ANTIQUE TOOLS OF OLD-TIME TRADES (March 30/01)

Benjamin Eaton, 1822 – 1906, was an axemaker in Sheffield Mills. Thomas Cox, blacksmith and wheelwright, worked out of a shop in Kentville in the late 1800s and also made axes.

Forged from raw materials by Eaton and Cox, the axes are superb examples of the hand tools made by local craftsmen a century ago. These axes and other artifacts tradesmen used in bygone days are part of the antique tool collection of Kevin Wood. For 20 years Wood has been collecting the implements used by wheelwrights, coopers, shipwrights, carpenters, cobblers, shipsmiths, sawyers, blacksmiths and other old-time craftsmen. Housed in the basement of his Kentville residence are hundreds of examples of old tools, many of which were used in trades and crafts now forgotten or made obsolete by modern technology.

“I’ve always been interested in old tools and the old trades, especially the history of them,” Wood says, explaining why he amassed his huge collection, which also includes a large Micmac axe estimated to be at least a thousand years old and an old dykeing tool of the type used by the Acadians.

Wood’s tool collection comes from an age when everything was made by hand, including the tools that were used to hew, saw and shape the necessities of life in previous centuries. When houses were constructed a hundred or more years ago, for example, every piece of wood that went into it was shaped and milled with hand tools. One of those tools was the pit saw, a large two-man saw used to produce rafters and boards from raw timber. The saw is so named because, due to its length, one of the men operating it had to stand in a pit, the saw being used vertically.

Wood has a pit saw in his collection dating from the 1700s and it ranks as one of his most prized collectibles since only a few exist today. “They’re difficult to find and much sought after by collectors,” Wood says. “I’ve had several good offers for mine but I won’t part with it.”

Also among the rare tools in Wood’s collection is a Crown surveyor’s hammer. The hammer has the crown of the British monarchy engraved on one end and was used between the 1600s and 1800s to stamp timber destined for the Royal Navy. The hammer was used in the days when the British monarch claimed timber rights here, Wood says. In that period it was a criminal offense to possess timber stamped with the Crown.

When possible, Wood prefers to collect artifacts used and made by local craftsmen and workers. One of his specialties is the Blenkhorn Axe Factory which produced axes in Canning for the lumber industry from 1884 to 1965. In Wood’s collection are Blenkhorn axes, ledgers kept by the Blenkhorns, and various clippings, photographs and other data detailing the history of the factory over the years.

Among Wood’s most prized artifacts are carpenter’s planes that were used in the 1860s and 1880s, and a turn-of-the-century bucksaw with a hand carved wood frame. Most of his antique tools are in working condition and Wood often uses them in another of his hobbies, restoring antiques.

A lifelong resident of Kentville, Wood teaches Industrial Arts technology at Cornwallis District High School, Canning.

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