Wood in its various forms enters so largely into the industry
of the nation that its economical and rapid conversion from
forest trees into articles of general utility cannot but be
of paramount interest.
Occasional efforts were made to perform the work mechanically,
but not until the end of the eighteenth century were any definite
and practical ideas described. Sir Samuel Bentham, an Englishman,
patented in 1791 and 1793 principles which are in use today.
His inventions included “planing machines with rotary
cutters to cut on several sides of the wood at once; veneer
cutting machines; moulding and recessing machines; bevel sawing
machines; saw sharpening machine; tenon cutting machine by
means of circular saws; boring tools.”
The improvements of the present day are well known to all
who care to interest themselves. Motors direct connected to
high speed spindles which are run in ball bearings approach
perfection and economy. Today many mills are planing wood
as fast as 250 lineal feet per minute. Through the use of
grinding attachments and multi-knife heads, moulded surfaces
are being made of unusual smoothness at speeds approaching
100 lineal feet per minute.
There is a period, however, between Bentham’s time
and the present, during which ambitious manufacturers struggled
with the perplexities of their day, which we have found to
be interesting and which we will review briefly.
With the exception perhaps of the wedge and the axe, the
saw can lay claim to being the most ancient instrument for
the conversion of wood, and it is certainly by far the most
Saw Mills are recorded to have been used at Breslau, 1427;
Holstein, 1540; Lyons, 1555; Ratisbon, 1575. The first mill
erected in Holland was at Saardam, in 1596, and in Sweden
about 1563. The first Saw Mill in England of which there is
any record was erected by a Dutchman near London about 1663,
but was the occasion of so much rioting that it had to be
abandoned. A James Stansfield was equally unsuccessful in
1768, but soon after, aided by the government, he erected
mills in various parts of the country which were operated
The circular saw was supposed to have been originated in
Holland, but the first patent was granted in 1777 to Samuel
Miller of Southampton. In the beginning the blades were made
with square holes. William Rowland, of Philadelphia. was the
first manufacturer of blades in this country when he became
established in 1806 in Philadelphia. The use of the inserted
tooth, or the sectional or false tooth as it was originally
called, was invented in 1824 by Robert Eastman, of Brunswick,
The Circular Saw Bench in its many forms is the most common
of all Wood Working Machines. Before other operations such
as planing, moulding, or tenoning can be accomplished, the
material must first be prepared on the Saw Bench.
A Self Feed Rip Saw was used as early as 1824, with several
blades on one spindle and divided by suitable collars for
converting timber into planks, but no effort was made to patent
such a machine until 1868, when John Casson, of Sheffield,
England, developed a Continuous Feed Circular Saw Bench.
After the saw the Planing Machine is no doubt the most important
tool. The first reliable record we have of an attempt to supersede
hand planing by machinery is contained in a patent granted
to Hatton in 1776, but this seems to have been only a series
of crude mechanical ideas which were never put into practice.
It was left to Bentham to express practical ideas for development.
In 1827 Malcolm Muir, of Glasgow, invented an improved Planer.
It had for its object the preparation of complete flooring
boards. The operations of sawing, planing, tongueing, and
grooving were all combined, and a number of the machines were
put into operation.
John Cumberland, an American, brought out many improvements
in 1847, but the development in this country was greatly retarded
by the tyrannical restraint of the holders of a patent which
was known as the Woodworth Planer. William Woodworth, an old
carpenter residing in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and known familiarly
as “Uncle Billy,” invented in 1828 a Planing Machine
which he described as “the combination of rotary cutters
and feeding rollers and of rotary matching cutters so as to
form a tongue or groove on both the edges of the lumber at
the same time that the principal surfaces are planed.”
At this time his patent extended for fourteen years, but
was extended from the day of its expiration for a further
term of seven years. Woodworth is not supposed to have profited
by his invention. The feeling against the machine by the carpenters
was very strong, and the mill in which the first machine was
used had to be watched both day and night for several months.
After the patent extension he decided to sell it out for
what he could get and succeeded in interesting Samuel Schenck,
who later controlled the sales in the New England States,
John Gibson, of Albany, N.Y., who handled the Middle States,
and Samuel Pitts, of Detroit, Mich. It is reported that Woodworth
received not over $5,000 for this valuable patent.
Gibson started a large shop at Albany for manufacturing the
machines, and a planing mill nearby where he could demonstrate
them in operation.
In July, 1843, the original patent was surrendered and a
reissue obtained which included “a small hold-down roll.”
From this time the prejudices of the workmen ceased and the
demand for Planing machines increased rapidly.
The owners through a mutual understanding licensed a certain
number of machines, giving each mill owner the exclusive right
for a given amount of territory for which they charged a royalty.
In New York State the price was $7 per thousand feet, collected
by the mill owner, who paid $3 as royalty. Each mill owner
was required to render an account every three months for the
amount of lumber dressed and verify the same under oath, paying
a royalty within ten days thereafter.
Efforts were made to circumvent this patent because of the
strong feeling against the tyranny of those who owned it.
Joseph B. Andrews invented “two endless feed aprons.”
The Beckwith and the Gay machines in Pennsylvania and the
Brown machine in Massachusetts were all developed for the
purpose of evading the Woodworth patent, but their development
was stopped by injunctions and declared infringements. A man
named Norcross, however, was partially successful and withstood
the suit of the Woodworth patent holders.
By the time the first reissued patent expired, Gibson is
supposed to have been worth $1,000,000 and spent over $250,000
as his share of the expenses in getting a further renewal.
Congress assembled December 1,1856, when the extended patent
had but twenty-seven days longer to run. Gibson and others
interested with him were there and succeeded so far as to
have a bill introduced early in the session to extend the
patent for a further term of seven years from December 27th,
but when the remonstrance was presented it resembled a roll
of carpet more than a public document. Officials concluded
not to read it, but to unroll and measure it, when it was
found to contain two columns of closely written names fifty
feet long. Thus ended the career of the Woodworth patent.
Gibson’s prosperity ceased, and he was obliged to sell
out his business to Daniel Doncaster, who had for many years
acted as his foreman and was well liked by his former customers.
Gibson later retired to a farm owned by his wife and died
there comparatively poor. Mr. Schenck removed his patterns
to Matteawan, N. Y. This company also ceased through failure
after the expiration of the patent. Mr. Pitts, of Detroit,
never manufactured many machines, but permitted his customers
to buy them from either Gibson or Schenck.
Users of this early machine were inconvenienced considerably
because of defective construction. The cylinder boxes used
to raise and lower perpendicularly, and it was necessary to
shorten or lengthen the belt for each change or adjustment.
The finger or star gearing that was used to connect the top
and bottom rolls allowed of practically no expansion and consequently
these had to be changed for each set-up.
These inconveniences were immediately overcome. In 1857 James
A. Woodbury, of Boston, patented a plan for moving both matching
heads by means of two separate screws.
Improved extension gears were invented by Charles Burleigh,
of Fitchburg, June 15, 1866, and J. B. Tarr, of Chicago, patented
a side head chip breaker, which was a valuable invention and
prevented the board from slivering while being submitted to
the action of the side cutters.
A Dimension Planer, known as the Gray & Woods Planer,
was patented January 24, 1860. It was a modification of the
old Daniels Planer and was developed for the purpose of straight
surfacing of boards.
Heavy Moulding Machines were introduced in 1870. The first
attempt to make such a machine is accredited to Fay &
Fisher, Lancaster, Mass.
In 1848 C. B. Rogers, of Norwich, Conn., commenced the manufacture
of Wood Working Machinery and soon after associated himself
with J. A. Fay, who was located at Keene, N. H.
The first successful sticker was produced at Norwich. Other
Wood Working Machines were added, and their business grew
until a third shop was opened at Worcester, under the management
of E. C. Tainter, who was then known as “Eph”
among the old wood workers. This shop was discontinued in
1858. Upon the death of J. A. Fay. his stock and fixtures
were removed to Norwich. Tainter later became associated with
L. Power & Company, of Philadelphia, under the name of
Power & Tainter.
The development of the Moulding Machine was continued by
H. B. Smith, of Lowell, Mass., early in the ‘60’s.
To Mr. Smith it is believed belongs the credit of introducing
iron frame machinery exclusively. He developed the dovetail
slides and gibs on the frame, which guide the bed as it is
raised or lowered, and compensates the wear.
One of the first inside moulders was built by a man named
Lee and some of these old Lee Inside Moulders are still in
C. B. Rogers, S. A. Woods, Of Boston, and C. R. Tompkins,
of Rochester, N. Y., were the first to interest themselves
in heavy inside machines.
The first practical Mortising Machines were made in 1807
in England and used at the Portsmouth dockyard.
In 1826 A. Branch, of New York, invented a mortising auger
for making square holes, which was described in the Franklin
Journal of Philadelphia. The explanation of the patent clearly
describes the hollow chisel mortise cutters of today. H. B.
Smith in 1853 patented a reversible reciprocating Mortiser,
and for many classes of work this type of machine is now in
Tenoning is inseparably connected with Mortising, and the
two machines were invented and developed together. Credit
is given to J. A. Fay for the invention of the modern type
of Tenoner with rotary cutters about 1840. The framing was
then made of wood.
C. B. Rogers at Norwich later patented an arrangement for
adjusting cutter head yokes, either independently or together.
With the addition of the roller table, vertical spindles for
coping and cut-off saws for squaring the ends of the stock,
we have the present day machine with all its attachments.
The band saw machine, although generally believed to be of
French origin, was really invented in England by William Newbury
in 1808. Practical development was delayed on account of the
difficulty in joining the steel band. There is no record of
any machines being constructed on Newbury’s plan until
1858, when M. Perine, of Paris, exhibited a machine, after
which time they came gradually into use.
Single Bevel Back Band Saw Machines so commonly used today
in shipyards and pattern shops were a development of 1873,
and about the same time there was patented a multiple Band
The first complete fret saw machine was made by H. L. Beach,
of Montrose, Pa. Motion was given to the saw by an adjustable
friction pulley on the crank shaft, and the speed could be
varied at will by the operator depressing the treadle.
The saw guides were adjustable laterally and transversely
to line, or to give any desired rake to the saw; the cross
heads were also adjustable for wear. Tension was given to
the saw by a ratchet gear. The working parts were suspended
to a wrought-iron tubular shaft, which was held in place by
a box and lever, and balanced by a spring. An adjustable steel
bearing supported the back of the saw, and it could also be
used to hold down the work. An air pump for removing the sawdust
was attached to the cross head.
Mr. W. J. Cunningham, of London, patented about 1865 a combined
fret saw and drilling machine, of very simple construction.
Irregular Moulders or Shapers
A patent for shaping irregular forms in wood by means of
a cutter block fixed on a spindle revolving vertically was
invented by Mr. Andrew S. Gear, of Jamesville, Ohio, in 1853.
Gear later removed to Boston, where he developed a considerable
demand for his machines. This was a two-spindle machine with
a wooden table, very similar to our machine of today.