Early History Of Tool Making

By Joseph A. McGeough

Metals and Smelting

The discovery that certain heavy “stones” did not respond to hammer blows by flaking or fracturing but were instead soft and remained intact as their shapes changed marked the end of the long Stone Age. Of the pure, or native, metals, gold and silver seem to have attracted attention at an early date, but both were too soft for tools. The first metals of value for toolmaking were natural copper and meteoric iron. Although they were scarce, they were tough and potentially versatile materials that were suited for new purposes, as well as many of the old. They also introduced a new problem, corrosion.


Copper occurs in native state in many parts of the world, sometimes in nuggets or lumps of convenient size. It is malleable; that is, it can be shaped by hammering while cold. This also hardens copper and allows it to carry a sharp edge, the hammered edge being capable of further improvement on an abrasive stone. After a certain amount of hammering (cold-working), copper becomes brittle, a condition that can be removed as often as necessary by heating the material and plunging it into cold water (quenching). The softening operation is known as annealing, and repeated annealing are necessary if much hammering is required for shaping.

Among early toolmakers, nuggets of copper were hammered into sheets, divided into strips, and then separated into pieces to be worked into arrowheads, knives, awls, choppers, and the like. Copper was also shaped by beating pieces of the soft metal into appropriately shaped rock cavities (moulds).

Meteoric iron, widely distributed but not in heavy deposits, was a highly prized material more difficult to fabricate than the softer copper. Its celestial origin was recognized by the ancients: the ancient Egyptians called it black copper from heaven, and the Sumerians denoted it by two characters representing heaven and fire.

Like copper, iron hardens under the hammer and will then take a superior edge. Iron can be annealed, but the process is quite different from that of copper because, with iron, slow cooling from a high temperature is necessary. Meteoric iron is practically carbonless and, hence, cannot be hardened in the manner of steel; a high nickel content of about 8 percent makes it relatively corrosion resistant.

For early toolmakers, small meteorites were the most convenient sources of iron, but larger bodies were hacked at with copper and rock tools to yield tool-sized pieces for knives, spear points, arrow points, axe heads, and other implements. Meteoric iron was beaten into tools in much the same way as copper, although it could not be forced into a mould in the manner of the softer metal. Much rarer than copper, meteoric iron also was often used for jewellery, attested to by burial finds of necklaces of iron and gold beads, iron rings along with gold rings, and ornaments in sheet form.

Fixing an out of true chuck

Trying to drill a hole accurately with a wobbly bit is a pain in the backside. This pain I lived with for several months until I figured out what was wrong. When I bought this eggbeater, I never had such issues, but since I dismantled the chuck for cleaning several months back, I noticed the wobble started.

I will go through the steps I have taken to find a solution. You can also follow these steps when you’re next at flea markets before buying a hand drill. You don’t want lemons because these hand drills aren’t cheap anymore.

The first thing I checked was the bit. I laid it flat on my table and rolled it. There were no irregularities, for good measure I placed it in my drill press and it was fine. So, I crossed that off the list.

Open and close the jaws in the chuck and watch if the jaws open and close evenly together. If not, get a new chuck.

Next unscrew the chuck completely off the threaded shaft and inspect the shaft. Crank the drill and eyeball shaft carefully. Your eyes will pick up any irregularities if the shaft is bent. You’ don’t need any expensive gizmos for this.

Threaded shaft must run true and straight

Next pop out the jaws and inspect the flat milled back that holds the bit. This must be clean, undamaged, and milled perfectly flat. It is highly unlikely that it isn’t perfectly flat, so inspections by eye are close enough. There can’t be any dings.

By now I was frustrated and I mean really frustrated. I checked everything I could check, and they all passed with flying colours, but did I. There was one last thing I didn’t notice when I put the darn thing back together again. Since I don’t know the part name, the two pictures will give a better picture of what I’m referring too.

Incorrectly seated
Correctly seated

That’s right folks, that part that I’m pointing too was flipped the wrong way round. The bit rests in the cylindrical depression you see in the middle, which aids in keeping the bit centred (centered for the yanks) coupled with the jaws holding the bit in place. These two combined aid the drill bit from wobbling whilst drilling. Amazing, isn’t it? Something that’s so easy to miss can lead to months and months of frustration and hair loss.

Linseed Oil Paint

Why does paint fail today? Many professionals and home owners are analysing the massive amount of information available on the web and elsewhere. Paint companies are introducing new chemical paint products to find a solution to the immense problem of paint failure. The issue is made more complicated than is has to be. The problem is the paint and not the surface it is painted on. Petroleum paint is today replaced with Acrylic paints because of the elimination of solvents (VOC’s). Acrylic paint on an exterior of a house, especially an old house without an interior vapor barrier will suffer extensively. The paint will trap moisture on the inside of the walls making the wood rot from the inside as the paint starts failing. This is the hart of the problem. All these modern acrylic paints do NOT breathe enough. Any wood replacement products from hardy-planks (clapboard exterior siding made from a cement compound) to vinyl siding does NOT solve the maintenance nightmare; it simply shifts to a new material that still has to be maintained. What is interesting is that when you research material that was used 100 years ago, the word “paint failure” seldom comes up. Why? Paint 100 years ago before all the fancy chemically made paint products were introduced, Linseed Oil Paint was used. It did not have any of the problems. Linseed Oil Paint is clearly an excellent alternative that is long lasting, with very long history and contain zero chemicals.
History of Linseed Oil Paint

Paint failure was unknown 100 years ago. Paint used before the 1920’s contained primarily pigment, boiled linseed oil. Lead was later extensively used until it was found to be causing serious illnesses. Lead has been replaced since 1978 in the USA and since the 1940 in Europe. The paint did not build up on the outside of the wood surface and the linseed oil allowed any moisture in the wood to easily escape. This eliminated any chance of paint failure (paint flaking & peeling). Linseed Oil Paint preserved the wood very well. We can see proof of this in several hundred year old buildings in Europe and in the United States. Problems with paint were not common during the 1800’s and early 1900’s. The paint job lasted much longer than it does today.

The introduction of modern paint. In the 1940’s after the 2nd world war, the paint manufacturing industry moved away from the old tried and true methods of making linseed oil paint and began heavily promoting chemical, petroleum and solvent based paints. These new paint products were very inexpensive to manufacture but did not hold up well, making it necessary to repaint every few years. This was a perfect product for the paint industry, but not for the customer.
When the introduction of the new petroleum paint products began to be marketed in the early 1900’s, the arguments for the new type of oil paint were mostly:
Drying time was claimed to be shorter. – Today, drying time is about the same for linseed oil paint as well as Petroleum based oil paint. You can paint every 24 hours.
Bright new colours. Very bright colours are not easily achievable with Linseed Oil Paint, but the Linseed Oil Paint colours are significantly longer lasting. Linseed Oil Paint can last 50 to 100 years with minimal maintenance. Maintain with the Purified Organic Boiled Linseed Oil and the Linseed Oil Wax. The last coat will work as the sacrificial coat.
New high gloss surface. A high gloss can be achieved with Linseed Oil Paint by adding just a small amount of Linseed Oil Varnish (also a completely natural product) to the Linseed Oil Paint or by applying a Linseed Oil Varnish as a top coat.

Modern paint. A major difference in modern paints is the change in binder from the used of natural boiled linseed oil to alkyd oil which is generally derived from soybean and safflower oil. Use of synthetic resins, such as acrylics and epoxies, has become prevalent in paint manufacture in the last 30 years of so. Acrylic resin emulsions in latex paints, with water thinners, have also become common.

Today we know the detrimental effects of exposure to chemicals and solvents. So why use them in paint if they are completely unnecessary? With the awareness of the danger of petroleum products in the environment, we are entering a new period for the painting industry. Legislation has been drafted to eliminate petroleum based oil paint from the market and to ban solvents in paint.

Other environmental hazards. Mildecides and fungicides were prevalent and popular until their environmental hazards were seen to outweigh their benefits. New formulations which retard the growth of the mildew and fungi are being used. Lead was eliminated after 1978 in North America and in the 1940’s in Europe. Most recently, volatile organic solvents in oil paint and thinners have been categorized as environmentally hazardous.

Returning to linseed oil. The oil pressing industry vanished back in the early sixties and today. Farm pressing of the flax seeds are mainly done in the northern Europe, Saskatchewan Canada and in north and south Dakota in the United States. The Canadian producers export most of the flax seeds. Small local producers manufacture linseed oil and to a large extent bottle it for use in outdoor wood preservation.

A safe paint is available again. Through the rediscovery of ancient wisdom, there is finally an alternative to modern paint hazards and failure.  Linseed Oil Wax, Linseed Oil Soap and Linseed Oil Varnish are completely compatible chemistry, making solvents unnecessary in any step of the painting process. These are the best and safest materials available to preserve our wood structures for future generations.


Wax has been used by wood craftsmen around the world for centuries. Wax comes from three sources: animals, plants and minerals. Up through to the 18th century, there was only one type of wax known as beeswax which comes from a bee. This is a simple recipe that includes grated beeswax dissolved in turpentine. The recipe is simple, but proper preparation requires some knowledge and skill. If you don’t believe me, watch Don Williams do it. You can find the video on the Wood and Shop website. The wax we know is carnauba. A vegetable wax obtained from Brazilian palm leaves. Although carnauba provides high lustre and excellent durability, it is difficult to polish by hand, so commercially carnauba is mixed with beeswax. The third type is my favourite mineral wax. This is a microcrystalline derived from crude oil. These synthetic waxes are non-acidic and will not destroy antique finishes and nor corrode metals. That’s why Smithsonian uses Renaissance wax for furniture. Me too. It gives a very pleasing shine and works astoundingly on chalked painted furniture. Apply this wax to all coatings and all tools to prevent corrosion. Wax alone does not provide much protection as a polish, but it has many advantages. Wax fills small scratches left by fine abrasives and improves the gloss of the finish. Wax is easy to keep clean and is abrasion resistant and waterproof to a certain degree. You can rejuvenate a dull or aging finish, you can apply it raw on a picture frame or over a finish.  As with all tools, you need to learn how to use it properly to achieve its full potential.

The trick is to apply it thinly and buff it off with a soft rag. Sometimes people will apply several coats of wax. The wax melts into itself, so applying new wax will dissolve the old wax and it will not form a film.  Save yourselves the elbow grease and apply only one thin coat and wait for that haze. To give it an extra shine, use a stiff shoe brush, you’ll be surprised on how much shinier it will become. Even when applying wax on turned objects on a lathe, you’d think the high rpm of friction polishing on a lathe is the shiniest you’ll get. Well, guess again. Hit it with a shoe brush and you’ll make it even shinier.

Renaissance wax isn’t cheap. They charge a lot, and for size you get very little, but it works wonders. If I use it only for furniture, it will last a long time for me, but like I said I also use it on my tools and for that reason I wish they made the tub a lot bigger.

Here is a website with waxes such a carnauba maybe you will want to make your own wax

Goods & Chattels (goodsandchattels.com)

Screw gauge chart

I have written up for myself today a screw gauge chart that I will hang on my shop’s wall for reference. Trying to remember what gauge screw I used on any of previous projects is a nightmare so, I thought if I’m going to write one up for myself I should also share it with you.

You can either print it from this pic which isn’t a high res pic or download the PDF and print in high resolution.

You’re Welcome


By fix it club

Most do-it-yourselfers still refer to various grades of “sandpaper,” but the proper term for these sanding sheets is “coated abrasives.” There are four factors to consider when selecting any coated abrasive: the abrasive mineral, or which type of rough material; the grade, or the coarseness or fineness of the mineral; the backing (paper or cloth); and the coating, or the nature and extent of the mineral on the surface.
Sandpaper can be held in the hand or wrapped around a sanding block.
Paper backing for coated abrasives comes in four weights: A, C, D, and E. A (also referred to as “Finishing”) is the lightest weight and is designed for light sanding work. C and D (also called “Cabinet”) are for heavier work, while E is for the toughest jobs. The coating can be either open or closed. Open coated means the grains are spaced to only cover a portion of the surface. An open-coated abrasive is best used on gummy or soft woods, soft metals, or on painted surfaces. Closed coated means the abrasive covers the entire area. They provide maximum cutting, but they also clog faster and are best used on hardwoods and metals.

There are three popular ways to grade coated abrasives. Simplified markings (coarse, medium, fine, very fine, etc.) provide a general description of the grade. The grit refers to the number of mineral grains that, when set end to end, equal 1 inch. The commonly used O symbols are more or less arbitrary. The coarsest grading under this system is 4 1/2, and the finest is 10/0, or 0000000000.

The following chart contains information on sandpaper types and uses.

GritNumberGradeCoatingCommon Uses
Very coarse30
2 1/2
Rust removal on rough-finished metal.
Rough sanding of wood; paint removal.
General wood sanding; plaster smoothing; preliminary smoothing of previously painted surface.
Final sanding of bare wood or previously painting surface.
Very fine220
Light sanding between finish coats; dry sanding.
Extra fine320


High finish on lacquer, varnish, or shellac; wet sanding.
High-satinized finishes; wet sanding.

1 F = flint; G = garnet; A = aluminium oxide; S = silicon carbide. Silicon carbide is used dry or wet, with water or oil.
2 No grade designation.

My Thoughts

There are higher grits of course that I have seen up to 7000. They possibly go even higher however, the likelihood that you will ruin your timber is high. From experience, the coloured high grit sandpaper above 2000 will burn its colour onto the wood when using a lathe. Even if you sand with a very light touch, it still occurs. The same cannot be said for grey coloured sandpaper. The 3M 3000 grit foam is an excellent choice for sanding the final coat.

3000 Grit

It’s fine to use on a high-speed lathe, but don’t expect to leave enough grit for second rounds. Hand sanding is fine. I have successfully reused this paper at least 15 times before I had to discard it.

The other one is their next grit size up the 5000 grit.

The colour of this is blue and without a doubt will leave its colour embedded on the wood if used on a lathe. The same will apply even if applied by hand. If you concentrate too much on a particular area, the heat will build up quickly and melt the paper onto the wood. This is extreme, but I have done it. Using this paper will aid in burnishing. The cost of 3M paper is ridiculously expensive, and I do not understand how they can justify it. I don’t know of any other company who makes foam pads of this type.

If you wish to burnish your project you must be made aware that irrespective of how small and insignificant the mark on your work is, it will be highlighted significantly when burnished. Just like all marks are highlighted by the stain when staining, so will any damage be highlighted on burnished timber.