Chris Schwarz had an interesting post today concerning the tools listed in the new old book he & Joel Moskowitz are working on. http://blog.woodworking-magazine.com/blog/Small+Tool+Kit+Big+Projects.aspx and
Chris and I traded notes today and he suggested it would be interesting to compare what tools were minimal in seventeenth century versus 200 years later…so here goes some notes about beginner’s and others’ tool kits in that period. For now, I will skip the turner, and just concentrate on the joiner.
W.L. Goodman pulled out all the itemized tools listed in some sixteenth-and-seventeenth-century apprenticeship contracts in England. This contract from Bristol is between joiner John Sparke, who contracted to provide the following tools to his apprentice Humfrey Bryne, upon the completion of his term of seven years. (the article’s citation is: W. L. Goodman, “Woodworking Apprentices and their Tools in Bristol, Norwich, Great Yarmouth, and Southampton, 1535-1650” Industrial Archaeology 9, no. 4, (November 1972) 376-411)
1594 John Sparke to Humfrey Bryne: . . .
a Rule a compass a hatchet a hansawe a fore plane a joynter a smothen plane two moulden planes a groven plane a paren chysell a mortisse chesell a wymble a Rabbet plane and six graven Tooles and a Strykinge plane
So, the translation for a few of the more cryptic terms. The first few are straightforward enough. The “fore” plane is the modern-day scrub plane, described by both Joseph Moxon and Randle Holme. Here is Moxon’s take on this tool:
“It is called the Fore Plain because it is used before you come to work either with the Smooth Plane, or with the Joynter. The edge of its Iron is not ground upon the straight, as the Smooth Plane, and the Joynter are, but rises with a Convex-Arch in the middle of it; for its Office being to prepare the Stuff for either the Smoothing Plane, or the Joynter, Workmen set the edge of it Ranker than the edge either of the Smoothing Plane or the Joynter”
The “groven” (grooving) plane is the plow plane, essential for a joiner who is going to make his furniture with frames and panels.
“Paren” chisel is phonetic for “paring” chisel.
A “wimble” is a brace and bit, sometimes one brace per bit, sometimes a brace and interchangeable bits, i.e. “a wimble and bitts” found in period probate inventories. Moxon calls it a piercer.
The rabbet plane somehow got separated from the other planes, but here it is.
The “graven” tools are “engraving” i.e. carving gouges.
The striking plane is discussed in Moxon, although it has always left me confused. He describes using it to trim miters and such. It’s too complicated to go into here & now.
In New England, one of the earliest probate inventories that itemizes woodworking tools is that for “John Thorp, Carpenter” of Plymouth Colony, who died in 1633. There are tools here for both joiner’s work and carpenter’s work too. The values are in pounds/shillings/pence, 12 pence to the shilling, 20 shillings to the pound.
1 Great gouge £00-00-06 ;one gr brush & 1 little brush at 00-00-10; 1 square 00-02-00; one hatchet 00-02-00; One Square 00-02-06; 1 short 2 handsaw 00-02-00; A broade Axe 00-02-00; An holdfast 00-01-06; A handsaw 00-02-00; 3 broade chisels 00-01-06; 2 gowges & 2 narrow chisels 00-01-00; 3 Augers Inch & ½ 00-01-00; 1 great auger 00-01-04; inboring plaines 00-04-00; 1 Joynter plaine 00-01-06; 1 foreplaine 00-00-00?; A smoothing plaine 00-00-00?; 1 halferound plaine 00-01-00; An Addes 00-02-06; a felling Axe 00-03-00
the appraisors of Thorpe’s inventory dropped the ball on the fore plane and the smoothing plane, not assigning a value to them. But the jointer plane is 1 shilling, 6 pence. To give an idea of the worth of these planes, here is a record from Massachusetts Bay roughly the same time, that lists wages for tradesmen:
“28 Septembr 1630: …that noe maister carpenter, mason, joyner, or brickelayer shall take above 16d a day for their worke, if they have meate and drinke, & the second sort not above 12d aday, under payne of xs both to giver & receaver”
This record was preceeded one month earlier by a declaration that these same tradesmen should not receive more than 2 shillings a day…so they took a pay cut right away. So in September of 1630, if the workmen are fed, they get 1 shilling, 4 pence per day…the “second sort” are not yet masters, thus amount perhaps to a journeyman. Note that the fine for charging more is 10 shillings, more than a week’s wages.
In Thorp’s inventory, the “holdfast” implies a bench, but none is listed. It’s not unusual to omit the fittings of the shop, i.e. a bench or a lathe. Many of these tools are simple enough, a little seventeenth-century linguistics helps. “Great” is opposite of small; and of course “narrow” and “broad.” The “inboring” planes are sometimes called “imbowing” planes as well; these amount to molding planes.
But there’s always tools missing…let me see if I can compile a list of minimal tools to build an oak carved chest from a tree. Let’s say the log is cut to length; I have no interest in felling large-diameter oak trees anymore.
Wedges & beetle (I substitute a sledge hammer for the wooden beetle)
Hatchet, froe & club (maybe add a brake)
Planes: fore, smooth, jointer, plow, and rabbet
Bench, bench hook (i.e. planing stop), holdfast(s), a “double-bench screw” which is comparable to a modern handscrew, but used differently.
Straightedge, winding sticks
Ruler (can act as the straightedge too)
Paring chisel, (broad chisel)
Brace & bits
Carving tools, maybe 6.
That might be it. I use more than that, drawbore pins for instance. But you don’t need them. I use a wooden bench hook for sawing tenons, but you can skip that too. I didn’t put molding planes in my list, but easily could. I often use scratch stocks instead. You could carve the whole facade, and skip moldings altogether. (whoops – I have moldings on the side frames of this chest, and turned drawer pulls…oh well. more tools.)
I’m sure there’s more I have left out, but not many. As you can see, it’s a lot of tools. But wait a minute, I have way more than that…we’ll see what Alexander says.
If you don’t have Moxon, get it here: