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CW Journal : Spring 03 : Colonial Williamsburg Journal: Carpentry tools

Using authentic tools

Visitors to Colonial Williamsburg are as intrigued by 18th-century tools as they are by 18th-century methods of building. Take a look at some of the more unusual tools used by colonial carpenters.


Wooden items ranging from musical instruments to wagon wheels required holes. Augers of various sizes and shapes were used for the purpose of boring holes.


The bitstock pictured here was designed for heavy use, was made of iron, and bored with a continuous motion.

ChiselChisels and gouges are among the most ancient tools used to shape wood, and their basic form has remained the same for thousands of years. Carving chisels and gouges were made in many different shapes and sizes for decorative carving.

Compasses and calipers
Trammel points Compasses and calipers were often used to measure and fit work in the 18th century, rather than using a measurement of inches or feet. The Trammel points compass shown here had two or more heads that could be positioned along a bar. It would have been used to lay out large arcs and circles.

Shaves or scorps

Drawknives and spokeshaves
Drawknives were used for quick shaping or trimming of flat products like shingles. Shaves or scorps like those illustrated here were used for jobs such as shaping wooden chair seats and smoothing the inside of bowls.

Shipbuilder's pin maul

Hammers have been used for thousands of years to drive nails and wooden pins and to position fittings like barrel hoops. 18th-century toolmakers produced dozens of types of hammers to suit specific tasks. Shipbuilders' pin mauls like the one shown here were used to drive and countersink spikes and wooden pins.

Cooper's croze
A plane is a tool for shaping or smoothing a wood surface. Colonial carpenters used a variety of planes, including the coopers' croze shown here, which was used to cut the groove in barrel staves for the barrel head fit.

Compass saw Saws have been used to cut wood for more than 5,000 years! In the 18th century, saws were made in a variety of sizes and shapes designed for different jobs. The compass saw shown here had a narrow pointed blade which allowed it to be started through a small drilled hole. It was used to saw holes in the middle of boards and pierced work such as chair splats.

Carpenter's Square

Squares and bevels
Squares and bevels were used to lay out and check the accuracy of angles. The carpenter's square shown here was made of iron and was used to mark and test right angles. They were typically marked off in inches for measuring, much as they are today.