Proportional dividers are ancient tools, dating back to Roman era, though as late as 1955 some thought they were a Renaissance invention. The Alvin 450 is really handy when making miniatures, like the triangle and engineer’s square above, that I made for Fritz Otto Buchbinder. They allow you to quickly see and measure what a reduction in the actual reduction size would be. Using one is a much more intuitive than having to divide 100ths of an inch into something. But don’t get me started on numeric measuring!
Other uses are to convert a given length of line into equal parts, divide a circle into equal parts, and even generate angles. All of which are useful for bookbinders. The 450 can generate proportions down to 10:1 for lines, and 20 :1 for circles. A regular dividers can do these things, but it takes some set up time.
They make a great addition to my dividers collection. I found them at a flea market, still in a fake leather covered wooden box, with a nifty sliding pin latch, all for $10. They originally sold for $9.75, so they have held their value. New ones are still available, though considerably more costly, having a list price of $216, though commonly found for $132.
Obviously, though, one can never have too many tools. I’m still looking for a used 458 (10 inches long) and a 950 (stainless steel)….
I was excited to find a small display of bindery tools at the Roycroft Campus in East Aurora, New York. Elbert Hubbard started Roycroft, was inspired by William Morris, and promoted the Arts and Crafts ethos in America during the first part of the 20th century. His press produced many books that today look aggressively “hand-made”.
The sewing frame from his bindery, however, is strikingly innovative and elegant. The support attachments are similar to the Hickock blank book sewing frame, which I think was designed and produced at least by the 1920’s. I’m uncertain which came first. I use a similar idea for clamping supports in my Nokey Sewing Frame. The curved and cantilevered uprights allow for arm clearance and stability. The late 20th century Clarkson sewing frame uses a similar design.
The rod in the front might be to wrap tapes on, so they can be continually fed upwards. It also looks like the rod itself can slide a bit in a recess, to the weight helps apply tension? There are two hinged areas, the front one may also trap the supports, and the one towards the back may contain a storage area? There is some residue on the rod, suggesting something was adhered at some point. But what and why?
The uprights can be removed, and the frame stored in the wooden box it rests on, like the Clarkson design. Given the aesthetics and the use of oak which is common in arts and crafts furniture, but uncommon for bookbinding tools, I would guess it was made at Roycroft. But the bindery display contained many other pieces of equipment from other sources, including a very nice Leo Finishing Press, so it may come from another source. It is a clever and compact design.
It may seem odd for someone who conserves and makes things for a living to have a hobby. Mine is making wooden spoons and paddles. After all, isn’t this pretty much the same activity as my job? Both involve similar craft skills: working precisely, measuring, knowing material properties, and hand tool use. Two years ago, I wrote a piece on the beginning (and temporary ending!) of my spoon carving hobby. More recently, I started to think about how spoon making as a hobby is different from knife making or bookbinding as a business.
One of the primary differences is that a craft business is, uh, a business. Once you come up with a product that sells, you need to make more and more identical ones, often according to a client’s order or deadline. With spoon carving I have no such constraints, since I have no intention of selling them. This is freedom from having to make a consistent end product, which is the corner stone of craft. Or maybe I am not skilled enough at spoon carving to turn out an easily and naturally consistent product?
Many people can make one of something, but to make hundreds requires discipline and often knowledge of traditional craft techniques which make the work of repetition easier and more certain (in the David Pye sense). With spoon carving, if a piece of wood splits at the end, I don’t care, I’ll just make it a bit shorter.
My only self-imposed restraint is not to use sandpaper, and leave the faceted knife cut finish. This is mainly for the pragmatic reason that I don’t like creating a lot of dust, not for any purity-craft-workmanship-ideal kind of thing. I have no qualms about using a bandsaw to rough out blanks, which Pye would consider workmanship of risk.
In fact, I couldn’t sell them since they take so long to make; I’d only make a couple dollars an hour. I can only give them away. Freedom from monetary constraints increases my own agency in making, so it is a more relaxing activity, as a hobby should be.
But don’t get me wrong, I feel lucky to be able to spend a day making knives or conserving books, rather than being a wage slave making nothing but money.
When monetizing craft, there are continual pressures to simplify production, increase output, or raise the price in order to keep up or outpace the cost of living to profit. Continuing education and research into materials and techniques is a way to accomplish this. With conservation and knives, I keep up on new techniques, philosophic approaches, and materials. With spoons, my primary interest is the process of making them: whittling, shaping, and carving. The history of them and what other people are doing is interesting, but doesn’t influence me all that much.
A hobbyist has the freedom to make what they want, when they want, without regard to how long it takes, how other people make it, or how other people regard it. These are some of the pleasures of a hobby, pleasures that can diminish by making a living selling your work. Caveat Venditor!