W C J  H o m e Page ..... N o L a s t Issue ..... N e x tIssue Two 97 Apr 25 .....

The Wooden Clamp Journal, or WCJ

Issue One, Nov 1996
Dedicated to those
who love, use, collect, or deal in wooden clamps

There is our first issue of the Journal. Please send your comments, and any contributions.
(Closed in November '96.)

Table of Contents

Editorial Comments

The WCJ is for presentation and discussion of any material related to wooden clamps, and related devices, whether factory made or craft made. I'd be especially keen to receive information about clamps made outside the USA.

The companies that made wooden clamps also made pianoforte clamps (aka bar clamps) and bench screws. I think those are worth discussing too.

Discussions are also welcome about transitional clamps, with metal screws, or about other clamping devices, such as Tarbell's Improved Clamp, patented in the 1890s.

Please mail your ideas or suggestions about what you want to read.

Links to Other Sites

A general listing of

Robert Boldt has pointed out that these sites had moved, and the links were broken.  I have revised the links as soon as I could.

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Announcements of Coming Events

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Reports on Past Events

September 1996 Brimfield

I couldn't get away from my day job, so I was able to go to Brimfield with my son only on Saturday.   About a dozen dealers in tools said that they had had a few clamps earlier in the week, but they were sold out.   If that's true, then I think more tool dealers are starting to handle clamps.

I spotted quite a few clamps, but I could understand why many of them were still available on Saturday.  Some of the prices were unsupportable.  60$ for a 20 inch Bliss Mfg. Co. in average condition makes no sense.  And for others, their condition was poor.  (See the paragraph on scarcity for a summary of the first dozen that I saw.)

I was able to work one deal at the end of the day, just before the dealer packed it in.  After I get them cleaned up, I tell you more.

Fifth Annual Antique Tool Discovery Day at Mercer Museum

On Saturday, the 9 th of November, I joined about two dozen other collectors and enthusiasts from EAIA and CRAFTS of New Jersey. We had over 150 visitors through the day, looking at the exhibits and demonstrations, and asking "What is this?".

One person came to me with an odd item; unfortunately I couldn't identify it - very humbling experience. He claimed he had a violin clamp. It had a threaded shaft, with a handle, altogether about 15 inches long. On the shaft there were two disks, each about 4 or 5 inches in diameter, and a bit less than 1 inch in thickness. One disk was threaded to the shaft; the other was smooth bore and slid loosely along the shaft. The handle looked like the usual handle on a through screw, so it could press against the loose disk. The end of the shaft had a stub, like a stopped screw.

I could see how I could use it to clamp together a stack of rings to form a hollow cylinder. Or, once I'd punched holes in leather pieces, I could trim them into washers of uniform diameter, all at once. I couldn't see how to use it in making a violin.

Any comments or identifications? Any idea why there was a stub end to the shaft?

I had numerous chances to talk with people who had used clamps in boat building and other projects, on their own, or as part of museum projects. Most of them had never noticed the makers' marks; they promised to take another look. Maybe I'll find some new makers out there.

Recent Auctions

I've managed to miss every one of Dick Crane's Auctions this fall; anybody spot something interesting?

Did anybody get to Bud Brown's Auction on the 26 th of October?  

Tell me about either of them, and I'll revise the page.  

Meetings of Tool Collectors

NETCA, M-WTCA, and EAIA met on the 2 nd of November at Historic Deerfield MA. And I missed it! With a new grandson to enjoy, and other obligations, my calendar got filled early.

If I get any comments, then I'll revise this page to include them.

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Reviews and Comments on Books, etc.

Read a good book lately?   Seen a video or movie that involved clamps in some way?   Then share your thoughts and comments.  

Advice and Tips for Collectors and Users

Clamp Condition

I use a fifty point scale, with a maximum of 10 points each for each screw, and each jaw, and 10 points for labels and makers' marks. If a part is wrong for the ensemble (say, an Aldrich jaw with everything else from a Sargent), then I give it 0 points. It's a severe penalty for married pieces, but it's an incentive to go find the part that should be there.

If there are enough threads for a screw to function, 3 points.
If a jaw is solid enough to function, 3 points.
The range from 4 to 10 gives me enough room to capture varying degrees of cosmetic defect and physical damage. A clamp with average wear and tear will get 6 or 7 points for each part; original finish, crisp edges, clean unobtrusive impressions from owners can warrant full marks.

I grade makers' marks and labels separately, but that's because I'm interested in the history of the piece, as well as its looks and usefulness. Labels are uncommon, and add human interest. The mere outline of a label might be worth 1 point. Information on both the maker and a distributor is valuable in tracing history, and worth an extra point or two.

Scale of Scarcity

On this scale, No Names and Bliss (all varieties considered together) are abundant; Aldrich, Narragansett, and ONeil are common; Hood and Rice, Webster and Butterfield are uncommon; Hood, and Buttrick are infrequent, but sporadic; Sandusky, Stanley, Sargent, and others are rare. The rarity (where I look) is probably because I mostly search in New England, New York, and Pennsylvania, and most clamps go West, with their owners, not East.

If you would check the next ten clamps that you see, note the following data, and email the results, then I'll include your data with mine in the next update.

  1. the maker's name and address (if any)
  2. the model number (if any)
  3. the length of the jaws

A random dozen from Brimfield in September '96 were:
5 Bliss (both R. Bliss & Co. and Bliss Mfg. Co.), a No 13, and 10 inch, 20 inch, 20 inch models (one was so modified I couldn't measure its size)
4 No Names, 10 inch, 12 inch, 16inch, 18 inch (the 10 inch had Aldrich spindles)
2 Aldrich, 17 inch and 18 inch models
1 puzzler, with Bliss chamfers but not Bliss proportions, 14 inch model

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Descriptions of Clamps

The jaws are 11 1/2 and 11 3/4 inches long.  Possibly, the nose of the stopped jaw was  cut off at some point.  There is chamfering on 4 edges, along the angle and the edge between the outside and the top (or bottom) side.  The chamfer is a slight bevel on the top and bottom side, about a quarter inch wide, full width along the outside, narrowing along the angle.

There are two stopped screws, one 14, the other 15 inches in length.  The threads are hand cut. The handle is slightly barrel shaped.  There is the same very shallow groove that Aldrich has, to ease the transition to the end, which is somewhat domed.  (I'm gonna love it when I can get pictures on this site.)

The stopped jaw has the stamp of the owner, C. Schwamb 2d, who died in 1902; this provides a last possible date.  There are few records to indicate when Charles might have actually worked in the family mill, so the first possible date is unclear.

The stopped jaw has the maker's mark, N. BUTTRICK, in an arc. There is a 3 under the arc.  

The through jaw also has a maker's mark, NATHAN BUTTRICK CARLISLE MASS, in a circle enclosing the numeral 13.  (Carlisle is near to Lowell, and it seems there was a Lowell style established by Milton Aldrich.)

Clearly, this is a piece married from Buttrick parts, and not a pure example of a Buttrick clamp.  

I have not been able to locate Nathan Buttrick in the history of Carlisle, but I'll confess I haven't devoted much time to the search.  If you have any knowledge to share, please let me know.

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Histories of Makers, Sellers, and Owners

Rufus Bliss started the firm in 1830 or 1832 (the references differ), and it lasted until 1935. It seems to be the first firm on record to make wooden clamps, and likewise it seems to be the last to go out of the business.  If you pick a clamp at random, and it has a maker's mark, it's most likely made by Bliss.  Chronicle (June 1995, vol 48 No. 2) has a longer version of the firm's history.  

The firm's first products were bar clamps, bench clamps, and hand screw clamps.  They were initially used in piano factories in the vicinity; eventually they were shipped  to individuals and manufacturing firms throughout America. At various times, the firm also made various sporting goods (tennis rackets, croquet sets, etc.), boys' tool chests, doll houses, and other items of wood.

It started as a proprietorship, then a partnership; the mark during this period was

R. BLISS & Co.


In 1873, it incorporated as a stock company; it lasted (through difficulties and re-organizations) until 1915. The mark during this period was



From 1915 until 1918, J ONeil made clamps at the Bliss address;  his mark included "successor to R Bliss".

In 1921, the firm was re-established under its old name of R. Bliss Mfg. Co., and continued until 1935. Later marks omit the address, or include the line "Made in U.S.A."

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Questions, Answers, Speculations

All the things you ever were curious about (concerning clamps), and responses from people who claim they know what they're talking about.

Notices: For Sale, Trade, or Wanted

For Sale:
For Trade:

  1. The editor wants clamps made outside New England. Send mail with description.

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Letters to the Editor

Editorial Policy will be to print all letters, edited for length, relevance, or offense.

Robert Boldt (reboldt@Kodak.com) let me know of problems in a couple links.  I am working on them.  

last revised and validated

Copyright © 1996- Wooden Clamp Journal