Chris Schwarz's Blog

41 Things from 1839

I’m packing up all the tools I’ll need in North Carolina for the coming week, and I was a bit shocked this morning as I went through my checklist.

One of the “Woodwright’s Shop” television programs Roy Underhill and I are shooting this weekend will deal with the typical toolkit of a joiner circa 1839. I compiled my list based on an old book, “The Joiner & Cabinet Maker,” which detailed the fictional life of a young apprentice.

During the book, the apprentice builds three projects , a packing box, a dovetailed schoolbox and a full-scale chest of drawers. Last year I built all three of these projects using only hand tools (the school box was featured in the Autumn 2009 issue of Woodworking Magazine).

Today I made up a list of the 41 tools mentioned in the construction of the three projects in the book. This includes everything from pencils to chalk and plow planes to bowsaws. What was surprising was how few tools there were. I fit them all easily on my 20″-wide x 6′-long workbench. To be sure, there would be several tools that I would have liked to have had in that toolkit, such as a sliding bevel square, but they are all tools of convenience instead of necessity.

Here’s the list (and yes, I know that some people think a dozen chisels are not one item. I do. Just ask my wife. If I have 100 cans of tomato soup I’ll go through the express lane at the grocery store and say: It’s one item. So there).

2′ rule
Try square
Chalk
Chalk line
Handsaw
Ripsaw
Bench brush
Two sawbenches
Pencil
Striking knife (a joiner’s marker)
Jack plane
Trying plane
Smoothing plane
Rubstone
Wooden straightedge
Marking gauge
Panel gauge
Brad awl
Hammer
Piece of iron or steel for clenching/straightening nails
Nail set
Broad chisel, dullish (for scraping glue)
Sash saw
Shooting board
Bench hook
Dovetail saw
Chisels (a dozen, 1/16″ up to 1″; then two or three wider than that)
Rattail file
Turnscrews
Brace
Countersink
Rasp
File
Sandpaper
Mallet
Name stamp
Rebate plane
Plow plane
Mortise chisel
Mortise gauge
Frame saw (bowsaw)

- Christopher Schwarz

Want More on Early Tools and Technology?

- Visit Gary Roberts’s excellent Toolemera.com. No, I’m not sure how to pronounce it, either. It combines “tool” with “ephemera.” In any case, Gary’s site is chock full of catalogs and early books that you can download or order.

- Jeff Gorman’s web site is back up! Neanderthals rejoice. www.amgron.clara.net. There is lots of good stuff there on traditional technique from a British perspective.

- The Evenfall Woodworks Library is another free repository of great old books. Stop in when you have some bandwidth you want to suck up with some great downloads.

13 thoughts on “41 Things from 1839

  1. Derek Olson

    I would argue the list should be numbered at 42, as my workbench is one of the best and hardest working tools I own. It is one of the few tools that touches every single project. If saw benches make the list then imho a traditional work bench should make the list as well.

    Oldwolf

  2. Luke

    Ha, I think I found the majority of these out in my gramps garage this weekend when I was working at their house, and his are all painted orange since he thinks that’ll help him identify them if the neighbor decides to "borrow" a tool for a long, long time

  3. Badger

    It might be of interest to check out a painting I found recently from 1574 that shows a selection of tools a carpenter would carry in 1574.

    http://www.badgerwoodworks.com/2010/07/italian-carpenters-tools-from-1574/

    I’ve always been struck by the gradual nature of how things change in the woodworking fields over time. Some sciences make radical leaps, but some take many years for change to creep in. It speaks to the practical nature of our craft.

    badger

  4. Christopher Schwarz

    No scrapers are mentioned as best I can recall — if someone else remembers it from the book, please chime in.

    They likely aren’t mentioned because the three projects in the book were made from pine, which can be scraped, but it isn’t great to scrape….

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