Newsletter 12: Winter 2016

Tools and Chat in Oakham 14th November

Eleven Members attended, despite the Admiral Hornblower telling me that I had cancelled the meeting. Apologies are due to the ever-loyal Brian Read who arrived early and was sent home, with a flea in his ear.


The following dates were proposed for 2017:
• Monday 13th February
• Monday 8th May
• Monday 3rd July
• Monday 13th November Please confirm

Society Business

The difficulties facing the Society were discussed. The reduction in the publication of the Newsletter and the Journal were of concern and might lead to a further decline in Membership.

The revised timing of the Annual Conference was welcomed, as it would enable those in full time work to attend without missing the main events.

Most young people probably rely on new technology for information and entertainment, suggesting that the Society should have a Facebook page
(I think we have one), or probably a Twitter account. Richard Arnold reported that his postings usually attracted 200-300 hits and that ‘Unplugged Woodworkers’ had 20,000 members.

Tools on the Table

Andy Brown was the star of the show with a range of curiosities. The first item was a pair of scissors which seemed to have evolved into an offensive weapon. There were: conventional shear blades, a lever to cock a powerful spring and a trigger within a guard to make the cut, the depth of which was adjustable. No one could work out what these well made late c19 shears were for.

Equally unusual was a French vine grafting tool, marked ‘Merite Agricole’, which clamped a halved cork around the union between the root stock and the selected variety of vine. The joint could then be bound with twine or wire. This process became essential after an enterprising English grower had decided to experiment with vines from America. From 1863 onwards vine weevils destroyed virtually every old European vine, bringing the production of fine wines to a halt for a period of twenty years.

An attractively curved, double ended hook tool, comfortably fitting the hand, was next. Some thought it might be used in the setting of stained glass.

‘The Sign Writer & Glass Embosser’ by W and W G Sutherland, published in 1898, is a trade manual accompanied by a series of fine, large, colour printed sheets showing the range of work which might be carried out. Extravagant examples of symbols, type faces and shaded lettering were displayed, as well trade and religious notices, inscriptions and signs.

Next was a crozier-like staff with an iron crook, close-plated in silver, mounted on a stained, octagonal shaft. The back of the hook had a curios projecting star. The consensus was an ecclesiastical function in processions or using incense. This would agree with a mid to late c19 date, the Gothic revival and possibly, the Anglo Catholic movement.

It was followed by: a Buck and Hickman 1.75” auger; a boxwood hand press with a brass hinge set with hand made screws; a small oak and brass device with a spring plunger; a handed pair of curved tools with ivory handles, probably medical or dental instruments, and a rosewood and steel tool holder marked ’Patent Sept 16 1871’.

A pair of ancient, hand forged, heavily curved and extravagantly dished scissors followed. It is always nice to find that Members are paying attention and joining in. Did they all have to try out these attractive scissors on my notes?

The last item from Andy was a steel sliding bevel engraved G Millington in gothic script, with an asymmetrical brass nut.

Richard Arnold showed three early wooden braces. The earliest, made around 1760, had an iron chuck marked ‘RYLEY’. The woodwork looked archaic, elongated in form and narrow in section. I am not inclined to accept the suggestion that the webs of these early examples were user-made, given that the metal chuck and the hardwood head must have accounted for most of the cost of the tool; fitting the frame was, in comparison, a simpler, though still a specialised operation. The hardwood head was a distinctive moulding rather than the mushroom form which was almost universal later on. Probably a standard form for the wooden brace had not emerged at this date.

Another example by Benjamin Freeth (Birmingham 1767-1823) ca.1790 was of standard form but still had an iron button chuck. This time there are two concave and one convex mouldings. The hardwood frame was thought to be elm but might be a finely grained exotic timber. His undated price list refers to this tool as a ‘hand pad’.

I was struck by the work involved in making these complex fittings from iron which must have included forging, cutting and finishing. Both examples from had a moulded annular nose, presumably requiring the use of a lathe. The use of accurately cast brass components should have reduced the cost of producing these tools or at least the work to make them. A brace, marked in cursive script ’Lourie Edinburgh’, c1790 has a brass chuck with a button to the right.

I tabled an early c19 spirit level in a two-part mahogany case. A slot in the screwed top plate shows the bubble and a tiny painted mark to indicate a level surface. I was not sure what use this tool would be but examples are listed in the 1816 edition of ‘Smith’s Key’: 8” common at 32/- a dozen.

The next object was an early adjustable mortice gauge. A decorative brass dowel, set across the shaft, retains the screw and a finely knurled knob which adjust the moving point. This example was similar to the one, illustrated in ‘Smith’s Key’ as item 479, costing 5/6d.

John Bird tabled a range of equipment by Rawle Fittings, including fibre and plastic wall plugs, hand-held fluted wall drills, a manual rotary percussion drill, glass drills and the tungsten carbide tipped masonry drills, still used in power tools. This neat display showed the evolution of wall fixings to reduce the amount of hand work – and the rapid pace of change. At last, someone has produced some tools which I do not remember; for some time I have felt like a Museum exhibit.


Michael Woods                                                   Tel: 01572 722448

20th November 2016