Here’s a story about a prop master who has found a new career killing zombies. I think most props people imagine they would be pretty well equipped to fight zombies.
Adam Savage (of Mythbusters fame) has quite an intense and detailed tutorial on making a silicone rubber mold with a plaster mother mold (or as he calls it, a “hard shell mold”). It is perhaps a bit more involved than most theatrical prop shops would ever need, but a lot of the extra steps he does are to keep the mold from collapsing on itself and to ensure the two halves are lined up perfectly.
What do you want to know about drill bits? How about everything! Ok, so this free PDF guide to drill bits deals only with woodworking (no metal or plastics), but it is still a useful amount of information available at a glance.
So, I’ve talked about the invention of the jig saw before; its history is at least somewhat intertwined with the history of fret and scroll saws. Well, Chris Schwartz has a piece on the history of the coping saw, another tool sharing this history. I personally love my coping saw, and consider it one of the indispensable tools in my prop-making bag.
This is from a few years ago, but it should provide a lengthy diversion: The New York Stagehand Glossary. It has a lot of terms which should be familiar to many of us, along with many I have heard for the first time (which is understandable, because I only did a bit of work as a stagehand while living in New York City).
Back in the old days, inventors who applied for a patent also had to submit a model of their invention. These models ranged from simple craft attempts to miniature marvels of engineering. The Rothschild Petersen Patent Model Museum houses one of the largest collections of these models, most dating from the 18th and 19th century. You can also view this set of photographs showing more of the models and exhibits.
Most props people are familiar with Mortite and floral putty for temporarily securing props to shelves, trays and tables. Sometimes, though, you want something a little stronger; you may even need something clear, such as when you need to secure crystal to a glass surface. Quakehold! has a whole bunch of products intended for securing your collectibles and valuables to shelves at home in case of earthquakes. Materials such as Museum Wax, Museum Putty and Museum Gel should keep your props from tipping or falling, and can be cleanly removed when the show is finished.
At the Props Summit a few weeks ago, they mentioned InFlow, an inventory management software program which can be used to catalog and track inventory. It was suggested that it might be useful for maintaining a photographic database of your stock. I haven’t used it, but the website offers a free download (you are limited to 100 items in your database) in case anyone was interested in trying it out.
A few years ago, a press release came out declaring the history of that most useful of tools, the jig saw. It read:
“The jigsaw is celebrating its 60th birthday. About 60 years ago, Albert Kaufmann, who worked for the Swiss company Scintilla AG, invented the principle of the electric jigsaw. The inspiration for this came from his wife’s sewing machine: the very fast up and down action of the needle. By clamping a saw blade in this sewing machine, the inventor was able to produce extremely attractive curved cuts in wood. This represented the birth of a completely new tool. In 1947, Scintilla began series production of what was called the “Lesto jigsaw”, the first electric handheld jigsaw in the world.” 1
With the absence of any evidence to the contrary, this information has spread throughout the Internet, including to Wikipedia. For anyone researching the history of the jig saw, they will most likely find some quoting or paraphrasing of this press release; the fact that it is parroted on so many other web pages may make it appear that it is universally accepted as the truth.
While companies typically use press releases to extol the virtues of their own products and exclude all others, it is lazy for others to use such a press release as the sole citation in a history of the jig saw. The account given is an extremely simplified and unverifiable account of the history of such tools. We can see that better by examining the individual claims in the statement: that it is “the birth of a completely new tool”, that Kaufmann “invented the principle of the electric jigsaw”, and that the Lesto jigsaw was “the first electric handheld jigsaw in the world”. Along the way, we will get a much richer understanding of how many of the tools we use have evolved over time.
“The birth of a completely new tool.”
First, just what is a jig saw? The Oxford English dictionary defines it as “a vertically reciprocating saw driven by a crank, mounted in various different ways.” The term can be better understood by looking at the definition for jig: “To move up and down or to and fro with a rapid jerky motion”. 2
A reciprocating saw itself is nothing new; the Hierapolis sawmill from the second half of the 3rd century BCE used a reciprocating saw powered by a water wheel. 3
A jig saw is used to cut curves, though. A 1916 book put out by famed saw makers H. Disston & Sons, Inc. explains the provenance of saws for cutting curves:
“As a matter of fact, Fret, Scroll and Jig saws are very similar, and are used for practically the same purpose… The Fret Saw is used almost always by hand… The Scroll Saw, the blades of which are somewhat wider, is used on heavier work, and although frequently worked by hand is also used in a machine run by foot or other power. The Jig Saw, though often confused with the Fret and Scroll Saws, is distinctly a machine saw, and is used on all heavy work…
The Jig Saw resembles Fret and Scroll Saws mainly in the purposes for which it is used. It is a sawing machine with a narrow, vertical, reciprocating saw blade, on which curved and irregular lines and patterns in open work are cut…
A species of Fret Saw is the Buhl Saw. The name of this saw is derived from André Buhl, an Italian. He was celebrated throughout France, in the reign of Louis XIV, for inlaid work in wood.” 4
The Buhl saw, characterized by its long, thin blade held on either end in tension, is the ancestor of the fret saw. The earliest illustration of one is in Diderot’s famed encyclopedia, first published in 1751. There, in Volume 2, on page 96, in the second plate for Boissellier (carver), is a small drawing. 5
Knight’s American Mechanical Dictionary provides some of the earliest descriptions and illustrations of jig and scroll saws. A jig-saw is “a vertically reciprocating saw, moved by vibrating lever or crank rod… Fig. 2723 is a form of portable jig-saw, which is readily attached to a carpenter’s bench or an ordinary table by means of a screw-clamp.” 6 We can see figure 2723, the portable jig-saw, below:
The same book also has a definition for a tool known as a “gig-saw”. This machine is “a thin saw to which a rapid vertical reciprocation is imparted, and which is adapted for sawing scrolls, frets, etc.” 7
Lastly, the book defines a scroll saw: “A relatively thin and narrow-bladed reciprocating-saw, which passes through a hole in the work-table and saws a kerf in the work, which is moved about in any required direction on the table. The saw follows a scroll or other ornament, according to a pattern or traced figure upon the work.” 8
Interestingly, the dictionary also states, “the band-saw is a scroll-saw and operates continuously.” Indeed, under the definition for gig-saw, Knight writes, “Scroll-saws are usually gig-saws or band-saws.”
The earliest use of “jig saw” I’ve found is in an 1857 patent, which describes a reciprocating saw method that can be used “for small scroll or jig saws”. 9 The first occurrence of the term “scroll saw” I could find was in an advertisement in the March 1, 1843, issue of the New York Daily Tribune on the front page.
“Invented the principle of the electric jigsaw”
So it seems strange to claim that Kaufmann’s discovery represented “the birth of a completely new tool,” since the jig saw predates the supposed 1947 discovery by nearly a century, and automatically reciprocating saws in general date back to around 250 BCE. But Kaufmann made his electric, right? That’s the real discovery, isn’t it?
Too bad we have this little nugget from 1933:
“The simplest sort of hand scroll-saws can be purchased for as little as fifty cents. Those of better quality cost a dollar or two. Old-style jig-saws, that are run by foot-power as the older sewing-machines are, can be had at varying prices, but average around twelve or fifteen dollars. You find fewer and fewer of these, however, as the modern jig-saws are nearly all electric.” 10
Not only does this article state that by 1933, electric jig-saws have become far more common than non-electric ones, but it also makes the interesting comparison between jig-saws and sewing machines, which is supposedly the flash of inspiration Albert Kaufmann will have in 14 years.
There were, in fact, a number of patents filed in the late 1920s through the mid 1930s for electrifying both scroll saws and stationary jig saws. Electrifying a jig or scroll saw was attempted as soon as possible at the advent of the Age of Electricity. An article in the 1888 Omaha Daily Bee states, “Besides, after using the batteries and motor during the summer vacation, you can unship them and take them home to run a sewing machine, a lathe or a jig-saw.” 11
Seven years before that, an article titled “Electricity as a Hobby” described a shop run in Brooklyn by Dr. St. Clair, a classmate of Thomas Edison. While listing the various novelties which have been electrified in his shop, it states, “The turn of a switch starts a self-feeding scroll saw by electricity.” 12
So it would appear the “principle of the electric jigsaw”, claimed as an invention of Kaufmann, actually dates sixty years prior to the date claimed in the Bosch press release.
“The first electric handheld jigsaw in the world.”
But what about their biggest claim, that the 1947 production of the Lesto jig saw was the first electric handheld jigsaw in the world?
I found a patent issued in 1931 for “a motor-operated jig saw, adapted to cut wood, fiber, metal and other materials, with a simple and convenient operating means; to provide convenient means for manipulating the saw.” This jig saw features “a base having a flat supporting surface so that it can be moved at will over a flat surface.” 13 The drawing below certainly resembles an electric handheld jig saw.
Another patent, this one from 1941, describes providing “the benefits of jigsaw cutting, for example, to a portable tool.” 14
Of course, patents do not necessarily mean that a working prototype was ever built. Even working inventions do not mean a commercial product was ever brought to market. Indeed, none of the above-mentioned tools seems to have been available for purchase. So while claims of being the “first” electric handheld jig saw in the world are debatable, the fact that the Lesto was the earliest model you can actually buy seems likely.
One of the earliest written histories of the electric handheld jig saw comes in 1958. The authors refer to the tools as “electric handsaws”:
“[Forsberg’s] Whiz-Saws were the first American-made electric handsaws. They appeared soon after the Swiss-made Scinta (now Lesto) was introduced into the U.S. in 1945… The electric handsaw has been around ever since the first Scinta saw (now called Lesto) was brought over in 1945 from the world-famous Scintilla Company in Switzerland. Scintilla had been attempting to develop a “portable jigsaw,” little dreaming it would become the husky, all-around workhorse it is today… Scintilla soon had a competitor. Forsberg, working in this country, brought out its now-famous Whiz-Saw, using a similar version of the still-expensive planetary-gear drive… Early sales went to a small and strangely assorted group of professional users, among them stagehands, builders, heating, plumbing and electrical installers.” 15
An advertisement from eight years prior claims, “The electric Lesto Portable Hand Saw Designed, Manufactured and Patented by Scintilla, Ltd., Switzerland, since 1944.” 16
So by 1950, it would appear the story is that Scintilla has been making the Lesto (previously called the Scinta) jig saw since 1944 and has been selling it in the US since 1945. This is pretty good proof that the Lesto was indeed the first electric handheld jig saw you could buy, though I am unsure why the 2007 Bosch press release claims the Lesto was first produced in 1947 rather than 1944.
So in conclusion, the history of the jig saw is a fascinating and complex history and is part of the general evolution of tools over the centuries. I do not mean to knock Bosch (I believe they still make some of the best jig saws in the world; it’s the brand I own), but for all the other websites presenting the “history” of the jig saw, I wish their research would delve deeper than a 97 word press release.
A Youthful Sixty-year-old: The Jigsaw Celebrates Its 60th Birthday. Bosch Media Service, 4 June 2007. Web. 23 Apr. 2012. ↩
Murray, James A. H., ed. A New Dictionary on Historical Principles. Vol. 5, Part 2. Oxford: Clarenden, 1901. ↩
Bachmann, Martin. Bautechnik Im Antiken Und Vorantiken Kleinasien: Internationale Konferenz 13.-16. Juni 2007 in Istanbul. Istanbul: Ege Yayinlari, 2009. ↩
The Saw in History. Philadelphia: H. Disston & Sons, 1916, pg 27. ↩
Diderot, Denis, and Pierre Mouchon. Encyclopédie; Ou Dictionnaire Raisonné Des Sciences, Des Arts Et Des Métiers, Vol. 2. Paris: Briasson etc., 1751. ↩
Knight, Edward Henry. Knight’s American Mechanical Dictionary. A Description of Tools, Instruments, Machines, Processes, and Engineering; History of Inventions; General Technological Vocabulary; and Digest of Mechanical Appliances in Science and the Arts. Vol. 2. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and, 1884, pg 1215. ↩
Knight, Edward Henry. Knight’s American Mechanical Dictionary. A Description of Tools, Instruments, Machines, Processes, and Engineering; History of Inventions; General Technological Vocabulary; and Digest of Mechanical Appliances in Science and the Arts. Vol. 3. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and, 1884, pg 2077. ↩
Whipple, Carlyle. Method of Hanging and operating Reciprocating Saws. Patent 16416. 13 January 1857. ↩
Wendt, Carl E. “These Jig-Saw Puzzles.” Boys’ Life Mar. 1933: 16. ↩
“Summer Excursions by Electricity.” The Omaha Daily Bee (Omaha, NE) 9 Jan. 1888: 7. Library of Congress. Chronicling America: Historic Newspapers. Web. 3 May 2012. ↩
“Electricity as a Hobby.” The Sun (New York City) 20 Mar. 1881: 5. Library of Congress. Chronicling America: Historic Newspapers. Web. 3 May 2012. ↩
Pickering, Albert V. and Moore, Albert H. For a motor-operated jig-saw. Patent 1826188. 6 Oct 1931. ↩
Briggs, Martin. Power tool. Patent 2240755. 6 May 1941. ↩
Gallager, Sheldon M., and Ralph Treves. “Electric Handsaw: Year’s Most Exciting Power Tool.” Popular Science Mar. 1958: 168-73. Print. ↩
The Electric Lesto Portable Hand Saw. Advertisement. The Wood-Worker Aug. 1950: 65. ↩
The hot glue gun is one of the main tools in a props person’s arsenal. Some people love them, some despise them, but at one point or another, all will use one. They can also be referred to as hot melt glue guns and hot melt adhesive guns. They use sticks of hot glue, or hot melt adhesive, thermoplastic adhesive, or thermoplastic cement, depending on your preferred nomenclature.
So who invented the hot glue gun, and how did it come to be? If we Google the phrase “who invented the hot glue gun”, we find the following results:
The first few results list “Robert Brooklyns” as the inventor. Let’s see what a Google search on him turns up:
When I did the search, Google returned around 83 results. All of them basically parroted the same sentence. Basically, one site (Answers.com is my guess) made this completely uncited statement, and it has been echoed throughout content farms and superficial sites across the internet. No one with this name shows up in a deeper search through books or patents, which seems surprising, given how important the hot glue gun is.
You may have noticed in the first image that a result shows up with an obituary for George Schultz, whom the Boston Globe calls the “inventor of the first industrial glue gun”. According to the Globe, he founded Industrial Shoe Machinery in Boston in 1954, which he sold to 3M in 1973. Somewhere along the way, he invented the Polygun, the “first industrial glue gun”. 3M manufactured hot glue guns under the name “Polygun” until 2006, when they changed the name to “Scotch-Weld”.
The diagram shows a glue gun with a trigger, but the glue is held in an internal reservoir rather than fed through as sticks. While Mr. Schultz was certainly the inventor of a hot glue gun, he was hardly the inventor of the hot glue gun.
The Wikipedia article on adhesives has an uncited claim that thermoplastic adhesives were invented in the 1940s by Proctor and Gamble by a man named Paul Cope. Again, this becomes hard to verify, because innumerable content farms merely copy the Wikipedia article, and most of the search results are variations of this same initial claim (many have the same exact wording). At least we can find evidence that Paul Cope was a real person who worked at Proctor and Gamble. He even filed a number of patents having to do with improvements in packaging. Whether he had anything to do with thermoplastic glues seems to be a moot point, as mentions of thermoplastic adhesives can be found in literature and patents much earlier than that, as far back as 1907.
Perhaps the earliest proto-hot glue gun was this Plastic Extrusion Gun created by William R. Myers and Albert S. Tennant in 1949. The device was created for melting plastic and extruding it onto fishing hooks to manufacture fishing flies. The plastic was fed into the device as ribbons rather than as sticks, and it did not use thermoplastic adhesive. Regardless, many of the parts and components of a modern hot glue gun are there, and later inventors referred to the Myers and Tennant plastic extrusion gun quite a bit in their patents.
That December, Popular Science ran an article about this glue gun, named the “Thermogrip”. The article proclaims “A black plastic pistol with an electrical heating element and an aluminum nozzle that extrudes hot-melt glue is one of the newest tools for home and shop.” I find the Thermogrip notable for its use of glue sticks and for the fact it was marketed and sold to home users, as opposed to previous glue guns which were tailored for specific industrial processes. I would consider this to be the first “hot glue gun” in the sense which we are most familiar today.
As with any invention, it is perhaps futile to try and trace its invention to a single person. The hot glue gun relies on a number of parts and components, such as the development of thermoplastics, the evolution of plastic extrusion guns, and the societal need for a portable device which accomplishes all of this. The modern-day glue gun we all know and love has any number of features and improvements which were not present in the earliest iterations.
That said, the hot glue gun was certainly not invented by a (perhaps imaginary) man named Robert Brooklyns, and hot glue was not invented by Paul Cope. This goes to show how easily an unverified claim can infiltrate the Internet. Remember kids, more search results in Google does not equal more reliability. An unsourced claim is still an unsourced claim even when it shows up on thousands of websites.
Making and finding props for theatre, film, and hobbies