Coronation Issue Shepherd & Sons Ltd. Catalogue, 1953.
Shepherd & Sons Ltd. have been making tool handles since 1861. The original mill was in rural Westmorland and, like most Lakeland industries, was powered by a waterwheel. The main products were bobbins and small tool handles from locally grown Birch and Ash. Later, more modern premises were built at Kendal and the range of products was widened. Every stage of manufacture was handled from the felling of the tree to the sale of the finished product, the Company employing its own fellers and logging teams of horses. Then came the introduction of Hickory (a wood found in the USA) and considered more suitable than any other for handles for striking tools such as hammers, axes and picks.
The year 1925 saw the retirement from the business of the Shepherd family and the Company was re-formed under the name of Shepherd & Sons (1925) Ltd., and shortly afterwards the assets of the Kendal Handle Company were purchased. As more hickory was imported and less home grown timber used, the need was felt for premises a little less remote from port facilities and the centre of industry. To meet this need, the handle manufacturing business of Bamber and Calder of Burscough was acquired, the premises being rebuilt and enlarged, with the subsequent closure of the Kendal mill. The central position of Burscough in South-West Lancashire, together with good transport facilities, enables prompt dispatches to be made to all parts of the country by road and rail and export orders can be shipped at very short notice owing to the close proximity of the docks at Liverpool and Manchester.
The premises have been enlarged and they now cover more than two acres. Storage facilities have been increased to accommodate as much raw material as is necessary to meet at short notice any demands for handles of unusual size or shape. Whenever possible, new machinery is installed as it is the policy of Shepherd & Sons Ltd., to combine up to date methods with the skill of the old craftsmen. By this means production can be increased without sacrificing quality of workmanship. These constant improvements to meet changing conditions support the claims of Shepherd & Sons Ltd. to be the world's foremost producers of tool handles. In 1951 the year '1925' was deleted from the name as it was felt that the inclusion of the year of incorporation was misleading as to the length of manufacturing experience possessed by the company.
The two photos above show Dick Baldwin cutting a log using circular saws, Shepherds & Sons Ltd., Burscough Junction, c1953.
The actual production of a wooden handle starts in the timber yard where logs of hickory, English and American ash as well as oak and elm are stacked and stored. All the handling is done by electric crane.
When required, the logs are lowered on to travelling steel platforms that carry them through large circular saws up to five feet in diameter and in this way they are cut into planks of the required thickness. The planks are then crosscut to various lengths.
The large circular saws with the travelling platforms (known as rackbenches) are also used for cutting baulks, beams and scantlings for mining, railways and harbour installations, wagon building and other industries.
(Photo courtesy - Angeline Smith)
Raymond Royle working on a circular saw at Shepherds & Sons Ltd., Burscough Junction, 1953.
Inside the factory proper the planks are cut lengthways on hand fed circular saws. On these machines the timber is cut and recut into a rough blank approximately the size of the handle to be made.
In the course of cutting the handle blanks, the planks being sawn are of varying widths and a great deal of skill is required in ensuring that there is as little waste as possible. Consequently blanks of different sizes are frequently produced from the same plank. They are then placed in the drying rooms for seasoning.
Not far from the circular saws are situated the planning and thicknessing machines for sawn products, other than handle blanks, that are required smoothly finished and exactly to size. Other ancillary machines such as bandsaws and borers are installed.
There is a fully equipped workshop for the repairing and sharpening of the saws and cutting tools.
Albert Finch operating a Dowling Machine, Shepherd & Sons Sawmills, Burscough Junction, 1953.
Dowling machines are used for the production of round handles of all diameters and lengths. Shaped handles, as required for hayforks, rakes and hoes are produced on similar machines with additional mechanism for the shaping operation.
Unknown operating a lathe, Shepherd & Sons Sawmills, Burscough Junction, 1953.
One of a battery of multiple lathes that operate on a 'copying' principle. The revolving cutting tools are guided by an iron pattern. These machines are used for making handles of irregular shapes such as the bent pattern axe handles.
May Webster loading 'blanks' on to an automatic lathe, Shepherd & Sons Sawmills, Burscough Junction, 1953.
The majority of handles produced are turned on up to date automatic lathes. They are very fast in operation and it is not uncommon for the seasoned blanks to be turned, polished and dispatched the same day.
Unknown ladies working on the polishing machines, Shepherds and Sons Sawmills, Burscough Junction, 1953.
The manufactured handles are finally finished and polished with abrasive belts and special compound. A deft touch and no small amount of skill is necessary in this operation to ensure that the shape of the handle is not spoiled by too much pressure on the abrasive material.
Thought to be Sam Moorey working on spade handles at Shepherd & Sons Sawmills, Burscough Junction, 1954.
Shovel, spade and fork handles are produced in quite a large variety of patterns. In the first place the right degree of dryness is of upmost importance. The timber must be dry enough to ensure that the different parts fit together perfectly with no danger of shrinkage yet it must not be so dry that the strength is impaired. The question of the right moisture content is further complicated by the fact that the handles have to undergo a steaming process when the stems are required bent into various shapes (see examples in the comments below). The modern drying rooms are electronically controlled.
The different types of spade handles are divided into geographical areas. In many parts of the world, including Europe and North America a long handled shovel / spade is in common use, while in England a long handle is more commonly found in Devon and Cornwall.
The solid 'D' handle (Cat. No.11) is the most popular short handle in the South of England while the Crutch pattern takes precedence further north. The split 'YD' handle is a universal favourite and there is a steady demand for handles fitted with the steel hilts.
Mass produced axe handles being conditioned for export at Shepherd & Sons Sawmills, Burscough Junction, 1954.
Shepherd & Sons Limited play their part in meeting this worldwide demand by turning out over thirteen thousand handles per day, the majority being over two feet in length. The daily output of broom handles alone, if placed end to end, would stretch for three miles. In the course of a year shipments are made to over fifty different countries.
The needs of each country have to be studied carefully, thus, climate and atmospheric conditions are taken into consideration in determining the amount of seasoning required. In timber producing countries the general stature of the inhabitants affects the length of the axe handles required by the lumberjacks and in cold regions the handles should be of slimmer dimensions to allow for the use of heavy gloves. These matters are mentioned to give some indication of the points that have to be studied and dealt with in an endeavour to give worldwide service and satisfaction.