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The History of Industrial Development and Toolmaking in UK


British Perspective - The Centennial International Exhibition of 1876

The Centennial International Exhibition in Philadelphia, 1876, was the most important event of the decade and had an impact on the standing of industrialized nations for years to come.  Traditionally Great Britain was one of the most important exhibitors.

The outcome of the Exhibition was presented to the Queen and both Houses of Parliament as a printed Report of Educational Department in 1877.  It consisted of several distinct reports on different industries, delivered by Executive Commissioners representing Great Britain in Philadelphia.

The report on Edge Tools, Cutlery and Hardware was written by David McHardy, Esq.  In the opening of report he constructed the following table.

Number of Exhibitors in Group XV - Edge Tools, Cutlery, Polishing and Burnishing Materials, Metal Hollow Ware and Ornamental Casting, Hardware, Fire Proof and other Safes, &c.

Country Edge Tools used by Carpenters, Joiners, &c.  Miscellaneous Hand Tools Cutlery, Knives, Scissors, Razors, Scats and other Cutlery Implements Emery and Sand Paper, Polishing Compounds, Burnishing Tools Hollow Ware and Ornamental Casting Metallic Products Safes and Safe Locks, &c.
United States 70 34 3 14 9 13
Great Britain 5 7 0 1 4 1
Canada 23 4 0 0 4 1
France 7 13 5 12 1 1
Germany 2 4 1 3 1 0
Austria 3 1 0 2 1 0
Switzerland 5 1 0 0 1 0
Belgium 1 0 0 0 4 1
Netherlands 1 1 0 0 1 0
Sweden 6 5 0 0 0 1
Norway 0 1 0 2 2 2
Italy 1 1 1 3 2 0
Total 124 72 10 37 30 20

These are a shocking numbers - only 100 years after Declaration of Independence, 25 years after Disston began making saws and other tools, and 11 years after Civil War.

Report on Saws

"If the axe occupies an important position in usefulness, undoubtedly the saw cannot be considered as a less important tool in the workshops of a civilized country. The hand-saw has for ages been constructed on two types. First; the broad flat saw with a handle at the end as used in Britain, and—Second; a thin steel band stretched from two points, such as is used by Frenchmen and Chinese.

In America both kinds are used, each kind being employed in the class of work to which it is naturally best suited. In the ordinary workshops the circular and the band saw are now used extensively, and cause immense saving in time and labor by the manner in which curved work is so quickly executed.

The most extensive exhibit of saws is by Messrs. Henry Disston and Sons, Philadelphia, consisting of every variety, from the large circular saws for machinery to the smallest band saw of 1/8 in. in breadth. Some of the largest circular saws have separate steel teeth inserted in the circumference, and so fitted that the friction in the operation does not loosen their hold or destroy their efficiency.

The hand saws were carefully examined, not only in hardness of the steel, but in the quality of the temper. Several band saws were tried by striking the back of the saw upon a bloom of cast-steel without marking it in the least degree, and the same saws were bent until the point touched the wooden handle, and when let free sprang back to their former shape, perfectly straight.

Disston and Sons have made improvements in the form of the handles, and in the mode of fixing them to the saw; there is also an improvement in the shape of the blade, by which it is made lighter and more convenient by giving it a greater taper to the point. The smaller saws with brass and iron backs were of excellent workmanship. In addition to the different varieties of saws they exhibit an assortment of steel squares and rules, correctly graduated, and marked by figures beautifully finished; also an assortment of levels for workmen, with finished stocks. This firm is one of the largest in America; they employ 1,200 hands, and manufacture their articles from Sheffield steel, using up all their waste cuttings.

It is creditable to the Dominion of Canada to have such a firm as that of Messrs. R. H. Smith and Company, St. Catherine, Ontario, representing the growing manufactures of the Province. Their case contained (besides the large circular saws for machinery) a great display of all descriptions of cast-steel saws, frame saws, hand and tenon saws, and a variety of the smaller sizes of carpenters' tools. The steel used by this firm is stated to be Jessop's. The quality of the tools is excellent, and the workmanship superior. This firm obtained the Gold Medal of the Canadian Commission for the great extent and high quality of their exhibit.

The American Saw Company, Trenton, New Jersey, exhibit an extensive assortment of machine and band saws, the latter showed great excellence in the manufacture by the elasticity and the workmanship of the tools.

Mr. Eben Moody, Boynton, New York, exhibits a good selection of saws of cross-cut and other variety of considerable extent; they are made out of the best cast-steel, and well finished; also ice and dray saws. The specialty of this exhibit was a cross-cut saw, which is named "the Patent Lightning Saw," from its performances. Its novelty is in the shape of the teeth, which are different from those of an ordinary cross-cut saw.

By the form of the teeth the saw can cut both by the forward and backward motion. An experiment was made in the presence of two officials of the effect of this form of teeth, when two men cut through a 16 in. log in 17 seconds.

This firm also shows a new form of pruning saws with cutting teeth on both Pruning saws edges; they are made from 14 to 22 inches long, and are said to be much more convenient than the common form.

Mr. Andrews, of Williamsport, Pa., is the maker of a flat hand saw, Mr. E. Andrews, which has the handle considerably strengthened by the simple means of Williamsport, PA, allowing the steel of the saw to pass right to the end as a flitch between the wooden pieces of the handle, to which it is firmly riveted.

The same maker has also a simple and clever saw frame, by which the saw is kept always properly strained without the means of a brace.

The exhibitors in this class of goods are chiefly from the United States; Great Britain has not a single representative (of saws), although for years Sheffield supplied not only our own country but nearly all the world. It will be seen from what has been already described that this monopoly remains with us no longer, and it is to be hoped that the knowledge of this fact will rouse up the manufacturers in England to try and achieve as far as may be possible in present circumstances, a position of equal distinction to that held by their predecessors."

I emphasized the last paragraph because it is even more shocking then the table above.  Draw your own conclusions!

Source:  Reports of the Philadelphia International Exhibition of 1876, Presented to both Houses of Parliament by Command of Her Majesty, Vol. 1, p. 127-133., (London, 1877).


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