Antique Woodworking Tools

Antique Woodworking Tools Their Craftsmanship from the Earliest Times to the Twentieth Century is not only a celebration of a collection lovingly put together over a period of 35 years, but it is also possibly the biggest private collection of western woodworking tools in the world. 

Assembled by David Russell, himself an expert joiner whose keen eye has been endorsed by scholarship, this is not simply the book of an unusual collection, but it is the most serious work of reference of its kind to date and has become a ‘bible’ in its field.  As David Linley, Chairman of Christie’s and well-known cabinet maker, writes in the Foreword, ‘Russell is to be congratulated on amassing with unerring eye such a fascinating array of tools, many of which are of the highest quality or deepest historical significance.’

Tools are man’s earliest surviving artefacts and David Russell’s scholarly book, is probably the first time the tools of a trade have been given a systematic and scientific analysis on such a scale. The book  has an important place in the twenty-first century because tools represent time-honoured values associated with pride in workmanship and skilled training, which together with the demise of apprenticeship, have all but lost their rightful position in society today.  It is also appropriate that the world famous Victoria & Albert Museum is opening a new furniture gallery in 2012, where the focus will not be on the finished product, but on the tools, their artistry and inventive craftsmanship.

David Russell’s collection starts with pre historic implements, gradually progressing through the centuries.  Many are unique and many were specially commissioned.  The first item Russell bought which set his heart racing and which triggered his passion for collecting, was a Norris smoother.  The name Norris is still music to the ears of anybody who knows and understands woodwork.  Norris-made planes from the mid 19th century were considered the pinnacle of practical design and gracefulness; as Russell himself says, ‘Some thirty odd years later planes are still the mainspring of my collection.  Yet on leafing through my book readers will soon come to see how broad, strong and lasting my acquisitive instincts have been, so much so that I have ended up with a vast array of tools that together tell something of the story of tools.’  The collection also embraces a handsome group of continental wooden planes dating from about 200AD to the 19thcentury.  Many are intricately carved with geometric or floral motifs while others are sculpted with snakes, monsters, cherubs or even naked ladies.

The sheer beauty and unexpected span of the collection is remarkable even to the untrained eye. Amongst the most unusual highlights must be the tools of Francis Nicholson, the first named US plane maker working in Massachusetts in the18th century, who bequeathed his tool making equipment to his slave Cesar Chelor, who was granted freedom and was able to set up in business as a plane-maker. Plumb bobs used since Roman times to find the true vertical, are a particularly attractive facet of the Russell collection.  Made of ivory, brass, bone, steel or lead these beautiful and often intricately carved pieces have a strong visual appeal.  Particularly unexpected is the group of three unpublished, delicate and detailed pencil drawings of garden tools by a ten year old Beatrix Potter, drawn in her garden shed.
David Russell’s Antique Woodworking Tools Their Craftsmanship from Earliest Times to the Twentieth Century brings together an extraordinary array of edge and boring tools from Britain, continental Europe and North America.  This beautifully produced book is already regarded internationally as a bible in its field; Part I of the collection recently sold at auction and Part II is eagerly awaited in early March 2012.
Antique Woodworking Tools Their Craftsmanship from the Earliest Times to the Twentieth Century
David R Russell
Published by John Adamson
Price: £90.00
Auction Guide