An Archaeology of Tools

Table of Contents

Preface to the collection
Historical Background
Exhibition Overview
Inventory Key -- A guide to Abbreviations

Collection Catalogs

Historic Maritime I (1607-1676): The First Colonial Dominion (pdf)
Historic Maritime II (1720-1800): The Second Colonial Dominion & the Early Republic (pdf)
Historic Maritime III (1800-1840): Boomtown Years & the Dawn of the Industrial Revolution (pdf)
Historic Maritime IV (1840-1865): The Early Industrial Revolution (pdf)

The Industrial Revolution (1865f.):

Classic Period of American Machinist's Tools (pdf)
Other Factory Made Tools

Other Collections

Special Collections--Modern Tools or Tools of Special Significance:

Davistown Museum School Loan Program (pdf)
German Steel
Tools made from Rasps or Files
Interactive Displays
Tool Exam (pdf)
Unknown Maker's Marks (pdf)
Tools Sent in for Identification and Unidentified Tools

Catalog of Maine Tools
Tools of Historic Interest not in the Museum Collection
Registry of Maine Tool Museums

Art of the Edge Tool Exhibit Part I and Part II

The Davistown Museum has produced a number of publications both in print and electronic form on the subjects of tools, art, and history. Below are links to the online versions of the texts. A suggested donation of 10 cents a page helps offset the cost of maintaining the website, researching, and publishing the materials. These may all be purchased from our list of publications.

Museum Publication Series : Hand Tools in History
Steel- and Toolmaking Strategies and Techniques before 1870 (Volume 6)
Art of the Edge Tool: The Ferrous Metallurgy of New England Shipsmiths and Toolmakers 1607 - 1882 (Volume 7)
The Classic Period of American Toolmaking 1827 - 1930 (Volume 8)
An Archaeology of Tools: The Tool Collections of the Davistown Museum (Volume 9)
Registry of Maine Toolmakers (Volume 10)
Handbook for Ironmongers: A Glossary of Ferrous Metallurgy Terms: A Voyage through the Labyrinth of Steel- and Toolmaking Strategies and Techniques 2000 BCE to 1950 (Volume 11)
Tools Teach: An Iconography of American Hand Tools (Volume 13)    


Maine Toolmaker Information Files: (see volume 10)


Special Collections of American Toolmakers (see volume 9)

Tool Information Files:

Metallurgy Exerpts from R.J. Forbes

Precision Toolmaking Talk by G. O'Connor

Maine's Resource Based Economy

The Coopers of Maine and their Products

Citations and Annotations from Hunter's Waterpower

Yankee Plough Planes

Grey Iron Castings

Katahdin Iron Works: Blast Furnaces, Charcoal Kilns, Lime Kilns




Foundry Work

History of Tool Manufacturing Bibliography

European Precedents and the Early Industrial Revolution
The Industrial Revolution in America
Collector's Guides, Handbooks, and Dictionaries
Tools of the Trades
US and New England Toolmakers
Tool Catalogs
Tool Journals, Newsletters, and Auction Listings

Preface to the Collection

The Davistown Museum exhibition An Archaeology of Tools interprets the European settlement of Maine and New England through the medium of hand tools, always for archaeologists among the most revealing of the accidental durable remnants of ancient peoples. Occasionally, interspersed within the tool collections recovered by the Liberty Tool Co. for the Davistown Museum are artifacts dating prior to the European settlement of North America. The history of the Ancient Dominions of Maine is the history of two cultures, the Native Americans who lived in Maine before 1600 and the Europeans who gradually cleared the landscape of these first inhabitants after 1600.

Historical Background

The mission of The Davistown Museum exhibition An Archaeology of Tools is the recovery, identification, evaluation, and display of the hand tools of the maritime culture of coastal New England from the first European visitors in the 16th century to the fluorescence of the Industrial Revolution.  Particular emphasis is put on the display of hand tools characteristic of the maritime culture of Maine and New England, its shipbuilders and toolmakers, as well as the tools of the trades of the artisans of Davistown Plantation, later the towns of Montville and Liberty.

The many villages and mill sites of the Davistown Plantation evolved into a flourishing community of coopers by the third decade of the 19th century. These coopers, as well as other crafstmen and small manufacturer's establishments and water mills, produced a wide variety of woodenware, wood products, such as clapboards and house frames, and some tools that were then transported to the market and shipbuilding towns of coastal Maine including Belfast, Thomaston, Warren, and Waldoboro. The artifacts produced at mill sites such as Liberty, Kingdom Falls, South Liberty, Searsmont, Appleton, and Union played a key role in the evolution of the maritime culture of Maine including its Downeast cod fishery, West Indies and coasting trade, lime and granite industries, and flourishing lumber and cordwood exports. A study of the maritime history of Maine is incomplete without tracing the evolution of the infrastructure and industries that were the basis for its florescence from the end of the Indian Wars (1759) to the Industrial Revolution. The tool collection of The Davistown Museum -- An Archaeology of Tools -- reflects the evolution of toolmaking from Maine's first colonial dominion to the twilight years of its maritime culture during the late 19th century. Particular emphasis is placed on recovering tools and artifacts characteristic of the trades and mercantile activities of both the pre-Civil War communities of Liberty and Montville and the Davistown Plantation which preceded them, as well as those characteristic of New England's early American industries and later machine age production, which now forms the bulk of the museum's collections .

A primary source of the tools on exhibit are those collected by the Jonesport Wood Co., Liberty Tool Co. (located across the street from the Museum), and the Hulls Cove Tool Barn since tool collecting began in 1970 in and near New England shipbuilding communities. Specific significant tools with special characteristics and/or tool manufacturer or maker's signatures collected during the last four decades were then loaned or donated to the Davistown Museum when it was founded in 1999 to form the core of its current collection. More recently, donations and loans from other collectors have allowed the collection of The Davistown Museum to become among the most important in the United States. Particular emphasis has been put on the chronological documentation of tool manufacturers in New England and Maine.

The collection of tools in the Davistown Museum is the result of the recovery of hand tools manufactured either in England, continental locations, or in the early forges, foundries, and factories of America during the settlement of New England by Europeans in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. These tools are organized in chronological groupings and displayed in The Davistown Museum exhibition An Archaeology of Tools. The organization of the museum's tool exhibition expresses the history of the state of Maine and its peculiar anomalies (e.g. the depopulation of most areas of Maine east of Wells after 1676; coastal resettlement was gradual if sporadic until the fall of Quebec in 1759.) The historical schema used for the collation of these tools in the Museum collection expresses the rhythms of Maine's history -- the ancient dominions of the old maritime cultures of Maine and the gradual impact of the Industrial Revolution on this culture. The study of early tools as material cultural artifacts helps us trace the gradual, at times tortuous, settlement of the Maine coast and its tidewater communities and the later penetration of European settlers into ever more inland locations. The tools used by European settlers in Maine prior to the Industrial Revolution illustrate their near total dependence on a resource-based economy based first and foremost on forest products, with shipbuilding as its most essential industry. The creative use of these forest products by the adept use of steel edged tools allowed the efficient exploitation of Maine's other major natural resource, its marine fisheries, as well as the manufacture of the wide variety of milled lumber and coopers' products that, along with fish, were the most important cargos on Maine's coasting and oceangoing ships.

Since some of the tools recovered by the Liberty Tool Co. in southern New England and Maine were manufactured during the historical interregnum (1676-1720), when no tools were being made in Maine. They are cataloged in Historic Maritime I if appearing to be made before 1700 (always a guess); otherwise they are listed in Maritime II. An example of this is the Jo Fuller (Providence RI) rounding plane (ID: 31102T1).

Implicit in our attempt to explore the technological history of hand tools in Maine is a triad: forest products - woodworking tool kits - and the wooden ships they produced. This triad underlies the organizational plan of the museum exhibition An Archaeology of Tools. The schema of this exhibition references the ebb and flow of a series of historical events, the details of which can be pursued and explored in the wealth of written literature on the manufacturing of hand tools and the history of technology. The historical background and related literature and research, which constitutes the essential background information for understanding and interpreting the exhibition An Archaeology of Tools, is contained in volumes 6 - 8 of the museum publication series, Hand Tools in History. The specifics of tool manufacturing in Maine are explored in volume 10 of this museum publication series, the Registry of Maine Toolmakers. Together these volumes explore the historical background, steelmaking strategies, and tool manufacturing history of New England's maritime era.

Our chronological examination of hand tools in Maine history begins with the following time frame.

This schema or historical timeline, as well as the various chronologies, which precede or follow it, provide a handy reference for Museum staff, visitors, and students to interpret the changes in technology essential to understanding Maine and American history.

An Archaeology of Tools: Exhibition Overview

The Museum displays illustrate the evolution of tool manufacturing in the United States from blacksmith-made hand-forged tools (circa 1600 - 1830) to the early years of the Industrial Revolution and the emergence of a vigorous American tool manufacturing industry. The history, manufacturing techniques, and products of American hand tool manufacturing industries before the Civil War are poorly documented. The many American-made tools, especially edge tools, surviving from this period help supplement the meager written literature on this subject. While finely made English tools, and to a lesser extent German tools, continued to be imported to the United States until after the Civil War, American tool manufacturing activities can be divided into four general categories. All are compatible with our interpretation of the maritime era of Maine's unique history, the overlap of steel producing strategies and technologies not withstanding.

After 1830, American toolmakers quickly adopted, implemented, and improved innovative English machine designs. American entrepreneurs combined originality, inventiveness, the open exchange of information, and the efficient organization of production and distribution to create a factory system that made America the leader in world production of most hand tools by the time of the Civil War.

During and after the Civil War, and with the help of a proliferating railroad system, westward expansion, and the discovery and use of extensive continental natural resources, especially iron ore, forest products, and coal, America began producing its own crucible steel, followed by large quantities of bulk process steel. It was during this time that the tradition of handmade hand tools was gradually subsumed by factory-made tools, many of great beauty and inventiveness. Between 1865 and 1930, what is now called the classic period of American machinist and patented plane production, achieved its famed excellence in hand tool production.

The museum tool exhibition is intended to illustrate the technological changes impacting the Davistown Plantation, the towns of Liberty and Montville, and the livelihood of local residents, and in a larger context, all the maritime rural and incipent industrial communities of late colonial and early America. The exhibits document the replacement of handmade tools with factory- and machine-made tools, and illustrate an Industrial Revolution which perfected the art of tool manufacturing at the same time that it bypassed the communities of coastal and back country Maine, which escaped both its benefits and the urban blight that is its legacy.

Historical context for the exhibition "An Archaeology of Tools"

The most important tools in the tool kits of the residents of the historical maritime cultures of Maine (1607 - 1865) are woodworking tools, especially those associated with shipbuilding, boat building, and construction of mills, buildings, and wharfs. Central among these primordial tools are the adz, broad ax, framing chisel, pit saw, drawknife, hewing ax, hand plane, and pod auger. As our exhibition An Archaeology of Tools has been collected and organized from the surviving remnants of the workshops and tool chests of 18th and 19th century New England, a series of questions naturally arise as to the origins and prototypes of the iron and steel tools used by the early settlers in New England.

In the late 18th century, what was a trickle of settlers moving into the back hill country of central coastal Maine became a virtual flood of immigrants seeking free land and new opportunities. The extensive network of rivers and streams that eventually led to the coastal tidewater shipbuilding towns of Thomaston and Warren (St. Georges River), Waldoboro (Medomak River), Damariscotta and Boothbay (Davis Stream and Damariscotta River), and Wiscasset (Sheepscot River) provided numerous water mill sites for what was to be a vigorous forest-resource dependent network of coopers, woodsmen, sawyers, and millwrights. These newly arrived migrants from forest-resource starved southern New England often followed traditional seasonal patterns of labor to work in the tidewater shipyards or serve as crew for winter and early spring fishing expeditions. The forms (shapes, styles, and design characteristics), origins (place of manufacture), and manufacturing methods of the tools used by these settlers tell us more about their lives, technology, and social milieu than any other material cultural remnants except the written records they left for posterity.

Of particular importance for the newly established villages of the Davistown Plantation, always located at mill sites (The Kingdom, Liberty Village, South Montville, and South Liberty) as well as nearby Searsmont, Appleton, Palermo, and Union, was an already well established coastal shipbuilding industry. It was the needs of this shipbuilding industry for heavy timber, planking, and spars as well as for the ship cargos of cordwood, clapboards, house frames, and especially cooperage products (staves, trawl line tubs, water kegs, salt boxes, etc.) that enabled these back hill country mill towns to rapidly grow in the boomtown years of the first four decades of the 19th century. The hand tools utilized in the harvesting of timber resources and the manufacture of wooden products were, along with the essential skills necessary for the efficient use of these tools, the key to the success of these industries. The seasonal and itinerant nature of shipbuilding also meant that many of the same tools and skills used in the boom town years of the inland water mill towns were also the key ingredient in the success of Maine's booming shipyards. A comparison of the number of ships built in the Waldoboro customs district shows an almost exact correlation with mill town population levels in the early and mid-19th century.

As early as 1640, southern New England colonists, including many new artisans who had arrived in the great migration (1629-1645), had been forced to build their own fishing and trading vessels due to the disruption of shipping caused by the English Revolution, 1640 - 1660. With the return of peace after the disruption and uncertainties of the long Parliament and Cromwellian years, New England colonists began participating in, and soon became an important component of, an English-based polygon of transatlantic trade that included Newfoundland, New England, the West Indies, the Wine Islands (Madeira, etc.), and European and English ports. As southern New England depleted its forest resources, Maine soon became an important source of forest products. By the time of the American Revolution and the early years of the republic, coastal Maine had become an important shipbuilding center as well as a source for milled and raw timber products of every description. By the 1840s, Maine had become the most important center of America's shipbuilding industry. Of particular significance for both the history of the Davistown Plantation and the formation of the museum is that by the late 1840s the Waldoboro Customs District, downstream from Liberty and Montville, was producing as much as 10% of all wooden ships built in the United States. This florescence of shipbuilding and associated need for cargo, supplies of woodenware, and agricultural products explains why local population levels as well as water mill-related manufacturing activities reached their peak levels in the 1840s. The third, fourth, and fifth decades of the 19th century thus provide a focus for the museum's tool collection, which begins with the earliest forged iron and imported English tools (Maritime I and II) and ends with the classic period of the Industrial Revolution.

After 1870, fewer but larger sailing vessels continued to be built in Maine, especially at Bath and at surviving larger shipyards at Thomaston, Waldoboro, Damariscotta, and elsewhere, but in the era of railroads and steamships, the small community-sponsored coasters and West Indies traders were fast disappearing. After the Civil War, the full rigged downeasters, and later, the huge bulk cargo schooners, the last wooden ships built in Maine, were transporting coal, ice, cotton, lime, and granite to the growing cities and mills along the Atlantic seaboard and elsewhere. This final florescence of wooden shipbuilding in Maine played an ironic role in ending the era of wooden ships and the decline of the mill towns located upstream from a now shrinking shipbuilding industry. The decline in wooden shipbuilding in many coastal Maine locations closely correlates with declining population levels and manufacturing activity in the mill towns of the central coastal Maine hill country, in contrast to growing industrial activity in southern New England cities and Maine mill towns such as Biddeford, Auburn, and Lewiston.

Inventory Key

The inventory list of the collections of the Davistown Museum is divided by the categories listed below.

The following abbreviations are used:

DTM     Owned by The Davistown Museum (donation or purchase)
DA        Deaccessioned
LPC       Loans from a Private Collection except for loans from artists
LA         Loans from the Artist; many of the works in the Annual Art Show are loans from the artist
BDTM   Bequest to the Museum from a Private Collection
GA        Gift from the artist; these are also part of the permanent collection but are differentiated from Museum purchases in order to acknowledge individual gifts.
LSS       Items Loaned for Special Shows
MAG      Maine Artists Guild item
NOM     Not Owned by the Museum
SOLD    Sold by MAG
WD       Withdrawn by the Artist

Location codes:
The letter codes correspond to those used on the Museum map.

MH       Main Exhibition Hall except display cases
MHC    Main Exhibition Hall, in the Cases (A-L); These will list as MHC-K for Main Exhibition Hall Case K
RR        Reading Room (T) and display cases (R)
ESML   Elliot Sayward Memorial Library, second, third, and fourth floors
CP        Children's Room and Print Collection
CSA      Coffin Stream Assemblage (3)
CT       Captain Tinkham's Emporium, Searsport
MH3      Main Hall to DTHP connector (3)
DTHP   Davistown History Project room (U)
LTC     Liberty Tool Co., Davistown Museum Annex, second floor
P           Fourth floor Photography exhibit and stairwell (P, V)
Q           Bathroom (Q)
MAG    MAG Gallery on second floor (rooms 1 - 8)
YX        Stairwell and Entrance Hall (Y, X)
T         Reading room display case
TT        Tools Teach (Basement)
TT (pub) Illustrated in Tools Teach and deaccessioned
OM        Outside the museum (at street level)
GWIS   Gallery, Great Wass Island Salvage Co., Hulls Cove
HC         Hulls Cove Office
SG        Hulls Cove Sculpture Garden
TB         Hulls Cove Tool Barn
UNK    Unable to locate

photo: A click-on link to a photograph of the item.

bio: A click-on link to a biography of the maker.

Reference abbreviations

Much of the information in the inventory listings comes from these essential references and information sources:

Bacheller, Milton H., Jr. (2000). American marking gages, patented and manufactured. Self-published, 185 South St., Plainville, MA 02762

Barraclough, K.C. (1984). Steelmaking before Bessemer: Crucible steel, the growth of technology. Volume 2. The Metals Society, London.

Brack, H.G. (2008). Registry of Maine Toolmakers. Pennywheel Press, Hulls Cove, ME

Cope, Kenneth L. (1993). American machinist's tools: An illustrated directory of patents. Astragal Press, Mendham, NJ.

Devitt, Jack. (2000). Ohio toolmakers and their tools. Tavenner Pub Co., Anderson, SC.

Diderot, Denis and d’Alembert, Jean Baptiste le Rond. ([1751-65] 1964-6). Recueil de planches sur les sciences, les arts libéraux, et les arts mechaniques avec leur explication. Volumes 1-6. Au Cercle du Livre Precieux, Paris, France.

Goodman, W.L. ([1968] 1993). British planemakers from 1700. Third Edition enlarged and revised by Jane & Mark Rees, published by Roy Arnold in 1993, Astragal Press, Mendham, NJ.

Jones, Robert S., The 'Plane' Gentleman, 3042 Conchise Circle SE, Rio Rancho, NM 87124-2271, personal correspondence.

Moxon, Joseph. ([1703] 1989). Mechanick exercises or the doctrine of handiworks. The Astragal Press, Morristown, NJ.

Nelson, Robert E., Ed. (1999). Directory of American Toolmakers [DATM]: A listing of identified makers of tools who worked in Canada and the United States before 1900. Early American Industries Association.

Pollak, Emil and Pollak, Martyl. (2001). A guide to the makers of American wooden planes, fourth edition. Astragal Press, Mendham, NJ.

Schulz, Alfred and Schulz, Lucille. (1989). Antique and unusual wrenches. Published by Alfred & Lucille Schulz, R.1 Box 151, Malcolm, NE 68402.

Sellens, Alvin. (1990). Dictionary of American hand tools: A pictorial synopsis. Alvin Sellens, Publisher, Augusta, KS.

Smith, Roger K. (1981-1992). Patented transitional & metallic planes in America 1827 - 1927. 2 vols. North Village Publishing Co., Lancaster, MA

Stanley, Philip E. (1984). Boxwood & ivory: Stanley traditional rules, 1855 - 1975. The Stanley Publishing Co., Westborough, MA

Timmins, R. & Sons. (no date). Tools for the trades and crafts: An eighteenth century pattern book. R. Timmins & Sons, Birmingham. Reprinted in 1976 by K. Roberts Pub. Co., Fitzwilliam, NH.

Yeaton, Donald G. (2000). Axe makers of Maine. Unpublished, Donald Yeaton, 51 Strafford Rd., Rochester, NH 03867-4107.