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, May 26, 2014

Plastering Trowels

Traditional plastering trowels from the US and the UK have a common design heritage. Their parts are a rectangle of carbon steel, a stiffening rib, and a wood handle attached to the rib. These simple elements contain a considerable amount of engineering and manufacturing history. The late 19th and early 20th centuries saw many patents issued for plastering trowel handles and for attaching the handle to the blade. Here are 2 examples by Charles Disston of Henry Disston and Sons:
Patent: Improvement in plasterers trowels
Patent: Plasterer's trowel

Printer's block, reversed, Disston plaster trowel  
Disston plasterer's trowel patent drawing
Plasterer's trowel from the UK
Plastering, Plain and Decorative: A Practical Treatise (Google Books)

Sunday, May 18, 2014

History of Billings Union Trowel Works

Union Trowel Works, or Billings Union Trowel Works, began in Newark, NJ and relocated to Irvington, a town on the Newark border. Owner James E. Billings began his career as a blacksmith. Union Trowel made brick trowels, edgers and groovers, other mason's tools, and caulking irons.

James E. Billings was born in Stockbridge, Massachusetts in June, 1843. He married Maria Josephine Cutting on 6 Feb. 1871 in Pittsfield, MA. Mrs. Billings had a daughter by a previous marriage and the Billings had 2 daughters. By 1880 the family was living in Newark, NJ, and James was working as a blacksmith. He started the trowel works in 1890, and the most recent advertisement found was October 1911. The 1910 and 1920 US Census listed only Mrs. Billings in Newark. We have been unable to learn when Mr. Billings died and where he is buried.

Union Trowel was a frequent advertiser in trade publications in the first decade of the 20th century. Billings was an early adopter of the 8-hour work day for his employees, and a supporter of the Bricklayers and Masons International Union. The business may have been taken over by William Johnson, whose business was located nearby.

Billings trowels appear in John Stortz & Son's 1938 catalog, but it does not say where they were made. The line included the wide heel, London, and special narrow London pattern brick trowels, pointing trowel, margin trowel, and tuck pointers.  

Billings Union Trowel Works brick trowel
"This enterprise was founded in 1890, in premises situated on Greene Street [Newark, NJ], and in 1892 its rapid and steady development necessitated a removal to more commodious and spacious quarters. These were found at the present location in the Hedenberg yards, near Plane Street. The building occupied is 40 x 50 feet in dimensions, fully equipped with improved machinery and appliances driven by steam-power, and a full force of skilled machinists and tool-makers are employed. The restricted space at our disposal does not allow of a detailed reference to the numerous articles, tools, etc., which are turned out from these works, such as back chisels, moulders’ tools, etc. Mention must be made, however, of the famous "Union Trowels," the only ones endorsed by the bricklayers' convention held at Indianapolis, Ind., in January 1892. The Union Trowel Works, the only eight-hour trowel-works in the world, turn out no roll-work; there is no patent process of hardening and tempering, grinding or polishing, but all work is hammered. While prices are always the very lowest consistent with value and merit, all goods are warranted by Mr. James E. Billings, the proprietor, to be exactly as represented. Special patterns are also made to order. He is a gentleman of push, energy, and good judgment, and of honorable and liberal methods. Mr. Billings is a member of the United Friends as well as of the I. O. O. F., and in the latter order has filled the highest and most honorable offices."

Newark, New Jersey’s Greatest Manufacturing Centre, Illustrated, 1894

Billings pointing trowel

Billings cement groover

Union Trowel Works advertisement

Billings trowels in 1938

Billings trowels in 1938

History of E.C. Stearns & Company

Some of the history of E.C. Stearns & Company of Syracuse, New York is unknown. It was one of the major US hardware foundries of the Victorian era and has pages on Wikipedia and Vintage Machinery. Its products are clearly marked and are common on eBay and comparable outlets. However, the published histories don't say when the company stopped making tools and hardware, or how or when the company met its end.

The firm was organized in 1864 and was led by 3 family generations, George Noble Stearns (1812 -1882), his children Avis Stearns Van Wagenen (1841-1907) and Edward Carl Stearns (1856-1929), grandson John Edward Stearns (1895-1979), plus Van Wagenen’s son-in-law Herbert E. Maslin. Avis Stearns Van Wagenen is noteworthy as the only woman with a leadership position in a major American hardware company, and she has a Wikipedia page.

Avis Stearns Van Wagenen, Edward Carl Stearns, Herbert E. Maslin
E.C. Stearns' hardware products included cement tools, screw clamps, door frame clamps, vises, saw vises, jack screws, hollow augers, saw sets, band saw setters, spoke shaves, bench drills, mallets, chisel handles, chest handles, patent parlor sliding door hangers, patented locks, window and door screens and screen frames, hinges, adjustable stove-pipe thimbles, hammock hooks, barn door locks and hangers, cast-iron stable hay racks and feed boxes, iron sinks, faucets, and lawn sprinklers. E.C. Stearns' primary material was cast iron.
E.C. Stearns Catalog No. 34, cement tools pages

In the late 1880s Stearns began to make mechanical products, beginning with bicycles (including a shaft-drive bicycle) and lawn mowers, followed by automobiles, typewriters, and adding machines. As the decades passed, Stearns shifted production away from hardware and tools.

Stearns factory, 224 Oneida St., Syracuse

In 1935 the factory relocated from the 1882 buildings at 224 Oneida St. to Eastwood, now part of Syracuse. By 1956 E.C. Stearns was in bankruptcy, and the owners were brothers Edward M. Grandinetti (1912-1990) and Louis Anthony Grandinetti (1914-1998).

"Hearings on a reorganization filed under the Bankruptcy Act by the E. C. Stearns & Co. Inc., have been adjourned until April 10 to obtain further progress reports on the business. The petition was filed Feb. 1 by the brother-owners of the company, Edward Grandinetti of 106 Wilson Pl. [Syracuse], and Louis Grandinetti of 64 Ely Dr., Fayetteville. The company manufactures lawn mowers and power mowers. The petition asks for an extension of the company's credit time. It is not a liquidation petition and business is going on as usual, according to Laurence Sovik who is representing the Grandinettis."
The Post-Standard, Syracuse. NY, Thursday, March 1, 1956

E.C. Stearns & Co. No. 128 Edger, nickel plated

Friday, May 16, 2014

History of Smith and Holtum Manufacturing Co., S&H Mfg. Co., Holtum Manufacturing Co.

Smith & Holtum advertisement 1908
S&H brand cement tools originated with Danish immigrant Andrew (Andreas) H. Holtum (1859-1918). Holtum learned the foundry trade and started making brass fire engine bells at his home. With Corwin C. Smith, he incorporated as Smith and Holtum Manufacturing Co. in 1902 in Clinton, Wisconsin. In 1914 or 1915, Andrew Holtum purchased the interest of Mr. Smith and dropped Smith’s name, but continued to sell cement tools with the S&H brand. In 1917 Holtum moved from Clinton to Freeport, Illinois, briefly operated as Ulfers-Holtum Manufacturing Co., then changed the name back to Holtum Manufacturing Co. At Holtum's death in 1918, his sons Harold, Christian, Alfred and John took over the business. After facing raw material shortages during World War II, the business closed in 1945.

The foundry made a wide variety of castings from iron, brass, bronze, and aluminum. Some sold under its own brand names and others were parts for other manufacturers. S&H made private label tools for Belknap Hardware Co., Louisville, Ky, E.C. Simmons Hardware (Keen Kutter), St. Louis, Mo., and Sears Roebuck & Co. Their products included:

Brass bells for fire engines
Concrete finishing tools (over 100 items according to Harold Holtum)
House numbers
Sanitary fittings for dairies
Brass tent slips (guy rope tensioners) and aluminum tent pins for the U.S. military
Bronze and brass castings for hearses and automobiles
Aluminum adding machine cases
Bronze grave markers
Majestic brand cast aluminum fry pans, sauce pans, coffee and tea pots, kettles, and other utensils
Oil burners

Smith & Holtum cement tools in 1917 Chicago hardware catalog

2009 newspaper article Holtum Manufacturing Co. Made Its Mark

S&H No. 2 Edger, Clinton, Wis.
Holtum advertisement 1919 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

History of B.O. Paine Company

Benjamin O. Paine operated B.O. Paine Co. in Millbury, Massachusetts. Paine (1852-1936) began as a blacksmith, and manufactured brick jointers, slate rippers, caulking irons, and edge tools in general. Millbury was also home to Buck Brothers Edge Tool Works, best known for wood chisels.

"Originally a saw-mill occupied the third privilege on this stream....The building was later destroyed by fire, and the dam was washed away. November 10, 1905, Benjamin O. Paine, who was formerly located at Bramanville bought the privilege, rebuilt the dam, moved a large storehouse on the site of the old mill, and equipped the place for the manufacture of edge tools. He also installed a steam plant to supplement the water power, which failed occasionally in dry seasons. In 1912, electricity took the place of steam."
Centennial History of the Town of Millbury, Massachusetts, 1915

B.O. Paine plugging chisel
B.O. Paine jointers (bottom, third from bottom)
B.O. Paine Co. stamp

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

History of Iowa Novelty Company

Iowa Novelty Co. of Burlington, Iowa, made average quality cement edgers, groovers, and related tools in nickel-plated cast iron, bronze, and steel. Their other products included the Perfect Fruit Jar Wrench, Genuine Swedish Sleigh Bells, and the Brutus Stove Pipe Holder. Iowa Novelty products were advertised in the 1906-1910 period. A brief article in 1910 said that Kewanee Foundry and Manufacturing Co. of Illinois had bought Iowa Novelty Co., but no others details are available. Another Iowa Novelty Co. was in Cedar Rapids, selling slot machines and vending machines.

Iowa Novelty products in 1907
Iowa Novelty 1910 advertisement

Iowa Novelty bronze groover No. 26

Monday, May 12, 2014

Brick Jointers

Jointers come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and almost all are carbon steel. Some of the names are broad, like bricklayer's jointer, and require additional description or a picture to be specific. The first group of names are from Marshalltown's Catalog No. 45, the second group from W. Rose 1929, and the third from various sources:

Bricklayers jointer, for rodded joints, tapering at both ends
Bricklayers jointer,  for rodded joints, one one full size and one end tapering
Bricklayers jointer, for "V" and rodded joints
Bricklayers jointer, for rodded and "V" joints, one end half round, one end half diamond-shaped
Bricklayers jointer, for rodded joints, both ends half round
Beading tool, both ends concave (refers to the tool's profile)
Beading tool, one end concave and one end convex
Beading tool, for stripped joints, both ends flat

Brick jointer, bullhorn
Brick jointer, flat
Brick jointer, convex or crowned
Brick jointer, concave or hollow ground

Brick tuck jointer
Grapevine jointer
Wood handle grapevine jointer
Slicker and raker
Adjustable slicker and raker

The most collectible jointers are probably those that are obsolete, for more decorative joints, have wood handles, or are made of bronze or brass. In contrast, the majority of modern jointers are half round, forged from approximately 1/8" sheet stock, and require little or no grinding.
Google Image Result MCAA Masonry Glossary
Wikipedia - Mortar joint
Wikipédia - Joint (maçonnerie)

Tyzack & Son concave jointer

Tyzack & Son concave jointer

Monday, May 5, 2014

History of F.H. Crafts, Rochester, New York

F.H. Crafts products 1904
Frederick (or Frederic) Henry Crafts was a Rochester, New York, manufacturer of high quality tools for cement, paving, and asphalt, and contractor's tools and machinery. His cement tools were made of cast iron, brass, and bronze. F.H. Crafts was in business from 1896 through at least 1906, and in 1899 the business address was at his home, 97 Glenwood Park, Rochester.

Mr. Crafts was born in 1848, a graduate of the Thayer School of Civil Engineering at Dartmouth College, and Assistant Engineer, New York State Engineer Corps. He had at least 3 cement tool patents, including the distinctive coil spring handle shown below. Mr. Crafts also wrote articles for construction trade magazines, and his name is in The Engineering Index, Water and Sewage Works, Municipal Engineering, and Directory of American Cement Industries, 1909.
Google Patents US D24892
The Crafts Family A Genealogical and Biographical History
Google Patents US D24893
Google Patents US D26830
How to Lay Portland Cement Steps, Curbs and Similar Structures" by F.H. Crafts

F.H. Crafts indent roller

Annual for 1911 of the Thayer School of Civil Engineering

F.H. Crafts No. 30 Jointer
F.H. Crafts No. 30 Jointer patent date
F.H. Crafts invoice 1899

 F.H. Crafts No. 50 Edger
 F.H. Crafts No. 50 Edger

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Hods, Hawks, and Brick Carriers

Steel & wood hods, USA 1938
Hods, hawks, and brick carriers are for carrying or holding material.

A hod is a 3-sided tray with a pole handle for carrying mortar or brick at shoulder height.

A hawk is a square of wood or sheet metal with a handle on the underside used to hold plaster, drywall compound, or mortar.

While lightweight, rustproof aluminum makes an ideal hawk, it was slow to replace wood and steel. In the early 20th century, aluminum was an expensive metal due to its high refining costs. Today, aluminum smelting uses an average of  15.7 kWh of electricity to produce one kilogram of aluminum, versus about 21 kWh in the 1950s.

Old steel plasterer's hawk, brass ferrule

Wood hawk, USA 1938

Foulkes aluminum hod, UK 1951
Brick carriers, or brick tongs in the UK, or pince à brique et pavé in Quebec,hold a stack of bricks horizontally by leverage and friction with the weight of the bricks providing the pressure, and they are expandable. One of the best-known older brands is the Fuller Brikarier, originally made in Newhall, Iowa, near Cedar Rapids. Harry E. Fuller (1867-1943) obtained US Patent 1,385,867 on the device. Brick carriers were invented to speed unloading bricks from rail cars and into wagons. Previously, a line of men would pass them from hand to hand. A look at US eBay shows it is easier to buy an antique brick carrier there than it is an antique brick trowel.

1922 Fuller ad.
Fuller Brikarier brick carrier
1916 Cleveland Brick Clamp ad