This has been another week with a lot of repairs, a few routine things, and I started another saddle. Not much to show as work in progress of interest. There was a lot of interest in the post on leather splitters, and I appreciate that. In that vein, I am going to head to another area of interest – strap cutters. I really didn’t start out to be a collector of draw gauges, but one of our past times is visiting antique stores when we travel. Occasionally we run across some old leather tools, and draw gauges are not an uncommon find in the old tool collections. Most all of mine but one have come from antique stores.
Draw gauges are a leather tool used to cut straps. The upright blade on the left side cuts the strap, and the handle acts as the “fence” to keep the width even. The width is adjusted by the ruled bar sliding back and forth, and secured with a screw in the front of the handle is most cases. As I got more draw gauges, I left them set to different common widths I would cut. To use it, the gauge is pulled into the strap and continued to pull through the leather. One issue is that the blade and fence must be parallel or the cut will wander from the set width. Another issue is that the further the blade is from the handle, the more torque there is on your hand to keep it tracking true. The blade must be very sharp to prevent that drag also. Some blades have a small handle on them, and you can put your left hand under there on the handle to then pull with both hands and keep it tracking true in harder leather. Like any cutting tool, these can be a bit dangerous if you are not careful. Sharp blades and being aware where that blade is going will minimize that. I was taught to hold mine with my thumb on the left side of the handle to keep the leather pressed down between the blade and the handle to keep it tracking. My index finger is pointed forward along the right side of the handle to help guide it. My middle finger is around the trigger (if present) and my last two fingers wrap the handle. There are other ways, but this is how I was shown, and what works for me.
I will kind of go through some of my more unique draw gauges in order of age - probable oldest first.
The side view of the Francis and Ward draw gauge.
Francis & Ward brass frame top view.
Francis and Ward was founded in Newark NJ in 1856. Johns Ward was listed as a cutler from 1856-1859. One of the unique things about this draw gauge is the smaller handle size and no trigger. The early draw gauge designs appeared to not have the trigger as part of the frame.
Henry Sauerbier draw gauge
Henry Sauerbier was listed in Newark NJ in 1848. I have read that he made swords for the Civil War, and as time progressed his sons joined the business. The Sauerbier draw gauge has a small “spur” trigger. Of all my draw gauges, this one fits my hand the best. It is my favorite. Pretty cool to be cutting leather with a tool that could be 160 years old.
HF Osborne Latta pattern draw gauge right side
HF Osborne Latta pattern draw gauge left side view
HF Osborne was a brother of CS Osborne. He left CS Osborne to start his own comapny in Newark NJ in 1877. Are you seeing the pattern for Newark NJ here? There must have been tool makers on every corner. A lot of other tools were made there also. This is called the Latta pattern or twist handle draw gauge. The bar on the other styles is secured by the thumb screw on the front of the handle. The Latta pattern draw gauges have the screw mechanism in the handle the handle is twisted counterclockwise to loosen and the bar is adjusted to width. The handle is then twist back clockwise and the screw in the end of the handle puts a bind on the bar. The two screws in the front of the handle are used to true up the bar by adjusting one screw or the other. They also can be screwed in or out to control the bind from the handle and allow the handle to twist to be flush and square with the front of the frame. I kind of like this adjustment method. Interesting to remember that these were pretty much made by hand and each frame handle and bar were mated up to work correctly together. Many of the old draw gauges were match number stamped on the handle and frame to ensure the right parts were put together for the best result. For that reason, some of the old parts are not interchangable from one to the next.
CS Osborne draw gauge - brass frame with screw-in trigger
This is Newark (that city again!) NJ draw gauge made by CS Osborne. This one has a brass frame with wooden inserts in the handles as many of the old ones do. The interesting factor with this one is the trigger is screwed in. I don’t know what time frame this was, but suspect it was late 1800s. Like the handles on the Latta pattern, these triggers are not interchangable. They must screw in and bind in the correct orientation to the frame.
CS Osborne Newark draw gauge with steel frame
Here is one of the larger handled draw gauges I have. It was made by CS Osborne in Newark. It has a steel frame with the wooden inserts, and the trigger is cast as part of the frame.
Steel handle CS Osborne with 6" bar and USA stamp
This is another CS Osborne draw gauge but more recent. It is marked with the Harrison NJ stamp. CS Osborne bought out HF Osborne in 1905, and moved the operation to Harrison NJ in 1906, where they still produce tools today. This one is a little different in that it has a 6″ bar. It is also stamped USA on the bottom of the bar. This was produced for the United States Army and was issued to the cobblers and saddlers/harness makers. I have heard some differing stories on some of these. One is that the steel hadled 6″ bar gauges were issued to the cobblers, and the 6″ bar gauges with steel and wood insert handles were issued in the saddler’s chests. If anybody knows for sure, please post a comment. As an aside, these chests were pretty neat. Desigined to pack on a mule, and keep the tools organized inside. They had slots for legs to be inserted and set of jaws to make up a “stitching horse” for field repairs.
Bransley Plough Gauge rear view
Barnsley Plough Gauge - angle view
Alright, so I have some neat old antique draw gauges that I can use. Here’s something a little different. Plough gauges are traditionally used by leather workers with a more European influence. A friend and I were talking and neither of us have seen any versions that were made in the United States. Earlier this spring I had the opportunity vist my friend Giovanni Zapeta at his shop. He was trained by an English saddler and harnessman. Giovanni had a couple plough gauges and allowed me to try one. The learning curve to use a plough gauge seems to be about one strap. My Australian transplant friend likewise swears by his. His quote was that “Once you use a plough gauge, you won’t want to pick up a draw gauge”. Basically the design of the plough gauge is the opposite of the draw gauge. The blade is inline with the handle and pushed. This eliminates the torque associated the draw gauge. The front of the blade is sharpened. The fence is adjustable and to the left of the blade. The fence and blade are longer than the blade and handle guide of the draw gauge, so the plough gauge tends to not waver as much. There is a roller to keep the leather from ridng up the blade, as opposed to using your thumb on the draw gauge. Finally the handle is up, not under the leather like the draw gauge. Your leather can remain on the cutting table, not hanging over the edge like you do with a draw gauge.
I found an old Barnsley with a cracked but solid handle on an ebay bargain a few months ago. I will get around to having a new handle put on it. The blade is all but unused. I am thinking this one is an oldie because there are matching numbers on the fence and bar of the frame. After using it, my Aussie friend is right, I have not really picked up a draw gauge except occasionally since I got it. The real downside to plough gauges is the price. New ones are selling here in the US for around $650. When they do show up, the used ones usually sell for at least 4 times what a draw gauge goes for. My experience is they are worth it if you have many straps to do.
Again, I appreciate the comments and private emails about the splitters, and I hope you enjoy the strap cutters as well.