From the mid-1930’s there was an increased use of plastics in tool manufacture. One of the earliest used was cellulose acetate, made by the Hercules Powder Company. It is found predominantly in Millers Falls tools of the late 1930s – in a plastic they called permaloid – a smoothing plane, a hacksaw, a bit brace, screwdrivers, and chisels. Cellulose acetate was one of the first plastics made from a renewable resource – it is based on cotton or tree pulp. The screwdrivers were described as “high grade steel bits permanently imbedded in red, transparent, indestructible, shockproof, plastic handles”. Why was it used? According to the ad below – durability, toughness, ease of fabrication, and permanent finish. I would add to that – cost. It was probably cheaper to mold some plastic parts than make them out of wood. Stanley had it’s own version, “Stanloid” – “the toughest non-metallic substance known”. They used it on their chisel and screwdriver handles in the mid 1930s. They were also touted as being break-proof and shock-proof, and will not soak up oil or water. Read the caution however that states “do not permit handle to come into contact with an open flame, as it will burn rapidly“. Oh what fun.
This later gave way to a more opaque red plastic handle material known as Tenite – another cellulose acetate based plastic made by Eastman. Millers Falls used Tenite in its “Buck Rogers” line of tools. Even Disston advertised a line of saws using Tenite handles in the late 1930s – the “toughest, strongest molded material ever developed for practical industrial purposes. Perfect in feel. Will not chip, shrink, or swell …New, rich permanent colors …Blade can never work loose… ‘Hang’ and balance are always right.”