Dividers; or, What Problem?

stevens dividers

Some of my dividers.  

Sara Bryant of Big Jump Press wrote a breathlessly enthusiastic ode to dividers last month on her blog. Apart from extolling the virtues of comparison measurement, she wondered aloud if she perhaps was becoming a hoarder beause she has six pairs, and if it might be a problem.

My dear Sara, rest assured, you do not have a problem.

stevens divider

My favorite dividers, a 19th century Stevens & Co. Note the unusual, and extremely elegant position of the adjustment screw above the pivot point.

8 Replies to “Dividers; or, What Problem?”

  1. I look forward to it, though I suspect my second through fifth favorites may also prove worthy adversaries….

  2. Six pairs? How could you get along with so few? I’ve had more set and in use at one time, though not on one project. My favorites are Starrett’s “Fay” style with the screw piercing square legs and now, I note with dismay, discontinued, rather than the “Yankee” style that is commonest in both Starrett and imitators. I’m not fond of the Starrett “Toolmakers’ ” style with round legs, since these have an extra-fine screw for high precision work, which means that they are slow. Plain nuts and “speed nuts”— I find the speed nuts essential, though I know people who can’t get them to work. Extra-pointy ones for precise marking and dulled-off ones for scoring— Starrett’s used to come incompletely sharpened because you were expected to grind the points to your own taste. Long ones and short ones (I have one pair with 12″ legs, and I’ve seen them with under 1″). Spring dividers and wing dividers and oldfashioned “Lancashire” spring dividers where both legs and the spring are forged from one piece and box-joint dividers that hold their setting by friction (I hate these) and pencil dividers and hermaphrodite dividers with one leg like a caliper. Drafting dividers, usually at least five in each set and often beautifully made but really too light for binding, much less woodworking. Proportional dividers to reduce measurements in a ratio you set, and ten-pointed dividers to automatically divide a length into multiples (Willman Spawn used to use these for measuring repeats of a roll pattern in 18th century bindings). All of them (except maybe the ten-points) readily available in flea markets for a bit less than you’d pay for new cheapies, which is how I got most of my Fays (though I once bought a new pair of 6″ Fays for around $75, largely as a gesture of esteem and support for the maker). On a fast count I found only 22, fewer than in the picture, I think, and no more than six or eight actually out on the benches, but that didn’t include inside and outside calipers, trammel points, or drafting sets. But I think I might pull even if you winnowed out your hermaphrodite calipers (I have only one pair) and I’m sure I would if I included my drafting dividers…..

    Er…. short version, I like dividers too. And, Susan, six pairs isn’t too many. Sixty isn’t. Six hundred?… maybe, but I’ll let you know when I get there.

    Tom Conroy
    (ratio roughly 400 words to two pictures, if anyone is counting)

  3. Thanks for the info Tom, I actually prefer Starret’s toolmaker dividers over their Fay. They just feel a little nicer to me. I did read something about Starret and Stevens in a patent dispute over the Fay style so need to research a bit more on this. I don’t really miss the quick adjust nut. If you hold the adjustment nut, and twirl the dividers with your forefinger from the other hand, it is quite fast to get them into approximate position then fine tune.

  4. Only one true dividers for me, definitely the Fay. But reading this, and Big Jump Press’s post, made me realize that one pair of dividers has probably touched some part of every single thing I’ve made or repaired since I got them in 2001.

  5. My favorite dividers are tiny Starrets and I love them because I stood in line with a bunch old guys in windbreakers early on a Saturday somewhere in Boston waiting for a place that sold used tools once a week to open. I found my dividers, with somebody’s initials stamped on them, and while I may have 5 other pairs, I do love those. Winged dividers would make a great tattoo!

  6. Love those dividers. I am thinking of making a similar tool. Any chance you could post a few more photos?

    Thank you for posting this blog. Love it.

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