What is It?

Trowel-shaped tool with wooden handle

When shown this item at an event, the first thought was that it was a baker’s peel used to remove baked goods from the back of an oven. The other position was that it was an advertising piece placed in a shop window to promote mason’s tools. European masons are very protective of their regional styles and trowels in France are often of this shape. Either way, those options got thrown out when we noticed there were teeth filed into both sides of the body. This must have been the largest flush-cutting saw ever produced. And then we noticed a stamped name and location on one side. There was also a second name scratched into the body – Dr. Anderson. We have no further information on this name or its association with this tool.

We can find no concrete start date for the J. Fred Lawton Alexander Works Saw Factory situated at the corner of North and Georges Streets in Saint John, New Brunswick. We surmise it could be as early as 1864. The great fire of 1877 destroyed the building, but the company was back in business by 1884 and continued until at least 1896. The factory specialized in mill, circular and crosscut saws from 4’ to 6’ that were produced from sheet steel. They also made versions of the common carpenter handsaw. Pre-confederation New Brunswick was a source of timber for export and also wooden shipbuilding. It is natural that a saw manufacturer would position itself close to the port.

Close-up view of the J. Fred Lawton  mark on the saw’s blade

Close-up view of the J. Fred Lawton mark on the saw’s blade

Close-up view of the saw handle

Close-up view of the saw handle

D.D. marking on the saw handle

D.D. marking on the saw handle.

Close-up view of the saw teeth

Close-up view of the saw teeth

At 30” long overall with the saw plate at 20” tapering from 6” to 2-1/2”, this cutting tool does have a strange appearance. Were it not for the bold stamp, this tool could be misconstrued as a home-built solution. It is filed at 10 tpi in the conventional manner. The 10” handle, with its full tang, is offset and riveted to the body with a spacer. It is clear that this tool was meant to be used as a type of flush-cutting saw, and it has been re-sharpened at least once. Time and poor storage practice has done much damage to the tool and it is doubtful it could ever be rescued. After consulting with some saw gurus both north and south of our border, it was agreed that it must have been used in the shipbuilding industry and not cobbled together from another saw or piece of flat steel.

The city of Saint John was named by Samuel De Champlain in 1604. Since that time, the industries of the Maritime Provinces have existed under the radar, so to speak, often being overshadowed by the aggressive marketing of Upper and Lower Canada. Even now, the economic indicators are often shown to be much lower than the rest of Canada. They are, however, a crucial part of the Canadian mosaic. We hope that further examples of toolmaking from that area appear.

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. Now retired, he has devoted even more time to these endeavors.

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