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, February 25, 2014

WHS (William Hunt and Sons) Trowels

WHS is the United Kingdom's best known trowel brand. The firm started in 1793 as William Hunt & Sons of Brades Steel Works, of Oldbury, near Birmingham. In 1962 Spear & Jackson acquired the parent firm, and in 1985 Neill Tools bought Spear & Jackson. Today, Neill Tools is the largest UK-owned hand tool manufacturer, and sells trowels forged in Sheffield as WHS Tyzack. Their other trowel brands are Tyzack and Spear & Jackson.

Catalogue: William Hunt & Sons, The Brades Steel Works Ltd.
Spear and Jackson - About Us
Wikipedia William Hunt and Sons
Blog about WHS Archaeological Trowels

WHS 7 inch brick trowel
WHS trowel stamp

Monday, February 24, 2014

Moulson Brothers Trowels

This well made 9-3/4" brick trowel is from the UK eBay, and the seller said the handle is elm.  The maker is probably Moulson Brothers, who used the initials M.B. and London on their tools, although they were in Sheffield. Please contact me or post to comments if you have other information.

Tuck Pointers, Finger Trowels, or Window Trowels

Tuck pointers or tuck pointing trowels (USA) or finger or window trowels (UK) are the smallest and least versatile masonry trowels. However, they are essential for their task, to fill a joint with mortar when doing repair work. Since tuck pointers must go inside joints of any width, the trowels are made in widths of 1/8" increments from 1/4" to 1", plus a narrow 3/16". The best tuck pointers are forged from one piece of steel and taper ground.

YouTube - Tuck Pointing

Marshalltown 3/8" tuck pointer
Spear & Jackson 1/4" finger trowel

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Lawson and Heaton Trowels

Lawson and Heaton were tool makers in Birmingham, UK. Their trowels were marked with a distinctive triangular stamp. The Grace's Guide link gives information about them from 1937.
Graces Guide, Lawson and Heaton

Lawson & Heaton trowel stamp

Lawson & Heaton 9" brick trowel, 4-1/2" pointing trowel

Lawson & Heaton pointing trowel 

Lawson & Heaton brick trowel

Lawson & Heaton brick hammer

Friday, February 21, 2014

Margin Trowels

Margin trowels are used primarily by plasterers and tile setters. A margin trowel should also be in any all-round masonry tool kit.   

Margin trowels, Goldblatt 1960 catalog

Margin trowels

Thursday, February 20, 2014

W. Rose History in 1918 Magazine Article

West Philadelphia Station (Wikipedia)
This untitled article was in the trade magazine Hardware World in January 1918. The photo is of the railroad station mentioned in the article. W. Rose trowels were most likely used to build this magnificent building.

If your interest in hardware entices you to the East you can scarcely avoid passing West Philadelphia station on the Pennsylvania Railroad, a most ingenious junction where threads of traffic from all directions interlace at three levels. It was designed a century after William Rose forged the first American trowel on a spot just across Market street from the depot.

Lancaster, Pa., was then “the west” and stagecoaches thence met those from Baltimore in front of W. Rose’s door turning from the old turnpike into Market, then called High street, on the last stretch of their journey. Philadelphia was the capitol of the United States. George Washington had just left it to pass into that retirement for which he eagerly had longed. Then also war was paralyzing Europe. American ships were destroyed and this encouraged Rose in his competition with more powerful manufacturers of the old world. Thanks to the shifting character of building trades the stage coach which rattled over the cobbles before William Rose’s door needed to carry no publicity agent other than roaming customers who spread his reputation throughout English-speaking America.
A philosopher has claimed that loyal sons are more to be desired than great riches. The heart of W. Rose must have warmed when his boys began to take hold of his growing industry. Rudolph tempered the tools. Wesley was a grinder. Joe assembled plastering trowels. William Rose Junior saw that shipments were made and the wants of customers supplied. Older workmen in the plant still recall how “Billy” would grab his hat and duck around a corner when he saw approaching a customer with additional orders for his already congested workshop. They still tell how the brothers would enter neighboring taverns and seek to persuade their workmen to return and complete urgent orders.
Need of more room drove the brothers to move first to the northeast corner of Thirty-sixth and Filbert streets, and then in 1889 to Sharon, Pa., the present location. There the buildings have been enlarged twice in the last decade and the grunting engine complains loudly that a further expansion is becoming imperative.
In order to conserve mechanical skill unusual efforts are made by Wm. Rose & Bros. to decrease the frequency with employes change their occupations, known in technical language as “the labor turnover.” Even during such periods of depression as that which began in 1907 not a man is laid off except for inefficiency.
Some attention is also given by Wm. Rose & Bros. to housing mechanics and it is found that a man who has a chance to own his own home does not become a floater.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

About Wood and Plastic Trowel Handles

Disston gumwood handle, from 1923 catalog
Trowel handles can be made from wood or plastic. Wood handles are turned on a lathe from hardwoods like beech, maple, hickory, ash, and gumwood. Woods are chosen for their resistance to checking, splintering, and splitting. Top quality and ceremonial trowels may have wood handles wrapped with leather or mahogany or other tropical wood. Possible factory finishes for trowel handles include shellac, lacquer, and urethane, depending on the trowel's age.

W. Rose Tenite handle
One way to identify older trowels is by the amount of work needed to turn the handle. Earlier trowels may have a distinctive shape and one or more decorative rings. Later trowels have smooth handles with a simple profile. Some mid-20th century American trowels had the maker's name stamped in the handle (Rose) or ferrule (Disston).

Plastic trowel handles have been made for at least 50 years. Tenite is an Eastman trademark* for cellulose acetate butyrate, which dates to 1938. Goldblatt, Marshalltown, and W. Rose have all used cellulose acetate butyrate for brick trowel handles. Alcohol and petroleum solvents will degrade cellulose acetate butyrate.

Other composite handles use plastic and synthetic rubber, including a red acrylic Marshalltown handle.

Major US trowel manufacturers sell replacement wood and plastic handles.
W. Rose Handle Styles

W. Rose foundry molding trowel handle
Marshalltown 19P10, red acrylic handle 

*Quote from Eastman: “Tenite cellulosic plastics are noted for their good balance of properties - toughness, hardness, strength, surface gloss, clarity, and a warm feel. Tenite cellulosic plastics are available in natural, clear, selected ambers or smoke transparents and black translucent.”

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Pointing Trowels

Pointing or tuck pointing is repairing joints in brick and stone. A pointing trowel is a smaller Philadelphia pattern brick trowel, or less commonly, a London or other pattern. Traditional lengths range from 3 to 7 inches in 1/2 inch increments, and 5, 5-1/2, and 6 inches are the most common. A pointing trowel is essential for any mason's tool kit, homeowners buy them for small repairs, and archaeologists use them. Because many see little use, secondhand pointing trowels are the easiest trowels to find and their condition tends to be better.

Disston Standard (bottom), unmarked Philadelphia pattern, Marshalltown London pattern 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Mason Bag

American masons carry their tools in a mason bag, sized by the overall length, like 20 inches. The best mason bags are canvas with leather handles, straps, and bottom, and cheaper ones are all canvas. Originally the fabric was linen and now it's heavy cotton. Compared with a box, a bag easily holds trowels and tools of assorted sizes and shapes and allows moisture to evaporate, which a wood or metal toolbox would not do.

Companies making or selling traditional mason bags in the US include Custom LeatherCraft (CLC), Genau Gear, Heritage Leather, Klein Tools, Kraft Tool, and McGuire Nicholas. Here are 2 links:
Heritage Leather Co. Tool Bags
Klein Tools - Canvas Tool Bags

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Trowel Styles in Continental Europe

Continental European brick and plasterer's trowels are still made in many regional and national variations, from Aachen style to Zurich style. You can see these many patterns in the catalog of a company in business since 1862:

P. Hermann Jung KG catalog (English)
P. Hermann Jung KG catalog (German)

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Differences Between London and Philadelphia Pattern Brick Trowels

In the United States, the many brick trowel styles of the past have been reduced to the Philadelphia pattern and the London pattern. The Philadelphia has one width, its heel is set farther back, and the heel comes to sharp angles. The London has an elongated shape and is manufactured in narrow and wide widths. Originally the London heel had sharp angles but today it a rounded heel. Notice the variations in the definitions below and with the much older picture at the bottom.
11 inch W. Rose wide London (top), 11 inch W. Rose Philadelphia (bottom)
"Two shapes of brick trowels have become almost standard within the industry. One, the Philadelphia Pattern, has a square heel, while the other, the London Pattern, has a rounded heel which shapes the blade so that the mortar is carried a little further forward on the blade. The Philadelphia pattern is better suited to lay block as it allows more mortar to be placed on the blade, while the London pattern is designed for laying brick. The Wide London pattern is simply wider at the heel than the London which allows for even more mortar to be scooped on the blade."

Source: Hamilton Builders website

"The blade of a London-pattern trowel has one curved edge for cutting bricks, a skill that takes practice to perfect; the blade's other edge is straight, for picking up mortar. You can buy left-handed versions of this trowel or opt for a similar trowel with two straight edges.

A Canadian-pattern trowel (sometimes called a Philadelphia brick trowel) is also symmetrical, having a wide blade with two curved edges."

Although this source is recent the definition is much older: Popular Mechanics Complete Home How-To, by Albert Jackson, David Day (2009)

Approx. 100 years old

Marshalltown Trowel 1939 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Marshalltown Trowels Overview

Marshalltown trowels are my personal favorites because my great grandparents lived in Marshalltown, Iowa. Marshalltown is the best known trowel brand in the world. Quoting from Marshalltown's website:

Focusing on quality and innovation for over 120 years, Marshalltown Company has grown to become one of the world’s largest manufacturers of construction tools. MARSHALLTOWN’s tools have been the standard of quality since 1890 and are used by professionals and homeowners throughout the world for use with brick, concrete, drywall, plaster, tile, paint and wallpapering. These tools can be seen with the MARSHALLTOWN and QLT by Marshalltown labels.

Through the years MARSHALLTOWN’s product line and facilities have expanded greatly. In 2003 the company officially became Marshalltown Company. This name change reflected the expanded product offering of roughly 3000 different SKUs. MARSHALLTOWN is no longer only a “trowel” supplier. To people in the industry and to their customers, they are known for the best tools and they are known by one name - MARSHALLTOWN.

     Today, MARSHALLTOWN operates two manufacturing facilities, one in Marshalltown, Iowa and another in Fayetteville, Arkansas. MARSHALLTOWN distributes its products from its highly automated Armstrong Avenue facility, also located in Arkansas.

Marshalltown Company History
History of Marshalltown - YouTube

Screen shot of Marshalltown buildings 
Marshalltown offices on Google Streetview

1921 Marshalltown ad
These Marshalltown trowels with tags and boxes date from before bar codes.

Marshalltown 19-12 Philadelphia pattern brick trowel
Marshalltown drywall and plastering towel
Marshalltown 45-7 7 inch pointing trowel

Frye Phipps & Co. Boston Trowel

This Boston pattern brick trowel is identical to early 20th century Disston trowels in that it is through tang, double ferrule. The etch is faint, but reads:
F. P. & Co.

I came up with nothing on this company until I found an eBay listing for a Frye Phipps & Co. hand saw. Frye Phipps & Co., founded 1816, were a large Boston hardware jobber (wholesaler), and like many of those firms, sold tools made by others and labeled Frye Phipps & Co. So it is highly likely that Disston made this trowel for Frye Phipps.

F.P. & Co. Boston Mass. brick trowel
    1912 article, Landmarks of Hardware History (USA)

Unusual Disston Brick Trowel Patterns

These arrived last week via eBay. After cleaning them, I found they were all on page 203 of Disston's 1918 catalog, although these are probably earlier than 1918. From top to bottom:

Disston Boston pattern, 7 inch, good etch
Disston Lowell pattern, 7-1/2 inch, faint etch
Standard Brand by Disston Cucumber pattern, 7-1/2 inch, faint stamp "STANDARD"  

Disston Boston, Lowell, Cucumber pattern brick trowels
The same trowels before cleaning

Monday, February 10, 2014

Geo. Naylor & Co., Sheffield, Trowel Maker

Geo. Naylor & Co., or George Naylor, of Reliance Works, was a Sheffield, UK, tool maker. The Naylor brick trowel's blade measures 10-1/2" x 4 3/4".

Edge Tool Manufacturers of Sheffield 1787 to 1911 (pdf)

The British Trade Journal and Export World, Volume 18

Geo. Naylor & Co. brick trowel

Geo. Naylor & Co. brick trowel

Geo. Naylor & Co. stamp

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Boston Pattern Brick Trowel

This rare 7 inch Disston Boston pattern brick trowel probably dates to the early 1900s. The 1918 Disston catalog shows this pattern on page 203, with the additional inscription "REG. US PAT. OFF." The lack of these words and the style of lettering dates this trowel to before 1918.

This trowel is also what's called "through tang, double ferrule" meaning the tang extends completely through the beech handle. The end of the tang goes through a hole in the ferrule and is peened over. Disston replaced the through tang, double ferrule design with the spiral tang, US Patent 1,524,633, January 27, 1925. 

Disston trowel etch

Disston Boston pattern brick trowel
Disston through tang, double ferrule trowel

William Marples & Sons Trowels

William Marples and later William Marples and Sons were a prominent Sheffield, England tool maker who produced trowels and many other tools. They are best known in the US for their wood chisels.
New item as of 21 June 2016: Marples Tools for Masons, Bricklayers & Slaters
WK Fine Tools - W. Marples & Sons history
WK Fine Tools 1938 W. Marples Catalogue, trowels start on page 144 of the scan
Marples 1965 Catalogue, bricklayer's, mason's, plasterer's tools 

W. Marples & Sons foundry moulding trowel
W. Marples & Sons leaf & square

W. Marples & Sons pointing trowel
W. Marples & Sons 6.5" brick trowel

W. Marples & Sons trowel stamp