Number 94 ® ® ® A Journal of Tool Collecting published by CRAFTS of New Jersey ® ® ® November 1996
by Donald B. Johnstone
Carpenters' adjustable bevels from earliest periods have been characterized by having a blade and stock with a pivot in the form of a rivet or screw. Some blades were secured in position by tightening the pivot screw. So common was this arrangement for both homemade and manufactured bevels that patents were not issued for such simple devices. Most of the patents that were eventually issued for bevels involved attempts to avoid the large thumbscrew or wing nut which protruded from one side of the stock, and which revented the stock from being laid flat against the work.
One of several methods designed to achieve a flush surface to both sides of the stock was to insert a rod through the stock to clamp the blade in a desired position.This was activated by a thumbscrew or lever at the butt end of the stock. I shall refer to these as butt-locking bevels.
The most common method of achieving a flush surface to a bevel stock was to have the mechanism for locking the pilot screw recessed below the surface of the stock. Generally this was accomplished by narrowing the stock on both sides at the pivot end. I shall refer to these as recessed pivot-locking bevels.
Some English makers accomplished flush stocks by the simple expedient of a countersunk pivot screw. However, they required a screwdriver to set the blade. Examples are known by Ridge & Son and Marples & Son, both of Sheffield.
Isaiah J. Robinson of St. Johnsbury, Vermont, was the first to patent, on June 14,1870, and manufacture a butt-locking bevel. Robinson's patent was for a rod and thumbscrew that activates a clamping wedge to secure the blade. His products of the St. Johnsbury Tool Company are well known as beautifully machined brass, steel, and rosewood bevels. See Figure 1. Robinson and his company are well covered in Chronicle 37:3,1984 by Paul Kebabian.
Robinson obtained two more bevel patents, and his 1870 patent was reissued eight years later. Patents were reissued for a variety of reasons, but it appears likely that this one was directed toward preventing infringement of his butt-locking idea. Robinson's original patent description for his bevel was vague about the locking mechanism, so the reissued patent addressed this shortcoming, and made this aspect clearer. The reissue was assigned to another person. Henry Fairbanks. Robinson's mechanism of securing the blade with a wedge was markedly different from the patented methods employed by others who were designing, patenting, and manufacturing butt-locking bevels in the period between Robinson's original patent and its reissue.
Leonard Bailey and Samuel D. Sargent of New Britain, Connecticut, were issued a patent on March 19, 1872 for a butt-locking bevel. Their unique design involved a compound lever within the stock with the thumb piece an integral extension of the lever. The bevel was manufactured and sold by the L. Bailey Co. of Hartford, Connecticut. Figure 2 is from the Ken Roberts' reprint of the 1883 Bailey Catalog.
Samuel D. Sargent was issued a patent on July 22, 1873 for a butt-locking bevel, which differed from Bailey's lever- action design of one year earlier by having the rod offset to one side of the butt and a thumbscrew that when turned caused the rod to impinge on the blade and secure it. Sargent assigned the patent to the Stanley Rule and Level Company of New Britain, Connecticut, which manufactured and sold this tool as the No. 18 Eureka Flush T Bevel. See Figure 3.
Patents for butt-locking bevels were issued to Adolphus and James L. Kershaw of Cleveland, Ohio, on February 9,1892, and to Christian Bodmer of New Britain on July 14,1908. Both were slight modifications of the Sargent 1873 patent. The former was sold as the Eagle bevel, and the latter was assigned to and manufactured byStanley.
RECESSED PIVOT-LOCKING BEVELS
The first patent for this type of bevel was issued to Leonard D. Howard of St. Johnsbury, Vermont, on November 5, 1867. The Howard design appears in the Shannon Tool Catalog of 1873 as "Star Bevels" (Star Tool Co. of Middletown, Connecticut) and bore the impression of a star as well as the patent date on the wooden stock. A variety of models and sizes were made, with some blades graduated in inches. Rosewood and mahogany were used for the stocks, and brass for the butt and screw plates. Deluxe models had brass stocks with rosewood infills and a recessed spirit level, or a brass stock. It is presumed that Star did not make all of Howard's bevels, as some bevels carry only the patent date. Deluxe models carry Howard's name in a semicircle over the Howard patent date. Some pivots are controlled by a recessed wing nut, and others by a diamond shaped bolt head. Both are shown in Figure 4. A more complete account of Howard and his bevels appeared in the February 1986 issue of the ACTIVE Scrapbook.
The more frequently seen carpenters' bevels with recessed-lever action for locking the blades are those produced over the years under the Stanley name. The chronology of these various designs is embodied in four patents dating from 1871. In order to appreciate the development of these bevels, it seems appropriate to consider briefly what Stanley and other firms were offering before the first bevel patents were granted. Figure 5 a illustrates a typical nonpatented design from the Stanley catalogues of the midnineteenth century. The tool comprises a wooden stock, a slotted steel blade, and a pivot screw with a wing nut. There were numerous makers providing similar bevels, including Tidgewell of Middletown, Connecticut, and Hall and Knapp before they were absorbed by Stanley in 1858. Some of these bevels were made and sold with no evidence as to the makers. Since nothing unique was involved, no patents were issued for them.
The first patented carpenter's bevel offered by Stanley was Justus A. Traut's bevel patented May 9, 1871. See Figure 5b. Traut's bevel was patentable by virtue of a coneshaped bolt head at the pivot. A square hub on the inner surface of the bolt head fits the slotted blade, so that as the blade swings the bolt will turn. The bevel has the same protruding wing nut as earlier Stanley bevels. The stock is cast iron in two halves with rosewood infills. It also has a very unusual work rest which pivots from the butt screw, an unusual feature. The rest would appear to be convenient as the stock is rather heavy. Stanley appeared to be excited to offer this tool, for they published a full page illustration in their 1872 catalog. However, interest was short lived as it was never offered again.
Traut's next bevel patent was issued on September 4, 1877. The 1877 patent date in a familiar circle was stamped on the wooden stocks of Stanley bevels with recessed pivot screw control levers for many years. The earliest models show the date on the brass screw lever. See Figure 5c. Surprisingly, the patent did not cover an effort to provide a flush stock surface with a recessed lever, m fact, the patent drawing failed to show sufficient recess area for the lever to provide a flush surface to the stock. The patent claim was confined only to the design of a bolt and lever which would enable the user to control the blade lock with the thumb. It is apparent from the number of these bevels available today that Stanley produced many over the years.
After 20 years, Stanley apparently became concerned with protecting the recessedlever idea. Justus A. Traut was issued a patent design for a tool handle on March 6, 1897. It covered the design of the wooden bevel stock, In addition to the recessed areas for the lever and the bolt, it included elongated recesses along both sides of the stock to provide for a better grip. All Stanley bevels bearing the 1897 date have these recesses. See figure 5d.
A bevel patent was issued to Edward A. Schade on September 6, 1904 and was assigned to Stanley. The claim involved an enlargement of the slot at the curved end of the blade. This enabled the blade to be set tangential to the curved end of the stock. All Stanley bevels showing this enlargement bear the 1904 date stamped on the blade. The bevel is shown as Figure 5e, but the enlargement may not be obvious.
Disston made bevels for many years, but as late as 1888 they were still advertising a protruding wing nut design. Woodrough and McParlin of Cincinnati made a bevel whose blade was locked by turning a knurled-brass, round bolt head, about the width of the stock. Its light wood resembled boxwood.
Another approach to locking the blade was patented by Willard C. Ellis of Springfield, Massachusetts, on March 21, 1871, one of the earliest patents. The unique feature is a brass cam lever. To free the blade, the cam lever, which is recessed into the stock, is lifted. To lock the blade, the cam lever is returned, which provides a flush surface to the stock. Many years later, on December 15, 1914, a similar idea was patented by Nicholas A. McGrath of Southington, Connecticut. This bevel was manufactured and sold as the Hold Fast bevel. See Figure 6.
There are other bevels that could have been covered here, but this article is intended as an introduction to the standard carpenter's bevel. I will have an article on the combination try square and bevel in a future issue of the ToolShed. For a complete study of bevels, you are referred to my seven articles on bevels in the Chronicle of EAIA (June and December 1987; March, September, and December 1988; June and December 1989).
Ed : Donald and Helen Johnstone live in Colchester, Vermont, near Burlington and his friend Paul Kebabian. Don has retired from the University of Vermont, where he was Professor of Microbiology in the colleges of Agriculture and Medicine. His PhD is from Rutgers University, where he studied under Dr. Selman Waksman, Nobel prize winner for the discovery of streptomycin. A member of ACTIVE in the 1970s, he was a founder of NETCA which consolidated tool groups in New England. He collects tools, usually one type at a time, to study them and understand how they are used. In tool circles he is best known for his seven articles on bevels in the EAIA Chronicle from 1987 to 1989. There's little known about bevels that isn't covered in that series. But, he's also written Chronicle articles about hand vises (Sept. 1977), slide pliers (March 1990). And marble cutter's hand tools (Sept. 1990). Thanks, Don, for this nice article. Photographs are of bevels in New Jersey collections and were taken by Charlie Flynn, his third appearance in the ToolShed.