The History of Hardware Tools

Who Invented Wrenches, Gauges and Saws?

Hardware Business Owner

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Artisans and builders use hardware hand tools to carry out manual labor tasks such as chopping, chiseling, sawing, filing and forging. While the date of the earliest tools is uncertain, researchers have found equipment in northern Kenya that may be about 2.6 million years old. Today, some of the most popular tools include chainsaws, wrenches, and the circular saw — each of which have their unique history.  

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Chain Saws

Stihl MS 170

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Several significant manufacturers of chain saws claim to have invented the first one.

Some, for instance, credit California inventor named Muir as the first person to put a chain on a blade for logging purposes. But Muir's invention weighed hundreds of pounds, required a crane and was neither a commercial or practical success.

In 1926, German mechanical engineer Andreas Stihl patented the "Cutoff Chain Saw for Electric Power." In 1929, he also patented the first gasoline-powered chain, 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 chain saws in 1972. They were 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

Dewalt DCS391L2 Circular Saw

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Large circular saws, a round metal disk saw that cuts by spinning can be found in sawmills and are used to produce lumber. Samuel Miller invented the circular saw in 1777, but it was Tabitha Babbitt, a Shaker sister, who invented the first circular saw used in a sawmill 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.

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The Bourdon Tube Pressure Gauge

Bourdon Tube Pressure Gauge

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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 — this including steam, water, and air up to pressures of 100,000 pounds per square inch.

Bourdon also founded the Bourdon Sedeme Company to manufacture his invention. Edward Ashcroft later bought the American patent rights in 1852. It was Ashcroft who played an important role in the widespread adoption of steam power in the U.S. He renamed Bourdon's gauge and called it the Ashcroft gauge. 

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Plyers, Tongs and Pincers

Plyers, Tongs and Pincers

J.C. Fields/Wikimedia Commons/Creative Commons

Plyers are hand-operated tools used mostly for holding and gripping objects. Simple plyers are an ancient invention as two sticks probably served as the first uncertain holders. It appears though that bronze bars may have replaced wooden tongs as early as 3000 BC.

There are also various types of pliers. 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 with an elongated pivot hole in one member so that it can pivot in either of two positions to grasp objects of different sizes.

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Ildar Sagdejev (Specious)/Wikimedia Commons/Creative Commons

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. Another patent was granted to Daniel C. Stillson, a steamboat fireman, for a wrench in 1870. Stillson is the inventor of the pipe wrench. The story was that 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. He was told 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.

Some inventors would later introduce their own wrenches. Charles Moncky invented the first "monkey" wrench around 1858. Robert Owen, Jr. invented the ratchet wrench, receiving a patent for it in 1913. 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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Your Citation
Bellis, Mary. "The History of Hardware Tools." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, Bellis, Mary. (2021, February 16). The History of Hardware Tools. Retrieved from Bellis, Mary. "The History of Hardware Tools." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 10, 2023).