Days when Sheffielders produced tools for every job

Tenon saws
Tenon saws

THE Sheffield area figures prominently in a new book celebrating what is probably the biggest private collection of western woodworking tools in the world.

Antique Woodworking Tools: Their Craftsmanship from the Earliest Times to the Twentieth Century draws on the collection lovingly put together over a period of 35 years by David Russell, a retired builder/cabinet-maker from Kendal.

English chariot plane

English chariot plane

The book not only celebrates the collection but is considered the most serious work of reference of its kind to date and destined to become a ‘bible’ in its field.

Tools are man’s earliest surviving artefacts and Russell’s scholarly book, co-written and published by John Adamson, is probably the first time the tools of a trade have been given a systematic and scientific analysis on such a scale.

It celebrates time-honoured values associated with pride in workmanship and skilled training, which, together with the demise of apprenticeship, have all but lost their rightful position in society today.

Sheffield is very much part of the story. “As indeed it should, for this city has long been one of the major centres of excellence and output in the manufacturing of hand-tools for the carpenter, joiner and cabinet-maker,” acknowledges Russell. “This is as true of tools for cutting as it is for those for boring.

English chariot plane

English chariot plane

“Part of Sheffield’s industrial success in the field lay in the pre-eminence of English steel-making, already the envy of the Continent by the late 18th century.

“As the Paris dealer Bergeron remarked in his Manuel du Tourneur, reissued and revised in 1816, ‘The quality of English steel is widely acknowledged, and we cannot refuse English makers the praise they deserve’.”

Sir Henry Bessemer’s steel converter in 1865 and Gilchrist-Thomas’s process of eliminating phosphorus in steelmaking in 1878 revolutionised the production of steel in the latter half of the 19th century.”

The Sheffield Directory of 1787 lists numerous manufacturers working with iron and steel, among them Jane Green & Sons, John Green, Philip Law and Paul Wilkinson of Grimesthorpe as edge-tool makers. Irons by all these makers occur on planes in the Russell collection.

Tenon saws - Maker's mark on the back strip

Tenon saws - Maker's mark on the back strip

But there are many other Sheffield edge-tool makers featured in the Russell collection: William Ash & Co; Buck Bros; William Butcher; James Cam; Colquhoun & Cadman; J Fearn Ltd; Fenton & Marsdens; David Flather & Sons; Isaac Greaves; Hearnshaw Bros; J Herring & Sons (with their fish trade mark); Aaron Hildick; James Howarth; Thomas Ibbotson & Co.; John Jowell; W. Marples & Sons; Marsden Bros; Mawhood (with their palm tree trade mark); Moulson Bros; Samuel Newbould; William Outram & Son; W.K. & C. Peace; Isaac Sorby (with their Mr Punch trade mark; I & H Sorby (with their hanging sheep trade mark); Robert Sorby (with their kangaroo trade mark and still trading under their old name to this day); T & W Staley; David Ward; Ward & Payne; Wilson, Hawksworth, Ellison & Co and Daniel Worsley.

Antique Woodworking Tools, Their Craftsmanship from the Earliest Times to the Twentieth Century by David R Russell is published by John Adamson at £90.

Tenon saws - Maker's mark on the screw cap

Tenon saws - Maker's mark on the screw cap