Antique Tool Market: Crescent Muscle Machine

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This article is from Issue 6 of Woodcraft Magazine.

J.M. marston & Co.’s foot- and hand-powered bandsaw appears in this Advertisement in The Official Journal Of The Brotherhood Of Carpenters And Joiners, Aug. 1, 1892.

What was the most powerful machine in the woodshop at the dawn of the 20th century? In the case of this bandsaw, it all depended on how much the shop owner worked out. 

By Dana Martin Batory

Crescent Muscle Machine

the famous crescent machine co. of Leetonia, Ohio, was formed in 1893 when machinists Clinton G. Wilderson and Elmer Harrold rented a small machine shop in Columbiana, Ohio. To make ends meet they offered to build or fix anything. Business was good. 

The following year, a Columbiana publication carried this announcement: “We wish to inform our friends that co-partnership relations have been entered into by Elmer Harrold, F.G. Grove and C.G. Wilderson, for the establishing of a manufacturing machine shop, under the firm name of the Crescent Machine Co.” Within a week of their announcement the Leetonia Board of Trade lured them away with a donated plot of land.

One early customer needed a bandsaw blade to fit a machine he had designed and built for himself. Although none of them had ever made a blade, they agreed to try. After some experimentation they discovered a suitable welding compound (which they kept secret).

Wilderson and Harrold were so impressed with the bandsaw that they modified the design and began manufacturing bandsaws about 1898, quickly followed by a complete line of woodworking machinery.

They incorporated the company in 1905, followed by a new factory built just a few feet outside Leetonia’s corporation limits. 

The earliest appearance of Crescent’s hand- and foot-powered 20" bandsaw I’ve found was in their first catalog issued in 1903, although the machine may have appeared in brochures or advertisements earlier. The catalog uses no catchphrases such as “new” or “innovative” or “introducing,” so we can’t rule out earlier production.

There had been at least one previous manually powered bandsaw, but whether Wilderson and Harrold knew of its existence is unknown. J.M. Marston & Co., Boston, Mass., manufactured an iron-framed model as early as 1892. Their machine featured machine-cut gears, rubber-covered wheels, a tilting table and a blade-tensioning device, handling material up to 6" thick.

crescent’s 20" foot- and hand-powered bandsaw in the 1903 catalog.

Extolling the virtues

“In this day of machinery, engines, motors, etc.,” noted the 1903 catalog, “it would seem that foot-power machinery would become unpopular, but such is really not the case. It is true that persons who have always been accustomed to run their machinery by power, would not easily be convinced of the advantages of foot-power machinery, but to the thousands of mechanics who are still doing their work by hand, and who will continue to do it that way, the foot-power band saw will prove an invaluable machine, and will be so far in advance of hand work that those who can be induced to give them a trial, would not easily be induced to do without same thereafter.”

Crescent used the same materials and exercised the same care in construction as it did in its 32", 36" and 38" production bandsaws. The iron, hollow-core frame was cast in one piece, assuring a rigid, solid machine. The base was arched in the middle to make the machine sit firmly even on slightly uneven floors, without the tendency to rock as would a continuous base. The arched base also allowed quick cleanup, and the use of a pry bar if the machine needed to be shifted.

Like all Crescent bandsaws, it had cast iron wheels which were carefully turned inside and outside of the rim, and properly balanced. Solid rubber tires of high quality were vulcanized to the wheel faces by a process guaranteed to hold them securely.

“The range of work, and the rapidity with which it can be done on one of these small machines, is a constant source of surprise and wonder to those who are not familiar with them,” stated the catalog. “They are suited to parties having light work, and light power, or light work and heavy power, or who have any kind of work and no kind of power.”

the hand- and foot-powered 20" Crescent bandsaw with features highlighted, in the 1921 catalog.

The bandsaw had a round, steel guide bar and a 20" x 24" tilting table of laminated hardwood strips reinforced with an iron rib. Because blade tension wasn’t necessary, no spring mechanism was required. The throat allowed a cut 19" wide, with a depth-of-cut of 7" under the guide. 

Three variations were available – a belt-powered machine (weighing 275 lbs. and costing $50), a foot-powered version (325 lbs./$60), and a dual foot- and belt-powered model (350 lbs./$65). In addition to double treadles, each was also provided with a crank on a gear wheel for a second man to turn for heavy work.

“Special attention is directed to the double treadles provided on our machines,” boasted the catalog. “This arrangement gives the operator an advantage possessed by no other style of treadle. To use this kind of treadle, the operator is to sit on a high stool and by the use of both feet, it will be found that about double the power will be developed than when one foot only is used, and at the same time be less tiring to the operator. Should it, however, be necessary or desirable to stand while running the machine with one foot, there is nothing to hinder doing so. The treadles are so arranged that both have exactly the same leverage and either one may be used separately. If a bicycle needs two pedals to make it of any utility, why not apply the same logic to any foot-powered machine? The reason is obvious. When two treadles are employed there is always one on the down stroke, and the machine does not need to carry itself on the up stroke by its own momentum, consequently an even and powerful motion is produced. Anyone who may be skeptical on this point can easily be convinced by arranging for a machine on trial.” 

Standard equipment consisted of wooden surface guides, a brazing clamp and tongs, and one ¼" blade set that was filed and joined. The bandsaw required blades 121" long and could handle blades up to 1" wide. The powered model required a 3" belt and it was suggested the 7" pulleys operate at 350-450 rpm.

treadle mechanism on crescent’s 26" bandsaw in the 1903 catalog. Note the lack of gear mechanism and hand crank.

Bigger and bolder

A larger and more robust 26" model with a spring blade-tensioning device was available as belt powered (500 lbs./$80) or foot- and belt-powered (550 lb./$90). Unlike the 20" machine, no gearing was necessary since the wheels were large enough to give sufficient blade speed. On the foot-powered model the lower wheel was made extra heavy to act as a flywheel.

The upper shaft revolved in a bearing 1" in diameter, 6" long; the lower bearing was also l”, but was 10-1/2” long. The belt shifter was on the side of the machine under the table. The cast iron table tilted to any angle up to 45 degrees with a quick-acting locking device and an accurate scale. The guide bar was of hexagonal steel.

Though all three models were available, Crescent would always ship the belt-powered machine unless specified otherwise. For best results it suggested a stool 28" to 30" high be used. The foot-powered 26" bandsaw was also still available.

By 1916 a spring blade-tensioning device had been added. The foot-hand 20" bandsaw disappeared sometime between 1922 and 1924. The 1925 Catalog featured a similar model with a built-in electric motor.

In 1920, Crescent’s molders struck for higher wages and union recognition, causing a lockout that lasted for weeks. An agreement was finally reached, and wages were reluctantly raised slightly, but there was no recognition of the union.

Up against the future

Elmer Harrold retired in 1921 and sold his shares to nephew R.C. Harrold, who became treasurer. (Wilderson was president.) The younger Harrold was to have paid his uncle from profits, a fairly wise move, but due to Crescent’s gradual decline, Uncle Elmer supposedly received very little money from his nephew.

Wilderson died in 1931, and the remaining owners struggled over the next decade to make Crescent a thriving business again. WW II gave it a brief shot in the arm, but in 1945 Pittsburgh Equitable Meter and Manufacturing Co. – later Rockwell Mfg. Co. – bought the still financially troubled company to create the Crescent Power Tool Division.

Labor troubles in 1953 caused Rockwell to close the plant and sell the manufacturing rights to Crescent’s production machines such as the 8", 12" and 16" jointers, the 18" and 24" planers, and the 36" bandsaw. Rockwell moved the production of  a few units, such as the light-duty 20" bandsaw and the 12"-14" table saws, to their other two plants to be sold under the Delta name.

The author would very much like to hear from any owners of the Crescent foot- and hand-powered bandsaw concerning its design and practicality.

Dana Martin Batory

Formerly a geologist, Dana Martin Batory is a cabinetmaker who runs a one-man shop (filled with antique machines) in Crestline, Ohio. He is the author of “Vintage Woodworking Machinery: An Illustrated Guide to Four Manufacturers, Volume II” published by Astragal Press.

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