We have inherited Georg Nissen’s tool chest as it has been handed down through the family. The chest we have seems too small for a craftsman of the time, but it is a tool chest as it has the turn buttons for the saws (disappeared) and the sliding tote which is typical of the time. The chest is 29 ½ ins long x 15 ½ ins wide x 12 ins deep / 75 cm x 39.5 cm x 30 cm.
Using these tools enables you to feel the hands and mind of the original craftsmen who used them. Here is a summary of the tools we have inherited.
This is a gigantic chisel and is stamped with G.NISSEN. It is used to cut tennons and mortises in big pieces of timber.
This is the perfect tool for fashioning large pieces of timber such as whole trees in order to make things such as the largest overshot water wheels in Colorado in the 1860s.
The picture here shows Georg Nissen’s slick which has needed a new handle (as the old one rotted) . This as made in 2015 by Richard Nissen out of an old baseball bat. The method was suggested from a blog on Google. Note the use of a socket to hold the handle.
This tool is most often associated with Shipbuilding and Georg Nissen probably learnt how to use it in the ship yards of his home in Norway.
As you can see an adze is an axe with a head perpendicular to the handle which is used to pare wood any shape it. It can be used very finely.
Look at this U tube video as it shows exactly the sequence of cutting a tree and making a beam (just as Georg Nissen would have done but without a chain saw! )
Different chisels do different jobs:
Chisel ½” – This a double bevel chisel
Chisel 1” – This is skewed double bevel chisel
Chisel 1 11/16” – Really battered by being hit with a hammer
These chisels are never driven by a mallet or hammer but always kept really sharp and used to clean up waste wood in things like mortises.
It is interesting that the ½” and 1” chisels are double bevelled which is not normal. Double bevelled chisels are usually used for paring and carving. Could this be part of Georg’s tool set coming from his pattern making?
His big 1 1/11/16” (44mm) chisel looks as if it was often driven with a very battered handle.
5/8” Mortise Chisel
Mortise chisels are very much sturdier with a thick blade. They are designed to be driven by a mallet and is used to cut out mortises (deep holes in timber). Typically mortise chisels are used to cut out the wood on a door frames to take a lock. The blade of this chisel ends in a socket which takes the wooden handle which is reinforced by a copper ring at the top of the chisel to take the pounding of the mallet (wooden hammer)
There are two gauge chisels:
¼” Gauge chisel
¾” Gouge chisel
Gouge chisels are rounded and are used to gouge out wood rather like a spoon.
Auger and handle
The auger is used to drive a screwed bit by turning the screw. The handle is too small and it looks as if the end has sheered off. Usually these were double handed, but this is one sided.
The bit is 1 ½” wide and 18” long. This would have been used for making deep holes in construction lumber which would have enabled pegs and or cut out waste wood to make a mortise.
Brace and bits
Georg Nissen’s chest does not include a brace but he would have had one and as these have not changed over time , it is likely that this was used by later generations and has left the box. I have photographed a typical one. This brace takes bits with square ends and is used like the auger. You twist the handle and it drives the bit.
The ¾” bit in the box is very long 22.5 ins which suggests that it too was used to bore long holes in lumber for pins to pin pieces of structural timber together or insert wires
The other bit is a tapered reamer that cuts a tapered hole to make tapered mortises such as the legs under a Windsor chair. Barrel makers (coopers) use them to make the hole for the bung.
Drill and marking tools
In the middle of the 19th century ordinary drills with fine bits did not exist and screws were rare and expensive to make and were often made by hand. Things were pinned using nails.
Georg Nissen’s Archimedes threaded drill has a standard chuck which can take small needle like bits. I suspect he used this drill to make holes in thin wood so that when nailing he did not split the wood. To use it you move the wooden piece in the middle up and down which turns the screw head.
The set square is stamped with his name G.NISSEN and was used by my father and myself. It is used to mark right angles in wood to set up lines to cut a piece of wood.
The mortise gauge is very fine made of a brass barrel with box wood stops and brass adjusting screws. The way this is used enables one to set up a mortise slot (in the centre) of a piece of timber in order to cut the mortise the right size.
The other end is used a simple marking gauge for marking depth lines on a piece of timber, usually to plane down to.
The fact that this has a screwed adjustment makes it very easy to use and set.
Planes were the key to any craftsman’s equipment. Nowadays we would use routers to make mouldings in wood. In the 19th century routers did not exist and all mouldings were made with wooden moulding planes.
G Nissen has four of these ¼”, 2/8” (this is the same size I wonder why we have two) ½” and 5/8”
They cut a bead of the edge of a piece of timber. This makes it look nice and just finishes off the edge of a piece of timber. You need different sizes depending on the width and size of the timber. Beads often appear on the edges of simple door frames
Ovulo moulding planes
Georg Nissen had several of these planes which create a very popular moulding for skirtings and frames in one go. Moulding planes cannot be too large as they would then become to difficult to be pushed by a craftsman.
Georg Nissen leaves us two marked ½” and 5/8” planes. The 5/8” plane has the two right angled diagonal lines on the foot to orientate the plane on the stock.
Hollow and rounds planes
These planes come in a variety of sizes and can be used to make any mouldings. By combining the hollow and rounds with his other planes he could have made a huge selection of shapes.
See the book “Mouldings In Practice” by Matthew Sheldon Bickford, which shows how they were used.
Below is a image of a complete set of hollow and round planes, as would be necessary for a furniture maker. But craftsmen like Georg Nissen making houses would not have need anything like this many.
He had three of each including a matched pair (hollow and rounds) of No 14s (1”) and No 16 (1 ¼”)
These are another critical element to making mouldings. They cut rebates (square shoulders) from wood and as the blade is slightly larger than the sole they can cut up to an edge whereas a normal plane can only plane a bare piece of timber where the plane is wider than the piece of timber.
Georg Nissen had three of these planes 7/8”, 1 ½” AND 1 ¾”. Obviously the wider planes are for wider cuts. His 1 ½” plane has two 7/8” holes in it to take the width fence as you can see from the picture above- see the far plane in this shot.
Tongue and Groove
Georg Nissen has a matched pair, as one must. One plane makes the groove and the other the corresponding tongue. These were critical for enabling carpenters to join smaller widths of timber to each other to make a wider piece of timber. This method would be necessary for making the fields (central part) of doors for instance.
This plane was used to scrub down rough timber so that it could be planed flat. These days saw mills plane timber to precise dimensions and this plane is seldom used. However in Georg Nissen’s day this plane was critical to clean up his raw timber in order to plane it.
Scrub planes are narrow with rounded blades. They are narrow so that you can push them. However, they take off a lot of material fast.
The one in Georg Nissen’s box is a very old handmade one and one that predates his visit to America. It looks as if it was made in the 18th century using a German design. I think that he took this plane to America with him, perhaps as a present given him on his departure from Norway.
The one in the box was missing its blade and unable to be used, so I built a copy in order to use one and see how it operated. Mine is the one below. I replaced the blade and wedge of the old one as both were missing. The bottom is very worn to an angle (not flat but at a bevel) almost certainly from much hard work.
The Jack plane
A jack plane is the general-purpose bench plane, used for general smoothing of edges and sizing timber to the correct size. Jack planes are usually about 12–15 inches long. When preparing stock, the jack plane is used after the scrub plane and before the jointer plane and smoothing plane. The name is related to the saying “jack of all trades” as jack planes can be made to perform some of the work of both smoothing and jointer planes, especially on smaller pieces of work.
Georg Nissen’s jack plane is 16 ins long (40cms)
The handle of a wooden jack plane is a tote peg that fits the hand nicely. See the image below: the Jack plane at the top and jointer on the bottom.
The jointer plane
The jointer plane is used to flatten the face of a board. Its long length is designed to ‘ride over’ the undulations of an uneven surface, skimming off the peaks, gradually creating a flat surface. In thicknessing or preparing rough stock, the jointer plane is usually preceded by the jack plane and followed by the smoothing plane
Jointer planes are typically 20 to 24 inches (510 to 610 mm) long
Georg Nissen’s jointer is 22 ins long (56 cms)
The handle of wooden jointer planes as this one is are enclosed like a saw, see above.