CUTLERY (Fr. coutellerie, from the Lat. cultellus, a little knife), a branch of industry which originally embraced the manufacture of all cutting instruments of whatever form or material. The progress of manufacturing industry has, however, detached from it the fabrication of several kinds of edge-tools, saws and similar implements, the manufacture of which is now regarded as forming distinct branches of trade. On the other hand modern cutlery includes a great number of articles which are not strictly cutting instruments, but which, owing to their more or less intimate relation to table or pocket cutlery, are classed with such articles for convenience' sake. A steel table or carving fork, for example, is an important article of cutlery, although it is not a cutting tool.
The original cutting instruments used by the human race consisted of fragments of flint, obsidian, or similar stones, rudely flaked or chipped to a cutting edge; and of these tools numerous remains yet exist. Stone knives and other tools must have been employed for a long period by the prehistoric races of mankind, as their later productions show great perfection of form and finish. In the Bronze period, which succeeded the Stone Age, the cutlery of our ancestors was fabricated of that alloy. The use of iron was introduced at a later but still remote period; and it now, in the form of steel, is the staple article from which cutlery is manufactured.
From the earliest period in English history the manufacture of cutlery has been peculiarly associated with the town of Sheffield, the prominence of which in this manufacture in his own age is attested by Chaucer, who says of the miller of Trumpington
" A Sheffeld thwitel baar he in his hose."
That town still retains a practical monopoly of the ordinary cutlery trade of Great Britain, and remains the chief centre of the industry for the whole world. Its influence on methods of production has also been widely extended; for instance, many Sheffield workmen emigrated to the United States of America to take part in the manufacture of pocket-knives when it was started in Connecticut towards the middle of the igth century. The thwitel or whittle of Chaucer's time was a very poor rude implement, consisting of a blade of bar steel fastened into a wooden or horn handle. It was used for cutting food as well as for the numerous miscellaneous duties which now fall to the pocket-knife. To the whittle succeeded the Jack knife, the Jacques-de-Liege, or Jock-te-leg of the Scottish James VI., which formed the prototype of the modern clasp-knife, inasmuch as the blade closed into a groove in the handle. About the beginning of the 1 7th century, the pocket-knife with spring back was introduced, and no marked improvement thereafter took place till the early part of the 19th century. In 1624, two centuries after the incorporation of the Cutlers' Company of London, the cutlers of Hallamshire the name of the district of which Sheffield is the centre were formed into a body corporate for the protection of the " industry, labour, and reputation " of the trade, which was being disgraced by the " deceitful and unworkmanlike wares of various persons." The act of incorporation specifies the manufacture of " knives, scissors, shears, sickles and other cutlery," and provides that all persons engaged in the business shall " make the edge of all steel implements manufactured by them of steel, and steel only, and shall strike on their wares such mark, and such only, as should be assigned to them by the officers of the said company." Notwithstanding these regulations, and the pains and penalties attached to their infringement, the corporation was not very successful in maintaining the high character of Sheffield wares. Most manufacturers made cutlery to the order of their customers, on which the name of the retailer was stamped, and very inferior malleable or cast iron blades went forth to the public with " London made," " best steel," and other falsehoods stamped on them to order. The corporate mark and name of a few firms, among' which Joseph Rodgers & Sons stand foremost, are a guarantee of the very highest excellence of material and finish; and such firms decline to stamp any name or mark other than their own on their manufactures. In foreign markets, however, the reputation of such firms is much injured by impudent forgeries; and so far was this system of fraud carried that inferior foreign work was forwarded to London to be transhipped and sent abroad ostensibly as English cutlery. To protect the trade against frauds of this class the Trades Mark Act of 1862 was passed chiefly at the instigation of the Sheffield chamber of commerce.
The variety of materials which go to complete any single article of cutlery is very considerable; and as the stock list of a cutler embraces a vast number of articles different in form, properties and uses, the cutlery manufacturer must have a practical knowledge of a wide range of substances. The leading articles of the trade include carving and table knives and forks, pocket or clasp knives, razors, scissors, daggers, hunting knives and similar articles, surgical knives and lancets, butchers' and shoemakers' knives, gardeners' pruning-knives, etc. The blades or cutting portions of a certain number of these articles are made of shear steel, and for others crucible cast steel is employed. Sometimes the cutting edge alone is of steel, backed or strengthened with iron, to which it is welded. The tang, or part of the blade by which it is fastened to the handles, and other non-cutting portions, are also very often of iron. Brass, German silver, silver, horn, tortoise-shell, ivory, bone, mother-of-pearl, and numerous fancy woods are all brought into requisition for handles and other parts of cutlery, each demanding special treatment according to its nature. The essential processes in making a piece of steel cutlery are (i) forging, (2) hardening and tempering, (3) grinding, (4) polishing, and (5) putting together the various pieces and finishing the knife, the workmen who perform these last operations being the only ones known in the trade as " cutlers."
The following outline of the stages in the manufacture of a razor will serve to indicate the sequence of operations in making an article which, though simple in form, demands the highest care and skill. The first essential of a good razor is that it be made of the finest quality of cast steel. The steel for razors is obtained in bars the thickness of the back of the instrument. Taking such a bar, the forger heats one end of it to the proper forging temperature, and then dexterously fashions it upon his anvil, giving it roughly the required form, edge and concavity. It is then separated from the remainder of the bar, leaving only sufficient metal to form the tang, if that is to be made of steel. The tang of the " mould," as the blade in this condition is termed, is next drawn out, and the whole " smithed " or beaten on the anvil to compact the metal and improve the form and edge of the razor. At this stage the razor is said to be " forged in the rough," and so neatly can some workmen finish off this operation that a shaving edge may be given to the blade by simple whetting. The forged blade is next " shaped " by grinding on the dry stone; this operation considerably reduces its weight, and removes the oxidized scale, thereby allowing the hardening and tempering to be done with certainty and proper effect. The shaped razor is now returned to the forge, where the tang is file-cut and pierced with the joint-hole, and into the blade is stamped either the name and corporate mark of the maker, or any mark and name ordered by the tradesman for whom the goods are being manufactured. The hardening is accomplished by heating the blade to a cherry- red heat and suddenly quenching it in cold water, which leaves the metal excessively hard and brittle. To bring it to the proper temper for a razor, it is again heated till the metallic surface assumes a straw colour, and after being plunged into water, it is ready for the process of wet grinding. The wet grinding is done on stones which vary in diameter from ij to 12 in. according to the concavity of surface desired (" hollow-ground," " half hollow-ground," etc.). " Lapping," which is the first stage in polishing, is performed on a wheel of the same diameter as the wetgrinding stone. The lap is built up of segments of wood having the fibres towards the periphery, and covered with a metallic alloy of tin and lead. The lap is fed with a mixture of emery powder and oil. " Glazing " and " polishing," which follow, are for perfecting the polish on the surface of the razor, leather-covered wheels with fine emery being used; and the work is finished off with crocus. The finished blade is then riveted into the scales or handle, which may be of ivory, bone, horn or other material; and when thereafter the razor is set on a hone it is ready for use.
The processes employed in making a table-knife do not differ essentially from those required for a razor. Table-knife blades are forged from shear and other steels, and, if they are not in one piece, a bit of malleable iron sufficient for the bolster or shoulder and tang is welded to each, often by machinery, especially in the case of the cheaper qualities. The bolster is formed with the aid of a die and swage called " prints," and the tang is drawn out. The tang is variously formed, according to the method by which it is to be secured in the haft, and the various processes of tempering, wet grinding and polishing are pursued as described above. Steel forks of an inferior quality are cast and subsequently cleaned and polished; but the best quality are forged from bar steel, and the prongs are cut or stamped out of an extended flattened extremity called the mould or " mood." In the United States of America machinery has been extensively adopted for performing the various mechanical operations in forging and fitting table cutlery, and in Sheffield it is employed to a great extent in the manufacture of table and pocket knife blades, scissors and razors. The cutler of the 18th century was an artisan who forged and ground the blades and fitted them in the hafts ready for sale; to-day the division of labour is carried to an extreme degree. In the making of a common pocket-knife with three blades not fewer than one hundred separate operations are involved, and these may be performed by as many workmen composed of five distinct classes the scale and spring makers (the scale being the metal lining which is covered by the handle proper) , the blade forgers, the grinders, the cutters of the coverings of ivory, horn, etc., that form the handles, and the hafters or cutlers proper. Grinders are divided into three classes dry, wet and mixed grinders, according as they work at dry or wet stones. This branch of trade is, in Sheffield, conducted in distinct establishments called " wheels," which are divided up into separate apartments or " hulls," the dry grinding being as much as possible separated from the wet grinding. Dry grinding, such as is practised in the shaping of razors described above, the " humping " or rounding of scissors, and other operations, used to be a process especially dangerous to health, lung diseases being induced by the fine dust of silica and steel with which the atmosphere was loaded; but a great improvement has been effected by resorting to wet grinding as much as possible, by arranging fans to remove the dust by suction, and by general attention to sanitary conditions.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)