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.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Historic Photographs of Bricklayers at Work

West Virginia, United States






Toronto, Canada 1912

United States
Click on pictures to enlarge.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Smith's Marks on Masonry Tools

The stamp or etching on a forged tool that identifies the manufacturer and possibly the model number originated with blacksmith's identification of their work. Here is more information on smith's marks, also called forge marks, from a Belgian site: Museum for Old Techniques

"All kinds of identifying marks: symbols, letters or numbers, can often be found on tools. These marks may refer to the manufacturers..., or to the place where the piece was made.... They emphasize the quality ... or a property...; warn that there is a patent pending or in existence; record the name of the object; even give an indication of how to use it.... In addition there may also be marks of ownership or embellishment."

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Aux Forges de Vulcain Paris, The Forges of Vulcan

Aux Forges de Vulcain was a venerable French tool seller and manufacturer in Paris, with a variety of tools for masonry, carpentry, mechanics, measuring, and other trades.

Aux Forges de Vulcain brass trowel
Aux Forges de Vulcain history (French) Edited translation:

Aux Forges de Vulcain, a shop in the center of Paris, was a tool retailer and distributor from 1807 to 1974. At times they manufactured their own tools and also marked their name on products made by others.

According to a history in Vulcain’s 1951 catalog, the business began in 1807 when a Mr. Bavoil owned a restaurant and grocery frequented by tradesmen, especially stone masons. Mr. Bavoil saw an opportunity to increase his sales, and added tools and small hardware to his stock. When the tools proved more profitable, he quit the grocery trade and adopted the name, Aux Forges de Vulcain.

Initially, the business did not manufacture tools. In 1829 they began marking their name on planes made by others that they sold. Paulin-Desormeaux recommended the establishment of M. Bavoil as the best for matching the right tools for the price. Bavoil would not be confused with its close neighbor Fleet of England, which carried beautiful luxury tools. At this time, Vulcain sold "French and foreign hardware, steel, limes, brass, son of iron, steel and brass, grinding wheels, stones, for arts and manufacturing, lathe turnings...." 

Bavoil’s son Perrot ran the business from 1843 to 1846. Manufacturing likely started in 1847 with the arrival of Denis Youf, who may have been from an old family of woodworkers in the Faubourg Saint-Antoine. Trade Almanac mentions from that date that the Forges of Vulcan were a "workshop for the manufacture of woodworking tools and machines.”

Aux Forges de Vulcain received an honorable mention in the exhibition of 1849 for "two lathe turnings manufactured in its workshops" and a medal at a trade show in 1855. The first  catalog of mounted tools manufactured by the house is 1864. There is a brief mention of all the items sold by the house, metals and other materials, hardware, machines and tools for "gardeners, sculptors, carvers, engravers, smelters, modelers, tanners, gunsmiths, tinsmiths and coppersmiths, precision tools for building workshops." There is also an extensive range of 450 models of planes manufactured for "carpenters, cabinetmakers, piano builders, coach builders, coopers, carpenters and wheelwrights."

The business prospered, but in 1857, the premises occupied by The Forges of Vulcan was expropriated for urban redevelopment to beautify Paris. In 1860 a new store opened on the Place du Châtelet at no. 3 rue Saint-Denis. “The banner depicting Venus leaning on the shoulder of Vulcan was executed on porcelain by one of our most illustrious porcelain painters, MA Jean, and placed on the facade of our business where it is known to all Parisians." 

In 1896 the house was mentioned as a distributor and not as a manufacturer. It had probably stopped making planes while continuing to sell a thousand other articles. Vulcain sold planes for nearly a century and a half, but did not manufacture them during the second half of the nineteenth century. Tools marked "Aux Forges de Vulcain" generally date to the second half of the nineteenth century, but it is possible that the business later marked the tools it resold.

The business’s success inspired other hardware sellers to adopt similar names, prompting the long-standing Parisian business to state, "The house has no branches," prior to its opening branches in Bordeaux (1917), Lyon (1918) and Lille (1920).

In the twentieth century, Vulcain regularly published thick tool catalogs, sold plant equipment and machinery, and up to the Second World War carried most of the models of planes manufactured in France. The house also had a machine shop in suburban Saint-Denis. Distribution of most planes stopped after World War II, and the business closed in 1974.

The names of successive owners was compiled after reading trade almanacs. This list presents some differences with the oldest dates provided by the catalogs of the second half of the twentieth century, also contradicted by other sources and probably less reliable. 

1810-1842: Bavoil (catalogs say 1807-1825)
1843-1846: Perrot, son of the previous (catalogs say 1825-1845) 
1847-1859: Denis Youf 
1860-1871: Jules and Victor Chouanard, brothers 
1872-1890: Jules Chouanard 
1890-1931: Emile Chouanard, his son 
1931-1935: Henry Chouanard-Bres, son of previous, manager since 1911 
1936-1941: Roger Francis 
1943-1974: Marcel Drye, nephew of Henry Bres-Chouanard and Lucien Lebeurre. 
 1810-1860: 1, rue de la Barillerie, a location that is sometimes referred to 18, rue Martroi  
 1860-1974: 3, rue Saint-Denis

Aux Forges De Vulcain Catalog For Sale

Aux Forges de Vulcain stamp
Aux Forges de Vulcain catalog

Monday, June 16, 2014

History of Ohio Tool Co.

Ohio Tool Co. made cement tools, including a groover. Ohio Tool Co. had plants in Columbus, Ohio, Auburn, New York, and South Charleston, West Virginia. Their best-known products were planes, drawn knives, spoke shaves, and wood chisels.

Ohio Tool Co. began in 1823 in Columbus, Ohio, and was incorporated in 1851 by Peter Hayden with George Gere as president. In 1893 they merged with Auburn Tool Co. of Auburn, New York, and as Ohio Tool Co. maintained factories in both locations for 20 years. In 1906 the principals were William G. Miller and James E. Jones. The Columbus facility was damaged in the March 1913 flood. In the same year Ohio Tool Co. built a new factory in what became South Charleston, West Virginia, and moved equipment from Columbus and Auburn. When the South Charleston plant opened in 1914, Mr. Jones was president and it employed 75 men and 3 women. According to The Iron Age Vol. 101, January 17, 1918, Ohio Tool Co. sold its building and Mr. Jones returned to Columbus. According to other sources, the company stopped operations in 1920.

The groover pictured below is on US eBay, and is unusual because the lettering is appears twice. The pattern was probably pressed into the sand twice, the second time upside down.

Ohio Tool Co. Auburn NY No. 742 
Ohio Tool Co. Auburn NY No. 742 

Ohio Tool Co. advertisement 1911

Sunday, June 15, 2014

History of Buffum Tool Co.

Buffum Tool Co., in the town of Louisiana, Missouri, made tools for the bricklayer, cement worker, plasterer, and stone mason, as well as many other forged steel and cast iron products. From Buffum's other products, it seems likely that the masonry tools included brick chisels, stone chisels, brick jointers, and cement tools.

Frank Washburn Buffum (1859-1922) founded Buffum Tool Co. around 1907, after selling a telephone company. With his brother Charles, Buffum was also in the lumber business in 1909-1910 and founded the Nord-Buffum Pearl Button Co. in 1902. After Frank Buffum’s death, Buffum Tool Co. was sold in 1924 and it became Buffum Tools, Inc., William George Marqua, President. Apparently Marqua left the firm in 1926, and according to one source Buffum Tools Inc. continued to operate until about 1940.

Besides being a prolific manufacturer and energetic businessman, Frank Buffum was an inventor and held several US patents in his name. His tools have a reputation for good quality, and Buffum proudly identified them with the company name, city, and state. His distinctive trademark was a swastika with right facing arms, considered a good luck charm at that time. Buffum advertised frequently in trade publications and sold by direct mail.

By 1914, The Iron Age Directory listed Buffum Tool Co. in 29 categories. At a 1917 trade show, Buffum Tool Co. exhibited over 500 tools. Besides the above named tools, their products included tools for the machinist, mechanic, engineer, blacksmith, plumber, tinsmith, and gardener. They also made household items, a small printing press, animal traps, and wagon jacks. During World War I, Buffum made bayonets and airplane parts. Buffum’s main plant, partially rebuilt after a fire, still stands at 198 North 4th Street, Louisiana, MO. Google Maps
Buffum Tool Co. 1921 advertisement

Buffum Tool Co. logo

Buffum Tool Co. stamp

Friday, June 13, 2014

History of Dresden Manufacturing Co.

Dresden Manufacturing Co., of Long Beach, California, began in 1944, and by 1950 its owner and president was Harold Francis Baum (1902-1983). A 1950 Long Beach Press Telegram article stated, "Fifty types of trowels for cement, plastering, tile and floor covering trades are manufactured by the Long Beach firm." Unlike the tool makers of 50 years and earlier who began as blacksmiths, Mr. Baum was a businessman. He probably saw opportunity in the construction boom resulting from California's fast population growth in the 1940s and 1950s. Mr. Baum sold Dresden in 1964 to Pacific Tile and Porcelain Co., a ceramic tile manufacturer, with Mr. Baum remaining as president. In 1965, Red Devil Inc. registered Dresden as a trademark. Dresden trademark history

Dresden Manufacturing No. 85 edger
Quote with minor edits from Long Beach Press-Telegram, June 25, 1950, Long Beach, California:
Cement and Plaster Trowels Really Precision Instruments

The term "precision instruments" hardly sounds appropriate for cement and plaster trowels. Nevertheless, the Junior Chamber of Commerce tour of the Dresden Manufacturing Co. revealed that these historic tools just about fit that category.

Fifty types of trowels for cement, plastering, tile and floor covering trades are manufactured by the Long Beach firm.

Steel is compounded and tempered to Dresden specifications for resistance to abrasion, for true surface and springiness. Several thousands of dollars’ worth of steel was bought, field-tested and rejected in the company's quest for the right formula.

The leading types of trowels are made of high carbon spring steel. Others are stainless steel, pressed steel or aluminum.  


Stamped from strips of steel, the blades must pass rigorous inspection. A "strain" or slight wave imperceptible to the untrained eye will flunk a trowel out the line. A lip at a corner or edge or a warped surface also will send the tool into the discard.

Ordinary rivets won't do. They must be of hardened steel; countersunk so they will not pull out under the journeyman's pressure. Then they are machined to uniform smoothness with the blade. Handles are hardwood, mounted on a light aluminum shank.

Heavy stamping is done at the company’s plant in Stanton. The Long Beach headquarters factory, 3422 E. Anaheim St., is equipped for punching, machining, drilling, wood shaping and turning, sawing, sanding, and "braking” (bending) the tools for corners, steps and edges. An ingenious device for threading the ends of the aluminum shanks is made from an automobile gear shift.


Dresden Manufacturing Co. was established six years ago. H.F. Baum, president, purchased the firm last year. Shortly afterward, Joe Lee, graduate engineer formerly in the petroleum industry, joined the firm as vice president and assumed charge of production.

The line of products has expanded to the complete range requested by the trades. Latest additions are in the tile and floor covering fields.

Trowels for the mastic used in laying these materials bear notches along one side and end. These determine the amount of mastic to be left on the surface. Four tooth sizes are manufactured. Without the notches the journeyman would have no way of judging the depth of the mastic. Lee perfected the notched trowels for the company.

With more and more home-owners laying their own asphalt tile or linoleum, Dresden is about to market a complete kit for the amateur. Included will be a spreader, string, knife, scriber for scoring the material, tape measure and instructions.

Currently, the journeyman tools made in this Long Beach industrial plant are sold through jobbers in all parts of the United States. Orders received from Canada, Puerto Rico, Panama and Hawaii have stimulated the company to investigate the possibilities for foreign trade. Their preliminary reports it won't be long before the names of Dresden will appear in the construction Industries of a number of nations.

PRECISION – The smooth surface of a plaster wall or patio requires a perfectly "true" trowel at well as a competent journeyman. Dresden Manufacturing Co., 3422 E. Anaheim St., produces more than 50 types for the trade. Customers are located in all parts of the United States In the top photograph, Joe Lee demonstrates how a hardwood handle is shaped by the spinning blades in the center. A pattern follows the solid center below the blades and guides the wood block into the cutter. In the background Dean Beaver prepares to take a "California" handle off the lathe. In the bottom picture, H. F. Baum (left), president of the company, and O.E. Papin watch Bearer set jig for riveting the spring steel blades to the aluminum shanks. Esther Strissel operates the device which forces the handle over the shank. The plant is set up for production of 1000 trowels daily. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

T. Monk Moulder's Tools, Birmingham, England

Thomas Monk was a Birmingham, England manufacturer of moulder's, plasterer's, and mason's tools. Tools with the T. Monk stamp can be found on eBay UK and, rarely, on eBay US and eBay Australia. By 1940, Thomas Monk trowels were made by Joseph Tyzack & Son Ltd., as shown in their 1940 catalogue.
The International Exhibition of 1862

T. Monk trowel
T. Monk moulder's tools

T. Monk moulder's trowel
T. Monk stamp