Foot Powered Mortising Machine #1: Introduction

  • Advertise with us
Blog entry by GMatheson posted 10-14-2013 10:18 PM 7053 reads 0 times favorited 19 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Foot Powered Mortising Machine series no next part

I picked this mortiser up at an auction this weekend.



The machine footprint is 30” wide x 22” deep or 32”deep if you include the pedal and is 58” tall. It came with a 1/2” chisel. The chisel has a travel range of 3-1/4” (that’s when the pedal reaches the floor) and the table can be dropped to accommodate a 10-1/2” wide board.

The only information i can find on the machine is on the base casting.

A little research took me to where I found the following information.

This pattern mortiser is referred to as the “Gould Pattern Mortiser” after Ezra Gould came out with his model in 1847. Many other companies copied this design. One such company was James Smart out of Brockville, Ontario, Canada.

Here is an excerpt from the site:

This maker can trace its genesis back to 1854 through its predecessor, J. A. Smart. James Smart Manufacturing Co. lasted until 1967.

Product Line

This company made, among many other products, a solid-chisel mortiser; this product was added to their line with the purchase of Smart & Shepherd. There are a fair number of surviving examples, so the mortisers must have been commercially successful.

James A. Smart and Investors

From 1856, James Smart operated the Novelty Works on Kincaid Street in Brockville. In about 1880, Smart was joined in the business by John McLeod Gill and Robert Gill. In 1881 they incorporated as James Smart Manufacturing Co. According to a family history, the partnership did not work to the advantage of Smart. The Gills put in an amount equal to the then-estimated assets of the company, and received half of the stock in exchange. A subsequent valuation put the value of the incumbent assets at twice their previously assessed value, which meant that the Gills got quite a bargain. Furthermore, no value was put on Smart’s goodwill, which must have been substantial as it was a well-established and thriving business.

The partners’ relationship suffered, and Smart reduced or eliminated his involvement with the company. Shortly after the reorganization, a Mr. Hodgson of Montreal invested about $20,000 in the business, and was then bought out by the Gills; it turned out that Hodgson was an associate of John M. Gill. Buying Hodgson’s share gave the Gills more than 50% ownership, and some time afterwards the business stopped paying their 6% dividend. Smart had his money locked up with no liquidity or income. Dividend payments resumed when Smart completely withdrew from the company. Smart realized only about $30,000 for his shares. This was some time after 1886. Smart, who was about 55 at this point, became the county sheriff, a job he needed for the income.

Mergers and Acquisitions

Beginning in the early 1870s, Smart’s nephews, Elswood Smart and B. C. Shepherd, operated a rival business, Smart & Shepherd, in adjacent premises. In 1886 Smart Manufacturing Co. took over Smart & Shepherd. In 1893 they purchased the Chown & Cunningham foundry in nearby Kingston, and all the stock and plant was relocated to Brockville. In 1894 they took over the Brockville Wringer Works. At this point the Smart works covered over 2.5 acres of buildings.

So from what I can guess is that my machine was made after the Gills forced Smart out because there is no mention of Smart on the base but there is a big letter “G” which I will assume is for Gill putting this mortiser unofficially made late 1800s to early 1900s.

Digging a little deeper I also found a scan of a 1891 catalogue that puts the price of a new #2 mortiser at $20 and chisels costing $1.

Well that’s all for now…

-- Greg in Ontario, Canada

19 comments so far

View WayneC's profile


13794 posts in 4299 days

#1 posted 10-14-2013 10:21 PM

Thanks Greg. Looking forward to the next installment.

-- We must guard our enthusiasm as we would our life - James Krenov

View racerglen's profile


3112 posts in 2982 days

#2 posted 10-14-2013 10:45 PM

Neat history Greg !
Now on to making mortices !
That trumps my post drill by a bunch…

-- Glen, B.C. Canada

View Woodmaster1's profile


1071 posts in 2789 days

#3 posted 10-14-2013 11:47 PM

Greg check an episode of the woodwrightshop’s shop on pbs. Roy goes to a shop where they use one.

View SamuelP's profile


793 posts in 2848 days

#4 posted 10-15-2013 12:03 AM

That is an increduble machine.

-- -Sam - FL- "A man who carries a cat by the tail learns somthing he can in no other way" -Mark Twain

View Brit's profile


7545 posts in 3044 days

#5 posted 10-15-2013 12:32 AM

Very interesting Greg. Can’t wait to see what you do with it.

-- - Andy - Old Chinese proverb says: "If you think something can't be done, don't interrupt man who is doing it."

View GMatheson's profile


478 posts in 3171 days

#6 posted 10-15-2013 12:44 AM

Thanks guys.

I’m hoping to bring it back to almost new and put it back to work. It’s hard to seen in the pics but it was originally green. I’ll need to find a set of chisels for it or possibly get some made.

Do we know which episode Roy plays with one?

-- Greg in Ontario, Canada

View ward63's profile


353 posts in 3289 days

#7 posted 10-15-2013 01:20 AM

Nice machine. Wish they still made them now.
Thanks for sharing.

View THumphr's profile


9 posts in 3251 days

#8 posted 10-15-2013 03:07 AM

Actually Roy has one in his shop and usually brings it to Woodworking In America with him every year

View adaughhetee's profile


104 posts in 2885 days

#9 posted 10-15-2013 03:26 AM

The episode is called “rise of the machines”

View grfrazee's profile


388 posts in 2341 days

#10 posted 10-15-2013 02:06 PM

I too saw one of these at an auction but had to pass it up due to time constraints and the “there’s no way that will fit in the trunk of my Civic” factor.

If you don’t mind, how much were you able to pick it up for? If I see another one and have the space in the car, I just might grab it. These old machines are too cool.

-- -=Pride is not a sin=-

View GMatheson's profile


478 posts in 3171 days

#11 posted 10-15-2013 03:13 PM

I paid a little more than I wanted to for it. Got it for $275. It fit great in the back of my truck.

-- Greg in Ontario, Canada

View pintodeluxe's profile


5798 posts in 3015 days

#12 posted 10-15-2013 05:53 PM

A benchtop unit that is not.
I love it! What a graceful looking machine. Looks like it has the legs of a praying mantis.

-- Willie, Washington "If You Choose Not To Decide, You Still Have Made a Choice" - Rush

View NormG's profile


6283 posts in 3206 days

#13 posted 10-16-2013 12:55 AM

Wow, what a find and the background story to go with it. Well, I suppose even tool makers have disagreements

-- Norman - I never never make a mistake, I just change the design.

View wheelweaver's profile


4 posts in 2212 days

#14 posted 11-07-2013 01:04 AM

Greg, I just rebuilt a similar machine. Identical except it has no name in the castings. There is a star at the apex of the legs. Had a broken treadle bracket (where it mounts to the main column), and the right-side leg casting is missing the “front” foot and part of the lateral brace. I cobbled together an “orthotic” replacement. The bracket is patched and the whole thing operates as it should. My main problem is chisels, or lack thereof. I can’t tell if the quill is tapered or not, and if so, what kind of taper. Any insights? I have an available supply of twist drills with No.1 Morse tapers, and am a blacksmith, so can fabricate blades, just like to get an idea about the quill socket.


-- Wheelweaver

View Mauricio's profile


7144 posts in 3353 days

#15 posted 11-11-2013 07:14 PM

Cant wait to see this thing in action.

-- Mauricio - Woodstock, GA - "Confusion is the Womb of Learning, with utter conviction being it's Tomb" Prof. T.O. Nitsch

showing 1 through 15 of 19 comments

Have your say...

You must be signed in to post the comments.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics