This page is still a work in progress. Keep checking back for more photos of original eighteenth and nineteenth-century tools!
SPECIAL thanks to Robert Wiltshire for allowing me to pick his brain about the mysteries of the joiner's trade on countless occasions, and for his incredibly generous donation of many of the planes and chisels in my collection. I now share photos of them with you to help further your understanding of the tools used by eighteenth and early nineteenth-century carpenters and joiners. What follows includes a lot of the most common tools used by these early tradesmen, but it is not exhaustive.
The original images that are included are from Dennis Diderot's Encyclopedia and Joseph Moxon's Mechanick Exercises, or the Doctrine of Handy Works . Diderot's Encyclopedia is a fantastic compilation of images and information on the trades and industry of France in the mid eighteenth-century. Compliments of the Collaborative Translation Project, many of the plates and translated descriptions are available online! Joseph Moxon's Mechanick Exercises is an early eighteenth-century manual for learning the trade of blacksmithing, house carpentry, joinery, turning, and even making sundials published in 1703. Thanks to Google Books for making it available online!
Axes & Splitting Tools
HILE axes and other splitting tools may seem crude from our modern perspective, they were a highly necessary component of carpentry in the eighteenth and nineteenth-centuries. Felling axes were used to cut down massive trees for timber, large broad axes were used to shape this timber into square beams, and small hewing hatches were used to rough out all manner of smaller pieces of wood for various projects. Froes were a very simple tool, but very effective for splitting shingles.
VARIETY of tools were used to bore holes in wood. For creating small holes, such as a pilot hole for a nail or screw a small gimblet was used. Larger holes were created using a bit brace, which features an off-set handle allowing the tool to pivot and the bit to drill into the wood. These can be used with a variety of different bits. For the largest holes, a full-sized auger was used which features a handle which is perpendicular to the metal shaft. The earliest of these had only a simple cutting edge, but at the end of the eighteenth-century spiral bits were developed. However they didn't become popularly used until into the nineteenth-century.
2. Braces and Bits
HE carpenter or joiner would ideally posses a number of different types and sizes of chisels for creating joints. Paring chisels are used for removing small amounts of wood without the use of the mallet. Mortising chisels are beefier chisels designed for prying out large amounts of material for mortise and tenon joints.
N eighteenth-century joiner would not have used sandpaper for smoothing wood, but rather a scraper like this. A burr raised on the metal creates a very fine cutting edge. These tools are simply scraped along the surface of the wood producing very fine shavings. This scraping method is primarily effective with hard woods.
Hammers & Mallets
LAW hammers were available to the eighteenth-century carpenter and would have been hand-forged by a blacksmith. The earliest examples of these feature a metal strap that comes partway down the handle and secured with a metal pin.
Measuring and Marking Tools
HESE tools were essential for accurately laying out joints. Rulers and folding two-foot rules were used for measuring. Then squares and angle bevels were used to assist in laying out joints. Scribing awls were used rather than pencils to scratch a line on the wood. Perhaps this is more difficult to see than a pencil line, but very accurate. Marking gauges were also used to scratch lines where joints would go. They are clever and effective. An adjustable fence allows you to move the tool perfectly parallel to the edge of the board, and a small brad buried in the wood scratches a line.
HILE the form may have changed somewhat over time, planes such as these have been used to impart their shape onto wood since antiquity. In the time period I typically portray, which is the eighteenth-century, the body of these planes was typically crafted of durable woods such as yellow birch or quite often beach. A metal iron set inside the body and secured with a wedge provides the cutting edge.
Plumb Bobs & Levels
OUSE carpenters in the eighteenth-century commonly used "plumb bobs" to determine if framing was plumb (vertically straight) and level (horizontally straight). Plumb bobs are still sometimes in use today. However, levels have changed quite a bit with the invention of "spirit levels" (with the bubble) in the nineteenth-century.
HE average carpenter's or joiner's toolbox would include a variety of different saws for various purposes. The most basic two were a good rip saw and cross-cut saw for cutting wood to proper dimensions. A rip saw had chisel-like teeth for cutting with the grain. A cross-cut saw has knife-like teeth for cutting effectively across grain. However, a joiner may also have other varieties of saws for different purposes as well, several of which are illustrated below. A tenon saw has spine on the blade to make it very stiff and rigid which makes it accurate for cutting joints. Various turning and frame saws were also used which had thin blades for cutting curved shapes.
HE workbench certainly was the heart of the traditional woodworking shop. When using hand planes, chisels, and saws it is absolutely necessary to have a method of holding your work secure, and that is the function of the bench. A typical eighteenth-century bench was constructed with vises, stops, and holes for hold-fasts to hold your work secure.