The Classic Period of American Toolmaking 1827 - 1930 (Hand Tools in History)
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Nonetheless, hundreds of thousands of high quality hand tools made by hundreds of American toolmakers and toolmaking factories survive as primary evidence of the vigor of what may be called the classic period of American toolmaking, - This publication series attempts to elucidate the transition between ancient steel- and toolmaking strategies and techniques and those available to New England shipsmiths and shipwrights during the early years of colonial and early American shipbuilding along the New England coast and their link to the florescence of American toolmaking, which is the subject of this volume.
The roots of this essentially metallurgical endeavor lie in the earlier prosperity of Elizabethan society and the politics and social values of a rapidly expanding and 2 changing world order. The essential role played by the evolution of direct process smelting furnaces into the more efficient high-shaft blast furnace in the iron and steel consuming trading economies of the Renaissance was manifested in innovative new strategies for making ordnance and edge tools.
The strategies and techniques for making iron and steel tools that characterize the expanding empires of the 16th and 17th centuries were adapted by an indigenous colonial metallurgical industry that played an important, but often unacknowledged, role in the successful settlement of North America. The forgotten shipsmiths and the ironware and edge tools they made were the lynchpins in the economic triad essential to the success of the New England colonies: George — were also used during the early years of the colonial shipbuilding industry. An examination of some of the hand tools made in the first century of the settlement of New England in the preceding volume of this series helps link English and continental toolmaking techniques with the later florescence of American toolmakers.
American toolmakers did not just suddenly start making tools in , when Samuel Collins completed his first full year of manufacturing axes in his new plant in Collinsville, CT, the year chosen in this publication series to mark the beginning of the classic period of American toolmaking. Many individual artisans, inventors, and entrepreneurs, such as Simon North, Eli Whitney, Oliver Evans, Thomas Blanchard, and John Russell preceded Collins and helped lay the foundation for the birth of the American factory system of manufacturing. The great expansion in American toolmaking that occurred after was preceded by almost two centuries of forge welded hand tools made by blacksmiths, shipsmiths, and edge toolmakers serving the communities in which they lived.
The westward moving population, French and Indian Wars, and the Revolutionary War prompted isolated toolmakers to make tools for use outside their local communities. The growth of the colonial shipbuilding industry and the success of the coasting, West Indies, and North Atlantic maritime trade were important components of the success of the American Revolution and the rapid expansion of the American toolmaking industries that followed.
This third volume of the Hand Tools in History series traces and explains the creative inventiveness of a robust indigenous toolmaking community that was well established by and endured for the next century. The roots of the florescence of American toolmaking during this century of technological innovations, inventive tool designs, and westward industrial expansion lie centuries in the past.
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A straightforward historical narration of events leading up to the success of the American factory system of hand tool production is an inadequate vehicle for explaining 3 the roots of this florescence. Rather, as noted in the next to last chapter of the previous volume, Art of the Edge Tool Brack a, , the phenomenology of history is a series of labyrinths perhaps best described using the dendritic patterns of the microstructure of ferrous metals as a metaphor.
Much of this historic labyrinth is beyond retrieval, forgotten events waiting to be re-narrated in the context of the frenetic technological innovations and discoveries of the modern age. A recapitulation of the events leading up to the growth and success of the classic period of American hand tool production involves the often difficult exploration of these historic labyrinths, which, as with the crystalline patterns of ferrous metals, often change over time.
The narrative of the many stories of the history of toolmaking derives from none other than the tools themselves. Yet the German Renaissance, which had endured for two centuries, had only a decade of peace remaining. The Thirty Years War , would destroy its famed watch-making, ornamental iron, lock-smithing, and steelmaking industries. This continental method of producing steel continued to be the principal strategy for steel production until the English technique of carburizing bars of Swedish wrought iron was developed after French, and then German ironmongers had immigrated to England beginning in Tudor times, influencing the traditions of English smelters and shipsmiths, many of whom lived along the Thames River and worked at the Royal shipyards.
The blast furnaces and ironworks of the Weald, located in Sussex to the south of London, were the principal source of bar iron and German steel in the years before the Forest of Dean, the Severn River, and its upstream Midlands watershed i. In the late 17th century, the cementation furnace made its first documented appearance in England in the Derwent River Valley, spreading to the Midlands and replacing the continental method for steel production after Isolated use of the cementation furnace in continental Europe can be dated to the 16th century, suggesting its origins are in the Celtic metallurgical traditions that played such an important role in the German Renaissance.
One of many 16th century continental steelmaking strategies, it never superseded German steel production in southern and eastern Europe. The River Severn on the west coast of England, the location of the important port of Bristol, was the 17th and 18th century equivalent of the interstate highway system connecting the Stour Valley and Birmingham with other Midland ironworks.
It also provided access to rapidly expanding European and colonial American economies, which were the most important markets for English iron and ironwares. Also supplying the Midland forges, especially in 5 the centuries after the end of the English Civil War, were the ore deposits, blast furnaces, and ironworks of Merthyr Tydfil in south Wales, just northwest of Cardiff at the mouth of the Severn.
The Thames River thus served as a commercial artery second in importance only to the Severn River. The raw materials that made the journey from the Sussex Weald and the Forest of Dean to the Midland forges of Shropshire and the distant steel-producing city of Newcastle were eventually transported to London, often as finely crafted tools to be distributed in a growing world empire. One important reason for the sudden appearance of the cementation process in England to produce steel was the temporary demise of the German steel industry as a result of the Thirty Years War.
The Thirty Years War, essentially an extension of the religious wars that ravaged France in the 16th century Fisher , raged across Europe from to with an erratic pattern of victory and loss on all sides. Eventually, France emerged as the victor and reigned as the most important European power until the fall of Quebec One clear fact emerges from the obscurities of this long forgotten conflict: The Thirty Years War, combined with the later wars of the League of Augsburg and the War of the Spanish Succession, served to dramatically increase the need for iron and steel for ordnance cannon and cannonballs , guns, swords, and edge tools.
The cementation steel furnace, which could only effectively use high quality charcoal-fired Swedish iron bar stock, answered the English need for steel by the end of the 17th century. France, Germany, and Austria continued the production of German steel from fined cast iron. The English method of making steel in the cementation furnace appeared in America after the Treaty of Utrecht ended the War of the Spanish Succession in , and quickly spread from coastal New England southward to Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland, and elsewhere Bining No documentation exists that would allow us to evaluate how much steel was produced by the continental method of decarburizing cast iron or by clandestine colonial blister steel furnaces, but the extensive collection of malleable iron hand tools at the Mercer Museum suggests that this continental method was much more well established in the Pennsylvania area than the current literature Gordon indicates.
By , sporadic domestic production of blister steel began replacing domestic production of German steel decarburized cast iron even in Pennsylvania. The European wars that raged from to did more to facilitate colonial shipbuilding and toolmaking than any other factor because of the massive and rapid 6 depletion of timber resources in northwest Europe, a process that was already well under way in England in the 16th century when Elizabeth I began restricting the harvesting of timber in the Royal Forests.
Yankee ingenuity, tenacity, and the rich timber resources, bog iron deposits, and shipbuilding skills of New England and other regions along the Atlantic coast were the key components of the flowering of colonial shipbuilding efforts. The massive late 16th and 17th century construction of well armored ships for Spanish, French, English, Dutch, and Portuguese exploration and their conquest of the new-foundlands had a domino effect. Timber resources near European shipbuilding centers except in the Baltic were depleted, resulting in rising shipbuilding costs and a lack of trained shipwrights to work in inefficient shipyards.
The need to supplement timber supplies, first from Baltic and then North American timber ports, exacerbated the costs of building ships in England and northwestern Europe. As a result, shipbuilding activities exploded in New England after Warfare in Europe was the prime cause of English and European forest depletion, which then nurtured a robust indigenous shipbuilding industry in the American colonies Hutchins The secrets of their finesse at edge tool production and the significance of manganese as a microconstituent in colonial bog iron have yet to be explained.
Sporadic attacks originating in the missionary communities of the lower St. Nonetheless, areas suitable for settlement and no longer subject to attacks of the ferocity of the Deerfield massacre greatly expanded after the Treaty of Utrecht, denoting a point in time where English settlement of large areas of North America south of the St. Lawrence River basin was much more certain. The vigorous growth of colonial iron smelting and toolmaking industries followed, much of it esthetically interesting wrought iron hardware and malleable iron hand tools.
Blast furnaces, at first located near the bog iron deposits of Saugus and southern Massachusetts, soon appeared in New Jersey, New York, Maryland, 7 and especially Pennsylvania. The hollowware made at the Carver, MA, blast furnaces for domestic products f. The age of the crucible cast steel ax lay far in the future, but the florescence of American toolmaking was well underway in the early 18th century.
Imports of manufactured ironware to the early Republic were erratic. The War of continued to interrupt the trading patterns that had been established during the neutral trade. The vast wealth accumulated during the neutral trade as a result of the wars between France and England f. Construction of the steam-powered passenger packets that plied the American coast occurred in New York in the pre-Civil War era. By , the brief age of the clipper ship, the last great achievement of the Boston shipyards, had only a few years left. The spread of railroads in southern New England between and ended the total dependence of most communities on the coasting trade.
Toolmakers were already moving west. Barton began his performance as a famous American edge toolmaker in Rochester, New York, in By , the Buck Brothers were already rolling their famed cast steel edge tools, first at Worcester, MA, a decade before Pittsburg began producing significant quantities of cast steel and then in Millbury, Massachusetts, after Where did they get their steel?
The American factory system was about to leave English toolmakers a distant second in the race to produce high quality hand tools. Were American edge toolmakers working before the Civil War, such as the Buck Brothers, able to produce crucible steel in small quantities by techniques they had learned in England? What untold stories remain to be narrated about English traditional tool forms and their adaptation and production by innovative American toolmakers?
Meticulously fashioned in its own hardwood slipcase in North Berwick, ME, in , this rule, an icon of American toolmaking, symbolizes the migration of skilled English toolmakers to colonial New England that had been ongoing for almost a century. The skills of American toolmakers are clearly rooted in English traditions and techniques brought in the great migration to Massachusetts Bay and best symbolized by Joseph Jencks, the Leonard clan, and other New England forge masters and toolmakers well versed in the steel- and toolmaking strategies and techniques of the Sussex Weald, the Forest of Dean, and the Figure 1.
Wantage rule, dated , boxwood Midlands forges of the Severn River watershed. That these traditions and techniques are themselves rooted in German, continental, and especially, a Celtic metallurgical legacy is now nearly forgotten. The early 18th century migration of English shipwrights and edge toolmakers cited by Goldenberg is perhaps the most important component of the transfer of skills and metallurgical traditions to colonial America. Photo courtesy of Bob Wheeler. After the Treaty of Utrecht and the temporary halt of FrenchEnglish hostilities in New England, colonial settlements and the many toolmakers and ironmongers who had arrived in the colonies in the great migrations of and moved further inland from 9 southern coastal locations.
New England shipsmiths and toolmakers had two new and reliable sources of steel, English-made blister steel and steel made in colonial furnaces. A growing domestic capability of producing steel for edge tool production in larger quantities and of a better quality than could usually be forged from a bloom of natural steel accompanied the often clandestine construction of colonial steel furnaces. Making anchors and wrought iron ship fittings from the iron muck bars produced from the bog iron bloom was a long established procedure in which hoists and manpower were the key.
While in the early and midth century such production may have only been a trickle, the Revolutionary War unleashed a flood of domestic edge tool production. Gordon , gives several examples of poorly made tools or improperly Figure 3. Tool box and files cast ingots to make the case for two centuries of incompetent from the Willard family of steelmaking techniques. Davistown photographs of any of the thousands of steeled edge tools that are a most important component of the legacy of the Museum MII Collection ID s T8 and T Also American iron industry.
American iron — indeed!
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This nation was built in part with tools made with American iron and steel. Sheffield steel is only part of the story. The tools themselves are our primary source of information about the metallurgical finesse of American toolmakers. Rock ores mined in these locations could be more easily smelted into high quality malleable iron, either in 10 the charcoal bloomery or by fining blast furnace cast iron, than the more siliceous bloomery bog iron. Nonetheless, natural steel production from bog iron blooms continued despite the introduction of the new technology of the cementation or blister steel furnace.
Eric Sloane , in A Museum of Early American Tools, has the following intriguing comment, which also applies to so many other tools that survive in old tool chests in workshops long after the ships and houses they built decayed or burned. The gouge in the illustration has an interesting story. It was found in a stone fence. Bright and silverish, its edge is keen; it has no rust. I have compared the best chisels the most expensive, that is by leaving them in the rain alongside this ancient tool.
The legend is that early surface ore contained much manganese and was purer in iron content. It is also believed that the use of charcoal gave purer carbon content and made a superior iron. Sloane , 54 The bog iron used to fashion the edge tool noted by Sloane as being found in a stone fence in Connecticut was probably made near where it was found and from locally smelted bog iron. Maps of major bog-iron-producing regions can be deceiving see Figures 19 and 20 in Art of the Edge Tool Brack a.
Many local deposits shared the fate of those at Saugus; they were mined, smelted, and soon depleted. We have lost the identity of many of the New England shipsmiths who initially made edge tools from iron and steel produced at these domestic forges and furnaces, as well as from imported German and then blister steel. When domestically produced blister steel, often made from imported Swedish bar iron, became available in the first quarter of the 18th century, the colonial ability to make the high quality, heavy duty edge tools of the shipwright was already well established.
Imported Sheffield-made light and medium duty crucible cast steel edge tools did not become available to American artisans until after These Sheffield-produced carving tools were soon used by the case furniture artists who created masterpieces out of the hard and soft woods of New England and the tropical forests along the Bay of Campeche, easily accessible as a destination in the West Indies trade.
The widespread availability of English cast steel carving and other edge tools after for American artisans is an integral part of our material cultural history. Of equal significance is the simultaneous domestic production of the heavy duty ship and timber framing tools, the evidence of which is not some written notes in a diary or log, but the tools themselves. The New England shipwright of the colonial era, as well as those to the south, therefore had access to iron hardware, steel, and steeled edge tools from a wide variety of sources: But what percentage of their own shipbuilding tools were they producing and where was the steel used for these tools smelted and forged?
A review of the history and context of colonial New England tool production will help answer the first question but not the second. Cape Cod and the southern Massachusetts and Rhode Island coasts were also soon settled, and colonists began moving inland to Concord, Sudbury, Dedham, Natick, and the communities in the Taunton River watershed.
While most colonists brought the tools they needed with them from England, the growing need for additional hand tools could not always be satisfied by offerings in colonial shops, such as that of George Corwin in Salem, the contents of which are described in the previous volume in this series Brack a, Some common hand tools could easily be made by farmers in their backyard bloomery forges. The bog iron hammer Figure 4 offers an excellent example of how an early colonist could make do by forge welding his own hammer from locally smelted bog iron.
Special needs tools, such as the small bowl adz Figure 5 and the cheese whip Figure 7 , would not have been available as imported tools even if an isolated colonist had the funds to buy such an object. The small bowl adz now in the collection of the Natick Historical Society is a particularly interesting example of a one-of-a-kind, forge welded, malleable iron steeled tool made for a specific use, i.
Or an isolated farmer might have forge welded this tool for his family or Figure 4. Bog for production of wooden bowls, which could have been traded in a iron hammer, community like Natick for products made by other families. The smith may have used the ancient collection ID technique of submerging a small piece of wrought iron in a charcoal TAB It is almost certain that this adz, as well as the bog iron hammer and the cheese whip, were made in Massachusetts in the early colonial period near where they were found.
Though not of interest to contemporary tool 13 collectors, this primitive adz from southeastern Massachusetts would have been used in a workshop that surely included a mix of locally made tools, e. As with most trade axes, the crooked knife Figure 6, another common everyday artifact in the toolkits of both colonists and indigenous survivors, was probably forge welded in Europe or possibly Quebec from natural or German steel.
It is usually assumed that all tools traded to First Nation communities, such as the ubiquitous trade ax, were made in Europe. Most are probably Spanish, rather than French or English in origin. As with many other edge tools brought from Europe and traded to Native Americans, trade axes appear to have been made out of German steel decarburized cast iron and often lack an obvious welded on steel cutting edge. This phenomenon suggests that many of these edge tools were made in one piece from German steel and then had their Figure 5.
Image used with permission from forging hammering and heat treatment the Natick Historical Society. However, a question arises about the prevailing view of the European origins of both trade axes and English hewing axes, such as the one in The Davistown Museum collection Fig. Most were probably made in Europe, yet, especially in the case of the English hewing ax, which also might have been forged at the Saugus Ironworks, immigrating English smiths would have brought their knowledge of how to make edge tools with them when they came in the great migration. The same observation can be made about edge toolmakers who immigrated to Quebec, making some of the trade axes encountered in New England today.
While immigrants participating in the great migration were obviously well prepared and brought many Figure 6. Crooked knife, this one is a specialized basket knife made out of natural? How many of these tools were imported from England and elsewhere and how many were produced in the colonies before the appearance of the first steel furnaces remains a mystery that may never be solved.
With the establishment of integrated ironworks blast furnace and finery, chafery, and blacksmith forges at Braintree now Furnace Brook, Quincy , Saugus, Taunton, and elsewhere in southeastern New England by the mids, widespread toolmaking activities by smiths who had already been trained in England were well underway.
In addition to these new larger facilities, by the end of the 17th century, hundreds of small bloomery forges had been built throughout New England. Every community had its blacksmith, and most would have worked at forges that were capable of smelting small quantities of roasted bog iron. That same forge would then have been used by the smith to fashion the wrought iron hardware and primitive tools, such as the Natick bowl adz, which have survived in surprisingly large numbers from the first century of colonial settlement in New England.
There were no secret English or German steel- and toolmaking strategies and techniques not known to these early iron mongers. The vast forest resources of New England and the bog iron swamps to the north and especially to the south of Figure 8. These early legislative regulations expressed the consensus of the Massachusetts Bay Colony that ironworks be established as soon as practical. The integrated ironworks at Braintree and Saugus were the first facilities constructed as a result of these regulations.
They played an important role in establishing a flourishing indigenous colonial toolmaking industry that has yet to be recognized by many American historians and commentators. In contrast, the conventional viewpoint is expressed by Bolles For two hundred years after the first settlement of the country the inhabitants were really dependent upon Europe for their cutlery.
Our forests were felled principally with English axes, the crops cut with English scythes and sickles, the building-arts carried on with chisels and tools from Sheffield, and even the loaf of bread upon the table sliced with an English knife. The quantity and variety of edge-tools made in the New World were extremely small. Bolles , Bolles is certainly correct in his observation about the dominance of English cutlery; Sheffield shipped its famed knives and razors by pack horse to other areas of England as early as the Tudor era.
But the ubiquitous presence of domestically-made primitive edge tools recovered in New England that date before the rise of the American factory system tell a different story. Earlier centers of English edge tool production were Birmingham and Lancashire in the late 17th and early 18th centuries and London prior to the great fire of The fact remains that we are not sure where the tools used by Boston and other New England shipwrights before in the construction of vessels for the British merchant fleet, including the East India trade, were forged.
We certainly know where they were used: Hummel , in With Hammer in Hand, has written a comprehensive survey of the tools in the workshop of the East Hampton, NY, Dominy family who were furniture and clockmakers working from — Hummel then goes on to explain why most tools used before were imported from England no mention is made of German tools.
Although there were toolmakers at work in America during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, their products never seemed to rival those of European manufacturers. Transportation costs for the overland movement of goods in the United States prior to were so high that they almost prohibited the distribution of American-made tools.
Citing Tweedle , Gordon asserts: Making steel proved a particularly difficult problem for American ironmasters through the first two-thirds of the nineteenth century. When they converted bar iron to blister steel, manufacturers found it inferior to the Sheffield product. Manufacturers of edge tools and mechanisms such as gunlocks wanted crucible steel, and they used imported metal.
English steelmakers retained their American market through vigorous sales efforts. Steelmaking remained an art where experience counted for much and formal metallurgical knowledge for little. Others found it difficult to duplicate this success because artisans could not transfer techniques that depended on experience and specific materials unavailable elsewhere. Gordon , 89 Later Gordon cites the remains of poor quality axes found at a Canadian site as further evidence for inadequate American toolmaking abilities: Legends depict colonial or early American smiths as skilled, independent craftsmen making quality products.
Artifacts show us, however, that smiths often had to use low-grade steel and sometimes did their work poorly. John Light and Henry Unglik found the remains of twenty axes in their archaeological study of a blacksmith shop used between and at Fort St. Smiths there had folded and welded wrought iron plates to make axe bodies and had then welded-in steel bits. They had made the bits too small and placed them badly. The steel had a variable carbon content and abundant slag inclusions. In none of the blades had the smiths properly hardened the bits. They made poor quality tools that would not have satisfied a demanding user.
After entrepreneurs like Simeon North who later became famous as one of the first makers of firearms with interchangeable parts equipped themselves with tilt hammers in the s to manufacture edge tools, Americans gradually captured a large share of the world market for axes and scythes with factory-made tools. Gordon , A fourth important source of the prevailing viewpoint of the inadequacy of American toolmaking capabilities can be found in the important Colonial Williamsburg publication Eighteenth Century Woodworking Tools Gaynor , a summary of research papers presented at a tool symposium.
In the second paper in the symposium, noted tool collector Paul B. Kebabian asserts most woodworking tools used in America were of British origin. But then he continues with this qualifying statement. I shall consider the reasons for that and describe how the tools used in America changed from imported to local production, a trend that was to lay the foundation for a flourishing American tool industry in the nineteenth century. Kebabian , 23 Bolles , Hummel , Gordon , and most papers from the tool symposium Gaynor , summarize the prevailing viewpoint that most hand tools used in American workshops and shipyards were of British origin.
That the source of most imported tools would therefore be British is understandable, but the tools we find today in New England tool chests, workshops, and collections, some of which date from this era, tell a more complicated story. While the Williamsburg symposium text unfortunately lacks an index, none of the essays on 18th century woodworking tools include any commentary on that most essential category of woodworking trades, those of the shipwright, nor examples of any of the tools they would have used, or information about who made these tools, where, and why.
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The symposium is, in fact, filled with references to the robust woodworking milieu of the early republic, including the workshop of Samuel Wing in Sandwich, MA and Elbridge Gerry Reed, a chair maker from central Massachusetts Gaynor Another contributor to this symposium, David Hey , professor of local and family history at the University of Sheffield, contends that: During the seventeenth century, they began to export some of their tools to America.
By the s, the Sheffield district had at least six hundred smithies for the manufacture of knives, scissors, sickles, scythes, files, awl blades, nails, and other metal goods.
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Hey , But where was the manufacture of edge tools for the shipwright occurring? The same question can be asked about the tools used during the first decades of colonial shipbuilding efforts in coastal New England. And when the shipsmiths in New England began making their own adzes, slicks, broad and hewing axes, and mast shaves, where did they obtain their steel? Immigrant blacksmiths from England, who came to New England in the great migration of , many probably from Sheffield as well as from London, brought their knowledge of ferrous metallurgy and their skills at steeling edge tools with them.
If they had access to steel suitable for edge tool manufacture, why would they import English tools? All sources, including the secrets hidden within the contents of those New England tool chests, indicate that England was the source of carving tools, plane blades though some German blades occasionally appear , and smaller tools, such as gimlets and calipers. The mortising chisels illustrated on page 38 Gaynor and the hand vise, screw plate dividers, and nippers illustrated on page 39 Gaynor are ubiquitous in American 21 tool collections.
The mark of Peter Stubbs, the famed Lancashire file and toolmaker, is among the most commonly encountered English signatures, though not all the tools bearing his name were made in his shops. But, with the possible exception of the mortising chisels used to mortise the holes for trunnels in ship construction, none of these would be used by American shipwrights. The question remains as to the origin of their hand tools.
The tools illustrated by Hummel from the Dominy collection, now housed at the Winterthur Museum, further illustrate this quandary. First, few of the tools in the Dominy workshop would have been used by a shipwright. The Dominys made furniture and clocks, trades which had something in common with most of the tools of the nonshipbuilding trades of Colonial Williamsburg. These carving tools, gimlets, plane blades, and small hand tools were almost always made in England and imported to locations throughout the colonies, including Long Island and Williamsburg.
But a closer look at the tools illustrated in Hummel discloses a very interesting puzzle. In the Dominy collection, only a few of the clearly stamped touchmarks of the English toolmakers, who always marked their tools with their name and often with its place of manufacture, make an appearance.
The Classic Period of American Toolmaking 1827
Hummel divides his text into two sections: Of the woodworking tools, many incorrectly labeled as of English or probable English origin, only 28 are clearly marked English specimens. One hundred and thirty seven are obviously or probably American-made and are usually the primitive unsigned tools that we often associate with our many early American industries.
Another 37 tools seem ambiguous and difficult to identify as to country of origin. Another 10 tools seem distinctly continental in style and either French or German in origin.
Of the metal working tools, 91 have uncertain origins and another 58 are labeled or appear to be American-made, including the primitive clock barrel cutter fusee engine which is a classic example of late 18th century American metallurgy. It is not at all as sophisticated as German or English examples, but it got the job done, sometimes more efficiently than if operated by the traditional hide-bound English watchmaker.
Only 5 of the metalworking tools in the Dominy collection are clearly identifiable as English. Most were, in fact, domestically produced. The illustration from Roubo suggests that the design of the leg vise, as with many other tools such as the hand vises, nippers, and buckle tongs illustrated in the same plate have continental origins and may, in fact, derive from tools commonly used during the German Renaissance before the Thirty Years War destroyed much of the industrial capacity of the Bavarian toolmakers and after. Peter Stubbs and the Sheffield toolmakers are famous for their copious production of exactly the same tools illustrated at the bottom of the Roubo plate.
This assertion is further strengthened by the observation that throughout the early modern era of Tudor England, steelmaking innovations originating in Germany and transferred to France were then brought to southern England by French ironmongers trained in the tradition of the manufacture of German steel from decarburized cast iron. During this period, it is highly unlikely that tool forms originated in Sheffield, which was then only accessible by pack horse Barraclough a , and were then brought to France and Germany.
Because these forms, such as the hand vise we still encounter so frequently in American tool chests, were produced in such great numbers by Stubbs and other Sheffield toolmakers, we naturally think of them as English forms when, in fact, they are continental in Figure Hummel also asserted that the cost of overland transport was prohibitive. Most American forges, shipsmiths, and toolmakers in the 23 colonial period, especially in New England and in Pennsylvania, were located in close proximity to navigable waterways.
It may have been costly to bring iron bar stock or tools to isolated inland locations, but the same ports that were so convenient for imported English tools or Swedish bar iron could easily exchange domestically made iron and tools for other products in colonial America via its robust coasting trade. The edge toolmakers of southern New Hampshire Garvin who worked from the late 18th to the late 19th centuries are just one example of a vigorous domestic toolmaking community that shipped edge tools down the rivers of New England to shipbuilders and woodworkers living along the New England coast.
The Dominy workshop easily could have been one of their customers, though no Underhill tools, for example, were found in their collection. Of the two adzes illustrated on page 44, one is clearly a Yankee pattern lipped adz typical of those used by a shipwright; the second is stamped T. Austin, listed in the Directory of American Toolmakers Nelson as working circa , location in America unknown. The two hand-forged twisted augers were probably made in the early 19th century.
Conklin ax listed in the Directory of American Toolmakers as circa , location unknown. The unusual ax illustrated on page 57 is neither English nor for shipbuilding, but rather continental in origin and an uncommon form. The Dominy workshop illustrates the wide variety of American-made tools and their uses, as well as the presence of the small but exquisite Sheffield-made carving tools, gimlets, and 24 countersinks that are still found in almost every old New England tool chest. The construction of that first ship, Virginia, at Fort St. George in , is the opening chapter in the rise of indigenous shipbuilding and toolmaking communities that had their roots in the workshops of the anonymous shipsmiths, blacksmiths, and edge toolmakers who followed the ill fated Popham settlement with the successful occupation of North America.
Although few of the tools he illustrates were used by the shipwright, his iconography of tool forms inform us as to what extent the hand tools made in America between and derive from English and continental tool forms. Less well known is the ferrous metallurgy of the tools that preceded our modern hand tools. The Diderot encyclopedia is particularly detailed in its depiction of the blast furnace, anchor- and cannon-forging, statue casting, metal mining and smelting, and ornamental iron work manufacture, which was a specialty of the French.
Its survey of toolmaking is limited to anvil-making and the threading of screws for machine work. While the pin factory and the making of needles are depicted in detail, there is little mention of woodworking trades or forging of edge tools. The single plate on shipbuilding illustrates the framing of a rather Medieval-looking and bulky hull. Axes, adzes, framing whip saws, and bow saws are illustrated in a shipyard the likes of which no colonist would likely have visited.
The axes shown are dissimilar to those found in the Dominy workshop and are tool forms not encountered in colonial New England. Their continental forms were almost certainly made of German steel. The adz illustrated in figure 5 Hummel , 52 , a block adz, is a much more familiar form and undoubtedly is similar to those used by colonial shipsmiths.
Imported from Europe and also probably made from German steel rather than blister steel, such adzes were similar in their metallurgy to the ubiquitous French trading axes so frequently encountered in New England collections. Lacking a welded steel cutting edge, these tools were instead subject to additional forging and heat treatment, which further carburized and tempered their cutting edge. In contrast, carriage-making for the French nobility takes up nine plates.
The Diderot plates on shipbuilding and woodworking illustrate the tools of the sawyer, which were nearly universal in all shipbuilding communities of the 17th and 18th century, including those in New England. The most frequently illustrated tool other than European-style hewing axes, the frame saw, would probably be, along with the single whip saw lying on the ground in plate also see plate , construction and the adz in plate , the most commonly encountered tools in the shipyards of colonial New England.
The shipsmiths and toolmakers who made the iron fittings and edge tools illustrated in the one plate on shipbuilding remain invisible not only in Diderot but also in other texts. The trades illustrated in this series of 18 prints by a contemporary and probable student of Rembrandt include blacksmith, locksmith, cooper, sail maker, glazier, and others. The single plate pertaining to woodworking contains excellent illustrations of chisels, planes, augers, calipers, a hammer, a poll adz, and a saw with the old Dutch style bent handle.
Any of these tools could have been used by shipwrights of the period in Europe, particularly the huge Medieval-style broad ax. The curved handle planes were already obsolete at this time, but the squares, calipers, brace, and chisel are still encountered in 18th century tool chests in the forms depicted in these plates.
The toolmakers who made these tools, particularly the edge tools, remain invisible; the metallurgy of their tools is a lingering mystery. These plates were etched just after the heyday of Dutch exploration and settlement in the New World. The omission of the tools of the shipwright is puzzling. The tools recovered from the Mary Rose were those of a carpenter, not of a shipwright and, therefore, tell us little of the tool forms of shipwrights of this period. At this point in time, conflicts with the French were already well underway; the Mary Rose was built to defend the south coast of England from privateers and possible invasion.
Tudor England and continental Europe were already in an arms race that had begun with the spread of the blast furnace after Loewen and resulted in the rapid growth in cast iron ordnance production. Again, the presence of shipsmiths and shipwrights is hidden, and the tools they used are poorly documented. The plates in Diderot Hummel illustrating cannon-casting and published three centuries after the Mary Rose capsized, after being overloaded with the weight of too many soldiers and their firearms, are among the most interesting in the encyclopedia.
The arms race that marks the beginning of the modern era has continued without interruption, always accompanied by the need for improvements in arms manufacturing from foundry casting to hand gun production. Hidden behind this more well documented story are the toolmakers, shipsmiths, and shipwrights who labored in anonymity to build the ships of the navies engaged in this warfare. Moxon illustrates the ubiquitous frame saw, whip saw, and buck saw, the one tool still used for cutting coppice and kindling until the midth century. Any of the tools in the Emmett trade card, including the chisels and axes, could have been used in the construction of the Virginia, but the ax and adz forms illustrated in Moxon  and the Emmett trade card are forms not encountered in the remnants of New England tool collections, shop lots, or tool chests surviving from the colonial period.
Perhaps the rendition of the adz in the Emmett trade card is not accurate, but no such forms note enlarged collared socket have survived from this late date, The well known publication A Museum of Early American Tools Sloane provides graphic illustrations of how indigenous colonial tool forms, though often based on English prototypes, had evolved by Sloane only briefly references his lifelong passion for collecting and illustrating the hand tools of colonial Connecticut and nearby states, but his text provides compelling evidence of the degree to which colonists of English, Scotch, and German descent had developed their own unique tool forms.
Very few of the hand tools illustrated in the Sloane text were imported from England, and the most common forms of English tools are so labeled. Almost all the tools illustrated by Sloane are wrought, malleable, or steeled hand-forged iron tools. Sloane in particular notes regional forms of hand tools Pennsylvania versus Connecticut, page 6. Sloane also illustrates European forms — trade, German, and British pattern felling axes, and German goosewing and English pollless style broad axes. In New England, the American style broad ax called the New England pattern by Kauffman , produced in the mid to late 18th century by edge toolmakers such as Faxon at Braintree, and by many later makers, is recovered much more frequently than English or German forms.
The Sloane text clearly depicts a well established indigenous colonial and early republic toolmaking milieu utilizing domestically produced manganese laced bog ore hydrated limonite as well as locally mined rock ores as their principal ingredient. Neither Sloane nor others mention the role of colonial steel furnaces in supplementing imported steel bar stock in the forging of edge tools.
Nonetheless, Sloane provides a graphic glimpse of a robust indigenous toolmaking community that provided the basis for the rapid growth of a uniquely American toolmaking industry in the 19th century. One of the more intriguing components of this community was the presence of family clans of toolmakers working over a period of generations. One of the mysteries of 18th century New England industrial history is the identity of the ironmongers and edge toolmakers who played a critical role in the success of the American Revolution. A major source of information on these and many other American toolmakers is the Directory of American Toolmakers Nelson , now also available on CD.
Much of the information in this and other chapters throughout the Hand Tools in History series on the working dates of American toolmakers is derived from this source.
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The first and possibly the most noteworthy clan of ironmongers working in New England were the Leonards, led by three brothers, Henry, James, and Thomas Leonard. Many other Leonards operated bog iron furnaces and forges throughout southern New England until well into the 19th Figure Toolmakers Nelson lists no less than 18 different Underhill family members or companies working for almost a century and a half. Nelson reports a Faxon with an unknown first name as dying in at which time Jessie Underhill purchased his Boston shop. Richard Faxon died is recorded as working in Braintree, MA, both before and after Faxon signed tools are not at all as common as tools made by the Underhill clan, but the broad axes recovered by the Liberty Tool Co.
The recovery of a vine? Cutter Estate in S. The history of the Faxon clan is one example of a lost chapter in colonial and early American history waiting to be discovered. Many other clans of edge toolmakers can be documented as working in New England in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. In Maine, the Billings clan of edge toolmakers was active in a number of Kennebec River drainage area communities. Numerous examples of their finesse at edge Figure In southern New England, one of the most notable families of toolmakers was the North family. Levi North was recorded as working as early as in Berlin, CT.
One of his sons, Jedediah, is reported working from and a second son, Edmund, was working with him by , manufacturing the tin knockers and sheet metal equipment still recovered today in New England workshops. Also part of the North clan was Simon, an edge toolmaker working before and famous for the role he played as a principal innovator of the factory system of manufacturing guns with interchangeable parts see pg.
David, working by At the same time, Daniel Copeland was an established planemaker in Hartford, CT, working with his brothers, Melvin and Alfred, as well as the Chapin clan in Pine Meadows from before into the early s. Another Connecticut family of toolmakers was the planemakers John and Lester Dennison, working in Saybrook and Winthrop, CT, by with family members continuing production well into the s. Their sons and grandsons continued operations in Worcester until The edge toolmaker, H.
Merritt, was also a member of the Merritt clan; four of his edge tools in the collection of the Scituate Historical Society are illustrated in volume 7 of this publication series, Art of the Edge Tool Brack a, Working outside of New England were many other toolmaking clans and families. Barton began manufacturing edge tools in Rochester, NY , the L. Their finesse and expertise at making tools was based on centuries of making edge tools and planes by rule of thumb techniques passed down from generation to generation of toolmakers who had 33 their origins in the Celtic metallurgical traditions of south central Europe see volume 6, Steel- and Toolmaking Strategies and Techniques before [Brack b] for a review of the early history of toolmaking.
The origins of the iconography of tool forms used by these clans of New England ironmongers and toolmakers derived from these earlier toolmaking communities. American toolmakers went on to invent many distinctive new forms of tools, including new variations of long established edge tool forms.
They also reproduced the many functional tool forms that were being produced by Birmingham and Sheffield, England, toolmakers in the first decades of the 19th century, often with minimal changes in their basic designs. The traditions of English and also continental European toolmakers played a key role in the amazing early 19th century florescence of New England toolmaking clans. That these clans were accompanied by thousands of individual edge toolmakers, shipsmiths, and blacksmiths making tools in every New England community as well as in all other states is reflected in the thousands of entries in the Directory of American Toolmakers Nelson As noted, only a few of the most important and commonly encountered toolmakers are listed in the company files of this volume.
The classic period of American toolmaking is hopefully more accurately explicated by considering not only the iconography of tool forms that were their heritage but also the contemporary tool forms that were being produced and, in some cases, imported to the United States by the famed tool manufacturers of Birmingham and Sheffield in the same decades a massive tool manufacturing industry was blossoming in New England.
Smith and Timmins The tool forms illustrated by Sloane , often found in the Connecticut countryside where he lived, were relatively unchanged during the 18th century. Other than those few illustrated in Diderot, Moxon, and Goodman, woodworking tools used in Europe between and are poorly documented. The pattern books were issued as advertisements for both British and American hardware and tool vendors and retailers and provide an invaluable record of early modern hand tools.
The tools found in American shop lots and collections, as well as those found in these pattern books fall into three categories: Tools imported to the American colonies in the early republic and frequently encountered in the remains of tool collections and tool chests found in New England in the last 39 years by the Liberty Tool Co. Many of these forms were soon copied, but the tools produced in England have two notable characteristics. Secondly, these tools are more finely made in comparison to more primitive American copies. Eventually, especially after , American makers achieved the capacity to produce forms as finished and sophisticated as any English product.
Tools that appear in New England tool collections that are similar in appearance and design to those in the pattern books, but are neither signed by English toolmakers, nor have the finished look of fine Sheffield tools, and are obviously copies of the English originals, just as a signed Stubbs hand vise is a copy of very 35 similar continental, probably German, prototypes. In some cases, their tools have the signatures and place of manufacture of domestic toolmakers.
Tool forms which were neither imported nor copied in sufficient quantities to appear frequently in New England tool collections. Since the extensive tool collection of the Davistown Museum is being used as a database, it should be noted that the accumulations of tools from which the museum collections derive not only originated within 50 miles of the shipbuilding areas of coastal New England from eastern Maine to the Narragansett Bay, but also from the Blackstone River valley, Merrimack River valley of eastern New Hampshire, and western Massachusetts along the Route 2 corridor as far west as Greenfield, MA.
Would you like to tell us about a lower price? The Classic Period of American Toolmaking considers the wide variety of toolmaking industries that arose after the colonial period and its robust tradition of edge toolmaking. It discusses the origins of the florescence of American toolmaking not only in English and continental traditions, but also in the poorly documented and often unacknowledged work of New England shipsmiths, blacksmiths, and toolmakers. This volume explicates the success of the innovative American factory system that was based on a rapidly expanding economy, the rich natural resources of North America, and continuous westward expansion until the late 19th century.
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