Thursday, February 12, 2015

Vanished Tool Brands: Clyburn adjustable spanner,

Many years ago I was out for a ride on the Norton when I stopped at a yard sale.  Digging around in a box, I found the above spanner, badly rusted and with a frozen and damaged screw that had obviously been the victim of a previous owner's attempt to loosen it with vice-grip pliers.  I brought it home, cleaned it up, and had a machinist friend make a new screw for it.

I'd never heard of "The Original Clyburn" and so it remained a mystery until years later, on another Norton ride, I stopped at a local provincial park.   As I was preparing to leave, an individual with a strong British accent came up to talk about the bike.  He turned out to be an antique dealer on a visit from the U.K. and we had some email correspondence afterwards.  He very kindly did some research for me:

"Richard Clyburn is first recorded working as a Consulting Engineer in the Agricultural and Textile industries in Gloucester and Somerset in 1828. Amongst his many other inventions (he made high precision tools with replaceable parts from both wrought and cast iron, preferring wrought to cast). He is credited with inventing the first adjustable spanner in 1842 and registering the design in 1843 whilst working as the Engineering Manager at the Uley Iron Works in Gloucester, which was owned by the Earl of Ducie. His design remained in production , mainly by other Birmingham factories, and appearing in tool catalogues up until about 1964."
He sent me a copy of the 1964 catalogue entry below:

Since then, I've turned up a few more references to this wrench. Below, from Arthur W. Judge, Engineering Workshop Practice (London:  Caxton Publishing Co., 3rd edition, 1947).

It would seem that Thomas Chatwin & Co. in England were one of the primary manufacturers of this wrench, at least as far back as 1884 and forward into the 1950's:

The Swedish firm Bahco claims to have been the first to invent an adjustable wrench.  In fact, it appears that they must have made the Clyburn wrench under license (see below).  Their own wrench, an improvement on the Clyburn, wasn't patented by J.P. Johansson until 1891, almost half a century after Clyburn's patent.

Bruce's Bahco Collections


Ron Geesin said...

The above displays some errors of research. The true story of Richard Clyburn (from my original/primary research) is in THE ADJUSTABLE SPANNER (Ron Geesin), pub. The Crowood Press, 03/2016. said...

I agree with Mr Geesin's comments and endorse his superb book. It may be of interest that Clyburns were manufactured up to the mid 1980s by Hand Tools Ltd, Dronfield, UK and I recently acquired an unusual barn find in New Zealand....a box of the last of a long line of Clyburns. These are 6" and 8" examples, still in their original waxed brown paper with identifying labels. (I'll try to add a photo but there appears to be no facility on this page).

Mister G said...

Thanks for your comment! You can send images to and I'll add them to the post. Thanks!