Lee Valley & Veritas
Woodworking Newsletter
  Volume 8, Issue 1 - September 2013    
What Is It?
What Is It?
These items, part of a grouping, scream out that they are tools, but with no maker's identifying marks their usage is unclear. The issue, however, is clear; we have entered into the true black hole of the "what is it". A dedicated practitioner of figuring these things out will carry the items around for at least two months and demand of every stranger, "Do you know what these are, what they're used for, what they're part of?"

Lead has been used as a building material for at least 2,500 years, and examples of other uses date back at least 6,000 to 7,000 years. The Romans made extensive use of lead in pipes for water distribution, and until the discovery of lead poisoning in the 1800s in North America, the material was commonly used for piping water into buildings. The Latin name plumbum is the origin of the word plumber and the element symbol Pb. As it is such a malleable material, sheets of lead are still used extensively in Europe for flashing and some pipe work. In North America, its use is not as widespread and is also somewhat restricted due to stringent health and safety regulations. It is, however, commonly used as a sound absorber and shield against radiation exposure. It is also an excellent medium for absorbing vibrations.
Dressing tools (also called bossing or slapping mallets)   Plumber's bobbins (dollies)
The items shown here constitute some parts of a plumber's or roofer's kit. These are but three unusual parts of the toolkit. It seems there are variations for each country and its tradespeople regarding the tools used for working lead sheet or pipe. The first grouping is five dressing tools, sometimes referred to as bossing or slapping mallets. They are used for shaping the lead sheet by striking it without placing undue stress on the subject material. They are also often used in the auto industry for doing body work (hence the name "lead sled"). The second group is a graduated set of plumber's bobbins (dollies) used to size piping by pulling the bobbin through it. They're also used to remove dents in the soft material by placing the bobbin in the pipe and striking the lead with the bossing mallet. Our third example is called a turnpin, a tapered item that is used to size the pipe openings by driving it in to expand the metal. This item is often found in antique stores and is described as an early children's toy top. All these tools may be found made from lignum vitae or boxwood.

Caution: Lead sheathing is used extensively as a flashing, roofing and waterproofing material throughout North America and Europe, and prolonged exposure can be detrimental to one's health. Lead can also be harmful to humans if ingested into the body. Smoking and eating while working with lead is prohibited by legislation in both the USA and Canada.

D.S. Orr

D.S. Orr has been a collector, user and student of woodworking and metalworking tools and practices for more than 40 years. Recently retired, he has devoted even more time to these endeavors.
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