Whats-It? Page

Number of entries: 37
Number of solutions: 32

Here I have pictured some tools we have not been able to identify. We hope you might have some clue as to their intended use.
Any serious suggestions will be much appreciated.

If you have one you are curious about, send me a good picture and we'll list it here.
No price tags on any of these.

Send an e-mail to me at: toolman@gatctools.com

Last updated:  August 7, 2018


Wondering if someone could help me identify this old tool.
It came from my grandfathers place in North Louisiana.
He used to do some blacksmithing work so it may be related to that field. D.S. 7.27.18




Do you know what this is? Was posted by a friend of mine and no one seems to know.
I had fun guessing at the ones on your site.
My friend thought it may be some kind of a pipe holding device.
Should be around 12 inches tall. Thanks for taking a look. A. W. 7.7.18




Any idea as to what this tool is and what it does?
It is marked HAMMERHEAD with a pic of the shark by that name on one side.
The other side says : Catalog # H-1, Efficiency Tool Company Inc., Made in USA .
Thanks.   Dennis J. 10.23.2016





Old spud tool. It has a bronze shaft and a brass pommel with a fancy hex nut. Measures 44 inches long - too short to be ???  pcrolffs




Kristy P. sent this one in.  Any ideas?




These (below) have been identified.




Seems to me it's a fish scaler.  
The hooked knife is used for gutting the fish, and the teeth are used for scaling. 
It's been many many years but I seem to remember my grandfather having one exactly like it.
Dave B.  12/17/2017  (That's a possibility.  Thanks Dave)




My thought is that this may not be a woodworking tool. I thought about it being a seed remover for fruits with a large seed, such as a mango.
The only markings on the blade is "Stainless Steel Norse" and the entire tool is just over 8" long.
The handle is a very fine-grained wood painted black, which at first I thought was bakelite.
The oval metal part is serrated and the middle blade could have been sharp but isn't now.
I don't think it is ancient but figure it has got to be fifty to seventy years old.
                                     Thanks so much for any help you and your fans can give me.             Judy M. 3/13/2017








Just looking over your what is it pictures and believe the second one is for setting rivets on brake shoes  
liners  for old drum type brakes.  I have a much larger one that was made for commercial trucks.
R.G. NY  5/01/2017  Thanks, Bob.


The press looking tool has "No. 5" pressed on one side of it.
Would appreciate any help I can get. Thanks. 
      Sissy James  2.12.2017




Louis Neff had patents for tools used to shape the collars that men wore back at the turn of the century.
Probably used at a laundry facility while cleaning. He has patents for these tools.
Another one that I've seen looks more like a pair of pliers, but he probably had different tools shaped for various purposes.
This is my guess anyway.
R.R., NJ  3/18/2017


This item was brought into my retail shop the other day by a customer.
Any thoughts?  2.16.2017


This wooden handled tool that held sandpaper is used for cleaning the contacts on a large spot welder.
                                                                                                               Blessings, Bill N. (1-30-2017)


Hello, I came across your site looking for answers on a hand tool I have.
I was wondering if you could help me or know of anyone that can help me identify my hand tool.
Thank you for you time, Sincerely, Jaclyn  2/23/16


The round cast iron item with three set screws is a horn weight. It was put on the end of a bull's horns to make them curl down.
They were sold in pairs so you would weight both horns. We used them on Hereford bulls which had rather straight horns.
With a curled horn there was less chance for injury when the bulls would get in fights with one another.
You would remove them when the horn was curled down as far as needed so the sharp end of the horn would not gore an opponent.

   The other item is a dehorning iron. You would use it much like a branding iron.
The end of it should be concaved to fit on an emerging horn of a young calf.
You would heat the iron over a fire until red hot and then apply it to horn.
By burning the emerging horn you would kill it and it would not grow.
It was kind of brutal but was a good way to make sure that your cattle did not have horns when they matured.
Again, we used it on Hereford calves.

Some breeds like Angus do not have horns so it was not used on them.
Some ranchers would use a specialized dehorning clipper to cut the young horn
but sometimes the horn would not completely die and would grow stunted and deformed,
often curling into the animal's skull. Burning the horn was much more effective.
(Tom B.  12/23/2016)

We have asked a multitude of people, from older farmers and handymen to people who are fairly knowledgeable about this "tool", to no avail...
there are about six of these in two different circumference's at the tapered end.
The round "ball" part is hollow which seems to fit over the tapered end of the rod
and has three "set screws" to hold it on the tapered end or whatever may fit between them...
the iron bar is approx 2' long...any help would be appreciated.  Victor S.  8/13/2016

The whale tailed looking cast iron piece (#3?) is half of a tire bead breaking tool.
Needs a long handle with a J-hook on the end for holding onto the rim
while you place the 'tail' part on the tire need the rim and press down on the long leverage handle to 'bust' the tire off.
Have the exact same complete one at home - useful tool.
Cheers, Mark 
8/13/2016    Thank you, Mark

                                                                                                                               It's a Ken-Tool. T-100. Here's my 'restored' one. 


At first I thought it was a pie crimper, but its cast iron and really heavy.
It probably is a pie crimper but would like to know from the professionals.
Whales tail tool is 10 inchs long and the tail is 5 inch's wide; it weighs 2lbs.
Thanks in advance. Neil



Looks like an early version of a wire strainer used in tensioning wires when erecting a fence. It may be missing a piece or two.
Type wire strainers in Google, then select Images to see pictures of varying types (old and current). There are of course many versions.
The two hooks would work their way along an appropriate sized chain, link by link, to increase the tension on the wire
that the chain is attached to by means of some sort of clamping device.  Andrew G.  1-23-2016 
Thanks  Andrew


I found this tool and no one around here has any idea what it is.
Any ideas, or is there a place where I can go to get things identified?
Thanks...Leland   12/28/2015

Not 100% certain, but first thought is a wooden japanese pillow.
Refer to picture below.  Andrew G.  1-23-2016 
(No pic yet.)  Thanks Andrew

Wooden object found at recent antiques show in up-state New York.
Top approximately 12 inches long. Total about 6 inches high.  March, 2014



Hi there!
I was just looking at your website and I think that item #5 is a pair of ladder jacks.
I could be wrong but they look a lot like the ladder jacks that we found in my grandfather's garage.
Lisa  11-17-2015 
[Thanks, Lisa]  


Trying to ID these for a friend.
They have no markings, he knows nothing about them, and I could find nothing online that looks similar…though admittedly,
I had no idea what to use as a keyword search…
Clamp? Spreader?
Thanks!  Mike



I believe that the tool at the top of your page labeled “pliers or crimpers” is a saw set.
The threaded hole (assuming it goes all the way through) would be for the screw to set the amount of set given to each tooth.
Thanks, Tom
{Assistant Director of Facilities and Collections, Jeanes Discovery
Center Mayborn Museum Complex Baylor University}

Thank you, Tom, for that helpful insight.




I have this pair of pliers or crimpers as I would call them and haven't been able to identify them.
They are 8" long and there is a threaded hole in the top of the stationary jaw,
The date on them is Nov 25 1873 and has EML stamped on them which I think may be the original owners initials.
Any help would be greatly appreciated.  James N.  July, 2015




Item #2, the wooden handled three fingered tool with the circular rings on each finger is a meat tenderizer.
It was patented November 1, 1898, pat. #: 613,572, by M.E. Hunt. 
Dave   (9-17/2015)
      Thanks, Dave


Trying to figure out what this is. Thanks.
Matt K.


I was Googling around for antique tools and came across your page.
I was very excited to find your "What's It Page," and I can help you identify Chris F's Stanley tool.
It's a Stanley Spoon, used in the autobody repair trade.
It's used for pushing out dents in tight spaces and used in place of a dolly iron or dolly bar for hammering and smoothing.
I had one many years ago, as my father had an autobody repair shop.
Marty G.    7-23-2015         Thanks, Marty


Can you tell me what this is for and is called?
It is made in the USA by Stanley but that is all I can figure out.
Tried to Google it with no luck.  Chris F.


It is a hook rug making tool.
For further information refer to http://danielvwilson.com/Needle_Infomercial.mp4.
Andrew G.  7-18-2015             Thank you, Andrew



Here is a what's-it that has defied identification so far.
It almost looks like a device for cutting stitching holes in leather but that's just a guess... Dave B.


It is a grafting frow for grafting tasty stock onto solid rootstock
I have several like that one in my collection
I grew up on a 10 acre orchard
my father did a fair amount of grafting but he used a pocket knife
Scots ancestry - why buy another tool
Sam P.  4-14-2015    
Thanks, Sam.



Do you have any idea what this tool is and what it was used for?  Inside of the curved edge is sharp.  Vic M.

This looks very much like a handmade beading loom.
Just like a hand weaving loom some form of line/string was wrapped around/between the teeth on either side until the desired number of rows was wound.
Then a separate line was strung with beads, laid on top of the other lines, and then threaded back through the beads to hold them in place.
Fairly complex patterns can be created. Since almost all of these used to be handmade they come in all kinds of shapes, sizes, and design.
Dave   7-03-2015                  Thanks, Dave.




Could this have been a loom, or part of a loom?
About 14 inches long and 10 inches wide.
Also found at same antiques show.  March, 2014


The hex wrench is for European style mine rails, they use screws to hold the rails into the ties. Bar inserted at top for leverage.




Hello I’m hoping you can help me identify what this socket may have been used for
and if the tag is showing the date or the part number of the item.
I got it from the Kennecott Copper mine in Alaska(which closed in 1938)
Thanks.   Dennis Hamann


The 2 handle device iron and wood with hole (30lb) is early form of post pounder,
slides over a post and pounds it into earth. JZ (2/24/15)
Thanks again, John



Hi. Have no idea what this is. The iron part is held together with only one screw.
One top handle, on side handle. Iron part is half hollow. Entire iron weight is over 30lbs.  (MS)



That last object is very identifiable to us here in Mississippi.
It is for shucking oysters, clams, mussels, or other shellfish.
We all laughed when we saw it.... Wow, I don't think they are made anymore and the ones we have seen are very worn and barely functional.
Doubtful if that one was used very much. Certainly not used in a salt water environment very long if at all.
Very nice, almost pristine condition.

THANKS AGAIN, MA  12/23/2014


Kinda complex but it looks like it could be a nut splitter, maybe walnut.
I doubt it, but it's a thought.  W.P.



Help.....my father who has now passed away collected everything. Tools was one of the collections. He had blacksmith tools, farm tools and woodworking tools.
This is one that I don't think he could identify as he had a label on it that said..."iron gadget". It is a mystery that I would love to solve.
It measures approx. 8" long. No makers mark that I can see. Can anyone help me!? Thanks in advance...... Therese S.,  Buffalo NY


Hi, We’ve been trying to identify the tool on the attached picture, We use it as a tape measure tensioner but I cannot find it anywhere,
I’ve even sent the picture to Stanley tools and they cannot identify it. Any help would be appreciated.Many thanks,
Alan Oates, Plant Manager, Rapid Span Structures

Whatever the object in the picture is, it is not particularly old. Searching for "tape tensioner",
I found the several patents that featured an extension from the tape measure housing that could be secured by a nail through an opening.
The hole in the end of the object may satisfy that function, but it is difficult to tell from the photograph what the larger end does.

I guess my answer is that it is difficult to tell without some sort of context for its association with a tape measure.
If the distance between the back of the hole in the object (the far right side in the photo) and the larger section, which looks like it would hold the lip on the end of a tape measure,
is an exact whole number distance in inches or centimeters, then this thing would just hold the tape and allow the user to add x inches or centimeters to the total.
It is so simple that it is not likely to have been patented, but it is the kind of point of sale thing that may have been sold at hardware stores to people waiting in line. Mjd

Maybe an explanation of its use would help.
The end of the tape is attached to the part that requires measuring the Stanley tool is attached to the tape (there's a ball in the box section that pinches the tape)
and a scale is attached to the Stanley tool, we pull the scale to the required loading to give a precise reading on the tape measure.
We do this because all our tapes are calibrated, all tape measures shrink and lose their accuracy over a distance.
We have calculated the required amount of pull on the scale to regain their accuracy.  Alan Oates

The tool depicted on your site is a bottom set bending fork that appears to be custom forged to fit the "hardie hole" of a Turkish style anvil. You can see what a "normal" bending set looks like at AnvilTools.com.
Most bending forks fit closer (right on top of) to the anvil due to the amounts of torque they must endure when bending either cold or red hot metal (depending on the purpose of the object being fabricated by the blacksmith).
As to why the fork you have depicted is so tall could only be answered by the blacksmith that made it. I showed the picture and description to some very talented industrial machinists, welders, and fabricators.
Without fail, the usual first response was an expletive along with a look of amazement. A half dozen or so very intriguing conversations later the consensus is as follows:

Just applying principles of the process of forging, the blacksmith that made it was exceptionally talented. He started with a blank rod (square, round, or hexagonal) that was very much shorter than the finished product.
Assuming this object has been used and stressed working metal, the blacksmith was able to split the forked end and form the bending forks without residual stress fracture
continuing down into the post below the forks and maintain enough strength within the bends of each fork to maintain their ability to hold their shape under very high torque.
This is a sign the blacksmith paid very close attention to controlling the internal heat of the forks during its original fabrication as well as excellent control of the cooling process post fabrication
to assure stress microfractures from the cooling process did not weaken the finished shape. 
The tapered square bottom of the object was most likely hammered next to fit his specific anvil or holding plate where he intended to produce
whatever item for which such a radically odd and fascinating anvil accessory was intended.
Finally, continuing to maintain excellent temperature control, the blacksmith then began to elongate the shaft to the specified height needed.

THANK YOU, MA  12/23/2014


One of the guys I work with is restoring some old tools that his grandfather had and came across the item attached in the picture.
It’s about a foot long, square on one end that would fit into a brace and has a small hook between the two prongs.
I’m thinking it was used for twisting rope or maybe barbed wire. Any ideas?  MG
Found in Goose Bay, Labrador  April, 2014



This is apparently called a chinese lock. 

This tool belonged to my great-grandfather, who was a building contractor from around 1900 to 1940.
Can you identify it or post the picture for some else to identify? Thank you so much for your time.
Kara Bay



Possibly a folding handle for a screw-type car jack. The short arms
swing out to form a "T" and the square ends fits into the jack.  JB  8/2/2014



Any ideas?

The overall length is just over 24" when straightened out. The two handles at the top are 4-1/2" long.
They look like they would have folded out to make a T, but now rusted into position.
The opposite end expands from 1/2" round to 5/8" square.Thanks, J. K.




I recently saw a similar tool at a tag sale. It said "Heavy Duty Nut
Cracker" on the side. The convex cap on the end of the screws looks
like it would prevent nuts from flying out.    JB,8/2/ 2014

This one had me fooled for sure.  But J. Brien nailed it, sent the second pic as proof.  Thanks JB.


I know it's a clamp.
What I do not knowis what's its primary use?
The clamp has no marking for who made it.
Hope some one might help     BV  June, 2014


I've seen similar tools used for securing an electric drill to a work
bench for use with polishing and buffing wheels. The strap wraps
around the body of the drill.  JB 8/2/2014


Yup.  I believe JB has this one identified as well.  Thanks again.


Hi--I see you specialize in Stanley tools--I'm from Canada and have an unusual Stanley tool that I have no idea what it is-
-I'll try and send you pic of it maybe you can help me. FW  July, 2014


Received 5/27.2014
Sprinkler tongs. Used to plug sprinklers by plumber or fire department. Thanks!  Timothy B.



Here is the latest unknown tool.  No maker's mark, but possibly a touch mark.

Received 11/30/2013

Hello, My great uncle has a whatsit collection at his camp in Maine. He dug many of the items up behind his place back in the 1970's. I was always fascinated by it and may have attributed to my hobby of collecting old fire sprinkler items (plus, its what I do for a living). I was searching the web for whatsits and the image of your brass implement came up, so I had to drop you a line. This item is a shut off tong for open sprinkler heads. They were typically carried in fire trucks so when the fire department arrived to the scene of an alarm triggered by an open fire sprinkler, they could insert this clamp to stop the flow of water to reduce water damage. I would imagine old mills would have these on hand too in case of emergencies, or accidents. As you can imagine, it was a wet affair. I am sending a picture of the set I have in my collection with an old fused sprinkler head in position. Thanks!       Kevin C.
Thank you, Kevin.


Received 9/17/2013:
The item is called an alidade, used by surveyors with a plane table for topographic mapping.
It is does not appear to be missing any parts.  David   
Thanks, David




This looks like a surveyor's instrument.  Only the two parts were in the leather case.  All are marked "U.S."
Any ideas on its intended use?  Should there be any other parts here?     Walt

Received 9/15/2013:
On your Whats-It page, the item pictured at top is a Weed Puller, patent number 1,065,606. It was patented on June 24, 1913.
Thanks Steve.



A friend posted this on facebook. Lots of guesses but no one has positively identified it.  
Critter Creek

Ben C. wrote to ask:

Hi, I found your great site and noticed your whats-it page of mystery tools. I have one that has me stumped, even had the local museum post photos on facebook and no one seems to know. It belongs to my grandfather, and it was his dad's who was a Wisconsin housebuilder active in the 1890s-1920s. What is it?

Any ideas?


Received 9/15/2013

While I was browsing I ran across the “Whats It” section and thought since no one else had responded I would add something. “Ben C. wrote to ask:”

This appears to be an E.C. Atkins floor/utility scraper that is missing its scraper blade. The rounded front swiveled and the blade would slide down and be locked/jambed into place against the horizontal bar by rotating the front piece forward or back. Most of those tools found today will have the front piece frozen in place and will appear as if it never was meant to move. I have one in almost new condition and have yet to get the front piece to move. The maker’s name can sometimes be found cast into the arms but not always. That may also indicate that others may have copied the design and produced them with no markings. The handle on the one pictured is very similar to one made by Atkins.      Mike...

Thank you, Mike.


Received 4/06/2013

The item on your whatsit listing is called a sticking tommy and it was used by coalminers to hold a candle for lighting in the mine.
It could be worn on the cap and when the miner reached his room or work area it could be removed and stuck in the mine wall.
The hook should be turned downward when worn on a cap and when stuck in the wall it would be turned over,
the candle would be reversed and it gave the miner a hook to hang his jacket etc on. Hope this helps.
Bob Johnson
London, Ohio

Thanks Bob




Here is the latest inquiry for this page from J. Farre:
"I have found this in a old tool box. It's marked "crescent" ???   What is it?"


A dealer friend found this and wondered what it may have been used for. 
It certainly looks a bit like a barking spud, but how to handle it?  Any ideas?





Mike Carron writes: Regarding the "Barking Spud". The tool looks like it would have been very handy for stripping wooden shingles or tar and gravel from roofs.
The spade part could get under the shingle and by pushing down on the handle the shingles would pop up. The way the handle is reinforce it would appear
the tool slides flat the way you have it shown and then downward force can be applied to leverage the spade end up. Although the design is different
roofing spuds are still used today. Just my thoughts.   Mike Caron   2/12/12

Thanks, Mike.


I thought about that first whatzit a bit and I have a different idea of it's use.
If it was used with the handle upwards, it would make a good applesauce or molasass (sp?) stirrer in a cauldron.
I've seen eastern Pa. tools of that purpose that have long handles to keep away from the fire; but your friends tool
could do the same task and keep the mix from sticking to the bottom when the fire was hot.
The Pa. tools have essentially the same round paddle end as the one on your site.
Frank Kosmerl

Thanks, Frank.

  I found this item in a plumber's tool chest recently.  It would appear that it is part of a locking device.
There are three layers that rotate.  Any ideas on what it is and what it was used for?   Walt



Ben Smith writes:

The brass disc's you were correct, that is a tumbler set out of a safe, I have one just like it made in 1910.

Thanks, Ben.


Richard sends this protractor,originally (to him) belonging to his grandfather. Intricate markings, perhaps hand stamped, measuring to the tenth of a degree. He writes: "I don't know how clear the picture was for you but looking at the actual tool it is appearent it is handmade yet it has elaborate markings to allow for 10ths of a degree measurements. My grandfather was a carpenter. Most of his tools were from the late 1800's. This tool doesn't seem to fit his work. The best match I can find for such a tool is a machinest protractor but machine tools in the late 1800's weren't really capable of 10th of a degree accuracy. It is ironic that someone would make a handmade protractor with all the obvious and expected roughness of a handmade tool from that era and yet make it to measure a angle to 10th of a degree!"        {Pic #1}




                                                                 Pic #1                                                                                                                                             Pic #2         

May, 2007 - I received this message:

I was looking through your site and came across your “what is it?” It indeed could be a machinist or woodworking tool, but there is another possibility. At an antique show a couple years ago I saw a similar device that was used during the late 1700s as a targeting device for artillery. It was placed on the barrel and in some fashion used to site the cannon. There is enough similarity between your piece and the one I saw to merit research along that line. Good luck!

George Short
Campton, New Hampshire


March 2013 - Second response on this item:

RE: Possible machinist protractor

I have seen devices of similar fashion used in several places, it is an inclinometer of some form. The first thing I notice is that it does not appear to be complete, it looks to attach to another fixture. My first guess is that it is part of either a sextant or an early surveyors transit. I have a book "Complete encyclopedia of Illustration" and here I find similar devices for astronomy, one being a "Reflecting Sextant" and several versions found on telescope mounts. I also recall several versions made of plastic for amateur astronomers.

The other guess about this being an angle guage for artillery is a possibility, however given the apparent age of the device I find it doubtful that cannon of that era would require such precision, they certainly were not capable of that, but I cannot discount it.



March, 2013 - third response:

My grandfather was a carpenter around the turn of the century and I inheirited his old tool box with his tools. I have one of those tools shown in your Whats-it column. I don't know for sure what it is, but he was a carpenter so I always assumed it was a tool to make and replicate exact angles in wood working. I suppose it could be a protractor used in drawing a diagram of something they were going to build.      {Pic #2}

Richard C.

Thanks to all three, George, Dave, and Richard

Bruce writes:

I came across your website on a search for leather tools. As a background, I have a custom leatherworking business
and deal in older leather tools a bit also. I noticed you are looking for DR Barton tools. I have one I picked up
a month or so ago. At first I thought it might have been a tool for making beadlines on leather. The more I look
at it and ask around, I am more inclined to think it is a woodworker's tool. It has a half rounded concave profile
on the bottom and toe of the tool.

I am attaching some pictures of it and would appreciate any insight you might have on it.

Hi Walt,
I just looked at your whatsit site and can help with the DR Barton tool with the wooden handle.
It is a mason's pointing tool. They got hard use and to be made with tool steel was a great asset
when the mason's used it to formed many feet of mortar joints between bricks.
L & I J White also made one that looks identical.

Frank (6/18/2012)

Thanks, Frank

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