This rare chisel appears in the 1928 Marples catalogue...

I recently acquired a 1928 catalogue of tools by William Marples. It includes this entry, which is not in the 1921 or 1938 catalogues, marked as a range of "Roller Coverers' Chisels".  They went from 4" up to a whopping great 9" wide!

I wanted to know who used them, how, and on what sort of roller. A little bit of online searching revealed what a 'roller coverer' was, on several genealogy websites listing forgotten trades recorded in censuses. He was described as a mechanic in a cotton mill who covered various rollers in cloth and leather.

This information led me to a pamphlet published in the 1920s by the Lancashire firm of Dronsfield Brothers and available here at the Internet Archive - "Practical Roller Covering" https://archive.org/details/practicalrollerc01dron.

Dronsfields were offering a range of specialised machinery to automate and improve what they described as "primitive methods" formerly in use. (Presumably they were successful in persuading mill owners to adopt new methods of work, and that accounts for the disappearance of the roller coverer's chisel from the catalogues.)

Their booklet does not illustrate the old methods that they disparage, but it gives some clues. They refer to the superseded tools including "hand-splicing knives for 'splicing' or bevelling the leather." Later, they write that "an operative, however proficient, cannot use a long knife in such a way as to produce every bevel alike... a knife, say 12 in. long, cannot be maintained true from end to end."

A diagram of one of their machines shows that when a thick layer of leather was glued around a roller, it needed an accurately cut bevel in its thickness so that a smooth join could be made along the length of the roller. My guess is that these very wide chisels were designed to make that long bevelled cut, in one go.

The book ends with a description of what you need to equip your roller shop. Naturally, the sensible mill owner is advised to buy one of each type of machine that Dronsfields offer, but a list of other tools still includes "one 5 inch chisel" alongside the glue kettle and brush, so maybe they remained in use for a little longer.

But this is all only my deduction and guesswork - I'd love to hear from anyone who knows how these tools were used. And even more, I'd love to see an example of a roller coverer's chisel in the flesh - maybe you have one lying unidentified in your collection?

If so, send us a picture - any other information is also welcome.

A complete scan of the source catalogue is available in our Downloads section.

Andy Tuckwell

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