Saturday, June 11, 2016

Barton Brother's Sheffield brace

In my last haul of goodies (AKA tools), there was a yet, unidentified Sheffield plated wooden brace.

They don't always have markings to be found, but when present they are usually stamped near the chuck end, before the button to release the bits.
Another place, often used prominently, is on top of the head. You will often find ornate brass disk proclaiming some virtues and of course a maker...
And lastly I have another with only a stamping filled with black ink on the side of the nose on the wood part.

As found
After a quick scrub with a plastic scrubby 
and Murphy oil soap, (full strength) for the wood.
Sponge and Twinkle for brass and copper, buffed with towel.

I am not trying to make it look new, just cleaned for close inspection and assessment. Wish I had some Kramer antique restorer to wiped it with...
Any one knows if and where available in Canada??

It is a beech brace with brass plates and a button operated chuck with a rosewood head.

Lets see if we can now find some markings on it to identify its maker.

You can barely make out ... Brothers...

See it now? With flash

No flash

So we have a name, now lets go online and google it.
Here is what I found about this company:
From Don McDonnell of Eureka Springs, AR in response to a question on a forum

Quote The Barton Brothers firm appeared in 1849 and 1852 Sheffield directories as " Merchants and Manufacturers" at 231 Glossop Road.
As far as Ken Roberts was able to determine (and in my research has come to the same result), the firm was never entered in any of the classified trade listings as edge tool makers, brace & bit makers etc. Even though the firm's name appears on braces, chisels and plane irons.

However, we do have some additional information which appears to extend the possible dates of this firm, somewhat. The principles of the firm were Edward and William Barton. In the 1849 and 1852 directories, Edward is shown as residing at East View Sheffield, while William is shown as residing in New York city.

Edward is listed as a merchant at 231 Glossop Road in the 1856 and 1857 directories, while residing at Endcliffe Vale (Edge).
He disappears by the 1862 directory. According to Ken Roberts, in _some 19th century English Woodworking tools_, the Barton Brothers firm was listed in New York through 1855, then simply as William Barton & Co from 1856 to 1860.

So it would appear that tools were being manufactured under the Barton Brothers mark from around 1849 to around 1855 - possibly until 1860 if William Barton continued using the same mark.

Roberts shows a couple of Barton Brothers braces in is mentioned book. One appears very similar to Pete's brace and mark.  The other is more elaborate and claims to be based on a patent. Robert states that the nature of the patent is unclear and opines that the brace may have been made by Henry Browns & sons of Sheffield. Unquote

Not mine

So my brace is dated from between 1849 to 1855 and possibly as far as 1860
Pretty good ball park, thanks Don :-)

So what does the head of mine look like?

NO, no ornate button on this one.
Notice the two holes on the two previous button?

These twin holes, of various spacing's, from various makers and models ad nauseam... Anyway, I am pointing them out because this is how you take the head off or just tighten it after removing the cap.

Here is a typical inside the head view, see the nut at the bottom?
That is also a Barton Brothers brace.

You take out the slack between the brace body and the head by removing the head, replacing the wear brass disks (or add spacer), OR, often just by tightening the nut down. Careful, you need some play and the head should rotate freely without wobbles.

The above pic (view inside) is not mine, it came from this auction I found on EBay.

And since we are talking about the head,,, Where was mine! How did I not noticed that before...

See it?

See it yet?

That is a big chunk missing, yet, did not noticed before...

This has happened to me before, I am aware of why and how, yet... I do it again sometimes :-)

It's the sense of anticipation rising, the adrenaline rush from about to score the deal of the century feeling. Its all these things that make you feel: Quick take my money before you changes your mind (it was only $5 remember :-)

Anyway, just wanted to share since I am sure some of my readers had similar experiences once or twice. And now you know why and how :-)

But in all seriousness, it's no biggie, seen worse, does not impact its work-ability.
It is the only apology on an otherwise good shape brace, would be even better once I fix the head play.
Maybe I'll try grafting a new piece of Rosewood sap wood in there...

Here is something I have never noticed before, or that I remember... It's not that I forget at my age, it is just that my memory banks are full.

The No 24 on the business end of the chuck.
Is it a model No? An indication of the sizes bits it will accommodate??

Wooden brace of this type do not accommodate large bits or bits that would required lots of torque. It is after all, a wooden brace, not a modern steel one.
And even then, they took the precautions of adding reinforcement plates on each sides over the short grain areas. (the bend)

The other side of the brace, 
showing the reinforcement brass plates 

See the notch filed on the 3rd center bit from the L.
A properly sharpened center bit does not require too much torque.

The next logical conclusion of this design was to do away altogether of the weak wood parts in the bend but to retain this look.

Ultimatum brace. If you look carefuly, she is bent at two locations :-( 
Pic from TFWW, link below

The results was the Ultimatum brace. That was considered more of a status symbols, like a plow plane in some circles, than a "working tool".
So they were made will all kind of very exotic, rare and expensive timbers and had often very ornate decoration on the head's button. Some were out right presentations pieces.

Essentially two cast box, stuffed with expensive timbers joined together by a metal rod with a turned wood handle over it. That juncture of the handle to the cast boxes is the Achilles heel of that design, they do bend.
Essentially a 'framed' brace vs the 'plated' brace

So these wooden, plated Sheffield brace, were truly the workhorse of their period. Until taking over by the American steel brace, a stronger design for sure.

And since there was no standard between tool makers over the location of the retaining notch on the brace bits, it is not uncommon to find bits with two different notches filed. That would had been done to accommodate a different brace at one point.

Here are my two Sheffield plated brace, side by side.

Top Barton Brothers,
Bottom William Kent
Both from Sheffield

Another place where they are sometimes marked, 
but often long worn off or hard to read.
The stamp is ink filled on the Wm Kent

The business end of the Kent. Only markings are C or O and 5.
The Barton Bros was stamped 24.

Hard to see, but Barton has a slightly bigger chuck opening 

same Irwin bit inserted as far as it will go in Wm Kent

Same bit in Barton Bros

As you can see, the heads are attached similarly, 
with wear brass discs

Bob, with inputs from Rudy... :-)


  1. Goggled the Twinkle cleaner and True Value carries it. They will be getting a visit from me tomorrow.

  2. Another advantage of the twinkle cleaners is that they leave an anti tarnish film behind. Remember your days with Brasso in the service? It cleans good but quickly leaves whitish residue and tarnish fast. I cant even begin to remember how many uniform buttons, belt buckles and yes door knobs i done in my early years...
    Aye Aye Sir :-)


  3. Bob, you truly are a tool detective! And just as good a restorer - the before and after pictures show such a great difference.

  4. Thanks Matt
    With a wipe with Kramers antique restorer im sure it would find its proper color back and be more like my other one... colour wise.
    Next trip to the States Ill have to stuck up on it, does not seems to be avail here??


  5. Hi Bob,
    very nice find. And a bunch of information as always.
    Pretty interesting to read.