Jacques Board Shears

Bill Minter has recently written an excellent summary of how to adjust a Jacques Board shear, on the Guild of Book Workers Blog. There is also a fantastic diagram of the yoke and what the nuts, bolts and lock washers actually do.  I had opportunity to take Bill’s workshop a few years ago on adjusting these troublesome beasts. For a large, seemingly indestructible cast iron machines, they are finicky to adjust, and even just moving them can cause alignment problems. It can take a long time to get them adjusted. But when they are working well, they are a real pleasure to use; much nicer than any currently manufactured board shear I’ve used. I’ve written a bit in the past about the importance of the board shear in the nineteenth century.

Bill mentioned two basic types of Jacques shears, though I would consider at least three early twentieth century ones and would guess there are more. Bill provides images of these three machines in a Jacques catalog from 1923, and below are earlier images starting around 1898. Although we generally call all of these machines board shears, some were originally made to cut specific types of board.


The Paper Box Maker, Vol. 27, No. 1, November 1918, p. 29.

Above is my favorite Jacques Board Shear.  Bill mentions the reinforced “L” shaped arm that makes these extremely rigid machines, but the outer gauge is also heavy duty, with a stop on the two rack and pinion. This is the only model I’ve used where the outer gauge can be adjusted and stays in place. Once you use one of these machines it is difficult to use another one. The only downside is that they take up the most floorspace, are the heaviest and are the most cumbersome to move.


jacques with automatic clamp

The Paper Box Maker and American Bookbinder, Vol. 7, No. 10, August 31 1899, p. 15.

The Fine Paper Box Makers’ Shears, were not only made in wood and metal tops, but with automatic or foot operated clamps.  I have a small 30 inch machine with an automatic clamp.  It is very cool: bring down the blade and the clamp automatically lowers onto the material to be cut. This is one sweet machine, though I wish the arm were a little beefier. This is not a hugh problem on my small 30″ machine, but might be on larger ones.  Another nice feature of  a Fine Paper and Box Makers Shear is that the clamp is very narrow, about 3/8″. This makes sighting the cut easy, but virtually eliminates the most common accident that happens on board shears, pinching your finger under the fence. Pinching is perhaps an understatement: I know binders who have lost a fingernail and had to go the the emergency room.

paper box machinery

Name plate on my Jacques “Fine Paper Box Makers’ Shears” circa. 1899 with automatic clamp.


paste board shears

The Paper Box Maker and American Bookbinder, Vol. 7, No. 1,November 1898, p. 15

The pasteboard shears are the lightest, and least expensive of the three. Bill mentions that some board shear blades have a chisel edge, rather than a fairly obtuse grind that is best suited for mill or binders board. I have seen a number of these machines—all with wood tops—sold from leather working factories, were they also made specifically for cutting leather? They also tend to be very large, 50″ and up. The arms are not reinforced, so they are fine, but less than ideal for cutting thicker binders board, especially at full length. The wood top makes them lighter, though. In my experience, these are the most common machines encountered.


Bill makes a number of important points in the article Instead of routinely regrinding the blades it is possible to touch them up fairly easily in situ. This not only extends blades life, but is cheaper and might be necessary in the future. Many blade grinders use expensive, large machinery and were dependent on printing and newspaper industries which are now in decline. I used to make a jig to sharpen blades, but now feel it is easier to hold a small diamond stone (like the fine/ extra fine folding handle stone, 4 11/32 x 7/8″) and touch up the blades by hand, concentrating on the portion closest to the handle where the blade is used the most.

Of course all of this is fairly preliminary research— the basic types of machines are barely identified, let alone the variations through time. The mechanization during the nineteenth century in bookbinding seems strongly related, if not tied to similar trades, like paper box makers. The first commercial paper box was reportedly sold in England in 1817. Much exciting research need to be done.


It is regrettable that the vendors of used machinery seem uninterested in researching, documenting, and preserving these machines. Of course, these machines need to be functional. But many of the alterations I have seen are done for aesthetic reasons, not functional. Many, even today, are routinely sandblasted and repainted, original wood tops replaced, historical value lost. There is a lot of finger pointing going on: Conservators blame the vendors for over-restoring machines, vendors claim that the purchasers want newly painted machines to match their bindery or conservation lab. How a book conservator can condone this wanton destruction of our mechanical heritage by participating in the marketplace is incomprehensible to me. If book conservators don’t know better, or hold themselves to a slightly higher standard than a non-specialist member of the general public, I’m not sure what to think of the field.

18 Replies to “Jacques Board Shears”

  1. Jeff:

    I also have a Jacques Board Shear in great condition. I use it frequently. It is an iron top and has the original paint job. I love it!!

    BUT I am getting on in years and must soon find a way of keeping this wonderful machine in use. Have you any suggestions?

  2. Another Great Post! Thanks for the additional information, especially that newer shears are not as good as the old ones. As to your comment about pinched fingers and the emergency room from the clamp, I have developed a very simple solution. The final details are being adjusted and a posting will be available on the GBW blog within the next few weeks (I have to earn a living). And I like your statement about preserving the original paint and the heritage of these wonderful, useful machines — Scratch that, I mean WONDERFUL and USEFUL TOOLS — I think that “machines” have motors.

  3. Bill Minter’s summary on adjusting a Jaques Board Shear is no longer at the link that you’ve provided. Do you know how it can be obtained?

  4. The link on adjusting shears seems to be broken. Could you provide another?

  5. We have a hefty 1940’s wood and cast iron Jacque Shears we use for the leather trade. It’s invaluable when cutting down a hide to a more manageable size. I’m curious if in any of the historic literature mentions their use in the leather trade? I am certainly not the only one I know who uses these for leather but it seems all the adverts are related to paper industry.
    Many thanks for your response,
    Chris Bray

  6. A good question, and I can’t think of any advertising I’ve seen, though I usually research book/ printing. Trade publications for leather workers would be the first place I would look, I assume there were some in the early 20th c?. Anecdotally, I’ve been to an auction where leather dealer was going out of business, and selling off the warehouse contents which included a couple Jacques. The wood top long ones (50+ inch) with a chisel blade profile make sense for that purpose.

  7. I have a vintage Jacques board sheer and I’m trying to find out some information on it. Everything I have found says Jacques and Son however this particular one just say Jacques, Worcester Ma. Would this possibly have been made before the company was Jacques and Son, and do you know who would I contact about the possible value of it?

  8. I’ve never seen just a Jacques nameplate, and have no idea what it would be worth! If you find out anything please post it here! It sounds interesting!

  9. Hi,

    I have a 60″ John Jacques board shear I’d like to sell, but I’m trying to identify the year it was made. There’s no date on the name plate, but might some of you experts out there narrow it down from the style of the plate? It says “John Jacques & Sons” and I can send a photo if anyone thinks they might be able to help? Thanks!

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