Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Historic Tool ??

A recent question came in about a historic object:
... I was looking into historic blacksmithing in the area of Peterborough, Ontario. I am an art conservation student at Fleming College in Peterborough and I recently completed a project treating a heavily rusted 19th century tool made of a mild steel (which I was told may be a blacksmithing tool). However, I am completely baffled as to what the tool is and what it was used for!
Click to see at approximately life sized.

The image above was altered from Megan's original -
Rendered via Photoshop because of possible copyright concerns

From the scale, the object is roughly 38 cm long by 16 cm wide (so roughly 15 x 6 1/2 inches). The overall construction is rather 'light' - with the components of the frame looking to be about .5 cm / 1/4 inch in thickness. The maximum width of the clamp is about 5 cm / 2 inches at full extension. This strongly suggests not a metalworking application, but something to be used for much lighter materials. (My WAG is for wood working??)

There is no doubt is was 'blacksmith made' (hand forged, forge welds, hand cut threads). I take it you have tested to ensure that it is made of mild steel, which dates it to post 1855 at the very earliest (Bessemer furnace date).

Although I can see the object is intended to be mounted to a wooden bench in roughly the same position as in your image, I can't for the life of me think of what it would be useful *for*.

Maybe one of my readers (a lot of blacksmiths and history types) will be able to identify this tool?

Personally, I have not a clue!

Later Addition

Those that caught this first thing this morning did see an actual photograph. When I e-mailed Megan for permission* she asked that the image not be published due to possible copyright concerns. (Since I've been working with artifacts for a long time, I'm personally less concerned about this - see a past commentary )

I've gotten a couple of questions :

Yes, the lower 'wing nut' does screw / move to push against the sliding bar near the top. It would place pressure on to the bar, but gravity would release it.

The first 'more likely suggestion came in from Matt Balent (via Facebook) :

"Perhaps for compressing/clamping broom straw?"

When I was at Black Creek Village, we had used a simple clamp made ourselves (well, by Ian Bell) from two slabs of wood and a couple of bolts. After the straw had been wrapped to a circular stick handle, the clamp was placed just bellow this attachment point. Then a needle and string were stitched through the flattened straw. Several courses of this would convert the cylinder to a flat oval cross section when the clamp was removed.
Doing this with a bench mounted clamp would be even easier. (If you look at a modern corn broom, you will see the same basic method used.)
It was pointed out by a couple of comments that the six inch width of the clamp might make it a bit small for this purpose.

Even Later!

From Sheldon Browder :

"It's a string mop holder, purely and simply. A mop handle goes on the tang and 1/2 of the mop strings go on each side of the clamp. The photo is upside down."
Now Sheldon was a master blacksmith at Colonial Williamsburg for a good long time. His knowledge of Settlement / Colonial Period objects has always impressed me.

Image scammed via Google from

I must admit that I am old enough to remember using a modern version of the same purpose tool. Details a bit hazy at this point, but there was a roughly similar arrangement of a D shaped frame with a plate that could be tightened against the flat bar, gripping the centre of the string bundle. In that case the construction was stainless steel, and there was a bolt and thumb screw on either side of the gripping plates. The handle fitted into a conical socket (which is a stronger arrangement).

* The Price of Advise!
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Those sending me e-mails asking for advise (unpaid consulting) may see my answer to their question re-formatted and turned into a posting here on Hammered Out Bits. I normally echo these posts on to Facebook (at least as a short description and link back). I do take care to remove any personal data (for their own security) and normally will request permission before posting any personal image that may be sent to me. (This does not apply to images pulled down off the open internet by the way).


Anatoly Venovcev said...

My first impression is that it's a clamp or vice of some kind. The grooves on the centre piece suggest that the lower shelf is adjustable (the lower shelf also doesn't seem to be welded on but looks as if it can move up and down).

As far as what it was used for beyond just that - I have no idea. It could be a woodworking tool. Alternatively I'm thinking a carriage or wagon component? Not too sure for what but you get a lot of weird pieces meant for carriages and wagons on late nineteenth century blacksmith shops.

I'd suggest posting this picture on HISTARCH, the historical archaeology ListServ ( The folks on there might be able to figure it out.

Zilla's Other Half said...

My first question is if this item is completely static or whether the middle parts move in some way.

Zilla's Other Half said...

I'm not sure I agree. I looked at a few videos with folks making brooms and the clamp is much more sturdy than that fine metal piece. I can still see it clamping something but it'll be something small and fine. 6 1/2 inches wide is unlikely to be a broom of any sorts. How about a paint brush? We're assuming I suppose, that the metal spikey bit at the bottom was used to affix it into something to hold it upright, rather than being part of the tool itself?

If it's alternatively considered to be part of the tool, then I could only see it acting as a needle pulling something clamped in the other end, through something. It then still begs the question - what?

stag said...

Flattening broom corn to make curling brooms.


February 15 - May 15, 2012 : Supported by a Crafts Projects - Creation and Development Grant

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