Please note

Because of the lack of published trowel and masonry tool histories, the information here is based on other sources that may be less reliable and certainly are incomplete. These include eBay and tools that I purchase myself that are the starting points for my research. I will write what I know as I learn it. If what you read here interests you, please check back often and look for revisions and corrections. Scanned catalogs are either mine or by Rose Antique Tools and used with permission, and are on Google Docs as pdf files. A few are links to other websites. Your photos and information are welcome. Please click on any picture to enlarge it. Comments are welcome, but any with links will be deleted as possible spam.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Mason's Rules

Folding mason's rules are another collectible category of tools. Here are pictures from eBay of Lufkin's 636 and Stanley's 167 rules. They may be listed in the category:
Collectibles>Tools, Hardware & Locks>Tools>Carpentry, Woodworking>Rules, Tapes

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Concrete Stamps

Here is an fine example of a bronze stamp used by a large concrete contractor to mark their work. It has a handle on the back. The reverse print is the actual stamp.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

History of William Johnson Inc., Newark, NJ, Trowel Maker

1910 advertisement
William Johnson made a variety of forged steel and cast iron tools in Newark, NJ. An eBay search shows dividers, calipers, pinch dogs, gas burner pliers, smelting ladles, a nail puller, a faucet seat cutter, scrapers, and dibbles. Mr. Johnson was a prominent businessman in Newark in 1872, as described in The Report and Catalogue of the First Exhibition of Newark Industries. Mr. Johnson was a member of the executive committee and a speaker at the 1872 exposition, and his company exhibited "a great case of carpenters' and other tools." The firm was advertising its brick trowels in 1910 and 1917. In 1938 it was sold to C.S. Osborne & Co. of Newark. C.S. Osborne continues to sell many of the items that Johnson made, including brick trowels, an edger, jointers, and finishing towels, including some with the Johnson name.

Full text of The Report and Catalogue
Short article in American Scissors and Shears (Google Books)
C.S. Osborne & Co. website

William Johnson pointing trowel
William Johnson pointing trowel etch

William Johnson brick jointer

Friday, November 1, 2013

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Concrete Edgers and Groovers

Concrete edgers and groovers have been made by more companies in the USA than have made brick trowels. This is probably a result of the manufacturing differences between them. Casting iron and bronze is less demanding than forging and tempering high carbon steel. Old edgers and groovers are more likely to survive than old trowels, and they are also much easier to identify because the maker’s name and city are almost always cast into the top.
A concrete edger is also called a sidewalk edger and hand edger. The concrete groover is also called a hand groover and concrete jointer. They have been made from cast iron, brass, bronze, zinc, stainless steel, and steel, with wood or plastic handles. Specialized edgers have been made for building industrial and farm structures, such as dairies.   

All major US trowel manufacturers make edgers and groovers. Here is a list of other US makers and brands over the past 100 years, with their locations where known:

W.H. Anderson Tool & Supply Co., Detroit, MI More information
Arrowsmith Concrete Tool Co.,  Arrowsmith, IL More information
Barco, see M Tools
C.H. Baum, New Britian, CT More information
Billings Union Trowel Works, Irvington and Newark, NJ More information
Blue Banner Tools, Cleveland, OH
Bluegrass, by Belknap Hardware, Louisville, KY More information (pdf)
Bonney Vise & Tool Works (Bonney Forge), Allentown, PA More information
Bridge Tool Co., St. Louis, MO (Shapleigh and E.C. Simmons Hardware brand) More information
S. Cheney & Son, Manilus, NY
Cleveland Formgrader Co., Cleveland, OH More information
Clipper Tool Co., Buffalo, NY More information
The Contractors' Tool Co. (Konkurt brand), 700 Arch St., Philadelphia, PA
Crescent Tool Manufacturing Co., St. Louis, MO More information
G.W. Diener Manufacturing Co., Chicago IL
Dresden Manufacturing Co., Long Beach, CA More information
Dunlap, by Sears & Roebuck, Chicago, IL More information
W.S. Godwin, Baltimore, MD & Philadelphia, PA More information
Harrington Tools, Los Angeles, CA, now in Las Vegas, NV Company website
Hibbard, Spencer, Bartlett & Co., Chicago, IL More information
Ideal Tool Co., Indianapolis, IN More information
Iowa Novelty Co., Burlington, IA More information
Keystone Tool Works, Wilkes Barre, PA More information
Koehler Brothers Machine Co., Monaca, PA More information
Kramer Brothers Foundry (Gem brand), Dayton OH More information
Littlestown Hardware and Foundry Co., Littlestown, PA Company website Catalog
Louden Machinery Co., Fairfield, IA Wikipedia article
M Tools, by Barco Industries, Inc., Reading, PA Company website
Mayes Brothers Tool Manufacturing Co., Port Austin, MI
Miles Craft Tools, Milescraft Manufacturing Co., 10409 Meech Ave., Cleveland, OH, and Rockford, IL More information  
Nicholls Manufacturing Co., Ottumwa, IA More information
Ohio Tool Co., Auburn, NY, Columbus, OH, and South Charleston, WV More information
Orr & Lockett Hardware Co., Chicago, IL More information
C.S. Osborne Co., Harrison, NJ More information
Perfection (no information on this company)
Reading Saddle & Manufacturing Co, Reading, PA More information
Red Devil Tools, Irvington, NJ More information
Rock Island Manufacturing Co., Rock Island, IL More information
Samac (may be from UK)
Sands, by J. Sands & Sons, Detroit, MI, later Sands Level & Tool Co. More information
Slydo Cement Tools, North Royalton, OH More information
Smith & Holtum Manufacturing Co. (S&H), Clinton, WI, Freeport, IL More information
Staatsburg Tool Corp., Staatsburg, NY & Sharon, CT More information
E.C. Stearns & Co., Syracuse, NY More information
Stortz & Son, Philadelphia, PA More information
Sturgis, by Baker, Hamilton & Pacific Hardware, San Francisco, CA More information
Union Tool Co., Union, NY More information
Wrightsville Hardware Co., Wrightsville, PA More information

An uncommon narrow cast iron groover by Smith & Holtum

Monday, October 28, 2013

Collecting Mason's Line Pins

Promotional line pins are a specialized branch of masonry tool collecting. Because of the advertising stamped on them, dating them is easier than with other tools. They promoted cement, mortar, and brick manufacturers and suppliers and occasionally other businesses.

eBay search for line pins in the collectible tools category

Frederick Tool Corp. promotional masonry tools (USA)

Lehigh Portland Cement co. line pins

Selecting a New Trowel

YouTube video from Budding Co. on how to choose a good trowel, featuring the CO.ME trowels from Italy. The video is in English.


Sunday, October 27, 2013

Why Collect Trowels?

The trowel is one of mankind's oldest tools. Its invention by people around the globe is a marker for a civilized society that worked metal and built with masonry. The first trowels were probably of wood, then bronze, iron, and finally steel. While other construction hand tools like the hammer and saw have been partly replaced by power tools, the trowel has not. The simple shape of centuries ago remains the best tool for the job today.

This continuity of design is one of the challenges of collecting trowels. Dating them is near impossible, and there are no written guides available. However, this should not interfere with the satisfaction of collecting a tool with such a long history.

Early Roman trowels

Saturday, October 26, 2013

History of Japanese Trowels

This commercial site describes and shows Japanese trowels used in traditional plastering, including hand forging.

Japanese trowels (in English)

A Nearly Forgotten Tool, the Indent Roller

The indent roller is used to add a waffle texture to troweled concrete, usually curbing or entire sidewalks. The purpose is to create a more slip resistant surface. It's also called an indentation roller, dot roller, imprint roller, curbing roller, spiked roller, and pavement roller. The cylinder may be cast aluminum, brass, or bronze, or iron.
Concrete indent roller for sale in the UK
Alex, Gilchrist  pavement roller advertisement 1905

Vintage Stortz & Son indent roller. Stortz was the last US manufacturer of indent rollers.   
Larger indent roller, unknown maker
Sidewalk dating to 1940-1955, textured with indent roller  

History of W. Rose Tool Co.

Early W. Rose brick trowel, very worn
W. Rose, one of the oldest manufacturers in the United States, is located in Sharon Hill, PA, adjacent to Philadelphia. Here is the 1889 factory from the firm's 1929 catalog and a screen shot of  Google Street View in 2012.

1889 and 1912

Historic Trowel Advertisements

This free e-book dated January 1917 is available via Google Books.

The Bricklayer, Mason and Plasterer, Volume 20

Friday, October 25, 2013

Guide To Brick Trowel Patterns

From W. Rose 1929 catalog; having the patterns side by side helps show the differences between them.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Presentation, Ceremonial, or Cornerstone Trowels

Presentation, ceremonial, or cornerstone trowels are used for cornerstone laying ceremonies and other special occasions. They may or may not be custom engraved with the location and date used.

Antique W. Rose ceremonial trowel with mahogany handle

Parts of a Trowel

Trowel patented by Henry Disston & Sons

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A Few Notable Trowel Patents

Charles Disston plasterer's trowel (1890)

Disston brick trowel with spiral tang (1925)

How To Clean a Used Trowel

First, if your trowel is very old or unique, please do not do more than clean the dust off. For all other trowels, read on.

The average used trowel bought for $3 at a flea market will be encrusted with mortar, concrete, tar, or all three. It will need heavy duty cleaning to bring it to usable condition. See the list of supplies below.

Start by protecting the handle with a coat of paste wax, which is easily removed later. Place the trowel on a board or other sturdy outdoor work surface. Flood the blade with water and attack the mortar with the scraper. Work with the grain of the blade, which was ground diagonally parallel with the 2 sides of the tang. This will help minimize scratches in the steel. Continue washing the blade with water as you go.

After removing as much as possible with the scraper, switch to the stone and use it like a sanding block. The grit in the stone is harder than the mortar, and does a good job of abrading it. Take care to concentrate on the mortar, avoid too much wear on the steel. and use lots of water. Use the scraper again where needed, like on the tang.

Turn the trowel over and repeat the cleaning on the bottom. Here the grain runs straight from toe (tip) to heel.

Last, use the 400 grit paper for spot sanding and a final all-over cleaning. Dry the trowel very well. If the handle needs sanding or scraping, wait until the wood is completely dry. Last, protect your work with an all-over coat of paste wax.              

You will need:
Outdoor work space
Paste wax (the yellow stuff in a can)
Carborundum or equivalent rectangular sharpening stone
Steel scraper with a beveled edge (mine is a 1.25 inch Hyde with black nylon handle)
Automotive grade 400 grit sandpaper
Water resistant sanding block
Bucket of water
Shop towels
Cleaning this $3 purchase revealed a pre-1955 Disston trowel 

History of Nicholls Manufacturing Co., Ottumwa, Iowa

In 1913 I bought 8 unused plaster and cement trowels and floats made by Nicholls Manufacturing Co. of Ottumwa, Iowa, USA. I have been unable to learn when Nicholls went out of business, but it was still advertising in "Popular Mechanics" in 1956. In the 1930 US Census, the occupation of Fred Hardsocg (1882-1967) was manager, square factory. In 1940 his occupation was manager, mining equipment.     

"The following is from the book 'Ottumwa: Yesterday and Today' published in 1923.

"The Nicholls Manufacturing Company, 401 to 405 West Main Street [elevated street and vacant lots], with an annual production of 55,000 framing and carpenters' squares, is one of five factories in the United States which makes squares and the only one west of New England according to Fred Hardsocg, owner and manager.

"In 1901 four men formed a partnership for manufacture of a framing square on which Moses Nicholls, a carpenter, had secured a patent. The four men were Mr. Nicholls, Martin Hardsocg, T.F. Norfolk, and A. Wheeler. Martin Hardsocg purchased first the share of Mr. Wheeler and later that of Mr. Nicholls, and Fred Hardsocg, his son, purchased the interests of Mr. Norfolk. Later he bought the remainder of the holdings from his father and has been managing the business for about ten years.

"The plant is operating at capacity and is unable to meet the demand. In addition to squares the Nicholls Manufacturing Company produces floor scrapers, wood pullers, and grass hooks. When the company was established it was a real pioneer in the West and in order to obtain the expert workmanship desired Joseph Miller, an Eastern mechanic, was employed to come here. He made the first square and is still with the firm."
Source of quote

Martin Hardsocg (1852-1942)

Nicholls ad from 1917