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Monday, May 6, 2013

Inside a Sheffield Knife Factory

If you've ever wondered what it looked like in one of the great English knife factories of the 19th century, this silent video should give you a pretty good idea. Titled "Made in Sheffield," it is 13:23 minutes long and was filmed in 1954. Don't let the date fool you--the machinery and manufacturing techniques look very 19th century, as does the tremendous amount of hand labor involved.

We see a craftsman making a small blade for a pocket knife, and later, another assembling dinner knives.  Many of the methods would be the same for bowie knife production.

Because the film is silent, it is hard to understand some of what is going on. The website provides the following explanation:
This is a film made by Mr Ibberson when he was Master Cutler at Sheffield. It shows aspects of the Master Cutler’s Hall and the process of making hand-made cutlery in a small factory.

The film opens with a view over Sheffield Town Hall and the city centre, showing trams and City Hall. In the industrial area of Sheffield, the smoking chimneys of the factories can be seen along the skyline.
There is a close-up of an emblem with a figure of an elephant's head. Inside the Cutler’s Hall, a young woman descends the staircase, knocks on the door of the Master Cutler, and enters. The Master Cutler shows her a book of old records and then a plaque on the wall of previous occupants of the post, going back to 1624 with Robert Sorsby. They look through another old book with records belonging to the previous Master Cutler, showing the 315th Cutler’s Feast of 17th April, 1951. There is a signature of ‘Elizabeth R’ and ‘Philip’. They then look at a collection of coins mounted on a wall and a letter of thanks to M Hunter, Master Cutler, signed by ‘Palmerston’. The two of them go to the main meeting room.
In the next scene, an elderly man works an old forge. Here he bangs a red hot piece of metal into shape on an anvil. He stokes his furnace and works a bellow. There is a close-up of a pen knife blade.
The woman is then shown around by another man, stopping to watch a workman sharpening a blade on a grindstone.
They walk through the factory and watch another workman using an implement with a bow and string. He holds this against his chest to make a small indentation into a piece of metal.
This worker appears to be working on the cases for case knives.
The woman then views a selection of finished pen knives. A workman fashions a blade from red hot steel using a mechanical hammer, and another uses a grinder.
Then a woman polishes blades in one machine, and another uses a machine which holds many blades at once.
Worker pushes blades between two spinning buffing wheels.

 In this close-up, worker appears to be adding rosin powder to a machine that polishes many blades at once.
In another room, a workman attaches handles to the knives, one at a time. These he then checks to make sure that they are straight.
Fitting a handle to a spike-tanged knife blade with a hand-operated press. 

An engraver uses a machine for engraving the maker’s name, and ‘Made in Sheffield.’ This machine engraves several knives simultaneously.
As a worker traces the template, it is engraved on a number of knives simultaneously through the pantagraphic process.
Mr Ibberson and the young woman move into a dining room where they are shown different types of cutlery, from the very small to the very large, possibly by Mrs Ibberson. The film closes with a shot of the table laid out with cutlery.

Title - The End
Written and Produced by Arthur Swinson
Thanks to Kenneth Pantling for directing me to this site.


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