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The History of Woodworking Tools in US

American Tools in England - Chicago Journal of Commerce & Metal Industries, 12/26/1896 2 of 2

“Then Disston's have their own steel works?"

"Yes. They have their own steel works and rolling mills. It was owing to the great difficulty experienced by the Arm in getting steel suitable for their wants that, in 1855, they commenced the manufacture of steel especially suitable for saws, and secured the services of men who had long experience in making the very finest steel. There is, of course, a great advantage in having the steel and saw works connected in one establishment, because faulty steel can be more easily detected; but, apart from that, there is some peculiarity about the Disston steel that gives it superiority everywhere acknowledged. Preference is given to Swedish ingots. In recent years there have been wonderful improvements in the processes of steel-making, and whatever processes, or combination of processes used, Disston & Sons have been phenomenally successful."

"What would you say was the characteristic feature of the Keystone Works?"

"Well, the use of machinery to replace hand labor, as far as possible. That, by the way, is the characteristic difference between English and American methods of manufacture. For instance, at the Disston Works, saw grinding is largely done by machinery. It has been calculated that machinery saves three-fourths of the labor formerly required. That is to say, a man who could grind five saws of a certain kind and size in a day can now grind twenty of them by using machinery. In the case of circular saws, formerly the grinding of a 60-inch saw was a day's task for two men, while now, one man, with a saw-grinding machine, can grind six saws of the same kind and size. In tempering the saws, also, machinery has been brought into use. During the earlier operations of manufacture, the saw is soft, and possesses no elasticity. In hardening the saw, it is heated until it is cherry-red, and then it is immersed in a bath of hardening compounds. The saw has now become exceedingly brittle. The spring or temper has now to be put into it, and this mysterious property is imparted to the metal by placing it between two heavy dies heated to the proper degree, which are set together by hydraulic pressure. While thus pressed the saws are flattened, and work is thus done which was formerly done in the smithy by slow and expensive hand labor. These several processes of tempering, with the aid of machinery, it is estimated, save four-fifths of the work formerly done by men."

"What are the different operations involved in making a saw?"

"Well, whether the saw is the largest kind of circular or the smallest kind of hand saw, it has to go through the following main processes: 1, melting the Swedish and American iron; 2, hammering and rolling the steel into plates; 3, cutting into suitable shapes; 4, making the teeth; 5, tempering or hardening the blades or discs; 6, smithing or hammering into proper thickness; 7, grinding and polishing; 8, sharpening the teeth; 9, fitting handles, etc.; 10, testing, inspecting, and packing saws. That is the broad statement of divisions of work, but of actual different processes there are about thirty in the making of each individual saw."

"And what is Disston's position as regards the variety of saws made?"

"They unquestionably rank first among saw makers as the manufacturers of the largest variety. This is a list of just a few of the different saws they make: right-hand saws, left-hand saws, circular saws, veneering saws, conclave saws, metal milling saws, Mulay saws, pond ice saws, hand ice saws, cross-cut saws, band saws, panel saws, hand saws, pruning saws, key-hole saws, wood saws, shingle saws, meter saws, grooving saws, saws for hot Iron, saws for cold iron, skew-back saws, pit saws, drag saws, rip saws, and butchers' saws."

"But notwithstanding this great variety, the Keystone Works are not wholly devoted to the making of saws?"

"Oh, no; the file-making department is a most important division of the works. A variety of tools are also manufactured, including plastering and gardening trowels, pruning hooks, steel squares, steel rules, marking gauges, door springs, screw drivers, post diggers, cane and corn knives, etc."

"With regard to the sale of Disston's saws in England, what is the position?"

"The sale is large, and is constantly growing."

"Do you find that any particular pattern of Disston saw is especially popular in this market?"

"Yes. The D 8 saw is, and has been for some time, a remarkable favorite. This is a skew-back saw in rip, hand and panel patterns. Prior to its Introduction the No. 7 was the most popular."

"Do you experience any competition from Continental saw makers?"

'"No, there is none."

"But Disston's saws sell on the continent?"

"Yes. There is a large sale of Disston's saws on the continent, but we are not directly connected with the continental trade, and therefore I am afraid my information on that score would be hardly authoritative."

"What is the reason of the popularity of American tools in general in this country?"

"I think it is due, not only to their quality, but also to their superior handiness. In American planes, for instance, there are various attachments and conveniences of arrangement. Bailey's well-known planes are adjustable in all essential parts, and all planes are ground perfectly true and square. The irons are held by wedges, detachable by cam lever, and each iron is adjustable both vertically and laterally by screws. Combination planes are also made, arranged with a variety of cutters, so that any one of these planes forms quite a set of tools. These particular tools are not only better but cheaper than anything made in competition with them in this country."

"Is the demand for American machine tools increasing?"

"Constantly, the business is one that is continually expanding. I do not think I shall be wrong if I say that in America the science of machine tools is better understood than elsewhere. In the States, at nil events, the development and use of machine tools is far in advance of anything on this side of the water."

"And the reason for this?"

"I found in the old proverb or adage, 'Necessity is the mother of invention.' When America started manufacturing for its own needs, it was a new country. There was a scarcity of labor. It has, consequently, always been the aim of American manufacturers to do as much of their work as possible by machinery. Work that in England to-day is performed slowly by hand labor has in the States for years been accomplished by machinery. Whenever an American maker has new lines to produce, he outlines the best method to produce them by machinery. The result, of course, is the production of special machines and special machine tools for the particular work in hand."

"That constant demand for means of saving labor is the direct origin then of the American faculty of invention?"

"Undoubtedly. The typical 'cute American inventor* is the result of a demand that has always been present in that country for machinery and tools that will save hand labor. Moreover, in the States the makers are not hampered, as in this country, by trades' union restrictions as to the number of machines an operative shall run. There a man is permitted to run as many machines as he can properly look after."

"There is a prejudice against American machine tools in this country, because they are lighter than the machines the Englishman is accustomed to, is there not?"

"That is a prejudice without reason. American machine tools are not lighter. They are made quite as heavy as is necessary. There is, however, none of the useless accumulation of metal and consequent weight in parts where that bulk is not required either to the proper working of the machine or its inherent strength and endurance. In other words, the American machine tool manufacturers closely study the actual requirements before them, but do not put into a machine weight for weight's sake."

"You take up a strong position in the way, of guaranteeing all machinery and tools sold by you?"

"Yes, we guarantee all tools, and I think that the quality of the goods sold, to render such a course possible, has much to do with our present reputation throughout the trade. I should like to say further that I have never, in introducing American articles, run down English tools and machinery."

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