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.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Swift & Sons Ltd. Trowels

Swift & Sons, or J.H. Swift & Sons, was a Sheffield, England tool maker who produced trowels, hammers, wood chisels, screwdrivers, and other forged steel tools.
Graces Guide, J.H. Swift and Sons

J.H. Swift & Sons stamp 

Swift & Sons pointing trowel

Swift & Sons pointing trowel stamp

Friday, January 24, 2014

Collectible Levels

Levels are another tool collectible on their own or with other mason's tools. The preferred level for masonry is the brass bound mahogany 4 foot level, and other wooden levels have been used by masons for 200 years.
Goodell Pratt mahogany level

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Putty Knives and Related Tools

A variety of knives have a purpose similar to trowels, to spread building materials. The list below includes most of them, taken from Red Devil's 1951 catalog and other sources. Similar knives have been used by druggists, printers, artists, and cooks. The manufacturing process is similar to trowels, beginning with a steel bar which is hot forged into a blade and tang, tempered, ground to final shape, polished, and a wood or synthetic handle attached.    

Bent knife
Burn-off knife
Drywall finishing knife
Drywall knife
Joint knife
Putty chisel
Putty knife
Putty spreader
Spachtling knife (from German spachteln, to spread with a spatula)
Spackling knife
Wall scraper

The best quality older knives will have one or more of these features:

Through-tang  construction (tang extends completely through handle)
Wood handle, usually a tropical wood like Brazilian rosewood or Nicaraguan cocobolo
Solid brass rivets
Bolster, which may be forged with the blade or separate, like white alloy or pewter
High carbon steel blade, taper ground for flexibility if required
Non-sparking brass blade

Clean an old knife as recommended for a trowel:

Scrape paint, tar, glue, etc. off the blade.
Wax the wood handle to protect it.
Remove rust from the blade with 400 grit wet sandpaper and water, sanding with the original grind (probably across the blade).
Avoid using steel wool or coarse sandpaper on the blade because they scratch too much.
For brass blades, don’t use sandpaper coarser than 600 grit.
Sharpen (optional) by hand with a mill file or whetstone, not a grinder.
If the handle is a dense tropical wood, clean with extra fine steel wool and mineral spirits.
Polish brass rivets or a brass blade with metal polish.
Apply paste wax on the entire knife.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Russell Green River Works Putty Knives

Russell Green River Works knife
A $1 flea market purchase of an old wooden-handled putty knife turned out to be by one of America's foremost knife makers of the 19th century.
Russell Green River Works history
Dexter Russell's current offerings
Russell Green River Works etching

J. Russell & Co. knives, in 1932 Masback Hardware catalog  

Friday, January 17, 2014

Hammers For Working Stone

Hammers of all types are collectible in their own right. There are more hammers for working stone than for any other trade. Here is a list of names from the USA and the UK, and there are more hammers and alternate names for hammers than I have here.

Bell hammer
Brass hammer
Bull set
Bush or bushing hammer
Chipping hammer
Double blade masons hammer
Facing hammer
Finishing hammer
Furrowing hammer
Hand hammer
Hand drill hammer
Mash hammer
Masons club hammer
Masons punch hammer
Mill pick
Mosaic hammer
Quarry hammer
Patent hammer
Rifter hammer
Rock hammer
Rock hammer, double edge
Rock hammer, single edge
Round hand hammer
Rubble hammer
Scotia hammer
Scottish dykers hammer
Scutch hammer
Slab splitter
Sledge hammer
Solid tooth bush hammer
Stone mason hammer
Stone setting hammer
Striking hammer
Toothed stone axe
Toothed stone hammer
Trimming hammer

YouTube Stone Hammer Types

Here are 2 current manufacturers of stone hammers:

Trow and Holden (Vermont, USA)
Rebit Stone Tools (Sweden)

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Brick Hammers

Hammers are another category of mason's tools. The many older brands of brick hammers include, in the USA:

Bluegrass (Belknap Hardware)
Brunner & Lay More information
Champion Dearment History
The Collins Co. History
Griffith Tool Works
Heller Brothers History
Pexto (Peck, Stow & Wilcox Co.)
Plumb History
True Temper
Vaughan; Vaughan & Bushnell
W. Rose
Warner & Noble History

UK makers include (may be called walling hammer or masons hammer):


Some brick hammers used a handle wedge that could be pulled out so the handle could be removed. This facilitated sharpening the hammer.

Plumb, Plumb, and Brunner & Lay
Paver's hammer marked "Boston"

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Foundry Molding (or Moulding) Trowels

Foundry molding (or moulding) trowels were used in making foundry molds from sand, for casting iron, brass, aluminum, and other metals. The link below shows a variety of foundry molding trowels that have been on the US eBay site. 
eBay Collection Foundry Molding Trowels

"Trowels are of many different styles and sizes to suit the individual taste of the molder and the particular requirements of the job. The trowel is used for making joints and for finishing, smoothing, and slicking the flat surfaces of the mold." Foundry Manual, US Dept. of the Navy, 1958
Foundry Manual, Historic Naval Ships Assoc.
Foundry Practice: A Text Book for Molders, Students and Apprentices
Making Sand Molds
Foundry molding trowel photo collection (unedited, no text)

1 Vent wire for sticking vent holes
2 Pattern lifter
3 Joint trowel for smoothing and finishing the parting and flat surfaces of the mould
4 Heart trowel for smoothing and finishing the parting and flat surfaces of the mould
5 Gate cutter and pattern lifter
6 Slick and oval spoon for finishing mould surfaces
7 & 8 Sand lifters and slicks
9 Yankee heel lifter and flat slick
10 Flange and bead slick
11 Corner slick
12 Edge slick
13 Bound corner slick
14 Pipe slick
15 Button slick
16 Oval Slick
Sand casting, moulding trowels (Youtube)
Historic photos of a working iron foundry in Richmond, Virginia