1902 Encyclopedia > Cutlery


CUTLERY (French, coutillerie, from the Latin culter, a knife) is a branch of industry which originally embraced the manufacture of all cutting implements of whatever form or material. The progress of manufacturing industry has, however, detached from it the fabrication of several kinds of edge-tools, saws, and similar implements, the manufacture of which is now regarded as distinct branches ul trade. On the other hand modern cutlery includes a great number of articles which are not strictly cutting im-elements, but which, owing to their more or less intimate relation to table or pocket cutlery, are classed with such articles for convenience sake. A fork, for example, is an important article of cutlery, although it is not a cutting tool, and silver or German silver forks in no way answer to the common definition of cutlery, as " cutting implements made of steel."

The original cutting instruments used by the human race consisted of fragments of flint, obsidian, or similar stones, rudely flaked or chipped to a cutting edge ; and of these tools numerous remains yet exist. Stone knives and other tools must have been employed for a long period by the prehistoric races of mankind, as their later productions show great perfection of form and finish. In the Bronze period, which succeeded the Stone age, the cutlery of our ancestors was fabricated of that alloy. The use of iron was introduced at a later but still remote period; and it now, in the form of steel, is the staple article from which cutlery is manufactured.

From the earliest period in English history the manufacture of cutlery has been peculiarly associated with the town of Sheffield, and at the present day that town not only practically monopolizes the ordinary cutlery trade of Great Britain, but undoubtedly remains the chief centre of the industry for the whole world. The prominence of the manufacture in his own age is attested by Chaucer, who says of the whittler of Trompington—
"A Shefeld thwytel bare he in his hose."

The thwytel or whittle of that period was a very poor rude implement, consisting of a blade of bar steel fastened into a wooden or horn handle. It was used for cutting food as well as for the numerous miscellaneous duties which now fall to the pocket knife. To the whittle succeeded the Jack knife,—the Jacques-de-Lioge, or Jook-te-leg of the Scottish James VI.,—which formed the prototype of the modern clasp knife, inasmuch as the blade closed into a groove in the handle. This improved form was probably introduced to Sheffield by Protestant refugees from the Low Countries who came to England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth. Shortly thereafter, about the beginning of the 17th century, the pocket knife with spring back was intro-duced, and no marked improvement thereafter took place till the early part of the present century. In 1624, two centuries after the incorporation of the Cutlers' Company of London, the cutlers of Hallamshire—the name of the dis-trict of which Sheffield is the centre—were formed into a body corporate for the protection of the " industry, labour, and reputation " of the trade, which was being disgraced by the "deceitful and unworkmanlike wares of various persons." The Act of incorporation specifies the manufacture of " knives, scissors, shears, sickles, and other cutlery," and provides that all persons engaged in the business shall " make the edge of all steel implements manufactured by them of steel, and steel only, and shall strike on their wares such mark, and such only, as should be assigned to them by the officers of the said company." Notwithstand-ing these regulations, and the pains and penalties attached to their infringement, the corporation was not very successful in maintaining the high character of Sheffield wares. Most manufacturers made cutlery to the order of their customers, on which the name of the retailer was stamped, and very inferior malleable or cast iron blades went forth to the public with " London made," " best steel," and other falsehoods stamped on them to order. The corporate mark and name of a few firms, among which Joseph Eodgers & Sons stand foremost, are a guarantee of the very highest excellence of material and finish; and such firms decline to stamp any name or mark other than their own on their manufactures. In foreign markets, however, the reputation of such firms is much injured by impudent forgeries ; and so far was this system of fraud carried that inferior foreign work was forwarded to London to be transshipped and sent abroad ostensibly as English cutlery. To protect the trade against frauds of this class the Trades Mark Act of 1862 was passed chiefly on the instigation of the Sheffield Chamber of Commerce.

Sword cutlery, which embraces the manufacture of all military cutting weapons, has always been a distinct branch of trade; and it attained great perfection long before much attention was bestowed upon the tools appertaining to the arts of peace. Damascus blades, with their peculiar variegated watered appearance and their unequalled excellence of metal, have possessed from an early period the highest reputation; and the method by which its structure was produced was long a matter of speculation. The following remarks by Dr Percy {Metallurgy—Iron and Steel) explain the method of which Damascus or damask work is produced :—

" The damasked portion is due to the difference in coloration, resulting from the action of acids on iron and steel, the surface of the former being left with a metallic tissue, and that of the latter being left coated with a black firmly adherent car-bonaceous residue. By suitably piling together bars of steel and iron, welding them, and then drawing them out under the ham-mer, or otherwise, patterns of various kinds may be produced, just as is done in the case of glass, by heating together variously coloured pieces of glass, and drawing them out into rods."

The sword blades of Toledo, and the workmanship of Andrea de Ferrara in the 16th century, were also triumphs of metal-work. While Sheffield is now the great centre of the manufacture of ordinary cutlery, Birmingham occupies the leading place in the sword cutlery department; but the sword and its congeners do not now hold the important position either in civil or in military life which they occupied in earlier ages.

The variety of materials which go to complete any single article of cutlery is very considerable ; and as the stock list of a cutler embraces a vast number of articles different in form, properties, and uses, the master cutler must have a practical knowledge of a wide range of substances. The leading articles of the trade may be classed under—1st, domestic cutlery, which includes carving and table knives and forks, pocket or clasp knives, razors, scissors, and similar articles; and 2d, tool cutlery, under which head may be arranged surgical knives and lancets, butchers' and shoemakers' knives, gardeners' pruning-knives, &c., sickles, scythes, and a vast number of other allied cutting imple-ments. The blades or cutting portions of a certain number of these articles are made of shear steel, and for others cast steel only is employed. Sometimes the cutting edge alone is of steel, backed or strengthened with malleable iron, to which it is welded. Tangs on which handles are fastened, and other non-cutting portions, are also very often of malleable iron. Brass, German silver, silver, horn, tortoise-shell, ivory, bone, mother-of-pearl, and numerous fancy woods are all brought into requisition for handles and other parts of cutlery, each demanding special treatment according to its nature. The essential processes in making a piece of steel cutlery are—1st, forging; 2d, hardening and tempering ; 3d, grinding ; and 4th, polishing ; and to these of course are added the diverse operations of fitting and handling of various kinds.

The following outline of the stages in the manufacture of a razor will serve to indicate the sequence of operations in making an article which, though simple in form, demands the highest care and skill in the departments which strictly appertain to cutlery. The first essential of a good razor is that it be made of the finest quality of cast steel. A razor must further, according to Mr Ebenezer Ehodes, a practical cutler who writes an Essay on the Manufacture of a Razor, present " due proportion, form, temperature, fitness, and regularity of concavity." The steel for razors is obtained in bars half an inch in breadth, and the thickness of the back of the instrument. Such a bar the forger takes, and, heating one end of it to the proper forging temperature, he, with great dexterity, fashions it upon his anvil, giving it roughly the required form, edge, and concavity. It is then separated from the remainder of the bar, leaving only sufficient metal to form the tang, if that is to be made of steel; sometimes a tang of malleable iron is welded to the blade. The tang of the " mould, " as the blade in this condition is termed, is next drawn out, and the whole " smithed " or beaten on the anvil to compact the metal and improve the form and edge of the razor. At this stage the razor is said to be "forged in the rough," and so neatly can some workmen finish off this operation that a shaving edge may be given to the blade by simple whetting. The forged blade is next " shaped " by grinding on the dry stone, in which opera-tion it is considerably reduced in weight, and the oxidized scale is removed, which allows the hardening and temper-ing to be done with certainty and proper effect. The shaped razor is now returned to the forge, where the tang is file-cut and pierced with the joint-hole, and into the blade is stamped either the name and corporate mark of the maker, or any mark and name ordered by the tradesman for whom the goods are being manufactured. The harden-ing is accomplished by heating the blade to a cherry-red heat and suddenly quenching it in cold water, which leaves the metal excessively hard and brittle. To bring it to the proper temper for a razor, it is again heated till the metallic surface assumes a straw colour, and upon plunging it into water, it is ready for the process of wet grinding. The wet grinding is done on stones which vary in diameter from 4 to 12 inches according to the concavity of surface desired. The stones recommended by Mr Rhodes are from 6 to 8 inches in diameter, which produce, he says, " razors sufficiently hollowed or ground out for any service, however hard, to which they may be applied; and they combine a desirable strength and firmness of edge, with a requisite degree of thinness." " Lapping," which is the first stage in polishing, is performed on a wheel of the same diameter as the wet-grinding stone. The lap is built up of segments of wood having the fibres towards the periphery, and covered with a metallic alloy of tin and lead. The lap is fed with a mixture of emery powder and oil. " Glazing " and " polishing," which follow, are for perfecting the polish on the surface of the razor, leather-covered wheels with fine emery being used; and the work is finished off with crocus. The finished blade is then rivetted into the scales or handle, which may be of ivory, bone, horn, or other material; and when thereafter the razor is set on a hone it is ready for use.

The processes employed in making a table knife do not differ essentially from those required for a razor Knife blades are made from shear steel, and, after forging the blade, a piece of malleable iron sufficient for the bolster or shoulder and tang is welded to it. The bolster is formed with the aid of a die and swage called " prints," and the tang is drawn out. The tang is variously formed, according to the method by which it is to be secured in the shaft, and the various processes of tempering, wet grinding, and polishing are pursued as described above. Steel forks of an inferior quality are cast and subsequently cleaned and polished, but the best quality are forged from bar steel, and the prongs are cut or stamped out of an extended flattened extremity called the mould or "mood." In the United States of America machinery has been extensively adapted for per-forming the various mechanical operations in forging and fitting table cuttlery, and to some extent machines have been introduced in Sheffield. In the making of a common pocket-knife with three blades not fewer than one hundred separate operations are involved, and these may be per-formed by as many workmen. The diversity of quality and workmanship is probably greater in the cutlery trade than in any other, although differences are not readily apparent to the unskilled critic, and the range of prices i3 correspondingly wide.

In the cutlery trade the division of labour is carried out
to such an extreme degree as to exercise a very baneful
influence on the operatives—who, as a class, are socially
and morally inferior to many of their fellows. Cutlery
grinding, which is one of the most important and distinc-
tive departments of the trade, possesses the bad eminence
of being one of the most unhealthy and deleterious of all
occupations. Grinders are divided into three classes—dry,
wet, and mixed grinders, according as they work at dry
or wet stones. This branch of trade is, in Sheffield, con-
ducted in distinct establishments called " wheels," which
are divided up into separate apartments or " hulls," dry
grinding being as much as possible separated from the wet
grinding. Dry grinding, such as is practised in the shaping
of razors described above, the " humping," or rounding of
scissors, and other operations, is by far the most injurious
and fatal process. Red-hot particles of steel fly off, injuring
and sometimes blinding the eyes, unless they are protected ;
and the atmosphere is loaded with fine dust of silica and
steel, inducing inflammation of the lungs, pleurisy, and
grinders' asthma. The men work in a peculiarly con-
strained position, and under highly unsanitary conditions ;
and although a fan has been invented and extensively in-
troduced which, placed behind the stones, by suction draws
away a large proportion of the grinding dust, and renders
the atmosphere comparatively pure, many grinders still
neglect to keep it working or positively refuse to have it.
In a communication to the Social Science Association
(Sheffield meeting, 1865) Dr John C. Hall stated that there
were then 3090 men and 1073 boys employed in grinding,—
wet, dry, and mixed. " The average ages of all the fork
grinders living," he says, " does not exceed 29 ; scissors
grinders, 32 ; edge tool and wool-shear grinders, 33 ; table-
knife grinders, 35 On taking down the ages of
all the grinders—wet, mixed, and dry—at one of our largest wheels, I found the average 34 ; boys under 21 were excluded from this calculation." Dr Hall gives the accompanying table of the ages of 290 men over 21 years of age employed in razor grinding :—
Ages. Persons. Ages. Persons.
21 to 25 83 45 to 50 29
25 „ 30 57 50 ,, 55 9
30 „ 35 36 55 „ 60 8
35 ,, 40 35 60 ,, 65 3
40 ,, 45 29 65 „ 75 1

The operation of the Factories and Workshops Acts has, in recent years, exercised a beneficial influence on the health of the grinding trade ; and the more general use
of the fan in dry grinding has considerably reduced the
excessive mortality among the operatives. (J. PA.)

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