Screw - Screwed work

Dictionary of Traded Goods and Commodities, 1550-1820. Originally published by University of Wolverhampton, Wolverhampton, 2007.

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[skrew; scrue; screwes]

A cylinder or rod into the surface of which a spiral ridge or groove has been cut, with every part forming an equal angle with the axis of the cylinder, so that if developed on a plane surface it would be an inclined plane. It is sometimes called a male screw. When a corresponding groove is cut in a hollow cylinder or NUT of the same diameter as a male screw, this forms a companion or female screw [Lloyd (1895)].

The screw is considered one of the six mechanical powers, but it is really only a modification of the inclined plane. It was used extensively in the early modern period, despite the skill required in making it, in small TOOLs like the GIMLET and CORKSCREW, but also to exert pressure in heavy machinery, for example, in a SCREW PRESS. For this wood, rather than metal was used in the early part of the period, because it was simpler to work. Often it is only the context that suggests how the screw was used, as in 'Sider Mill screw & Cheesvatt' [Inventories (1694)], or the 'ffurnace Screwe Tallowe & other Implem'ts of Trade' belonging to a chandler [Inventories (1711)].

With the growing use of IRON in the eighteenth century, a great variety of equipment was made, which the government of the day wished to keep out of the hands of potential competitors. As a result, the export was prohibited of 'Screws for Stamps, ... Iron or Steel Screw Plates, Pins and Stocks for making Screws, or any other Tool or Utensil whatsoever,' used in Iron or Steel manufacture' [Acts (1785)]. Inventors and innovators sought improvements, including ways of using a screw to raise weights [Patents (1692)]; [Patents (1693)] and to make a PUMP [Patents (1724)]. Although not the first, Henry Maudsley's screw cutting LATHE of 1797, with slide-rest, lead-screw and change-gears, was the first in practical terms and was widely adopted in the early nineteenth century [Singer et al. (1958)].

The individual screw on an industrial scale was not the only way in which the principle was used. A screw was an excellent method of fixing together pieces of WOOD, hence the WOOD SCREW. For this purpose, a tapered rod, with a pointed end was required. Not all screws were made of metal; for example John Houghton suggested that for the large Screws used by the WHEELwright or joiner, screws should be made of BEECH [Houghton], with smaller ones from BIRCH [Houghton]. These wooden screws should not be confused with wood screws.

Screws for particular purposes like the tiny ones used in making WATCHes and MATHEMATICAL INSTRUMENTS. These were required both for fixing and for adjustment and fine-tuning. As a result inventors also became interested in introducing improvements, as a patent in the 1770s for 'Making screws, and machines for dividing instruments from the said [watch] screws [Patents (1778)], their inventiveness both following and inspiring improvements in screw making.

OED earliest date of use: 1404

Found in units of DOZEN, LB

Sources: Acts, Houghton, Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late), Newspapers, Patents, Tradecards.
References: Lloyd (1895), Singer et al. (1958).

Screw barrel

[scrue barrell]

Alternatively found as 'screwed barrel'. The term denotes a FIRE ARM furnished with a screwed barrel; that is one having a helically grooved bore. This gave greater accuracy and a longer range. The advantages were well understood by the mid-seventeenth century; hence a reference to 'Excellent screwed guns' in 1646 [OED, Screwed], but the term of 'Screw barrel' seems only to have come into use a hundred years later.

OED earliest date of use: 1742

Found describing PISTOL

Sources: Inventories (late).

Screw box

[scrue boxes; scrue box; screw boxes; screw and barrel boxes; boxes for screws; box for cutting wood screws]

A small block of WOOD or IRON pierced and wormed with a female screw; used to make a bolt fast, or to permit its adjustment. Alternatively this term was applied to a tool for cutting the thread of a wooden SCREW. The '174 papers of screw Boxes' valued at £3 12s 6d [Inventories (1682)] were probably of the first type, while the 'Three Screw boxes' in the 'New Shop' along with the 'Turning Ingine Anvil Vise and Turning Tools' [Inventories (1722)] was probably of the second. The 'Machine for making screws and nuts, and boxes for screws' patented in 1789 [Patents (1789)] was a screw-cutting tool.

The term may have been applied in a third instance to a type of small decorative BOX. Screw boxes of this type have been noted in the shop of a haberdasher, who had a substantial stock of TOYs [Inventories (1682)]. The boxes were probably cylindrical in shape and with a screw on lid and made of WOOD or a soft easily worked metal like PEWTER. Given their value they may have been similar to PILL BOXes. In this sense, screw box is not found in the OED.

OED earliest date of use: 1677 and 1846 respectively

Found described as CARVED, LARGE, MIDDLE
Found in units of DOZEN, PAPER

Sources: Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late), Patents, Tradecards.

Screw candlestick

[candlestick with a screw-nosle]

A CANDLESTICK with a screwed stem by which the socket or sockets can be raised or lowered. Randle Holme illustrated and described one with double sockets [Holme (2000)]. A patent in the 1770s was for a devise, 'to raise or lower the candle at pleasure' [Patents (1779)].

Not found in the OED

Sources: Patents.
References: Holme (2000).

Screw case

[screw cace]

Both examples of screw cases in the Dictionary Archive appear in the context of CUTLERY; in the later one of '2 screw caces and penknives' valued at 7s, each appears actually to have contained a PENKNIFE [Inventories (1704)]. Probably a screw case was one made of metal with a screw-on lid.

Not found in the OED

Sources: Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late).

Screw creaser

The screw creaser is not found in the dictionaries and only appears once in the Dictionary Archive in a list of tools that could be exported. Presumably it was considered that export of these implements would be unlikely to affect British industry, which means that each was probably a simple and well-established TOOL [Acts (1786)]. Salaman does not mention a screw creaser either, but he does mention various creasing tools, including the CREASING IRON and the veining iron. Probably the screw creaser served the same function as these of imprinting lines on LEATHER, but the pressure was applied by a screw, rather than by hand. Possibly it was a version of the 'creasing machine', in which a STRAP was pulled through rollers with a cranked handle rather like a mangle to form an evenly distanced crease [Salaman (1986)].

Not found in the OED

See also SCREW.
Sources: Acts.
References: Salaman (1986).

Screw handle

Screw HANDLEs appear only once in the Dictionary Archive, among the stock of an upholstery or cabinet maker amidst a variety of different handles. Since these handles were worth but ½d each, they were probably in the form of simple BRASS knobs that could be screwed into the wood [Inventories (1780)].

Not found in the OED

Found in units of DOZEN

Sources: Inventories (late).

Screw mandrel

[screw maundril]

Randle Holme illustrated a screw MANDREL and described it at some length. He also explained that with this TOOL 'several Screws of diverse Diameters are made; that next the end of the shank is the smallest, which makes a Male Screw of the finest Thread; the next a Male Screw of a courser Thread; and the third makes a Screw courser than it; so that you may make the shank as long as you will, thereby to make more variety of sizes for Screws' [Holme (2000)]. Although Holme did not make this clear, it would appear that the screw mandrel was intended to make SCREWs out of WOOD [Moxon (1703, facs. 1989)].

OED earliest date of use: 1677

Sources: Inventories (mid-period).
References: Holme (2000), Moxon (1703, facs. 1989).

Screw nail


An alternative name for WOOD SCREWS.

OED earliest date of use: 1660

Sources: Inventories (mid-period).

Screw plate

[skrew plate; screwes staples & plates]

A hardened plate for cutting the threads of small SCREWs by means of a series of drilled and tapped holes of various diameters. Randle Holme described it in more detail as 'a Plate of well Tempered Steel, with several holes in it, of diverse sizes, each less than other, and in these holes are threads of Screws grooved inwards, into which grooves the taps or screw pins respectively fit. By this Plate Screws are cut upon Iron Pins, to be screwed into any hole that will fit them. The Tap before mentioned is to go along with this Plate, being one instrument of two parts. There is in this no more but the Plate, the Holes, and the Handle to turn it about' [Holme (2000)]. His illustration shows a TOOL similar to a mason's trowel, with a handle and a blade in which the tapped holes lie in a line along its length. Joseph Moxon called it one of 'the most Essential Tools used in the Black-Smith's Trade' [Moxon (1703, facs. 1989)]. To a limited extent, the screw plate allowed the manufacture of screws of more or less uniform sizes, though this applied only to those made with a particular plate.

OED earliest date of use: 1677

Found described as of IRON, STEEL

Sources: Acts, Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late).
References: Holme (2000), Moxon (1703, facs. 1989).

Screw press

[skrew-presses; skrew press; screw presse]

Whereas many presses relied on a heavy weight to exert pressure, as in older versions of the CHEESE PRESS, or by impact as in a STAMP, the screw PRESS allowed a variable pressure to be applied. A typical version of the screw press was the 'Stationers, or Bookbinders Screw-Press. When the Books are stitched together, then these do their office, which is to press on their covers, and keep them together for the cutting' [Holme (2000)]. However, screw press can be found in a great many different circumstances and used by a variety of workers. One of the most frequently found was that used by a TEXTILE worker to press the finished cloth into an easily transportable shape; hence 'One screw press & five boards' [Inventories (1681)]. An APOTHECARY has been noted with another, presumably to press out his pills, or perhaps to extract the juice from his materials [Inventories (1665)]. The screw, listed in one probate inventory belonging to an Apothecary is presumably a screw press [Inventories (1666)].

During the eighteenth century, the possibility of stamping or pressing shapes attracted the attention of inventors, hence a patent in the 1780s for 'Stamping, impressing, or rolling scissors out of a bar, sheet, plate, or string of steel, by means of stamps, fly or screw presses' [Patents (1785)].

OED earliest date of use: 1688

Sources: Houghton, Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late), Patents.
References: Holme (2000).

Screw pulley

[screw pullies]

This term has not been found in the dictionaries, and it appears only once in the Dictionary Archive in the probate inventory of a BRASS founder. His twelve 'screw pullies' valued at 4d apiece, follow immediately six 'rack pullies' at 9d [Inventories (1792)]. Possibly a screw pulley was one with a spindle passing through it and kept in place by a small grub or set screw. Such pullies can be found today called 'Set screw pullies'.

Sources: Inventories (late).

Screw ring

[rings with scrues]

A term not found usefully in the dictionaries. The entry 'Seventeen Rings with scrues at 1d: ½ A piece' [Inventories (1747)] may provide a clue to the form, suggesting a SCREW through the head of which a spilt ring has been passed. Very small ones of this type are used today to fix in the backs of framed pictures. Although this may be the form, it is not necessarily the function of the eighteenth-century screw ring. Fixing a ring to a screw, would make it easier to turn the screw if required.

Not found in the OED online

Found described as sorted
Found in units of DOZEN, PIECE

Sources: Inventories (late).

Screw top


A term applied to a top that could be screwed down onto a BOTTLE or JAR as in the instructions given in one recipe; 'then put in your Knuckles of Veal in a Pot with a Skrew-top' [Recipes (Carter)]. Randle Holme listed 'A four square Bottle with a Screw'd head for sweet Water, or Benjamin Water, &c.' [Holme (2000)], while an act in the late 1730s referred to 'Screws or Stoppers to Stone or Glass Bottles or Phials' [Acts (1739)]. So long as bottles were made by the glass blower, the only way of fixing a screw top was by using it to screw onto a metal circlet round the bottle's neck. Once bottles or jars were made in a mould, the top could have its top with either an internal thread to fit a screw stopper, or an external one to match a screw top. Billy Bossche shows a bottle with a glass screw top, but comments that the type was very rare [Bossche (2001), plate 297].

OED earliest date of use: 1875 for Screw cap under Screw

Sources: Acts, Recipes.
References: Bossche (2001), Holme (2000).

Screwed work

[screw'd work; screw'd or plain work]

The OED suggests 'The cutting of SCREW', a late definition not noted until 1843. The only example in the Dictionary Archive is found in an advertisement for 'All sorts of screw'd or plain work turned in mettal in a correct manner' which were offered for sale among a long list of fancy metal ware and TOYs [Tradecards (1771)]; its meaning remains elusive.

OED earliest date of use: 1843

Sources: Tradecards.