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JOEL Joel's Blog

Saw Handle Making In Sheffield


Saw Handle Making In Sheffield 4The flurry of activity cause by all the premium saw-making going on in the US right now has prompted a lot of talk about the "boutique" saw maker of today contrasting with the mass-produced saws of yesteryear. In the US, companies like Disston did use a lot of fancy production equipment in a big factory, but in England, at least in 19th century Sheffield, Almost all production, even in large factories, was done by individuals paid by piecework. So even if a famous name was stamped on the label chances are the tool was made by a subcontractor either working on the premises of a large company or in a small shop subcontracting to some large company. These small makers were known as "little mesters" or "little masters" and they formed the core of Sheffield manufacture. Saw making was no different than anything else and the saw makers were little mesters, hand-making thousands of productions saws in a decidedly "boutiquey" sort of way.
The picture above is the only picture I know of an English saw handle maker at work. It's from "Handicrafts that Survive," a private Sheffield booklet that was printed in 1902-3 to celebrate the centenary of Turner & Co. a Sheffield edge tool maker. The picture is most certainly at least a little staged, but I thought it fun and worth publishing again. (The booklet was hellish to find BTW, not very expensive but it took 6 years to locate a copy!) The illustration above is an engraving from a photograph which is in the Hawley Collection Anyway there are a few more pictures of interest in the booklet which I will probably publish in the future.
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06/29/2008 Peter Evans in Sydney
Joel, a great find - is on my list as well. If you beat Gary Roberts to the title you were doing well! Are there any useful references to Turner filemaking at all? I am putting together a directory of British filemakers and my references list is now several pages long (excluding directories). You do not happen to have the Tyzack Centenary Souvenir, 1912 by any chance?

Cheers, great to see the old material in your blog.
there are pictures of filemaking in the book but nothing that unique. I will post more pictures as the opportunity arises.
I sadly don't have a copy of the "Tyzack Centenary Souvenir, 1912"

07/09/2008 Ray Gardiner
Hi Joel,
A real treat to see this. I have a list of Sheffield saw handle makers, if you are ever interested. Some were in business over several generations.

Great Blog
Ray Gardiner
01/15/2009 Simon Barley
Nice to see the old man again, along with the little puff for the incomparable
Hawley Collection ( I declare an interest, as one who has frequently used the
collection's material, and more importantly, Ken Hawley's brains, in
research). But please correct your spelling of Sheffield's Little MESTERS, not
the germanicised version you perpetrated!! Mester is simply the local way of
saying Mister or master.
The illustration may not have been a little mester, who would have worked
alone or perhaps with an apprentice or a time-served journeyman, but one of
the employees of Thomas Turner. Other illustrations in the book show Turner
employees engaged in other of the processes of sawmaking. Only the larger
firms, of which TT was one, would have had an in-house handle maker. And
because Sheffield was "one great workshop" TT would undoubtedly have at
times bought in handles (from little mesters or other firms) if they had orders
that were too big or too pressing for their own people to complete on time.
One of the processes in handle-making that is seldom mentioned was the
practice of rubbing the wood down very hard with a bone (usually a rib bone,
as it was fairly flat) to close the grain; only on the better quality handles. the
Hawley collection has examples of these bones.
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