In a Lost Art Press blog entry, Christopher Schwartz recounts the story of a labor dispute that took place in Chicago in 1901. It had to do with the patent miter box–an adjustable metal frame used to guide handsaws while making miter cuts. At the time of the dispute, the norm for most carpenters was to use a wood miter box, which was lighter and cheaper but far less accurate than a metal one.

The dispute was over a Carpenter's Union rule that forbade members from bringing their own patent miter boxes to work, on the theory that if one carpenter brought one, pretty soon every carpenter would have to bring one and that would work a hardship on members. Why? Patent miter boxes were more expensive, heavier, and more difficult to transport than wood ones, and likely to be stolen if left overnight on the jobsite (hmm … sounds a lot like modern miter saws).

Testifying before a government official, union carpenter O.E. Woodbury said the union's position was that if the bosses wanted carpenters to use metal miter boxes, they should provide them. The tradition obviously took hold, because it's still more or less the norm on jobsites (both union and non-union) for the employer to provide certain large tools (miter saws, table saws, and the like) for employees to use.

The miter boxes shown on the left side of this page are from the 1904 Millers Falls Catalog (Photos courtesy of the Toolemera Press).