These carving gouges came to me at different times with other tools that were more easily put in working order. They have been rolled up for years waiting for restoration. To some, their condition would seem too far gone, too much, and too deep, pitting for them to be able to hold a keen edge.

Addis gouges beforeThey are both marked with a crossed compass and square followed by S.J. ADDIS/LONDON. The upper tool in the photo below has the Addis imprint on the back and no sweep number, the lower tool has the imprint on the front and is marked “3” on the back, indicating it is the flattest or slowest sweep gouge as designated by the Sheffield List or the London Pattern which had recently been introduced by Sheffield, England edge tool makers to easily identify the shapes of their carving tools for what had become an international market. Both these tools were likely made in the 1880’s by the edge tool makers Ward and Payne, Sheffield, who purchased the trademark “S.J. ADDIS” after his death in 1871. For information on the Addis family of edge tool makers click here.

Addis gougesThe shape of the cutting edge of the gouge that is not numbered falls between a #6 and #7 on the London Pattern sweep list. Was it made before the numbered sweep system was adapted or, as is often the case with numbered carving gouges made in the 1880’s and 90’s, close enough was good enough?

Addis gouge beforeThe three quarter inch wide gouge has less pitting on the upper surface and it is not as deep but it mostly occurs at the cutting edge. The cutting edge is also quite rounded rather than kept straight across and perpendicular to the sides.

Addis gouge beforeThe #3 stamped on the back, There is more pitting on the back bevel. This is usually not a concern in an carving gouge as enough metal is removed during the reconditioning process to move past the bottom of the pitting.

Addis gouge beforeAn inner bevel has been created on the upper surface of the unumbered gouge moving the cutting edge closer to the middle of the tool. Enough metal was removed that the cutting edge is now below the deepest pitting and a straight, sharp cutting edge could be formed.

Addis gouge afterA view of the top of the gouge shows the pitting that remains on the surface behind the inner bevel – the bright, polished reflection seen along the cutting edge at the bottom of the photo below.

Addis gouge afterThe pitting on the back bevel was removed during the shaping process. Coarse sharpening stones followed by Translucent White Arkansas bench slip stones, then stropping on leather impregnated with a fine metal polishing paste creates the smooth, mirrored surface on the bevels and a sharp cutting edge.

Addis gouge afterA long inner bevel was also put on the #3 gouge where it becomes particularly useful when the tool is used upside down to shape convex surfaces.

Addis gouge afterThe flat, polished back bevel of the #3. The cutting edge is now straight and perpendicular to the sides.

Addis gouge afterShaped and sharpened after years of neglect, I’m now working with both these carving gouges for the first time. Although there are not the full length they were when forged in the 1870’s they have several generations of carver’s use in them. The handle on the gouge at the top of the photo below feels a bit short and the bulge and the end of the handle on the lower gouge makes subtle control a bit difficult. But they’ve been part of tools for some time, likely since the last professional carver used them and it’s possible they are original to the gouges. I won’t be modifying or replacing them with more comfortable handles.

Addis gouges after

May 21 1763

Thomas Nevell daybook, May 21, 1763

By early spring Thomas Nevell’s journeymen and apprentices were spending the working week on site at Mount Pleasant. Nevell was receiving cash installments for the work from John Macpherson roughly every two weeks in amounts that ranged between £5 and £40. Nevell credited his carpenters their time working with weekly entries in his daybook. His most capable workmen were earning £1.10 for a six day work week or 5 shillings a day. George Plim, who had been associated with Nevell the longest based the the low number “30” next to his name which indicates the page number of Plim’s records in Nevell’s book of accounts, received a slightly higher rate, 6 shillings a day.

George Plim

John Sweet

John Little

John Dubre

John Adams

James Farmer

James Keys

James Guy

William Singleton

When John Macpherson engaged Thomas Nevell to construct Mount Pleasant he entrusted him with the role of general contractor. Nevell in turn relied on his vast knowledge of the building trade in Philadelphia and his ability to oversee a team of variously skilled carpenter’s and apprentices, many of whose names appear nowhere in the historical record except for Nevell’s daybook. The record of their labor on site and at Nevell’s work yard and shop during the more than two years of construction grants us a better understanding of the community of skilled workers needed to create what survives at Mount Pleasant.



Mount Pleasant. Robert Montgomery Scott led bike ride, Tour of East Fairmount Park, spring 1987

By the spring of 1763 work was well underway on Captain John and Margaret Macpherson’s country retreat Mount Pleasant. The Macpherson’s initially purchased 38 acres of land from Benjamin Mifflin and his wife Hannah in September 1761 and would add to this acreage with additional purchases of land after the buildings on the site were completed four years later.

December 1762

Thomas Nevell daybook, Wetherill Papers, Division of Special Collections, Van Pelt Library, University of Pennsylvania

Thomas Nevell, the Carpenters’ Company member who designed and built Mount Pleasant for the Macpherson’s completed work on the barn and stable buildings by December 1762 allowing them to be used for workshops and material storage during the construction of the main house and two pavilions.

On May 10, 1765 Nevell charged John Macpherson for “hanging 4 Luking glases” indicating the plastering and papering of the interior of the main house had been completed. For the Macpherson’s this meant that 248 years ago this month they were ready to take possession of Mount Pleasant and spend the summer enjoying the breezes along the banks of the Schuylkill away from the heat and crowds of the city. For Nevell it meant two years of waiting to be paid in full for his work at Mount Pleasant. Macpherson made a final cash payment of £418.11.9 on April 28, 1767. By several accounts Macpherson still owed Nevell an additional £400 for his work but according to Nevell’s daybook that survives in the Wetherill Papers, Division of Special Collections, Van Pelt Library, University of Pennsylvania, Macpherson was not credited for any further payments. Nevell continued working for prominent clients in Philadelphia for the rest of career as a leading member of the Carpenters’ Company but never again worked for Captain John Macpherson.


Mount Pleasant, 1763-1765, Main house and pavilions, East Fairmount Park

250 years ago this spring, Nevell, along with his journeymen, apprentices, a team of masons, carters, and various other artificers began work on his celebrated masterpiece, completing it two years later. May 2015 will mark the 250th anniversary of the conclusion of Nevell’s work at Mount Pleasant. The survival of both Nevell’s daybook and the buildings at Mount Pleasant presents us with the opportunity to take an encyclopedic journey through of the construction of a mid-18th century Philadelphia Palladian country seat from the point of view of the designer and makers rather than the more usual perspective of the privileged elite who commissioned it. Let the party begin!

Mount Pleasant, west facade


Arts & Crafts Magazine, Hutchinson & Company, June 1904.

One of my carver’s screw, here attached to a jig, the wing nut or “fly” and a wood spacer. The screw drops into holes drilled in the bench top.

I use carver’s screws with most carving projects. I need to hold a carving securely while retaining the option to work on it from various angles. For centuries, the carver’s screw has been essential for work that requires modeling and that cannot otherwise be conveniently held by clamps or nails. In the photo above the screw is inserted into a jig for holding drawer fronts to be carved. The square hole in the nut, or fly, fits over the square end of the screw so the screw can be tightened into your carving or jig then it is dropped into a hole in the top of the carving bench, the square wood spacer block is slipped over the screw from below the bench and the fly is threaded onto the screw fastening the work securely to the bench.

A mahogany replacement cartouche for a c. 1770 Philadelphia clock case being carved while held to the bench with a carver’s screw.

The carver’s screw shines when creating cartouches for furniture. Mid-eighteenth century Philadelphia furniture central ornaments are carved from two inch thick blocks meant to be primarily viewed frontally. While the high relief and movement of the the design that takes advantage of the full thickness of the stock make it appear that they are sculptures in-the-round, the carving can be accomplished almost entirely with the ornament secured to the bench with a carver’s screw. The two great advantages of the use of a carver’s screw are the ability to easily and quickly loosen and tighten the fly from below to reposition the ornament as it is carved, and the fact that there is no extraneous metal in the form of clamps or fasteners on the bench to get in the way of the tools and arm movements while carving or to nick the precious sharpened edges of the carving tools.

The cartouche is being held in place on the carving bench while the block that the top frond will be carved from is glued on.

Original cartouche from a c. 1770 Philadelphia chest on chest.

Two urn and flower cartouches from Philadelphia chest on chests, c. 1770.

When books giving instruction in carving began to be published in the second half of the nineteenth century, the carver’s screw was universally described and illustrated as the predominate accessory for holding work. Eighteenth century work also shows evidence of the use of carver’s screws. Most of the time the threaded hole on the back of an ornament left from the carver’s screw is located where the carving finishes at near full thickness of the original blank, generally near the center of an ornament. I can’t explain the low position of the screw hole on the urn and flowers ornament on the right in the picture above.

Rooster ornament from a c. 1770 Philadelphia clock case,

The carving of bird ornaments also began with the blank attached to the bench with a carver’s screw though they give the appearance of being fully carved in-the -round.

Scroll moulding from the David Rittenhouse Orrery case, John Folwell and Parnell Gibbs, Philadelphia, 1771.

Carver’s screw were also used when the scrolls of curved cornice mouldings were decoratively carved.

David Rittenhouse Astronomical musical clock case, c. 1773. Drexel University.

The backs of the urn and flowers ornament and the scroll moulding on the left in the photo above both show evidence of a carver’s screw.

Cartouche from a high chest, Philadelphia, c. 1760.

When the carving of the front was completed, the ornament was taken off the bench, the carver’s screw removed and the ornament was then back-cut with gouges relieving the edges of the elements carved on the face quickly and efficiently to lighten the appearance of the cartouche when viewed from the front, while maintaining thickness where necessary for strength.

Cabinet, Philadelphia, c. 1880.

This high relief bust of Bacchus attached to the door of a late nineteenth century Philadelphia walnut cabinet was carved while attached to the bench with a carver’s screw.

Bust of Bacchus removed from the cabinet.

On the back of the bust are two threaded holes for screws that attach the bust to the door and a large threaded hole in the center left from a carver’s screw.

Carver’s screws, from left to right: mid-twentieth century Record, mid-twentieth century, unknown manufacturer, Two Cherries brand, current production.

Today at least one manufacturer produces a carver’s screw in the form it has taken since at least the middle of the nineteenth century while others produce their own modern interpretations. Eighteenth century and earlier carver’s screw would have been made from wrought iron parts supplied by a blacksmith with the threads hand filed to an individuals liking, then passed down from carver to carver until they were used up or viewed as useless or unimportant and discarded by someone who didn’t understand their use or recognize their value or importance to the history of the craft.

On June 28 and 29 2013 I will be back at the Olde Mill Cabinet Shoppe to teach a carving seminar. From the class description: “The class will provide instruction in learning from the tool, with the goal of gaining an understanding of how simple cuts can provide endless variety. We will gain facility in the handling of carving tools through repeated exercises that build confidence in a carvers ability to handle any design challenges that arise. Learn how to layout and produce repeating motifs used in both architectural and furniture carving – bead and reel, ribbon and flower, gadrooning, and variations of egg and dart. In addition we will examine techniques and execute low-relief and intaglio carving with the purpose of creating the flowing freedom of hand required in ornamental carving.”


Architectural carving, base moulding, English, c. 1755


Tea table, Philadelphia, 1765-1775


Reproduction moulding samples from Mount Pleasant, Philadelphia, built 1763-1765


Gadrooning, the David Rittenhouse Orrery case, John Fowell and Parnell Gibbs, Philadelphia, 1772


Side chair, Philadelphia, 1765-1775


The Rittenhouse Orrery and case at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia has been reinstalled on the sixth floor of the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center. The sixth floor will re-open to the public in early March 2013.























Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 26 other followers