Dividers and Chest Hinges from Peter Ross

While visiting blacksmith Peter Ross’s shop last week I couldn’t resist asking him to make me two pairs of dividers that are dead ringers for the dividers shown in Joseph Moxon’s “Mechanick Exercises” (1678) and the logo of Lost Art Press.

The dividers are, like all of Peter’s work, stunning. Their movement is smooth and sufficiently stiff. If they do loosen up with use, that can be retightened by striking the ball at the top with a flat-face hammer with the dividers resting on an anvil.

The dividers are $125 each if you are interested in obtaining some for your tool chest.

Peter has also been working on some hardware for “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest.” Shown are the hinges, which Peter designed to merge parts of a chest hinge and a butt hinge. I’m going to install them on the chest I’m building at home now and see how they function. Next up: Peter is going to make a crab lock for the chest.

OK, if you will excuse me I have to go make some more money to pay for this stuff.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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41 Responses to Dividers and Chest Hinges from Peter Ross

  1. Erik says:

    Those dividers are a bargain at that price.

  2. Orion says:

    Those are some nice looking parts Mr. Ross made. He is obviously a very skilled smith. Enjoy.

    I like the hinge design-is that a Schwarz/Ross original or is there a historical precedent for it? I have never seen that particular chest hinge design before-it does make sense and seems like a practical approach. If you are interested in period iron work the definitive source is a book by Albert Sonn called “Early American Wrought Iron”. Most libraries have a copy and it is really well done.

    For the record-I am just curious about the design and not trying to copy Mr. Ross’s work..

  3. paddy1111 says:

    Hi Chris,
    I think we get the message about you paying for your stuff, personally i dont mind either way but try not to mention it in every post. Lovely dividers.
    Michael Redmond

  4. robert says:

    Woodworking is beginning to remind me of how fly fishing went in the 1990’s. If you didn’t have the most expensive (titanium reels machined from bar stock from a company that also made pace-makers and aircraft parts, vests that cost more than many first cars) or most authentic (hand-made split bamboo rods, fitted with silk line and very small, very old English reels), well then, you just didn’t get it. Never mind that the guys who could afford this stuff didn’t have the time to become proficient with the equipment, they were too busy making the coin to pay for it. You might look the part, but probably couldn’t cast across your breakfast table. Lots of posing, and looking down the nose.

    I’m just hoping we as a woodworking community continue to have room for everybody’s taste in tools, woods, projects, etc.

    • Sean says:

      Chris has been very good about suggesting all sorts of ways to use whatever you have in the way of skills and materials to succeed. He also has a dedication to supporting fellow artisans, who produce quality works. The two can mutually coexist.
      For what it’s worth fun stuff at fair prices can be found on eBay. Here’s some hardware that I’ve purchased for my chest in this way – all told less than $60:

    • Mitch Wilson says:

      Robert-you need to chill a bit. Having different levels of quality and cost is beneficial for everyone. I’m one of those people who can afford to buy these tools, and I have the time to learn proficiency with them. I have 30 years of experience working with different levels of high-tech and low-tech tools. You get what you pay for. Pay more now, they last a long time, maybe a lifetime, and, in the long run, you save money and enjoy your work and your life much, much more. That’s why I bought one of Glen Huey’s mallets. And in the photo of Chris’s previous post on Peter’s uber-holdfast, the second one down from the upper left is mine. (Thank goodness I don’t have a hernia. This baby has mass.) Form and function. I feel privileged to be able to help support these artisans. So, from my perspective, the snob is not Chris. Now, it’s time for me check out some of Peter’s dividers. They do look sweet.

    • Jeff B says:

      So if expensive and authentic tools are the source of posing and looking down the nose, what are we supposed to use? Cheap knock-offs? I believe the crux of your argument has much more to do with the skill of the user, not the tool being used. You can rail against expensive and new-fangled all you want, but the fly-fishing equipment you use today was once both expensive and new-fangled, regardless of what is is. Just as there was a group of people complaining about new-fangled iron-bodied planes when the wood-bodied ones were just fine, they’ll always be complaining about what’s new compared with the “golden age” equipment of yesteryear. Time to stop worrying about it, or, as you say yourself, “have room for everybody’s taste.”

      Am I going to buy $125 dividers? No. Do I respect the talents of a modern blacksmith reproducing tools from 350 years ago? Yup. Do I begrudge anyone buying them? Why would I?

    • James says:

      You’re right, Robert. There’s always going to a contingent who told you that you should own a Porsche… And later tell you that you got the wrong one.

      Fancy pretty makes for great copy. Some folks buy because they’re connoisseurs, like the anarchist does. Others buy what he buys.

      Chris is also the guy who gave a ‘best value’ rating to a vintage Stanley plane in a review a few years back, and built a bench for $175.

      A while later PWW ran an article comparing everything from Holtey infill planes to home-brew krenov planes with ugly old irons, and concluded that really, as long as it held the iron solidly, all other factors being equal, the uber- tools weren’t always that much better.

      Still, snobs abound. Get what works for you, and use it. They’re just tools… A means, not an end.

      I’ve got some fancy stuff and some regular stuff. They all work fine. I’m more concerned with the quality of my work.

  5. Matt S says:

    Can we cut the “I pay for everything” shtick. It’s a conversation I don’t think you shouldn’t have got into in the first place. Who cares if you pay for stuff of not? I like the Schwarz/LAP product because of the quality of content – not because I think I can afford to purchase everything written about.

    • lostartpress says:


      I think the sensitivity is yours in this instance. Otherwise I would have made some joke about Gary Smythe.

      I’ve spent a lot of money on this trip — more than I intended. Now I have to make some. That’s all I meant. Sorry it wasn’t clear.

  6. Floss says:

    How is the friction between the legs adjusted for the dividers?

    Are the legs tight when first made then loosen up over time?

    Can you add more or take away friction?

    That seems to be an excellent price for hand forged dividers.

    I think I paid about that much for my 6″ Starrett dividers new. Of course they are more adjustable but not as lovely to gaze upon.


    • John Switzer says:

      I have had mine for several years, I bought them after watching Peter make a pair at a local blacksmiths conference. I know I should have gone home and made my own following his instructions (and I will, someday, I promise), but I wanted to support his work. They have not loosend up since I have had them. Oil would make them looser (maybe to loose) rust would make them tighter (maybe to tight) A light tap at the rivit would tighten them, but again if you hit to hard they will be solid. heating to a red heat and working the joint will loosen them. All in all I think Peter makes then just right and I wouldn’t mess with them or let them rust and they should work fine for years. On a side note I tried to pay Peter extra because I thought the diveders were worth more than he was asking, he wouldn’t take the extra money.

    • James says:

      Old-old-old school draftsmen lubricated their dividers with molten beeswax. It prevented rust, lubricated just well enough, and stuck to an adjustment well enough.

      I imagine that if he heated up the dividers enough to melt some beeswax, it would wick right in without issue, and serve him well…

  7. Mike B. says:

    Robert makes a good point. Those who have unlimited discretionary funds need not be defensive about what he writes, however. I agree that there is much out there in the way of expensive tools, classes, conferences, etc., that can afforded by only a relatively few. As long as “your not worthy if you don’t buy this or that” vibe isn’t present or implied, most adults can decide what is right for themselves.

    There does seem to be burgeoning amount of high-priced woodworking stuff becoming available that pushes “form” beyond mere “function”. If the craft (hobby) of woodworking follows this path at the exclusion of those participants of more modest means, that would be sad. The fly fishing example is a good one. More than one worthwhile avocation has been ruined similarly.

    • Eric R says:

      Nicely said Mike.

    • Mitch Wilson says:

      Come on, Mike, get real. There are still plenty of fairly good quality tools out there for a reasonable price. Look at Narex and Wood River. I have a couple of Narex skew chisels and they are perfectly good. But the Stanley plane I bought 30 years ago was and still is a complete piece of s…. My discretionary funds are not unlimited, just far less limited than when I was young. You’ll appreciate it more when you get to be my age. Defensive? Garbage, Mike. In fact, I’m just pleased as punch to be able to help out. But what I like most is the quality of these tools and the people who make them. Oh, and the people who instruct us and guide us. (And put up with us.)

    • rmcnabb says:

      I dunno…I’ve tried it both ways. Personally, I wish we lived in a world of local craftsmen making things we needed, by hand. We’d have less but we would cherish it more. I didn’t feel that there was any “worthiness” note detectable here. Peter Ross is a superb craftsman doing something we all admire – making beautiful work with skill and sophistication. That he charges a living wage for it is nothing that anyone should be cautious about promoting. I bit the bullet and got a set of his holdfasts and they are among the finest things I’ll ever own. I think supporting individual craftsmen with my trade is one of the most important things I can do in my life, and well worth saving up for.

      And I’m not sure fly fishing was ruined…I think it’s more that some people had their enjoyment of a pursuit ruined by their own greed and jealousy. “If I cannot have those things, then I will be looked down upon, therefore I shall not participate.” Meh. If you feel that way, you’re going to find that attitude everywhere you go in life. Been to the grocery store lately? Artisanal olive oil, anyone?? Just go fishing.

      • Jon says:

        fly fishing was temporarliy disturbed, mostly the fault of the movie (it was a well done story). I think most of those people gave it up – it was a fad for many of them. they couldn’t tie their own knots for flies much less leaders. so I wouln’t say its till ruined.
        and don’t knock cane rods. they really do fish nice – I prefer it over my very good winston or scott rods much of the time, especially for dry flies. and if you are a hand tool wood worker, you ought to be able to build your own. take a class to build one, then you will know how to build more, and how all the jigs and fixtures work – this is difficult to comprehend from most of the books – they really weren’t well written.

        I don’t mind learning about new tools such as these dividers, and finding out in the article how much it would cost. I can make up my own mind then if I want to save up for one, or maybe by an old pair that’s not too expensive on e bay.

  8. Eric R says:

    Chris, you demon…..will fading…intentions going dark…..character crumbling….
    (Oh, hell, I’m just going to go knock over the local 7-11 like everybody else has been doing and order up a pair of those dividers and some hinges…)
    Peter’s stuff is uber nice.

    • rmcnabb says:

      Peter’s work is wrought iron crack…nothing more nor less. But the high lasts for decades, so there’s value there for your crack dollar…

  9. Andy Spicer says:

    The dividers are seriously cool, I’m just never paying $125 for set. Not saying they aren’t worth it, just not to me.

    And Chris, since we are all giving you blogging advice (which you clearly don’t need), I say keep writting whatever the hell you please. It’s worked well so far. If I don’t like it, I’ll stop paying for it. Oh, wait, I don’t pay for it now…

    • Kevin says:

      I couldn’t agree more… you don’t write to your favorite band and tell them to make a song about you, why do we get a say in what Chris blogs about? And the band analogy doesn’t even work because you pay money for said band’s music. Anyways, really cool stuff, thanks for sharing (that crab lock is going to be amazing based on Peter’s website).

  10. Rob Fisher says:

    Beautiful dividers and hinges. Keep showing us the goods. It’s inspiring.

  11. John Gornall says:

    In “The Joiner and Cabinetmaker” there’s some advice for the apprentice visiting a “Gentleman’s House” in that there may be some beautiful things on display which should never be touched but should be looked at and enjoyed as that is what they are for.

    I’m still an apprentice and will enjoy looking – keep the good stuff coming.

  12. wesleytanner says:

    Wow, cool dividers. Thanks for exposing this wonderful craftsman’s work to your blog readers.

  13. Rascal says:

    They are beautiful dividers! What makes them better than the Grizzly’s I already have in several sizes? I’d love to buy them but can’t justify the price (once I get that far the purchase is just a matter of time!).

    • Erik says:

      For the same reason we can’t give a definitive “why” someone should buy handcrafted furniture when comparing it to mass produced (yet quality) goods, I don’t think you’ll get a definitive answer to that question. I can say however, that I worked as a blacksmith for a number of years and Peter’s work is looked up to by Smiths everywhere.

      Handmade tools have a special feel. His products accurately reflect the best examples of the past. Note: that doesn’t make them better than modern counterparts, but the fact that the PAST is when handtools were used on a daily basis by all craftsmen to make a living, does. Even well made mass produced handtools seem lacking somehow.

      I worked at a neighboring museum when Peter worked at Colonial Williamsburg. I would go to the shop and harass him and the other Smiths with my questions. He’s a real person. Proceeds of the sale go to support him and his family, not some international corporation.

      It’s shopping locally with the Internet making his locale… yours. Why buy his dividers? Why not? 😉 Granted, financial considerations prevent me from upgrading the vintage pair I currently own 😦

      • Rascal says:

        For handmade furniture I can give a qualitative answer on why to buy that versus the crap sold at ‘furniture’ stores (which I must admit, I own plenty of, not having the cash to buy custom furniture and not having yet made all that I need/want).

        I can almost get there with these dividers. It would be more of an emotional decision versus a decision based on a difference I can quantify. Perhaps if I had my hands on them I could tell the difference.

        I do have a huge amount of respect for the blacksmithing art… in fact, the hero of one of my favorite stories is the Smith who forged Excalibur! (if you’re into the Arthurian legend check out the Camulod Chronicles by Jack Whyte. The first two books are narrated by Publius Varrus who forges Excalibur from a meteorite. See The Skystone, and The Singing Sword… Arthur doesn’t even enter the story until the very tail end of the third book… it’s a cracking good epic!). There’s a lot of sword-making and weapons-smithing lore in those stories. Mr Whyte seems to have done his research well.

  14. edhresko says:

    I can only assume that those who criticize Chris’s blog as focusing too much on expensive, handcrafted items haven’t actually read much of the last 5+ year’s content. For every pricey piece he showcases, he also discusses less expensive tools and materials that we can all use. Without putting words in his mouth, I think it’s safe to say that Chris would never turn up his nose on an inexpensive tool. I think most of us would turn our noses up on a “cheap” tool…i.e. one that doesn’t work as intended or doesn’t produce good results regardless of the time spent in setup.

    All you need to do is read Chapter 20 (“After the War) of ATC and I think you’ll get the idea…

    “If you honestly want to preserve the craft as more than an academic curiosity-perhaps to lay the groundwork for a craft revival, then try this:…
    * Buy things that are well-made by skilled people who sell them for a fair price
    * Decline to purchase cheap goods that are designed to be discarded…” (p459)

    At the risk of devolving into math, I think that $125 is a very fair price for a pair of hand forged dividers. I have no idea how long it takes to make a set of dividers like that, lets just say it takes 5 hours…that’s $25 per hour for labor and materials…which translates to $52k per year for a skilled blacksmith to make a beautiful set of dividers. Is that too much compensation for a person who has the skills and creativity to forge something like that by hand from raw metal into a beautiful instrument that will last your entire lifetime (assuming you take care of it)? I think not. Otherwise, we’re going to be stuck with a stamped piece of metal that resembles a set of dividers, but is impersonal and is probably made in China.

    • Erik says:

      Wouldn’t it be nice if craftspeople got paid by the hour based on the price of the tool. I don’t disagree with your intent. I would just say that the $52k per annum is straight 40 hrs a week for 52 wks all spent in the task of producing. No time for promoting his business, educating others (which Peter does freely) or overhead. Again, I’m not arguing with you, I just don’t want someone to think that PriceOfItem/HoursToProduce=HourlyRate*2080hrs (52wks*40hrs)= an annual wage. I’ve been that craftsman and have suffered from that math. 🙂

      • John Switzer says:

        You are correct. While I do not make a living in my blacksmith shop I do supplement my income at the anvil. My wage is roughly equal to 25% – 33% of what I charge for an item. The rest is overhead (utilities, phone, coal, propane, suplies such as files and drill bits, tool repair and maintenance, building maintenance, tool upgrades, education and so on) and compensation for business time not spent in the shop (converstions with cusomers both by phone and email, ordering supplies, driving to town to pick up supplies, packaging, shipping and book keeping) materials are negligable on most small projects and are added to the hourly shop rate. What ever is left is my wage if I bid the job correctly, frequently things take much longer than I expect so my wage goes down, I really doubt that Peter has that problem. For a blacksmith like Peter Ross you should also expect to pay for his expertise, he has worked very hard for many years to get this good. My guess is that Peter pays himself around $40 – $50 for making a pair of $125 dividers. As I mentioned in my other post I think his work is worth more than he charges and that a pair of Peter Ross dividers for $125 is a steal. And no they really don’t measure any better than most other dividers, you buy them because you want to support his work, you prefer working with fine tools and because they are a joy to use. No snob factor, just a personal choice to buy nice things when I can manage it.

        It is also none of my business how much Peter makes, he is welcome to charge as he sees fit and is the only one who knows what he must charge. I just wanted to throw out an example to illistrate that the man is not charging a high price and that the price is what one would need to charge to be able to survive as a small craftsman.

  15. Jack Palmer says:

    I received two paof of dividers in the mail today from Peter Ross. The pair that you picture and a 8″ pair of the Cooper’s divider pictured on Peters website. $400 for both and worth every penny. This craftsman is far from wealthy but I do love fine tools especially those made by other craftsman like Peter.

  16. Peter Follansbee and I have had a go round about the name of this tool. I believe it is a compass not a divider. The divider has a mechanism to securely lock the legs. It is most accurate when dividing a circle or line-hence its nane. See Audels Carpenters and Builders Guide #1 (1939) pp.135-136.
    This compass is a beautiful piece of work!

    • bawrytr says:

      I’d be happy to be corrected, but I had always taken it as the compass was the one with the locking mechanism, because it was specifically designed to draw or scribe a circle or an arc (as in encompassing) and to do that accurately and consistently you need to lock it down as pressure on the top will naturally cause the legs to spread. Where as dividers are used to transfer or measure distances, so the action just has to be stiff enough to not easily be knocked off. In celestial navigation, in any case the divider is used for taking distances off the latitude scale and the compass is used for drawing accurate arcs.

      • Jack Palmer says:

        Given that, I purchased a pair of dividers and an 8″ compass from Peter Ross. For me, there is something special about hand made tools that you don’t usually find in production made tools. And we all know that anything hand made can’t compete on price with tools that are made by the thousand’s. Peters work is outstanding and prices in line with the quality and craftsmanship that go in to the making. Plus, I like the idea of supporting people like myself, that make things for a living.

  17. David Pickett says:

    Compared to when I first started dabbling with wood in the 1980’s, we are very lucky now with choice of tools available. Back then, there was the mass-produced rubbish, some slightly better stuff (Stanley and Record planes – variable, some good some not good, and none as good as pre 1960s), or secondhand if you knew about it and could find it. The only ‘fine tool’ manufacturer I can think of then operating was Ashley Isles, with some contributions by the tail-end of the older toolmakers (Roberts and Lee saws, Joseph Marples, Paramo, Henry Taylor for example – must have been some in the States, too – though quality had dropped from their peaks, and was somewhat hit-and-miss). With no internet, there was much less information about, so it was far harder for someone on a tight budget to learn about good tools, much harder to find affordable ones.

    Now, thanks to the likes of Lie-Nielsen, Clifton, Veritas and others, and internet auctions making older tools more easy to obtain, we’re much better served. There is also more information around – magazines, books and internet-based forums and blogs, and we should give thanks to all who expend time, energy and their own money to make it so.

    That said, I think Robert has a point. We do have to guard against any tendency for the craft to become snobbish about tools. We must keep woodworking open to the person with a slender budget – and hand-tool woodworking is a good way to stretch a budget; but not if an impression is given that woodworking can only be done properly with the most expensive kit. We do need to keep putting out the message that good, satisfying work can be done with a smallish kit of decent, but not necessarily expensive, tools. If people wish to add finer, more expensive tools if they can afford to and want to, then that’s OK too – but it isn’t a prerequisite to do good work in wood. Bob Wearing was a good writer in this vein, and his contribution is still valid.

  18. Brett says:

    Absolutely gorgeous craftsmanship on those pieces. I am going to start looking for a local and well versed blacksmith like you have found in Mr. Ross. Your latest posts on his wares are very inspiring and I can not help but hope that people will begin to take up these dwindling arts once again. Keep them coming ! Glad to finally see a price on Mr. Ross’ pieces, not bad at all for something that is built by hand and built to last forever. Cheers!

  19. Rob says:

    I could never afford to buy those dividers / compasses (delete as appropriate) but I’m pleased there are people with enough disposable income who can and thereby support a talented blacksmith in his craft. Given the choice of watching a blacksmith at his forge and anvil or a woodworker at his bench I’d choose the blacksmith every time.

    I picked up a fantastic pair of nineteenth century Mathieson wing dividers (with locking screw) for two quid – there are plenty out there if you have time to look.

  20. John F. says:

    The beautiful compass/dividers pictured above looks like the “petit compas droit” pictured as Fig 18 in Planche XIII of “Art du Tourneur” by Diderot & d’Alembert. I find a similar “un petit compas” in the Ebeniste-Menuisier section of Diderot & d’Alembert. The only similar picture in my Astragal press version of Moxon is of “compasses” in the “art of bricklayer’s work” section. Did you mean to attribute the design to Diderot & d’Alembert, or is my copy of Moxon lacking? In any case, Peter made a beautiful tool here.

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