Arts & Mysteries: Pre-anarchist’s Tool Chest
by Peter Follansbee
Centuries before we all read Christopher Schwarz’s “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest” (Lost Art Press), craftsmen compiled lists of what they perceived as a basic set of tools for a young man starting his career in the woodworking trades. They just didn’t publish them on blogs or web sites, or in books and other far-reaching media. The documents I’m thinking of are legal records – apprenticeship contracts usually filed in local courts in 16th- and 17th-century England.
Tool historian W. L. Goodman published excerpts based on a number of apprenticeship contracts drawn up in England. The full contracts stipulated the terms of the apprenticeship: the duration, the responsibilities of each party, when the arrangement is to begin and end and, for our interests, often what tools the master will provide the boy upon completion of the contract. Goodman read through many records to pull out the good stuff. The earliest ones are in Latin, or a Latin/English/French hybrid, unlike most blogs today.
In 1555 Simon Shorting to James Richeman: “vnum le Joyntor vnum le fore plane vnurn le hammer vnum le hande saw vnum le hatchet vnum le parsour vnum le mortas wymble vnum le framin chesell & vnum duodecima les karving tooles…”
This excerpted record tells us that Simon Shorting agreed to provide his apprentice James Richeman with a set of joiner’s tools at the end of his term. The tools are: one jointer, one fore plane, one hammer, one handsaw, one hatchet, one piercer (brace and bit) one mortise wimble, one framing chisel, one dozen carving tools. Perhaps the “mortise wimble” is an auger for boring out large mortises before using the framing chisel – or it’s a mistake and should read “mortise chisel.” “Wimble” is usually a term for a boring tool, most often a brace. But we know this craftsman calls his brace a piercer. If only these men knew how much we would hang on their every word.
Blog: Read Peter Follansbee’s blog.
To Buy: “Mechanick Exercises Or, The Doctrine of Handyworks.”
To Buy: “17th-Century New England Carving: Carving the S-Scroll (Lie-Nielsen).”
In Our Store: “The Arts & Mysteries of Hand Tools” on CD.