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.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

History of W. Tyzack, Sons & Turner, Ltd.

W. Tyzack, Sons & Turner, Ltd. was a Sheffield, UK maker of hand and circular saws, agricultural knives and machine parts, steel, files, chisels, twist drills, hammers, and plastering trowels. The firm's logo was an elephant, with the word "Nonpareil", meaning unrivaled. This scanned catalog includes all of their tools, but not their agricultural machine parts.
W. Tyzack stone hammers 1950
W. Tyzack Sons & Turner 1950 Catalogue

W. Tyzack Sons & Turner originated from the division of the William Tyzack (1781-1858) family tool-manufacturing into 3 competing businesses, following the death of his son Ebenezer Tyzack (1807-1867). Ebenezer's brothers William (1816-1889) and Joshua (1816?-1889?) were the founding partners. In 1870 their sister Ann's son Thomas Turner joined them, forming William Tyzack, Sons and Turner. The business incorporated in 1906 under William's son Frederick Tyzack, and Tyzack family members continued to largely control it. Here is a collection of photographs, most from 1912, courtesy of Mr. Don Tyzack.

Frederick Tyzack, 1912 (from Don Tyzack) 
W. Tyzack Sons & Turner was unusual for Sheffield tool makers, in that they operated 2 separate works simultaneously for over 55 years. The initial partnership operated as tenants at Abbeydale on the River Sheaf, where the elder William leased rights in 1849. W. Tyzack Sons & Turner operated there until 1933. Abbeydale Works is now a living history museum. The short film from the 1970s shows Abbeydale's machinery running, clay crucibles being made, and tools being forged: Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet - Colour.

In 1876, they purchased a corn mill in Heeley, down-river from Abbeydale, with rights to Little London Dam. They constructed Little London Works, enlarging it over time. The business was also distinctive in preferring to use water power over steam or electricity. Little London Works had a water-powered forge as late as 1926. The business address was Saxon Road, on the north end of the works. The firm was taken over by its rival W.A. Tyzack in 1987, the works were demolished in 1988, and the company broken up and sold off in 1991.

Little London Works (picture Don Tyzack)
Today, Broadfield Court enters the site from the south. The Google Street View below shows the eastern entrance from Little London Rd.

W. Tyzack plasterer's trowels 1950

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Millstone Tools

The Miller, Millwright and Millfurnisher, 1882
Millstones were used for grinding grain, pigments, graphite, and other granular substances. As millstones wear from use, they need to be dressed, meaning resurfaced, as shown in the YouTube videos below. The primary tool used is a mill pick, also called millstone pick or a mill bill and thrift, which is a steel mill pick head that is wedged into a thick wooden handle. This article, "The life and times of Michaelchurch Mill" has a picture of millstone dressing tools. The high spots on the stones are checked with a wooden paint-staff onto which red oxide or chalk is rubbed. The paint-staff is can be checked for straightness against a cast iron proof-staff.
Most US manufacturers of stone mason's tools made mill picks at some time. Several small businesses and probably many individual blacksmiths specialized in forging mill picks and resharpening them. Used picks would be delivered or mailed back, to be heated, the edges drawn out, tempered, then sharpened on a grindstone. These small US makers included John C. Higgins & Son of Chicago, IL, J. Knight of Baltimore, MD, and J. G. Pollard of Brooklyn, NY.

The Roller Mill, Vol 17, 1898

Millstone pick, J. Knight, Baltimore

The Roller Mill, Vol 17, 1898
Millstone pick, Norway (missing one bit) 

Monday, December 21, 2015

Joseph Richards and the Patent Hammer

The patent hammer has a number of sharpened thin steel blades which are bolted into a heavy head, and is used for finishing granite and hard sandstones. The blades are called "cuts" and were available in sets of 4, 6, 8, 10, and 12 cuts per side by varying the thickness of the steel used for the cut. The most common jaw opening was 7/8", and other sizes from 1/2" to 1" were offered. Cuts were also used to specify the number of grooves per nominal inch, as an 8-cut finish. The patent hammer produced a grooved surface much faster than a hand chisel, and the cuts were easily removed for sharpening. Other names for the patent hammer were patent bush hammer, Scotia hammer, and patent Scotia hammer. Scotia hammers were usually smaller, with 5/16" and 3/8" jaw openings. The picture to the right shows patent-hammered work on Old City Hall, Richmond, VA. This YouTube video shows a bush hammered finish with a different hammer. Excellent photographs of patent-hammered work are in the 1938 booklet Granite in Architecture at

Richards' patent drawing
The patent hammer was invented by Joseph Richards (1784-1848) of Braintree, Massachusetts. The US patent was issued 20 Feb. 1828 for a "Stone-Working Tool". The retroactive patent application number is X5010 or 5010X. His invention spurred many other inventors' designs for patent hammers. There are at least 55 more US patents for hand hammers and chisels with multiple blades which can be removed from the head for sharpening. The US Patent Office classified them as mill picks or bush hammers, avoiding confusion with any other patented hammers. I have saved these patent applications and drawings into one pdf file, which is here.

Fayette Plumb patent hammer, 1906 
Patent hammers were made and/or sold by Brunner & Lay, H.H. Harvey (5 styles), J.M. Kent, George Main, Nutting & Hayden, Plumb, Trow & Holden (2 styles), Pinel Brothers, Vulcan, Wilcox & Donahue, and others. Five of these companies were in the Quincy, MA area. Several manufacturers stamped serial numbers and manufacturing dates on their patent hammers.
Patent hammers were used in cutting sheds (Wooster, MA)
A History of Old Braintree and Quincy: With a Sketch of Randolph and Holbrook, by William Samuel Pattee, 1879

Mr. Joseph Richards (1), of the former firm of Richard & Munn, was a man of uncommon ability and intelligence, and was possessed of much inventive genius.  About the year 1831, he invented the bush, or axe hammer; which term is the more proper we are not able to say, as no name for it is to be found in any of the dictionaries, although this instrument has been in use about half a century.  The name of bush hammer is evidently local, as at Philadelphia and some other places, it is called axe hammer, from the several little axes being keyed into the cheeks of the instrument, and we think it the most correct name of the two.  There are six, eight, ten, or more axes connected with it. The number used depends upon the fineness the artisan desires to dress the stone.  This useful instrument to stone-cutters was first made by Mr. Richards, solid or wholly in one piece, for which he received a patent; since then improvements have been made upon it by constructing it in several pieces. [Richards' patent is for a design with several pieces.]

(1) Hon. Joseph Richards was born in Cummington, Mass., Aug. 20th, 1784, and was educated in the District School.  When about twelve years of age, he removed with his parents to the northern part of the State of New York, where he was engaged with his father in farming, until he was eighteen years of age, when he left home and came to Quincy.  His first engagement in this town was with President John Adams, as coachman, who after a few months’ service in that capacity, suggested to him that he was worthy of a higher position.  From those suggestions of Mr. Adams, he went to Abington, where he undertook the duties of a school teacher, a position for which by nature he was eminently qualified even at that early age. possessing as instinctive knowledge of human nature, he governed without force or coercion.  He was an ardent lover of the science of mathematics, in the higher branches of which he was quite proficient.  Form Abington he returned to Quincy, or “Braintree Neck,” (now Quincy Neck) in 1803, where he engaged, for many years, in quarrying and working stone with Bryan Newcomb, his future father-in-law, in the summer, and school teaching in the winter until the increase of the stone business in which he was engaged, engrossed his whole time.  Although obliged to abandon the profession in which he delighted, his love of knowledge continued unabated until the close of his successful life, Feb. 12th, 1848.  He was chosen to the State Senate for the years 1843 and ’44.  Mrs. Richards survived her husband a number of years.
Trow & Holden hammers & chisel, 1910
If you have a Trow & Holden patent hammer as in the 1910 advertisement, please take note. In addition to the 4 large bolts, there are 2 steel pins holding the head together. These pins are ground flush so may not be visible. Clark Holden's patent drawing shows 2 smaller bolts in this position. As later manufactured, these were replaced with 3/8" pins. If you have one, do not attempt to pry the head apart unless absolutely necessary, and you must drive the pins out first. All parts except the bolts should be replaced in the same locations.    

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Sears Roebuck & Co. Masonry Tools

Throughout the 20th century, Sears Roebuck & Co. was the largest mail order company and probably the most recognizable retailer in the United States. Tools that Sears sold have benefited from that popularity. Sears contracted with manufacturers to make most items with Sears brand names, and this private label manufacturing continues today. Unfortunately for tool collectors and historians, Sears has not revealed who those makers were. A considerable amount of time and effort has been spent by those collectors and historians to determine who the manufacturers were, and this research is ongoing at websites like Alloy Artifacts.

Sears Roebuck was founded by Richard W. Sears (1863-1914) in 1886 in Minneapolis, MN, and moved to Chicago IL in 1887, where Alvah C. Roebuck joined the business. Initially they sold watches and jewelry by mail, and quickly expanded to include many other household items. In 1893 the business became Sears, Roebuck and Co. By 1895 the firm was producing a 532-page catalog with "shoes, women's garments and millinery, wagons, fishing tackle, stoves, furniture, china, musical instruments, saddles, firearms, buggies, bicycles, baby carriages and glassware, in addition to watches and jewelry” (source of quote). Chicago clothing manufacturer Julius Rosenwald bought into the company in 1895, becoming vice president, and then Roebuck resigned because of poor health. Growing rapidly, the firm moved to a new 6-story building in 1896, and continued to build and lease other buildings in Chicago. In 1905 construction started on a 41-acre plant and office building on Chicago's West Side. When it opened in 1906, the 9 story, 3 million square foot mail order plant was the largest business building in the world.

Sears tool brands include Fulton Tool Company, Craftsman, Dunlap, and Sears. Their masonry tools sold in the past included a brick trowel, pointing trowel, finishing trowel, concrete edger, concrete groover, brick hammer, and other common masonry tools. Here are the pages with masonry tools from 6 Sears catalogs from 1957 to 1972, with the cover pages to identify the year.  

Sears did not register Fulton Tool Company as a trademark, but no single maker has been found for the wide variety of tools that Sears sold with the Fulton name. Fulton tools began appearing in 1908 catalogs, and included hand saws, crosscut saws, axes, planes, chisels, hammers, pliers, and more. The only references I have found for Fulton as a tool maker are an Ohio manufacturer of mining tools and a file and rasp maker in Brooklyn, NY.

The famous Sears Craftsman brand dates to the 1927 registration of the Craftsman trademark, and a history of the brand is on the Sears Archive at Craftsman History. Craftsman masonry tools include a forged brick trowel, brick hammer, brick jointer, and brick chisel.

Craftsman 6553 11 inch brick trowel
The Dunlap brand was primarily a line of economy tools that sold from 1938 to at least 1960. It may have been named after Tom Dunlap, the manager of the Sears hardware division from the 1930s through the 1950s. Sears filed a trademark application for Dunlap in 1938 and the trademark was issued in 1939. Dunlap tools first appeared in the in the 1938-1939 Fall and Winter Sears catalogs. The Dunlap name replaced some tools that had previously sold as Fulton or Merit (wrenches). Dunlap masonry tools sold on eBay and elsewhere include a variety of masonry tools.
Dunlap cast iron edger & groover

Sunday, December 13, 2015

A Look Inside a Tool Factory in 1911

The James Swan Company's 1911 catalog includes 6 pictures of their factory interiors showing the steps in making their tools. While Swan made wood chisels and auger bits, not masonry tools, the processes and equipment involved is very similar to those of manufacturers covered on this website. The 6 pictures and one of the exteriors of their 2 facilities is here. The catalog was scanned by Rose Antique Tools and is used with permission.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Wagner of Steckborn, Switzerland

Wagner was a maker of foundry molding tools in Steckborn, Switzerland. Steckborn is on the Untersee of Lake Constance (Konstanz), part of the Rhine River, directly across from Germany. Wagner's tools are steel and brass, and appear to be high quality. Their tools are stamped with a smith's mark, "WAGNER", and a model number. Some also include "STECKBORN" or "Made in W. Germany". My research has not found any information about the company's history. There is a Wagner Metallgiesserei AG in Thurgau (Steckborn's canton), but it was formed in the late 20th century.

Steckborn Wikipedia (EN); Steckborn Wikipedia (DE).

Thank you to reader Tom for his 2 pictures.

Wagner No. 109
Wagner No. 109
Wagner No. 120 A, made in Western Germany

Molders at work in a German foundry

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Removing Concrete and Mortar With Sugar-Based Products

Cleaning old concrete and mortar from tools by scraping or with acid is difficult and can result in damage to the tools. Recently I learned there are several cleaning products containing cane sugar which are made to dissolve or soften concrete and mortar which have set. Here are links to 6 products available in the USA and one each in the UK and Australia. There are probably more products available, and if I learn how to mix your own concrete dissolver I will post it here.

Sakrete Concrete Mortar Dissolver cleaned the lettering
Here are some suggestions after trying the Sakrete product:
The surface should be dry; water, tar, oils, or wax will keep the remover from working.
Expect the dissolver to work slowly and unevenly, depending on the hardness of the material.
If the dissolver is able to work, a white crust will form as the concrete or mortar dissolves.
Brush or scrape off material loosened by the dissolver before adding more dissolver.
Use tools like a brass brush and wooden or plastic scraper.
The dissolver evaporates slowly, so spot applications are effective if you let them work.
It does not eat steel, brass, or bronze, and does not appear to cause rust while it's working.
Be patient, this may take days on some tools.

Sakrete Concrete Mortar Dissolver
US products:
Chisel concrete remover
Consolver Concrete Remover
Five Star® EZ-Cure® Concrete Remover
Mean Klean Concrete & Mortar Dissolver
RoMix Back-Set concrete removermanufacturer's video
Sakrete Concrete Mortar Dissolver

United Kingdom:
SpeedyClean Concrete Dissolver

CSS Crete-Off Concrete Dissolver

Sugar also acts as a concrete retarder, and was used on an accidental spill in London Underground’s Victoria Line, enabling the mess to be shoveled up before it set.
Article in the UK Telegraph on how sugar acts as a concrete retarder.

Kramer Brothers brass groover, cleaned with Sakrete Dissolver