Tools & Trades History Society

Notes on Tools

MN 04.01 Retaining surface finish

A reminder of the historical clues on the surface, with reference to the Hawley Collection.


Brief comment on this important issue, referring to advice and examples available in the Hawley Collection, Sheffield. Ken Hawley (who was President of TATHS) was in and around the Sheffield tool industry over a 70 year period, and was familiar with most of the processes, companies and people involved. He was of course the person behind the Hawley collection at Kelham Island Museum.


To restore the surface finish to original condition, as far as possible. Surface finishes reveal much about the original manufacturing methods, and are easily damaged (particularly when hidden beneath years of grime). "If you don't know what the original finish was, how can you restore to it!"

Processes used

The definitive document is Holtzapfell, "Turning and mechanical manipulation, Vol 3 Abrasives and Miscellaneous Processes, 1850". (Reprinted 1933, TEE Publishing.) This describes the processes that remained in operation in Sheffield until the 1950s, it being only after WWII that mechanisation became widespread. (Even in 2013, hand grinding could still be found in Sheffield).

Examples available at the Hawley Collection

The Hawley Collection includes film/video of the following processes:
• Razor grinding
• Jobbing grinder – Bill Hakon - wood chisels, butcher knives, palette knives
• Brian Alcock, auger grinder at Footprint Tools
• Sheepshear grinding at Burgon and Ball
• Various other film of grinding and forging.

The collection also includes examples of abrasives, from grinding wheels to the finest polishing wheels. Additionally, many examples of work holders are available.

Retaining Surface Finish

Ref No: MN 04.01 Date: 29-07-2013 Author: Ken Hawley

Suggestions for improvement are welcomed, please email:

IMPORTANT: The advice in these notes is provided by members and others. It is given in good faith but neither the contributors nor the Society can endorse or guarantee the accuracy or safety of the information. The society does not recommend or guarantee any individual or organisation named. Treatment techniques described may not be suitable for items of high or historical value. Users should always test first on a small inconspicuous area; observe safety and health guidelines given by suppliers, and dispose of used materials responsibly. The Society does not endorse or guarantee any proprietary products named (and it recognises that other products may be suitable). If in any doubt, expert advice should be obtained.