To a “Dott bitt”

The extensive probate inventory of the joiner Charles Plumley (d. 1708, Philadelphia) is well known to furniture historians. A transcription can be found in Benno M. Forman, American Seating Furniture, 1630–1730 [New York: W. W. Norton, 1988], app. 1.

He was in the middle of his career when he died and the inventory is a snapshot of a working joiner’s possessions in his home and shop. (Two different birth dates have been recorded for Plumley, he was either 34 or 42 when he died.) The great assortment of tools, wood, and unfinished work speak to success in his trade. Three benches listed in the inventory were used by Plumley and his two journeymen Isaac and David whose time to serve was credited at 18 and 12 pounds respectively. 

Inventory of Charles Plumley, 1708. Benno M. Forman, American Seating Furniture, 1630–1730 [New York: W. W. Norton, 1988], app. 1.
Inventory of Charles Plumley, 1708. Benno M. Forman, American Seating Furniture, 1630–1730 [New York: W. W. Norton, 1988], app. 1.

In the shop, saws are the first tools to be inventoried followed by various chisels and gouges in terminology recognizable to woodworkers today – handsaws, tenon saws, firmer, broad, and mortise chisels. This is followed by boring tools – in modern parlance, brace and bits. Two braces are described as “Wimble stocks”, one made of iron and one of wood.

A metal brace or wimble stock.
A wood brace or wimble.

Several types of bits are listed including “Center” bits.

Late 19th century center bits made in Sheffield, England.
Late 19th century center bits made in Sheffield, England. Center bits were used to create the shallow holes in which the dots or berries were inlaid.

The “2 Wyreable bitts” are new to me, I’d be interested in any ideas about the type of bit this refers to. Listed with the four center bits is a single “Dott bitt.”

Inventory of Charles Plumley, 1708. Benno M. Forman, American Seating Furniture, 1630–1730 [New York: W. W. Norton, 1988], app. 1.

This is also unfamiliar terminology. Might it refer to a bit that cuts out the dots used in line and dot inlay? Inlaid dots are invariably only one size on any one object, hence only one bit would be required. Steve Latta describes “berries” being cut with a brass or iron tube with teeth on the end. 

http://www.antiquesandfineart.com/articles/article.cfm?request=574

Steve Latta’s “dot bit” for sawing dots or berries.

Bits of this description are illustrated in Charles Hummel’s With Hammer and Hand, the Dominy Craftsmen of East Hampton, New York. 

https://digicoll.library.wisc.edu/cgi-bin/Dominy/Dominy-idx?type=header;pview=hide;id=Dominy.HammerInHand

Hummel describes them as tenon-cutting bits due to the diameter of the metal cutters. They were clearly designed as bits as the wood shanks the cutters are fixed to are tapered to be used in a brace. A smaller version of the Dominy bits would be the perfect tool to create the dot inlays on the chests and boxes in the previous post.

That the “Dott bitt” in Plumley’s inventory was used to cut out the dots to be inlaid on chests and boxes is speculation. We can never know what the “Dott bitt” looked like or how it was used. Joseph Shippen and John Jones who took Plumley’s inventory were clearly well acquainted with the cabinetmaking trade – one or both may have cabinetmakers themselves. They tantalize us with the possibility that they described a special-purpose tool “for which no illustration or document can be found.” (Hummel)

Desk. Detail of fall. Delaware River Valley, possibly Philadelphia. 1710-1730. Black walnut, hard pine, Atlantic white cedar, red gum, white oak. Dietrich American Foundation.

2 thoughts on “To a “Dott bitt”

    • I was surprised by the lack of spoon bits in the inventory. The relatively high value of the 2 Wyreable bits might mean they were large bits, perhaps for wheelwrights work. Would love to figure this out, along with the “Dot bitt.”

      Thanks,
      Chris

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