Wolfgang Jordan
Stempel auf Weiss-Hobeleisen

Firmengeschichte Joh. Weiss & Sohn, Wien
History of the Austrian Toolmaker Joh. Weiss & Son, Vienna

Deutsch Der folgende Text ist als Einführung enthalten im Nachdruck eines Werkzeugkataloges von Joh. Weiss & Sohn, Wien, aus dem Jahr 1909 (Näheres siehe hier).

English This text has been published as an introduction to the reprint of the 1909 tool catalog of Joh. Weiss & Son, Vienna/Austria (see details).


The present reprint of the 1909 tool catalog of JOH. WEISS & SOHN will introduce many collectors to the woodworking practices of Central Europe for the first time. At that time the use of hand tools had declined drastically in the United States, but many of the old methods were still being employed in Austria. On Page 55 is a wooden square (No. 275) which hardly differs from one illustrated by Moxon in 1677, and on Page 90 Weiss offers goose wing axes and twybills! The hand saw was slow to catch on there and frame saws were preferred by many carpenters and joiners.

In contrast to the Weiss catalogs of 1870 and 1873, the 1909 issue offered many foreign imports. Most numerous were the Stanley planes and English Ward's and Addis's chisels and gouges. The French Goldenberg (Eye) and Peugeot Freres (Lion/arrow) brands were also well represented, as were other American brands including the "Yankee" screwdriver.

Austrian planes are often very different from their English and American counterparts. Most of us know the horn plane, still standard in European hardware stores, but here you will find planes with two fences and three screw arms! We have the snipesbill for cleaning up mouldings; Weiss also offered a variety of planes with specially cut profiles for cleaning up window sash and other work. There was no boxing, although it is used by Weiss today. Some planes had bone soles and the finest had lignum vitae soles dovetailed and glued by a special process.

JOH. WEISS & SOHN is one of the world's oldest planemakers still in existence, founded in 1820 by a Bavarian carpenter named Johann Baptist Weiss who emigrated to Vienna in 1809. Until that time Austrian artisans had been making their own planes. Weiss was succeeded by his son J.B. Weiss, Jr., a very modern merchant who was using market analysis and time studies before 1850. To promote exports he competed in the great 19th Century Expositions, notably in London in 1851, in Paris, in St. Petersburg (Leningrad), and in 1879 in Australia. The Weiss factory was heavily damaged in 1945 and no records remain of exports to the United States. The present owner R. Johann Baptist Weiss believes they started about 1850, and several planes in this country seem to bear this out. I have in my possession two recent rabbet planes. One has the imprint of a hot iron on the upper left corner: "JOH. WEISS & SOHN WIEN/(Austrian eagle and a C-clamp)/SOLE AGENTS/JORDAN HARDWARE CORP./NEW YORK USA. AUSTRIA". (see also my page about Jordan tools) This appears to be from the period just before 1914. The other was bought new in a New York hardware store about 1965. The logo, on a metal button sunk into the upper left corner, reads "JOH. WEISS & SOHN/GEGRÜNDET (founded)/ (C-clamp)/ 1820/WIEN (Vienna)". In its 150th Anniversary Jubilee statement in 1970 Weiss reported that exports now amount to about 40% of its business.

In 1911 Weiss took over the firm of D.FLIR VORM. FRANZ WERTHEIM ("Vorm." means previously), a manufacturer of plane irons and steel tools. Until then Weiss had bought its plane irons from the firm of HERMAN, whose name appears on many Weiss irons above the Weiss logo and below the double eagle which signifies Weiss's appointment as an official supplier to the old Austrian Royal and Imperial Empire. In 1914 Weiss employed some 600 workers. After the collapse of the AustroHungarian Empire in 1918 most of its former domestic markets lay in the present countries of Czecho-Slovakia, Hungary and Yugoslavia. In the 1930's Weiss met this problem by diversifying into garden tools and skis, using the trade name "LORD". During World War II nine bombs fell on the main plant and in 1945 there was a disastrous fire. Shortly afterward the occupying troops, presumably the Russians, barely failed in their attempt to blow up the old Flir factory. However, there was an enormous demand for tools to rebuild devastated Vienna. The company expanded into schoolroom furniture and then kitchen cabinets, continuing a much reduced line of hand tools. As R. Johann Baptist Weiss, IV, great-great-grandson of the founder, says, "Tradition is fine for a company, but it is not a free pass into the future."

We are very much indebted to the following members of the Early American Industries Association for identifying various obscure tools and for their suggestions as to format, etc.

Robert C. Alberts
Frederick A. Shippey
Dan Comerford
Vern Ward
Herman Freedman
Anne Wing
Elliot M. Sayward

I also want to thank Philip Walker of Needham Market, England for his assistance with several items in the text whose meanings had eluded me, and Raymond R. Townsend for his considerable help and support, especially in supplying the following clarification of the vinegar chip plane (Page 40) from Knight's American Mechanical Dictionary:

"Wine-vinegar is made - principally in France - from inferior wines and grape refuse. The liquid is clarified by straining through a tun filled with beechwood chips. The process occupies several weeks."

Seth W. Burchard

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Author: Wolfgang Jordan
Last update: 12/09/2015