 1703), pp. 63, 119.

[4] MARTIN, _Circle of the Mechanical Arts_ (1813), p. 123.

[5] PETER NICHOLSON, _The Mechanic's Companion_ (Philadelphia, 1832),
pp. 31, 89-90.

[6] _Catalog_, Book 87, Cutler and Co., Castle Hill Works, Sheffield [in
the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London]; and
_Illustrated Supplement to the Catalogue of Bench Planes_, Arrowmammett
Works (Middletown, Conn., 1857) [in the Smithsonian Institution

[7] York County Records, Virginia Deeds, Orders, and Wills, no. 13
(1706-1710), p. 248; and the inventory of Amasa Thompson in LAWRENCE B.
ROMAINE, "A Yankee Carpenter and His Tools," _The Chronicle_ of the
Early American Industries Association (July 1953), vol. 6, no. 3, pp.

[8] _Reports by the Juries: Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All
Nations, 1851_ (London, 1852), p. 485.

[9] U.S. patent specifications cited in this paragraph may be found at
the U.S. Patent Office, Washington, D.C.

[10] In 1865 George Parr in his application for an improved screwdriver
stated categorically that the scalloped blade served no purpose other
than decoration. See U.S. patent 45,854, dated January 10, 1865.

[11] Francis A. Walker, ed., _United States Centennial Commission,
International Exhibition, 1876, Reports and Awards, Group XV_
(Philadelphia, 1877), p. 5.

[12] Ibid., p. 6.

[13] Ibid., pp. 9-10.

[14] Ibid., pp. 11-12.

[15] Ibid., pp. 14, 44, 5.

[16] Ibid., p. 13.

[17] Restored patent 4,859X, August 24, 1827, National Archives,
Washington, D.C.

[18] U.S. pat. 16,889, U.S. Patent Office, Washington, D.C. The numbered
specifications that follow may be found in the same place.

[19] Walker, ed., _Reports and Awards_, group 15, p. 13.

[20] Ibid.

[21] _Tools_ (Boston, 1884), p. 54 [in the Smithsonian Institution

[22] _Tools and Supplies_ (June 1900), no. 85 [in the Smithsonian
Institution Library].

[23] Walker, op. cit. (footnote 19), p. 14.

[24] _Tools for All Trades_ (New York, 1896), item 75 [in the
Smithsonian Institution Library].

[25] See _Baldwin, Robbins & Co.: Illustrated Catalogue_ (Boston, 1894),
pp. 954, 993 [in the Smithsonian Institution Library].

[26] Walker, op. cit. (footnote 19), p. 14.

[27] _Tools and Supplies_, op. cit. (footnote 22).

[28] _Mechanick Exercise_ ..., p. 62.

[29] Ibid., p. 95.

[30] Walker, op. cit. (footnote 19), pp. 31-49.

[31] _Mechanick Exercises_ ..., p. 94.


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