Tool Exhibit

In order to continue using the display case in the Jacobs Family Gallery for changing exhibits, it was decided in January of 2009 to take down the exhibit of New Bedford Glass, install new lighting, and mount a small display of hand tools that pertain to some photographs in the collection that were selected by Madelyn Shaw,  Vice President for Exhibits.  The photographs showed (a) a group of fishermen mending nets on a New Bedford dock about 1930, (b) a crew of shipwrights, installing new copper sheathing on the whaling bark "Sunbeam" while fitting the vessel for a whaling voyage in 1904, and (c) a picture of the blacksmith, Edwin B. Macy, working at his forge in New Bedford, in the early 1900s.

With lots of help from Michael Lapides, Curator of Photography and his crew Kate Mello and Justine Spillane; Jean Banker, Registrar; Madelyn Shaw; Michael Dyer, Maritime Curator; Robert Hauser, Conservator; and John Mello, Facilities, the exhibit was successfully mounted on Jan. 28, 2009. 

Michael Lapides and Kate Mello


The captions for the photos were:

Fishermen’s Gear

 The basic gear carried by fishermen included the ubiquitous knife (1), usually carried in a sheath (1) looped into a belt.  Used for tasks ranging from fish splitting to rope work to use at the galley table, it is the most important personal tool at sea.  Also important is the use of a netting shuttle (2) to mend and piece together nets.  Older days saw net twine made of tarred cotton or manila fibers—today the nets are of synthetic fibers, but the netminding duties of a fisherman are the same.  On any boat rope work is essential, and fishermen have to be proficient at splicing and knotting ropes and cables.  The fid (3) or marlinspike is much needed tool here.  

Fish handling tools have always included hand picks (9)  and gaffs (10) for moving fish on deck.  Earlier days saw fishermen’s skills including splitting and salting fish in casks carried for the purpose.  Today ice has replaced salt, but the skills of icing a catch are no less important.  A specialized hand tool in New England was the “mackerel plow(8).  It was used to score the membranes on the cut surfaces of a split mackerel, causing the flesh to spill out—making the fish appear to be fatter than it really was.

 A century ago fishing vessels were still powered by sail, and the fishermen’s gear included the tools for mending sails—palms (4), needles (6), wax (5), and thread—which were usually kept in a sailcloth ditty bag (7), along with the shuttle and twine. 

 Today the sails are gone, but diesel engines are here for powering the boats and winches; modern electronics for navigation and communication; and modern safety and survival gear, bringing a host of new skills and tools into the fishermen’s lives.

 Items for Display

1.  Sheath Knife – 00.175.296

2.  Netting shuttles (2—one with twine)  91.43.31

3.  Fid – 2001.100.3149

4.  Palm –

5.  Wax –

6.  Needle Case & needles –

7.  Ditty Bag – 2001.100.40

8.  Mackerel Plow – 2001.100.113

9.  Fish Pick – Loan

10. Hand Gaff - Loan

Blacksmith Tools and Products

 In addition to the necessary forge and anvils (usually more than two, of different sizes and forms), the basic blacksmith shop was equipped with an assortment of hammers, tongs, punches, chisels, swages, cones, hardies, etc—many of them made by the blacksmith for his personal use.  In the picture, E.B. Macy is shown at a larger anvil, bending heavy rod stock, perhaps for a chain plate (10) of a sailing vessel.  His forge is behind him.  Notice his heavy leather apron, which protects his natty attire from sparks and embers.

 Blacksmith tools displayed here include examples of a smaller ball peen hammer (1) (Macy is shown using a much larger one), cross peen hammer (2), and two bottom swages (3, 5).  Bottom swages were mounted in the square “hardy hole” in an anvil, and used to form specific shapes when the hot iron was hammered into them.  These swages include one to form the neck of a large chisel or slick (3), and another to form the top of a marlinspike (6)Top swages (11) were hammered from above, sandwiching the hot steel to form a product.  This swage (11) forms a point.  Tongs (12) of different sizes and shapes were used to handle the red hot iron, moving it from forge to anvil, holding the stock while shaping it, and from there to the quenching tub.

 The Macy family blacksmiths were well known makers of “whalecraft” (implements used on whalers for catching whales and processing them), examples of a Macy double flue harpoon (7) and blubber spade (8) are displayed

 Not all of New Bedford’s many blacksmiths made whalecraft.  Braddock D. Hathaway was one who specialized in forging shipwright’s and cooper’s tools.  Shown here are a heavy cooper’s draw shave (9), and the slick (4) (next to the bottom swage) made by him.  Other examples of his superb work are seen in the adjacent display of shipwright’s tools (1, 2)

  Items for Display

1. Ball Peen Hammer – 00.175.150

2. Cross Peen Hammer – 1958.9.11

3. Slick Bottom Swage – 00.118.8

4. Slick – 2001.100.3097

5. Marlinspike Bottom Swage – 00.105.36

6. Marlinspike – 2001.100.2700

7. Double Flue Harpoon – 1959.8.57

8. Blubber Spade – 00.175.479

9. Cooper’s Draw Shave – 00.175.198

10. Chain Plate & Bulls Eye – 2001.100.10332

11.  Point Top Swage – 00.175.122

12.  Blacksmith Tongs – 00.175.258

Shipwright’s Tools

 A shipwright’s crew, such as seen working on the Sunbeam, had to be diverse in their skills and would have had expansive tool chests.  The basic framing and planking of a whale ship hull required heavy duty tools like adzes (1, 2), hewing axes, slicks (4 Blacksmith), draw knives (7) and planes to shape the timbers, planks and spars.  Their joinery featured augers (3) to bore the many holes for the pegs (treenails, “trunnels) to fasten them, and bevels (4) to deal with the angles found between planking and ribs.  Shipwright’s jointer (5) and smoothing planes (6), like this spar plane,  were typically made of dense tropical hardwoods, like ebony and rosewood, and tend to be slimmer and longer than typical carpenter’s planes.

 Caulking is a skill unto itself, using a variety of “caulking irons” ranging from hawsing irons (8), and handled caulking “hatchets” (9) for filling larger seams with oakum, to smaller caulking chisels (10) of different forms for the smaller seams.  These were driven by traditional caulking mallets (11) that had heads made of very dense woods like ebony and mesquite, and were reinforced by iron rings.  Many caulking mallets had slits and drill holes through the head, modified by their owners.  These were to “tune” the mallets, so they produced a ringing sound that was not harsh to the ear.

 Items for Display

 1. Gutter Adz – 2001.100.3088

2. Lipped Adze – 2001.100.3093

3. T-Handle Auger – 00.108.4

4. Shipwright’s Bevel – Loaned

5. Jointer Plane – 00.175.197

6. Spar Plane - Loaned

7.  Mast Draw Shave – 2001.100.2722

8. Hawsing Iron – 00.226.92

9. Caulking Hatchet – 1914.34.3

10. Caulking Chisel – 1914.34.6

      Caulking Chisel – 1984.6.1d

      Caulking Chisel – 2001.100.10479

      Caulking Chisel – 2001.100.10478

11. Caulking Mallet – 1941.26.1