History Of WS Tools Birmingham

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Very little is known about the WS Manufacturing Company Ltd. (herein called simply WS) but based upon some evidence, the tools produced and with some speculation, I have pieced together a possible history.  But I would welcome any further information to increase our knowledge, and I can then incorporate that information into this site as it may arise.  It is therefore a work in progress and is far from a completed project.

The only address for the company appears to be:

W.S. Manufacturing Company Ltd.,
Quadrant Works,
28 Sheepcote Street,

In ‘The London Gazette’ of 7th October 1938 there is a reference to a 'General Meeting' held at the above named company address on 3rd Oct. 1938 in order to wind up the ‘Midland Malleable Foundry Company Ltd.’ and to have that company liquidated. There may have been an association between these 2 companies, otherwise why would the meeting have taken place at the Quadrant Works?  But in any event, WS was then in existence, however it is not presently known  what was produced by the company at that time.   Whether the company was soon thereafter Government controlled and directed towards the war effort, or whether it eased into tool production immediately after the war is not presently known, but this latter supposition seems most likely.

In Graces guide there is a reference to a Quadrant Cycle Company at Quadrant Works, which closed down in 1929, and there are the the following references for WS:

1932 Kelly’s “Cycle Fork Manufacturers”
1937 Kelly’s “Cycle Fork Manufacturers”
1943 Kelly’s “Engineers”
1950 Kelly’s “Engineers”

{I have found 4 Patents assigned to WS Mfg Company:  two having to do with the improvement of machines for rolling screw threads  (1947 & 1952),  one  (1954) to do with improving a shearing machine and one (1950) to do with improving hydraulic presses.  So it might appear that WS was indeed engaged in more than just producing Woodworking tools and continued on in the Engineering line after selling that tool 'division' to WODEN.

Quadrant Works is shown in the map pictured below. It was bordered by Sheepcote Street to the East, by the Timber yard to the North and by the Birmingham Canal to the South and West, and it was composed of a few separate companies operating in buildings surrounding a central courtyard from where there was access to the Canal for receiving and shipping of materials and goods. I have previously speculated that the 'Works' were so named because of the geographic boundary forming a Quadrant, or quarter of a circle.  But recent (10/2015) information suggests that the 'Quadrant' name came from the shape of the bearings used by the Quadrant Cycle Co. Ltd. in which their tricycle's guide wheels were steered. From the size of the area and that WS only occupied but part of that area, I am supposing that WS was certainly not a large organisation having perhaps just a few thousand square feet at most. It is doubtful that they had their own foundry and probable that all castings (Sheffield source?) were ‘bought-in’ and maybe only finish work was applied on the premises.

Recent information suggests that most of the workers were women and they were employed on  'piecework'.  Would this then indicate that the company may well have been started up during or towards the end of the war years (c1943-4)??  From my WS A6 study and a box showing a solid price noted, and extrapolating to other manufacturer's prices at that time, it would appear that this plane (the A6) was produced in early 1944.  It is doubtful that a number 6 size plane would have been produced early on in a plane manufacturers' existence, trade would have being built upon the more common 4 or 5 planes.  Therefore a start date of 1943 would seem more possible and most likely.

Around 1952 (Graces Guide) WS was bought out by The Steel Nut & Joseph Hampton Ltd.  (WODEN) of Wednesbury and the WS plane manufacturing division then formed the basis for WODEN to introduce their own line of planes starting with the W78 Duplex Plane in 1953.  How much stock on hand of WS was transferred to Wednesbury is still unknown but the first of the WODEN W78 were produced from a modified WS A78  body (see www.wodentools.com and in the A78 Type Study on this site).  It would appear that only the planes of WS were 'copied', as WODEN never produced any spoke shaves, braces or sliding bevels.





The picture above is taken recently from Sheepcote Street facing modern day Quadrant Works,
26-38 Sheepcote St is now named ‘Liberty Place’ which has now been mostly turned into apartments with businesses at street level.


To date no catalogues have been found and we have now only 4 advertisements showing a possible complete range of tools produced by WS.     This first one is from 1950-51:


The second advert is from 'The Hardware Trade Journal' dated 2 March 1951 and you will note that the address has changed from Birmingham 14 to Birmingham 15.


The third advert is from later 1951 and there was again an ‘Illustrated List’ available, as well as ‘Counter and Window Displays’, but as yet none of these have been found.


The fourth advert comes from 'The British Hardware and Tool Manufacturers Buyers Guide 1952'...

The British Hardware and Tool Manufacturers Buyers Guide, 1952’


This advert, as with adverts 1 & 2,  alludes to the A078 plane which is the name used for the A78.   Perhaps it was an old revamped advert, or the information that I received on the date was incorrect (more likely). Perhaps this advert superseded the 3rd advert shown above.

Also note the word 'Specialties' early on and 'Specialities' in the second advert..  See A78 study also.

I also have a package insert [shown below] found inside one of my boxed Number 4 planes:


Plane leaflet 19x12cm.

I have made a fairly accurate copy of this delicate leaflet and it can therefore be read in its' entirety:

WS leaflet A4 jpeg

I have been most fortunate recently in that I have discovered a Nettlefold & Moser Ltd catalogue that has a whole page devoted to WS Tools.  This is the only information to date that gives us prices of the wares and it is dated 1951.


The Name

Here even the name of the company is shrouded in mystery...WS.
Different sources have suggested a variety of names that WS could stand for such as:
William Stevens(Stephens), William Swift and even Warren Tools(?). The further suggestion is that WS stands for 'Warranted Sheffield', which appears on some early blades.  Unfortunately, WS was based in Birmingham!  So this latter suggestion seems unlikely, but let us keep trying.  Recently I have received word from a man, who started his engineering apprenticeship in 1957 at the old WS manufacturing site, that he had been then informed by a chap, who had worked there for 20 years, that WS stood for William Spencer.

However, I tend to think that the first 2 adverts that we have, may give us a clue.  All the tools are related to hand ‘Woodworking’ and they are ‘Specialities’, so I am suggesting that Woodworking Specialities may fit the bill.
I would just love to be proved that I am wrong!  PLEASE!

The Products

We have examples of most of the tools shown in the adverts, but no examples have been found to date of ‘Adjustable Bevels’ or ‘Ratchet Braces’ and they will remain a mystery until they are eventually found. To try to find these items is almost impossible because sellers do not seem to know that a trademark or sellers name is of the utmost importance.
Even though not specifically noted in the advertisements, the Bench planes were all available in a ‘Corrugated’ version since I have in my collection both an A4(C); A5(C) and an A7(C) and  an A6(C) has been found in Australia.  It would therefore be reasonable to assume that the whole range was available as ‘Corrugated’. (please therefore see that section)

I would like to take some time (under 'Analysis of Components') to go methodically through the components and list the differences that occurred in each component in the manufacturing process. After having completed the descriptions, with their necessary coding, I will attempt to produce a ‘Type’ study (Type 1-?) wherein each type differs from the previous one by a single difference in any one of the individual components.  As time goes on I may have to modify the study as new information becomes available or corrections are needed.
Unfortunately, unlike in SMITH’S famous Type study of American Stanley bench planes, I have absolutely no literature from which to draw my conclusions, only careful observation and lots of patience!

The No.4 bench plane was the first plane produced and shows a rapid change in many characteristics , so I have based the study on this size of plane.  In the individual sections of the other numbered bench planes I will try to show any differences that those planes had from the ‘norm’. (The larger planes A5.1/2: 6 and 7 are distinctly different from this seminal study in certain ways, but conform to each other in most aspects)