Hackney History London Machinery People

East End Canal Heritage

In the relatively short time I’ve lived in Hackney myself, I’ve seen a radical shift in the use of the canals in the area. For one, more and more people are living on them, with the costs of a barge and berthing being preferable to living in a minute flat with sky-high rent attached.
The Regent’s and Hertford Union Canals were of course mainly used for trade and transport, with the timber trade featuring heavily. Carolyn Clark has just produced a wonderful booklet, which you can download here, in the form of a quiz.
East End Canal Heritage Quiz
There is some great information there, my favourite being a quote about Vic Veneers which reads:

‘Places like Vic Veneers…just inside Ducketts, you could actually look under the wharf, it was built above the water and they used to take the veneer timber into soak, and when they were nice and wet, soft as anything, they put them to the knife….they’d lift it out, put it on the shaver which was like a flaming great pencil sharpener and spin it up. You’d get a great long strip of veneer like flipping toilet paper, it might be 50-60 foot in length and 10 foot wide.’


Machines of the American Wood Working Machine Company

A recent post by Jeff Burks on the Lost Art Press site talked about a resourceful chap who could repair the heading planers from a wood shop, (a nice article drawn from The National Cooper’s Journal of 1906).

The skills of the man and his repairs got me thinking about the older woodworking machines and I’ve since been poring over some beautifully restored examples, not least the ones shown on the site of the American Wood Working Machine Company.

Now I’m not particularly crazy about machine work. In my short spells inside ‘proper’ commercial workshops, I’ve seen a large piece of lumber been thrown across the shop from a standing router and a near injury from a spindle moulder that hadn’t been set up properly. Another guy I know who makes picture frames won’t even let his employees of ten years use the spindle moulder. When asked why it’s clear he’s seen something he doesn’t want to see again. Quite often when I’m buying tools I meet people with missing tips of fingers, or those with whole fingers missing.

So yes, I’m rather more keen on hand tools, but having said that, I think this is largely because I have never been taught what each machine can do or shown how to use them properly. Some modern machines like the Sawstop have safety features built in, to stop injury, but I wonder whether this makes one a little blasé? Maybe trusting purely in the machine is rather like giving up personal responsibility?

The site I’ve linked to is quite fascinating for me. Not only does it show the amazing work these older machines can be made to do, but it also shows that with proper upkeep and maintenance, they are perhaps not quite so scary as I might believe. The restoration work on some of them is also superb. I couldn’t find the author’s name on the website, but he clearly knows his stuff. Enjoy.

A 'New Britain Chain Mortiser' in action, which dates from around 1915.
A ‘New Britain Chain Mortiser’ in action, which dates from around 1915.

Handmade parts, stamped for matching. It reminds me of number-matched parts on Norris planes.
Handmade parts, stamped for matching. It reminds me of number-matched parts on Norris planes.