Sash bars and windows were made in many sizes depending on the
application. The 1899 Alexander Mathieson tool catalog
shows sash molding planes that make bars ranging from 3/8 to 2
inches in width and 1-1/4 to 2 inches in depth. The larger
sizes were probably used on storefront windows and the smallest
on interior cabinets.
The basic premise of the box is to center the bar on the drill
bushing while holding the bar with a screw generally mounted on
the top. In most cases the drill bushing could be raised
or lowered to accommodate different depths of bars.
Some boxes were made to accommodate only one width and depth of
bar, others to allow the use of one thickness and various
depths. Most of the examples I have seen in illustrations,
drawings and tool auction catalogs are adjustable for both width
Most of the boxes were made by craftsmen for their own use.
They are usually ornate and made of expensive woods.
Factories, one by I Lund of London and the other by Summers
Varvill of York made two of the examples I replicated.
Why make them?
I started collecting English sash maker’s tools around 1997.
I was intrigued by the variety of shapes and that the molding
planes came in matched pairs. There are other tools used
such as shaves, templates, coping chisels, and of course, the
sash dowelling boxes. In about four years time I had examples of
all of the commonly used tools in my collection except a sash
The boxes I saw for sale were out my price range, around $400
and up. So, my only option was to make them myself.
I knew Jane Rees has a collection of boxes and she graciously
sent me copies of drawings of four of hers. You can see
two of them in an article she wrote for the EAIA Journal.
PAST member, the late Rob Paterson, used to make windows in
Scotland. He had some old articles and sent copies of
photographs of three different boxes. He also provided me
with information on using bamboo pegs instead of wooden dowels
to hold windows together. I found another box on eBay and
yet another one being sold by Tony Murland.
Planning and Materials
Equipped with drawings and photographs, I needed to decide which
boxes to build and in what order. I picked seven and made
one of my own design for use later on a glazed oak cabinet I
plan to build to house my wooden planes.
In addition to my own design I decided to build two of the
designs provided by Jane Rees. One has moveable sides and
a mortised block on the end housing the drill bushing. The
other has the sash bar lying on its side while it is drilled.
The fixed ½ thick oak box from Tony Murland went on the list as
well as the I Strofton box from eBay. All three boxes from
the articles provided by Rob Paterson also made it. One
uses sliding inserts to accommodate different widths of bars;
another, made by I Lund, features ivory scales set in the base
to help when adjusting the sides, it also features an
interchangeable drill bushing. The last is the Varvill.
It is made of tulipwood and boxwood and turned out to be the
most attractive of the boxes. Since I also collect Varvill
tools this will go with my Varvill collection.
Since the parts are small I was able to use wood I already had
for all the boxes but the Varvill. I also had a boxwood
log obtained several years ago to provide small parts for some
of the boxes. Most of the brass came from a local scrap
yard. I had to order three feet of window framing for the
brass used under the base of the two boxes with sliding sides.
I used a MAPP gas set up to braze and solder the brass parts.
All but one of the boxes has at least one brass thumbscrew.
At the time I started the project I had two adjustment
assemblies from old sash fillisters. I was able to salvage
one of these. For the rest of the boxes I ordered eight
sash fillister adjustment assemblies from Andrew Stephens at the
Tool Bazaar in Scotland. Each of these are probably at
least 100 years old and have the aged and used appearance I was
Also, each has a slightly different thread on
the shaft and corresponding nut. In making the screw
assemblies for the hold-downs I needed to solder or braze the
nut into the hold down bracket and make certain the matching
screw stayed with the nut. All of the inserts on the end
of the hold down screw are fastened with a 4-40 fillister head
screw. I made a sleeve with a hole drilled in the end to
fit over the thumbscrew. This fixture centers tap hole
drilled in the end of the thumbscrew.
The examples in the photos have square drill bushings. It
turns out that several companies in Great Britain made these for
this purpose. I didn’t find this out until I read Jane
Rees’ article on sash tools. By that time I had already made two
of the boxes. The last six boxes have square drill
bushings. Drilling the holes the length of the bushing was
a problem. The drill bit would wander and come out off
center on the far side. I wound up using an end mill and
bored a pilot hole from either end. A regular drill bit
was used to enlarge the hole to the correct size.
For the adjustment screws on the boxes themselves I used a
variety of round and flat head ¼ -20 brass screws. In some
cases I used ¼ -20 brass threaded inserts in the wood for the
screws to engage. I purchased the inserts from McMaster-Carr.