Identifying German chisels

German chisels are somewhat rarer in north America than their Swedish cousins. But they do exist. Sometimes the hardest thing is finding information about the company that manufactured them. Take for example, the set of 8 HOPPE chisels I bought a while back. They were not expensive ($50?), and the steel seems quite good.



There are two markings, as shown below. The first identifies the brand as HOPPE on the top of the blade, the second (on the back) that it is manufactured in Germany. As they are not marked “West Germany”, I would guess they were manufactured before 1949. But in reality, I have been unable to find much information about this manufacturer.


The chisels are socket chisels,  9½-10″ in length with a ratio of steel:handle of of 2:1, i.e. their handles are very small, and as shown in the photo below, tends to fit completely into my hand.


The ends of the chisels are capped in leather.


There is a good resource on European chisels, Alte Beitel.


Swedish chisels from E. A. Berg

Vintage chisels from Sweden are usually quite exceptional due in part to Swedish steel. Some of the most common Swedish chisels found in North America are those manufactured by Erik Anton Berg (E.A.Berg) manufacturing company, founded in the town of Eskilstuna. The company was founded in 1880, and made straight razors. In 1896 a catalog shows the introduction of woodworking tools such as chisels, knives and plane irons. Eventually the company was bought by Sandvik. In the 1950’s the chisels were being cold in the U.S. under the “Shark Brand” by Sandvik Saw & Tool. They were advertised as being “genuine Swedish charcoal steel hardened and tempered”. The company was sold in the late 1950s to Swedish company Bahco, and which was itself bought by Sandvik in 1991. Eskilstuna was the home to a number of tool manufacturers. Unfortunately little can be found in English relating to the historical Swedish tool industry.

Here is an example of the label usually found on a E.A.Berg chisel. When the company first started, the logo was apparently a Wels catfish, although it later changed to the ubiquitous shark shown below.


An example of the blade markings of an E.A.Berg chisel (left), and that of another manufacturer from Eskilstuna – EskilstunaSteel.


Compared side-by-side the chisels look very similar. They both have brass ferrules, although that of E.A. Berg has more refined offset knurlings, versus the vertical knurlings of the EskilstunaSteel chisel.


Brass ferrules of E.A.Berg versus EskilstunaSteel

The handles are extremely similar. It is said that the higher end chisels had handles manufactured by a company that used birch, and the cheaper chisels by a company that used beech. The cheaper looking ferrule on the EskilstunaSteel chisel may substantiate this somewhat.


Cost-wise, Jim Bode Tools has a number of sets for sale, with a 6-piece set ranging in price from US$500-700.

NB: Here is an ad for chisels in Post magazine, circa 1953.




Renovating old houses – the basic infrastructure

The problem with renovating old houses is that you can’t just spend money on superficial things. Aesthetics are nice, but the structural blanket of the house matters as well. A lot. I have been working on my house for a l*o*n*g time. It seems to be never ending, but the main structure of this 90 year old house seems to be in good shape now. It is often the simple things – electrical, plumbing, and roofs that cause the most angst, and people in general and loath to spend money on these things, because nobody can see them.

So what does it mean?

Clay sewer pipes

In Toronto, many of the older houses have clay sewer pipes, which hook into cast-iron piping 1-2 feet from the cast iron stack. Unlike the Romans, who also used clay pipes, Canada has cold winters, so no one can expect clay pipes to last forever. That and the ability of tree roots to infiltrate and destroy clay pipes, means that eventually they need to be replaced. Old clay sewer systems often had the “bend” in the pipe to stop sewer gases, typically a “U” bend, located just outside the front of the house. Tell-tale signs of problems are when the clay “U” bend collapses. Modern houses have “U”, or “J” bends at each juncture of a drain, which allows waste to flow unimpeded to the sewer. That and after 70+ years, the cast iron pipe joint to the clay line has also probably rusted away. This normally requires replacing all the clay pipes, and the stack base with PVC pipe, from the city line, all the way through to the weeping-tile. At the front wall of the house, a back-flow prevention valve should be installed, and at least one floor drain somewhere in the basement. Excavating the old clay pipes might result in the discovery of “branch” lines. These were sometimes connected to roof downspouts, and have often been disconnected externally, and filled in (and if not they should be). Which leaves the cast-iron stack itself. Should you just replace it too? Well, you could, but a good portion of it above ground might still be in good condition. Cast iron is super quiet, that’s why its still used in high-rise buildings. PVC piping is uber noisy.

Knob and tube wiring

If your house has wiring that runs through ceramic insulators such as this:


Then you need to have the wiring changed – simple as that. The knob-and-tube in this image is actually dead, and it is not uncommon to see pieces of it in dead spaces such as ceilings, where it is too hard to remove (this is my living room ceiling, which is one of the few lathe-and-plaster ceilings left in my house). A disassembled ceramic “knob” is shown below. The wire sits in the grooves of the lower half, and is covered by the smaller cap with the circular grooves. The entire assembly is then held in place using a screw.


Look, replacing infrastructure isn’t as cool as installing a 6-burner stainless-steel industrial stove, but it is necessary.

A German wooden block plane

There are very few wooden block planes out there. This is partially because it is challenging to make a wooden block plane with a low bedding angle. One of the few available today is from German manufacturer E.C.Emmerich, (E.C.E.) founded in Remscheid, Germany in 1852. E.C.E. are well known for making a unique series of wooden planes with blade adjustment mechanisms. Whilst not as prominent in North America, the use of wooden planes is still common in mainland Europe.


E.C.E. make one block plane. While not a true block plane, it is pretty close, and is good at planing grainy wood. The 649-P “POCKET” block plane is a 6-inch plane with a body made of hornbeam and a sole made of lignum vitae. The blade is 1½” in width, and bedded at 50º. The lignum vitae sole of the plane is attached to the body using an intricate bi-directional finger joint. Lignum vitae is the ideal sole for a wooden plane because it is heavy, and dense, and as such will attract very little wear. It is also naturally oily, thereby producing less friction during cutting, and making the use of wax on the sole unnecessary.


The body of the plane is made of hornbeam, an extremely hard wood sometimes known as ironwood. Hornbeam (European) is quite unique to the usual use of beech in wooden planes, and has a slightly higher Janka hardness (1630). The most interesting thing about this plane is the blade adjustment mechanism.  Its lever cap is a simple aluminum one which is attached to the body of the plane with two wood screws which pass through holes in the blade. Note that this, unlike most other block planes is a bevel-up plane. The blade is bedded at 50º (York pitch), meaning that it is ideally suited for use on hardwoods, or woods that have highly figured grain. The blade can be adjusted without loosening tension so small adjustments can be easily made.


The blade adjustment mechanism, used for depth adjustment is installed in a cavity in the body, thus allowing the bed of the plane to maintain its dampening effect on the blade (reducing chatter). The mechanism itself is a simple threaded assembly with a carriage and pin that engages a hole in the blade. The blade is adjusted by moving the mushroom-like adjustment knob attached to the thread. Moving it clockwise extends the blade below the sole, counterclockwise backs the blade off. This knob has the dual purpose of a palm-rest whilst planing. The negative with this set-up is the potential to inadvertently change the depth setting of the blade by rotating your palm, however there is 1/3 of a turn of give before the cap engages the screw in either direction.


Lateral adjustment can be achieved by grasping the iron at the top near the adjustment knob and pushing it left or right as required to make the edge of the cutting edge parallel with the sole. Finer adjustments can be achieved using a plane hammer. This plane originally had a traditional wood-wedge to position the blade, and wooden palm rest at the back of the plane. Beyond that little has changed.


An older version of the ECE block plane


Mid-century Danish nested tables

At the moment our house is going through a mid-century modern revival. Apart from the dining room and living room being painted white, we are replacing some pieces of furniture which have seen better days. On the lookout for a small side table for the living room, we came across this unique set of nesting tables.


It turns out they are cube nesting tables designed by Kai Kristiansen for Vildbjerg Mobelfabrik. The tables are all the same size; however, each table has the legs spaced closer together than the previous one, so all three can be placed together in a cube formation. It is a truly innovative way of nesting three tables.


Construction of the tables is a simple affair. The ½” tops are teak-veneered with a 1/8″ teak edge banding. The legs are squares joined using a corner bridle joint in each corner (the stock is 7/8″ teak). The legs are attached to the tops using three flat-head screws each. Would likely be easy to replicate.


The Millers Falls No.1 spokeshave

One of the more interesting Millers Falls tools is the No.1 cigar-shaped spokeshave. The spokeshave was sold from the late nineteenth century, until approximately 1910. It is possible that in the context of a workshop, the cutter was two finicky to adjust, or maybe just too difficult to use, eventually leading to it disappearing from the market.


Fig.1: The cigar shaped spokeshave


Fig. 2: Description from a 1904 Millers Falls catalog

This spokeshave originated from a patent issued to Albert D. Goodell of Millers Falls, Massachusetts in 1884 (Patent# 293,651).


Fig.3: Drawing from the original patent No.293,651

In the patent, Goodell claims that the circular cutter is used in “order to obtain a clean cut instead of a scraping action, so common to most tools of the same purpose“. The opening in the body (see Fig.6) under the knife supposedly prevents clogging, and easy discharge of shavings. The semi-tubular blade is held onto the body of the spokeshave by means of two rounded headed set screws. As the blade overlaps the body, this prevents the cutter corners digging into the wood whilst cutting. This supposedly prevents chatter in the blade, and allows the user to skew the shave. Goodell also claimed that the tool will “work effectively in almost any position and upon either flat or round surfaces“.


Fig.4: Two views of the blade and mouth opening


Fig.5: Structure of the spokeshave, without and with the blade attached

The length of the spokeshave is 10 inches. In early versions of the spokeshave, the handles are made of Cocobolo, and either side can be detached for working in cramped situations. In Fig.5 you can see the red portion of the spokeshave structure representing the throat of the plane, and the simplicity of the holding mechanism.


Fig. 6: The back opening of the spokeshave, and the  handle being detached

The shave was supposedly good for small-radius and concave work. There are two issues with the spokeshave. The first is that it is tricky to adjust the depth of the blade, requiring the blade to be moved manually, and each screw tightened independently. This means that adjusting the blade can’t be done as one continuous movement – tightening the screw on one side may invariably slide the blade along the other screw in a skewing fashion. The second issue is the difficulty in sharpening the blade, and likely requires some sort of a jig. The other caveat is the difficulty acquiring spare curved blades.


Fig.7: The curved blade

How well does it work? Adjusting the blade to the right depth is tricky, to say the least. Fine shavings need an extremely small mouth opening. The opening shown in Fig.8 is 1/32″, and the (rather thick) shaving is from a piece of pine, which was easy. Attempting to conjure a shaving from maple was more challenging – partially because it requires a force applied to the spokeshave which can cause movement in the blade (due to an inadequacy in the ability of the holding screws), and there is nothing impeding the blade from “rolling” backwards.


Fig.8: Sample shaving from the spokeshave

As to sharpening the blade, I did the test-piece with the blade as-is. Some have suggested that sharpening involves flattening the outside of the blade (I would try this manually on a diamond stone), and then adding a micro-bevel on the inside. More on this one day.

Virtuoso: The Tool Cabinet and Workbench of Henry O. Studley (a brief review)

A couple of months back I bought a copy of Virtuoso: The Tool Cabinet and Workbench of Henry O. Studley. Written by Donald C. Williams, conservator and scholar, and photographed by Narayan Nayar, it is an exceptional publication from Lost Art Press. On vacation at the cottage this summer, I finally found time to read it. The tool cabinet of Studley is probably the most well known cabinet in the woodworking community. This may be partially due to the aesthetic beauty of this cabinet, and the fact that the cabinet is hand-made, and specific to Studley’s trade of piano-making. It is also unique because of the complete absence of similar vintage tool cabinets, which is rather strange considering the number of companies which sold cabinets, usually with tools,  in their catalogs.

The book is composed of eight chapters, and is extremely well laid out. The photographic record of both the cabinet and workbench are exceptional. The first portion of the book deals with Williams’ endeavour to find the cabinet, and an insight into the life of Studley, tracing the lineage of the cabinet since its creation. Little is known about the actual construction of the cabinet, or its day-to-day use, which is unfortunate. Obviously the cabinet itself is a work of art, but did Studley plan it this way? Did he put a tool back in the cabinet after it’s use, or maybe only at the end of the day? Studley himself is somewhat of an enigma, with only one picture in existence, published in The Music Trade Review, March 30, 1918. It shows Studley in his workshop with the cabinet in the background shortly before his retirement.

The core portion of the book chronicles the tools within the cabinet and their arrangement. Encompassing nearly half the book (94/204 pages), Chapter 5 is a detailed review of the cabinet and its contents, exploring every nook and cranny. The tools themselves are often not as awe-inspiring as one would imagine, but then they were used to work with on a daily basis, and not just to look at. It is the cabinet itself, with its unique tool storage solutions, often layered three deep, and aesthetic design that are of appeal to the reader. The cabinet is made of mahogany, with embellishments in materials such as ebony, ivory and mother-of-pearl. From the visual dissection of the cabinet found in the book, one obtains a sense of the cabinet being utilitarian in one sense, and a work of art in the other. The interesting tools are the ones built by Studley himself for his trade.

Chapter 6 briefly alludes to “artistic flourishes”, such as inlays, which contribute to the cabinet’s overall aesthetic appeal. The final portion of the book examines the Studley workbench. Whilst the original base of the workbench is missing and has been reconstructed, the interesting aspect is of course the bench slab, and vises. The form of the bench-top is a curiosity, composed of a sandwich of laminated oak encapsulated with mahogany faces, and trimmed with ebony. The chapter concludes with an investigation of the unmarked handmade piano-makers vises and a compendium of similar bench/vise combinations which still exist.

Overall this is an extraordinary book, as both a reference guide, and a book to sit in the living room and invite discussion when friends visit. It may also spur some re-creations of similar cabinet. Ultimately it would be great to see the photographic exploration used in this book extended to other projects. For example a photographic record and evolutionary discussion of Stanley’s planes perhaps? Kudos to Lost Art Press for publishing a flawless manuscript, and to Williams and Nayar for their commitment to such a woodworking icon.

NB: The interested reader can read about building a replica of the workbench top on Don Williams blog.