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JOEL Joel's Blog

Stop and Check This Out - Vintage Films of Toolmaking in Sheffield


If you have any interest in tool making, stop what you are doing and check this out.

From the 1960's onward, the great Ken Hawley of Sheffield not only collected the tools of toolmakers, he also went into the factories and filmed people working. What is most important is that in nearly every case these films are the only record of how factory production actually worked. It's one thing to make something as a one-off. But here you see production. It took generations of tradition and skill in the toolmaking factories to figure out the special tools and techinques involved in making tools cost-effectively and at an incredibly high standard.

I first learned about the existence of these films twenty years ago when I visited Ken in Sheffield and he told me he had them but they needed editing and proper narration. Finally the Hawley Collection has released several dozen films and they are AWESOME. 'Nuff said. Here is a link to the Hawley YouTube channel and just a couple of links to specific videos (no rhyme or reason for their selection - I just picked a couple). The film quality is wonky; the earlier films were shot with amateur equipment with terrible factory lighting. The content is PRICELESS!

I really am glad to see that Ken added the craftsmen's names to this work. At the end is a photograph of a knife in my collection that was made by Stan Shaw, and a Marples (Record) spokeshave with the iron most certainly made by Bob Pryor. I haven't watched the entire channel yet, but I have learned so much already.

Albert Bock - Bench Plane Maker

Stan Shaw - Pen Knife Maker

Brian & Tom Alcock - Jobbing Grinder

Bob Pryor - Forging Spokeshave Irons

Derek and Richard Taylor - Saw Making

Workback pen knife by Stan Shaw
Workback pen knife by Stan Shaw, and a Marples Spokeshave with the iron almost certainly made by Bob Pryor

Join the conversation
09/08/2020 Jay
Fun and interesting. When will Gramercy be posting their production videos?
09/08/2020 Deryck Harnett
That was superb!!! How times have changed! Thanks very much!!!!!!!!
09/08/2020 Craig Christensen
Thank you for this! I'll be checking these out soon. You might find it interesting - a few years ago Robin Wood posted a link to a BBC documentary on Trevor Ablett, who made knives in Sheffield for decades. I was lucky enough to buy one a few years before Mr. Ablett passed in 2015. It is not one of my finest knives, by any stretch. But it is one of my favorites. I believe parts of the documentary are on YouTube, but I'm not sure if the whole episode is out there. It might be worth a search through Robin Wood's blog.
09/09/2020 Danny Roberts
Looking at the plane making vid - chisel work most interesting -- use of shoulder when paring, extensive use of gouge to remove material before switching to a flat chisel, etc

btw - do visit the actual Hawley collection of tools at the Kelham Island Industrial Museum (especially if interested in tool manufacture) if you're anywhere near Sheffield England, it's also possible to make appointments for access to the huge archive for serious research (depending on covid restrictions)
09/09/2020 David Bassett

I recognize Brian Alcock's name from Robin & JoJo's Wood Tools posts. It seems he is still at it, working with them, and training one of their employees.
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