The History of Hardware Tools

Who Invented Wrenches, Gauges and Saws?

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Bellis, Mary. "The History of Hardware Tools." ThoughtCo, Aug. 21, 2016, Bellis, Mary. (2016, August 21). The History of Hardware Tools. Retrieved from Bellis, Mary. "The History of Hardware Tools." ThoughtCo. (accessed September 22, 2017).

Hardware hand tools are used by craftsmen and builders in manual operations like chopping, chiseling, sawing, filing and forging. The date of the earliest tools is uncertain, but some found in northern Kenya in 1969 may be about 2.6 million years old.

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Chain Saws

One of the earliest references to chain saws comes from the Canadian Medical Association Journal in an article written by Wolf Seufert, MD, DSc:

"Orthopedics became a specialty with the help of a new instrument, the osteotome, invented around 1830 by the German Bernard Heine. This illustration from a contemporary inventory of surgical tools shows clearly that this clever master of prosthetics had in fact invented the chain saw. The links of the chain carried small cutting teeth with the edges set at an angle; the chain was moved around a guiding blade by turning the handle of the sprocket wheel."

Several major manufacturers of chain saws claim to have invented the first one. All their claims point to the 1920s, but this 1830 osteotome would predate them all.

One claim states that a California inventor named Muir was the first person to put a chain on a blade for logging purposes. But Muir's invention weighed hundreds of pounds and required a crane. This invention was neither a commercial or practical success.

The 1861 Hamilton saw was hand-cranked by one or two men and looked like a spinning wheel. The American riding saw of the 1880s resembled a rowing machine that cutters could sit upon.

A saw driven by a two-cylinder, water-cooled marine-type motor is reported to have sawed through a 10-foot log in four and a half minutes in Eureka, California in 1905. It was set at 90 degrees from its normal position.

German mechanical engineer Andreas Stihl patented the "Cutoff Chain Saw for Electric Power" in 1926 and the first gasoline-powered chain saw in 1929, which he called the "tree-felling machine." These were the first successful patents for hand-held mobile chain saws designed for woodcutting. Andreas Stihl is most frequently credited as being the inventor of the mobile and motorized chain saw.

Finally, Atom Industries began manufacturing their own chain saws in 1972. It was the world's first chain saw company to offer a complete range of saws with patented electronic ignitions and patented turbo-action, self-cleaning air cleaners.

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Circular Saws

Large circular saws are found in saw mills and are used to produce lumber. 

Samuel Miller invented the circular saw, a round metal disk saw that cuts by spinning, in England in 1777. Tabitha Babbitt, a Shaker sister, invented the first circular saw used in a saw mill in 1813. Babbitt was working in the spinning house at the Harvard Shaker community in Massachusetts when she decided to improve upon the two-man pit saws that were being used for lumber production. Babbitt is also credited with inventing an improved version of cut nails, a new method of making false teeth, and an improved spinning wheel head.

William Newberry invented a band saw in 1807.

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The Bourdon Tube Pressure Gauge

The Bourdon tube pressure gauge was patented in France by Eugene Bourdon in 1849. It's still one of the most common instruments used to measure the pressure of liquids and gases of all kinds, including steam, water and air up to pressures of 100,000 pounds per square inch.

Eugene Bourdon founded the Bourdon Sedeme Company to manufacture his invention. The American patent rights were bought by Edward Ashcroft in 1852. Ashcroft played an important role in the widespread adoption of steam power in the U.S. He renamed Bourdon's gauge, calling it the Ashcroft gauge. 

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Drills and Drill Chucks

A. I. Jacobs is credited with inventing the first three-jaw drill chuck, which he called “Jacob's Chuck.” He founded the Jacobs® Chuck Manufacturing Company in 1902.

Martin Cherrington invented horizontal directional drilling in 1972.

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The Pneumatic Hammer

Charles Brady King of Detroit invented the pneumatic hammer driven by compressed air in 1890. He received a patent for his invention in 1894. King exhibited two of his inventions at the 1893 Worlds Columbia Exposition: a pneumatic hammer for riveting and caulking and a steel brake beam for railroad road cars. 

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The Hydraulic Jack

In 1851, founder of Richard Dudgeon, Inc. and inventor Richard Dudgeon was granted a patent for his "portable hydraulic press" – the hydraulic jack. It proved to be vastly superior to the screw jacks in use at the time. Other inventions attributed to Dudgeon include roller boiler tube expanders, pulling jacks, filter press jacks, steam forging hammers, railroad lifting equipment, heavy plate hydraulic hole punches, and many types and sizes of lifting jacks.

Dudgeon was renowned for his inventions. He astounded New Yorkers by driving from his home to his place of business in an innovative steam carriage in 1855. The noise and vibration generated by the "Red Devil Steamer" frightened horses so badly that city authorities confined it to a single street. Although Dudgeon claimed the carriage could carry 10 people at 14 mph on one barrel of anthracite coal, it was far ahead of its time and failed to gain popular favor.

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Plyers, Tongs and Pincers

Plyers are hand-operated tool used mostly for holding and gripping objects. Simple plyers are an ancient invention: Two sticks probably served as the first uncertain holders but bronze bars may have replaced wooden tongs as early as 3000 BC.

Round-nose plyers are used for bending and cutting wire. Diagonal cutting plyers are used for cutting wire and small pins in areas that cannot be reached by larger cutting tools. Adjustable slip-joint plyers have grooved jaws, and the pivot hole in one member is elongated so it can pivot in either of two positions to grasp objects of different sizes.

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A wrench, also called a spanner, is a typically hand-operated tool that's used for tightening bolts and nuts. The tool works as a lever with notches at the mouth for gripping. The wrench is pulled at a right angle to the axes of the lever action and the bolt or nut. Some wrenches have mouths that can be tightened to better fit various objects that need turning.

Solymon Merrick patented the first wrench in 1835. Charles Moncky invented the first "monkey" wrench around 1858. Robert Owen, Jr. invented the ratchet wrench, receiving a patent for it in 1913.

Another patent was granted to Daniel C. Stillson, a steamboat fireman, for a wrench in September 1870. Stillson had invented the pipe wrench. He suggested to the heating and piping firm Walworth that they manufacture a design for a wrench that could be used for screwing pipes together – serrated blacksmith tongs had previously been used for this purpose. James Walworth told Stillson to make a prototype and “either twist off the pipe or break the wrench.” Stillson's prototype twisted the pipe successfully. His design was then patented and Walworth manufactured it. Stillson was paid about $80,000 in royalties for his invention during his lifetime.

NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) engineer John Vranish is credited for coming up with the idea for a "ratchetless" wrench.

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Welding Tools

Nikolai Benardos and Stanislav Olszewski were granted a patent for an electric arc welder with a carbon electrode called the "Electrogefest" in 1885. Benardos and Olszewski are considered the inventors of the welding apparatus.