Harry Dodd  would very much appreciate any insights into the purpose and mode of operation of this tool. At first sight, it appears to be for shaving or trimming narrow strips of something flexible but, as you will see, close examination raises more questions than answers.

Willets tool 1It is quite well made, but not sufficiently robust for heavy work. Harry bought it from eBay, where it was honestly described as a ‘mystery tool’ with the suggestion that it might be taxidermy-related.

It does have patent marks and a maker’s name, but Harry has so far failed to find any reference to them

What looks to be the blade holder carries this: ‘WILLETT’S PATENT No 17304 ENGL 06’

On the end of the roller carriage we find PAT APP 8099 WILLETT’S MADE IN ENGLAND. The fourth digit, ‘9’, is partly obscured, but Harry thinks that is indeed a ‘9’. There is possibly another digit before the full number, obscured by the end of one of the roller axles.

Willets tool 2

There are three main structural elements.

  1. A blade holder. The tool came without a blade, but a sliding insert perfectly accommodates a double-edged standard razor blade.
  2. A pair of rollers made of Bakelite or something very similar, completely smooth – no texturing for grip - and of uniform diameter (just over 10mm) throughout their length (about 60mm), save for a relief at the end at which they are closest together, giving about 1.5mm clearance. The rollers are inclined at an angle of about 10° to their axis of rotation. At the end at which the separation is greatest between the two rollers is a small pinion (on each roller) which rotates around a large, fixed pinion.
  3. The handle. This is attached to the frame which carries the two rollers, and its rotation is limited to about 230°.When the handle is turned, the entire roller carriage rotates but each roller is driven by the central, fixed pinion, to rotate about its own axis, in the same direction as the rotation of the carriage. The ratio between the fixed pinion and the pinions on the rollers is about 1.5 : 1.
    It is likely that the rotation of the handle and carriage is limited to 230° to prevent whatever is being fed through the tool from wrapping itself around the rollers. This suggests that the material being processed makes an incremental rather than a continuous progress across the blade and through the tool.

This is a very difficult thing to describe but the pictures are sufficiently clear to help understanding.

Willets tool 3Harry says that he assumed that the tool is hand held, as there are no indications of any means to fix it in a bracket, or logical way to hold it in a vice. He also believes that it is complete.

But as he says, you most certainly would not want to use it as a hand-held tool, because of the exposed edge of the blade.

Willets tool 4

Any ideas or suggestions would be very welcome.



#1 AndyT 2017-03-24 15:22
It's a device for sharpening razor blades on a leather strop. The European patent database lists five patents for strops under the name of Willis but I think it's closest to this one from 1907, judging by the drawings in the original documents.


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