This is the story of Georg Hermanus Nissen’s tools and the tool chest that we have inherited. I believe that he gave his tools to his son (Peter) when he travelled to the UK. Georg himself died in 1913 at the age of 81, so he had no further use for his tools by 1910 when Peter Nissen left the USA. In any family where working with your hands is part of the tradition, family tools would have been amongst the most precious belongings of the family and carefully passed down from father to son.
My father (Peter Norman Nissen’s son – Peter Nissen) and I (Richard Nissen) continue to use his tools.
We have got his tool chest but this 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.
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
Not all of Georg’s tools are useable today but many are. My father used the jack and jointer plane as well as the set square. I have collected many tools especially moulding planes and other wooden planes. I use these all the time as they are very efficient and do not make a noise and they are far less dangerous than modern electric planes. Using these tools enables you to feel the hands and mind of the original craftsmen who used them.
I have acquired a furniture maker’s tool chest with its full set of moulding planes. Over the years I have bought a great many tools from markets and dealers for every day use.
I try to use my own tools so that those I have inherited remain in good condition or at least the condition I inherited them in. For instance using a hand drill and a brace and bit for boring a small number of holes is fast and efficient, as all you have to do is pick up the tool and insert the bit.
I hope that you find this article helps you understand old tools and how they were used and help you look out for and look after any tools that you have inherited. Use them – you will not be disappointed!
In this period Britain dominated the world with her use of Feet and Inches. The USA followed suit and to this day still uses Feet ‘ and Inches”.
If you want to use period tools they are always designated in feet and inches and it is wise to get used to using these units.
Please note that feet (ft) are usually designated (‘) i.e. 2 ft = 2’ and inches” so 4 inches (ins) = 4” so 2ft 4 ins = 2’4”
It is important to note that this measurement system relies on fractions. So an inch is divided into eighths which are subdivided into sixteenths and thirty seconds. Half an eighth is two sixteenths etc. For many uses such as fitting drawers this use of fractions is very helpful.
Like other craftsman of his time, Georg Nissen had a name stamp to mark his tools G.NISSEN.
These tools reflect Georg Nissen’s trades of building mining machinery, houses and pattern making:
1858 Building houses in Missouri
1860-67 Pike’s peak mining structures
1867 & 1870 Pattern making
Pattern making was very skilful as wooden moulds were made for making metal castings. His tool box does not seem to have the specialist tools he would have needed for this, so it is probable that the company provided them or that he bought and sold them when he stopped using them.
What is missing from the tools we have inherited?
Georg Nissen would have had:
- Hammers and wooden mallets
- Saws especially panel saws (his box contains buttons for these)
- Axes especially hand axes.
- A brace for use with bits (we still have one bit so he must have had one – the pattern has never changed so the brace we have could be his).