Late 19th Century Woodworking Tools

Updated February 21, 2017

Carpenters, cabinet makers, joiners, wood carvers and wood turners have worked wood for thousands of years, since the time of the Neanderthals. Many 19th century woodworking tools are of equally ancient history. Woodworking apprentices of the 18th and 19th centuries spent their years learning the trade and building a massive chest to hold tools, some of which were made by the carpenter. When the apprentice graduated to journeyman, his master presented him with a set of tools for his chest, and the young man set off to make his living. Planes, hammers, chisels, gouges, adzes, knives, saws, mallets, turnscrews, clamps, vices and awls went into the tool chest along with specialised tools for wheelwrights, boatwrights, joiners and other niche woodworking trades.

Wood Cutting Tools

Saws are tools for cutting or dividing wood, and a journeyman woodworker would have at least one saw and probably quite a few more. Each saw would serve a particular need or manner of cutting the wood. Depending on his speciality in woodworking, 19th century carpenters would own a ripping saw, a half ripper, a hand saw, panel saw, tenon saw, carcase saw, sash saw, compass saw, keyhole saw, and turning saw. Axes, hatches and adzes are also wood cutting tools owned by woodworkers.

Wood Carving Tools

Most carpenters and joiners or cabinetmakers would own and use wood carving tools, including a carving knife, chisels, gougers, a coping saw, V-tool and sharpening tools such as a leather strop and stones. There are many different types of each tool, variously shaped and bevelled chisels and gougers. With these basic tools, the woodworker would be able to shape and carve many different items from chairs and cabinets to the decorative touches to a home.

Edge/Surfacing Tools

Edge tools include many different kinds of chisels, gougers and planers. These tools were used to cut into the wood while it was held in place on the workbench or in the hand or they were used for smoothing the surface of a piece of wood. A 19th century woodworker would own at least a few different types of chisel, gouge and plane.

Boring Tools

Bradawls (shaped like a screwdriver, used to cut an indentation in wood to make a hole), gimlets (a small hand-drilling tool), drills and drill bits, brace and bits or augers were used for boring holes or making indentations in wood. Carpenters and joiners would own and use a variety of each type of tool.

Joining/Measuring Tools

Try squares measured the accuracy of 90 degree angles, checking to see if a surface on a piece of wood was straight. Bevels were used to measure, duplicate and transfer angles from one surface to another. "Dancing master" calipers were used to measure small distances in wood. Inside calipers measured internal distances and outside calipers measures external distances. Naturally, many types of calipers existed. In the 19th century, calipers were often made by the woodworker, occasionally quite whimsically, with shapely female legs.

Griping/Holding Tools

Vices, holdfasts and clamps belonged in a woodworker's tool chest or were permanently affixed to her workbench. In carpentry and joinery, a piece of wood was held by a vice or clamp while the woodworker worked on it. A work bench might have four or five built-in vices, used for a variety of purposes.

Wood-turning Tools

A treadle pole lathe was used to hold and spin a piece of wood while the woodworker held a cutting tool to the wood. The spindle of this preindustrial lathe rotated by means of a cord, which wraps around the spindle, rises up to a bending pole at the top and around the spindle and down to a treadle which the woodworker uses to apply force to the cord. Press down on the treadle, the pole bends and the spindle turns. Let up on the treadle and the spindle turns in the other direction. Circular wooden objects, such as bowls and cups, were carved out using pole lathes.

Force Application Tools

Hammers and mallets of different types were used daily by woodworkers. A mallet would be used with chisels and gougers to push the tool into the wood. Hammers were used to drive nails or to apply force to join two pieces of wood, as with a mortise and tenon.

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About the Author

Patricia Neill began writing professionally in 2000, spending most of her career as managing editor of “Blake: An Illustrated Quarterly.” Neill published political satire at and other libertarian websites. She also has an essay in “National Identification Systems: Essays in Opposition." Neill holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Nazareth College of Rochester.