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Book Review - The Tool Chest of Benjamin Seaton

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AndyT

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I expect that many members here will already have heard of the "Seaton Chest."

On 15 December 1796, Joseph Seaton, a cabinet maker, bought his 21 year old son Benjamin a set of tools from Christopher Gabriel in London. On New Year's Day in 1797 Benjamin started making a chest to keep them in; on April 15th, he finished it. What happened next is open to speculation - maybe he had been intending to emigrate to America but changed his mind. The really unusual thing is that the tools, many of them unused, stayed with the chest and their original, priced inventory, until they were presented to the Guildhall Museum in Rochester, Kent, in 1910.

The chest and its contents were described in a booklet published in 1994 which has been frustratingly out of print for some years. This book is an updated and expanded new edition of the original publication.



It's a thorough, scholarly description of the origins and contents of the chest - its 76 planes, 60 chisels and gouges, saws, marking tools and the rest, giving a unique glimpse into the equipment needed to work as a cabinet maker in the late eighteenth century. There are some colour photos, some black and white, covering most of the tools.






New in this edition are measured drawings, prepared when the chest was loaned to Colonial Williamsburg in 1994-5.



It also includes an account (with drawings) of the making of a replica of the chest - the most practical way of understanding it.



Some of the content is a bit dry (the historian's urge to describe every detail) but it is strong on historical understanding, and efforts are made to relate the tools to the methods of work. Although the kit of tools was comprehensive, and Seaton made a beautiful job of the chest, they are not all the highest quality tools - maybe the total cost of £15 10s 4d was enough for even the most indulgent of fathers, when a decent tradesman's wage would have been around a pound a week.

The book is well-presented, 179 pages, large format paperback, and is available from the Tools and Trades History Society for £19.95 +p&p.

Anyone with more than a passing interest in old tools and their use should order a copy now.
 

Scouse

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Thanks for the review, Andy, it looks like a good thorough examination of Seaton's Tool Chest and it's contents which, to be honest, I'm not that familiar with. It's my birthday soon, I might put in a few hints...!

AndyT":3i9oudl3 said:
contents of the chest - its 76 planes, 60 chisels and gouges, saws, marking tools and the rest, giving a unique glimpse into the equipment needed to work as a cabinet maker
Now, I just need to print this section off and show it to my wife... :lol:

El.
 

Richard T

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That's something that's going on the list. It's pretty cheap - their other books are pretty cheap too ...

(Although first, mustbuyarasp mustbuyarasp mustbuyarasp ...etc)
 

Cheshirechappie

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Just to endorse AndyT's review - it's a fascinating read.

Classic Hand Tools also have copies - got mine from them (impressively swift delivery and very well packaged).

A couple of things struck me, one being mallets (pun intended). No mention of them in the book - though they mention other things that must have been in the original kit but have gone walkabout over the years - no mallets. Benjy must have had one or two (he had enough chisels to hit!).

The other was the handsaws, which have taper ground blades. The grinding must have been done by hand and eye, and they had no instruments by which to measure it, despite which they got it within 6 thou on both. Pretty damn skilled.
 

richarnold

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Just thought it might be worth mentioning that if you join TATHS, WHICH I THINK IS £25.00, you get a free copy of the book. so for an exra fiver you get 12 months subscription to a great cociety, and you won't have to pay postage on the book!!!
 

toolsntat

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Got my FREE copy ( TATHS subscription) and enjoyed reading it :D
I never had the first edition which does not matter because this contains all the old stuff with revisions where necessary.
Reading into things I wondered whether it was his dad who wrote out the list and the bit in French?
Would Benny boy have had the audacity to ask his Father how much he had spent on him?
And on the second list would the missing script have read "In DRAWer no1 etc.?

As for a mallet I guess he would have made one himself as you did in those days :idea: Info for the 3rd edition :wink:

He was deffo his Dads favourite :roll: Mind he was the eldest....

I guess his mum fell out with him after he married as she moved out (religious grounds ?) #-o

Great book and well worth a purchase =D>

Cheers
Andy
 

condeesteso

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excellent book, I need a copy of that too! (2 books in one week, becoming a worm).
Is it true that it is in such good nick because he never used it?
And apart from the book offer, why join TATHS - the site seems to hide the benefits away?
 

Scouse

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condeesteso":gokgcb0d said:
And apart from the book offer, why join TATHS - the site seems to hide the benefits away?
I had a look at the site too, the offer of a free book was too good not to, but aside from that and a quarterly newsletter, the mention of benefits of membership was somewhat secretive!
 

jimi43

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Scouse":10x1ur5c said:
condeesteso":10x1ur5c said:
And apart from the book offer, why join TATHS - the site seems to hide the benefits away?
I had a look at the site too, the offer of a free book was too good not to, but aside from that and a quarterly newsletter, the mention of benefits of membership was somewhat secretive!
Ah....well there's this secret hand tool shake that you have to have...passed to you on initiation or for £25 (whichever is the greater!).

Be careful to hide the awl marks though....! :mrgreen:

Seriously...TATHS sent me the Natural 19th and Early 20th Century Sharpening Stones and Hones

by Brian Read and Doug Morgan:



....which is quite impressive too. Only a tenner...sent and then invoiced which is kind of homely and trusting in this day and age...and paid by PayPal which is not homely (on my part)...

I really NEED the Seaton book...so I am going to break down and order one too....once I have got through the entire electron microscopy section of the hones book...

I think all us strange loons who are of the same ilk should get one of each of the books and become super experts on each subject just so that the others can benefit from this......rather obscure craze! So who wants to volunteer for the 1787 Directory of Sheffield....or become resident expert in the catalogues of James, Isaac and John Fussell....because I need a review of these books in case I find something from Sheffield at a bootfair...particularly if it I.Fussell stamped on it! :mrgreen:

Douglas...we really must get ourselves to Rochester forthwith dear sir...and maybe Morgans on the way back? 8)

Great review as usual Andy! =D>

Jim
 

AndyT

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Just a quick tip for anyone wanting to visit the actual chest - I found myself in reach of Rochester a few weeks ago, with an hour to spare - and got to the museum before its 4.30 closing time - but ten minutes after the last admission time! They shut the doors and don't let anyone in after 4.00 pm - you can't even see anybody to plead with. So, maybe next year... (It's also closed on Mondays.)

HOWEVER, in checking the opening times on-line just now, I found this video, which is mostly about an 'artistic' project imagining tools - which may not be to everyone's taste - but it does include a few brief looks at the chest and its contents:

http://vimeo.com/25410327
 

Dangermouse

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AMAZING!!!!! What a wonderful chest of tools. A veratible time warp. what surprised me was the tools didn't look like they were of the " best" quality, not made for a landed Gentleman, but just honest work tools made to use, without any embelishments. I wonder what sort of alarm system they have around it hmmmmm.............................. 8) :lol:

As usual the arty farty stuff was as useful as a basket to carry water and paid for out of taxes too I bet ! :evil: :roll:
 

GazPal

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Dangermouse":26no90w8 said:
AMAZING!!!!! What a wonderful chest of tools. A veratible time warp. what surprised me was the tools didn't look like they were of the " best" quality, not made for a landed Gentleman, but just honest work tools made to use, without any embelishments. I wonder what sort of alarm system they have around it hmmmmm.............................. 8) :lol:

As usual the arty farty stuff was as useful as a basket to carry water and paid for out of taxes too I bet ! :evil: :roll:

It wasn't too uncommon for an apprentice to be "kitted out" on completion of his time and then progress in the direction of buying more expensive and a wider range of tools as he began to specialise within his trade.
 

katellwood

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Anyone living in North Kent or passing through down the A2 the chest is really worth a visit.

The museum is in Rochester High Streeet close to the castle and the Cathedral which are all worth a visit.

There is also a large second hand bookshop a few doors down the high street which has a good selection of woodwork related books.

The Museum also sells the above book (I have the older version before the chest went on its hols to the states) however the next time I visit I intend to get the upgraded version. Best of all the museum is free
 

bugbear

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jimi43":133htna5 said:
...or become resident expert in the catalogues of James, Isaac and John Fussell....because I need a review of these books in case I find something from Sheffield at a bootfair...particularly if it I.Fussell stamped on it! :mrgreen:
The important thing about the Fussell catalogue isn't that it's Fussells, but that it is representative of the type and range of heavy edge tools being made by many manufacturers at the time - Fussells as a universal proxy.

BugBear (with a copy)
 
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