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TM reader Jim sent us a photo of this unidentified tool which he suspects is a “blacksmith’s bullet mold that didn’t turn out. Maybe a bullet mold blank?” My first thought is that he’s probably at least partially right. Its long handles, bent-tapered-rod construction, and hinge design clearly identify it as a blacksmith’s tool.

It could just be a very specific pair of pliers, though. The advantage to making your own tools is that you can make them for whatever task you commonly perform; maybe the maker wanted to get a slightly better purchase on something thin and flat.

The little triangle (and possibly the wedged line next to it) are likely what blacksmiths call a “touchmark” — a symbol that each ‘smith designs to sign his or her work.

Thoughts from some of our blacksmithing Toolmongers?


46 Responses to Questionmonger: What Is This Tool?

  1. blitzcat says:

    I remember using a very similar plastic variety to make snowballs.

  2. Sean Stoughton says:

    A few thoughts on these from a working blacksmith:

    – The box hinge makes me think that either this was made to always have the two jaws line up no matter what punishment it received, or it was done for decorative purposes

    -The level of finishing, specifically the lack of any hammer marks and the care taken in filling the jaws and hinge, tells me that this is not a blank. If you were going to use it as one, you would not worry about the finishing details, as the jaws would have to be forged again anyway.

    -Though the handles are fairly plain, they line up exactly at the top, which may indicate that they were made for use in a home, not in a workshop.

    -The shape of the handles, specifically the curved over hand guards, tells me that this is not a pair of forge tongs. That, along with the size, suggests to me that this is something that is meant to be open and closed one handed.

    -It may have been originally part of a set

    -The jaws resemble farrier tongs, but are too smooth and flat, and line up exactly with each other when closed, leaving no room for material to be held in, unless it was sheet metal.

    -Its blacksmith made, but not necessarily meant for a blacksmith to use. It may have been made for another tradesman.

    -The angles of the arms leave a lot of room for the tongs to be squeezed, but the handles look fairly thin if the whole thing is 9″ long, so it might not be able to take enormous amounts of pressure.

    -Arms shaped like that would not sit easily on a tong rack, but would be better to leave on a bench or tool table. Another indication that it might not be a forge tool.

    Well, that’s all I’ve got for now. Good luck all!

    • Mackenzie says:

      Vary good observations, I’m glad I’m not the only blacksmith reading this site!

      One other thing that seems odd is the large amount of martial right in the tip of the jaws. One of the reasons I have seen for a heavy amount of material like this is heat retention. A thick piece of metal will hold heat longer than thin. Perhaps the end is heated and then it is squeezed onto something to heat the object in a selective area.

  3. Rob Fertner says:

    This is not a blacksmith tool. I’m a blacksmith, also. Many years ago when I came across something very similar, I was told it was a small fabric press. The end was heated and it was used to remove wrinkles from the frilly part of an old style dresses. Simliar in principle to sad irons. A blacksmith may of made it, but it’s not a shop tool.

    • Chuck says:

      I think you’re spot on. The jaws are clearly meant to grab something thin, and either apply or remove heat.

  4. MarkT says:

    I am thinking along the lines of an embossing blank. Like you squeeze it onto a page of paper with one hand then strike it with a hammer with the other. It is clearly meant to be used one handed and the head has some mass for some reason, either to be struck or to hold heat. My first guess was that you heated it to emboss a wax seal but I think it is more likely a blank to emboss a raised seal.

  5. Bob says:

    Dixie Gun Works had bullet molds similar to this, catalog copy said that they were made from hair straightening tongs. Heat the tongs and squeeze the hair to straighten.
    Here is a link in their online catalog

  6. Mrten says:

    Completely (well, a bit) unrelated question: how does one *make* such a hinge? I’ve got a few cable snippers that have that hinge type and I’ve always been stumped by the hinge design.

  7. Wayne W says:

    I believe that’s a pair of rivet tongs. They were used to pick red hot rivets out of a fire and throw them to a riveting team building the framework of the skyscrapers built in the early 20th century. See the first 45 seconds of this YouTube video for them in action…

  8. Rob Fertner says:

    Wayne W, the rivet tongs in the video had straight handles and a different jaw. They don’t match the item posted on this site. Rivet tongs are still used in blacksmithing, usually to hold round stock instead of rivets. Sorry, but you’re way off on this one.

  9. Rob Fertner says:

    Mrten, there’s a youtube video about forging this type of hinge joint at:
    It’s titled ” Pliers fixing “

  10. Gil says:

    Very old equine dentistry pliers.

  11. Travis says:

    My grandmother had these. A hairdressing tool from the late 1800’s. Heated, they set curls in hair – those big curls once popular on the side of a face.

  12. Mr. Man says:

    looks similar to a lentil tool used in the glass making process.

  13. jroadrunner says:

    Maybe kitchen tool,neighbor lady (87 yrs. old) sez it was used for making stuffed dough, like raviolies,to throw in a fryer.

  14. jroadrunner says:

    it sure is a heavy meatball maker!

    • Chris says:

      Many of you are not seeing that the ball shape is NOT hollow, but is solid and can not scoop anything to make snowballs or meatballs.
      I have heard that this tool was heated and used to “iron” ruffles or ribbon as mentioned earlier.

  15. pete says:

    a friend uses a similar tool in glass work to make paperweights, you heat the glass on a rod, and roll it while squeezing the tongs lightly to make a clean sphere

  16. browndog77 says:

    I believe Bob is on the right track w/ his link to Dixie gun works. Their catalogue lists a “mold – no cavity” but doesn’t explain the intended use. I would guess the idea is to enable the customizing of projectiles for hand-made weaponry.

  17. Michael W says:

    It’s not a glassblowing tool. My wife and I ran a glassblowing studio for over a decade.

  18. Brad Justinen says:

    @ Rob Fertner
    thanks for posting the video. very cool. ….video is from Pakistan btw.

  19. Daniel says:

    I almost want to say horseshoe tongs, but as tightly as the faces meet up I’m leaning toward bar stock or sheet metal tongs

    I’m fairly certain these wouldn’t be hair tongs, typically hair anything are long, to affect as much surface area as possible in a draw, these are too small to be useful, almost as if you were attempting to frost a cake with a baby spoon.

    The size of the heads would certainly lend toward a substantial amount of heat applied for some time in a concentrated area if these were heated prior, perhaps some sort of laminating or sealing tool?

    Or maybe tinsmith seeming tongs? would certainly do the job

  20. Aleksejs says:

    Could it be a heatsink of some sort – you grab sheet so that heat from welding/soldering does not propagate further?

  21. Ben says:

    That’s got to be some sort of an iron for flattening or even cauterizing. Maybe leather working? There isn’t any clearance for embossing… Piano Key Easing pliers? Something to do with felt?

  22. Glassblower says:

    I’m a glassblower. It’s almost certainly not a glassblowing tool.

  23. Mike47 says:

    Instrument of torture. Use your imagination.

  24. Mike Larson says:

    It could be an an ancient tool used by angry wives to demasculate their men. Thus the terms such as “Does you wife have ….in the pickle jar?” etc.

  25. Brian Forsyth says:

    I think it is a sheet metal bead straightener I can be clamped onto sheet metal when fixing or building cars or carriages and the thick ends can be tapped on with the body mallets.

  26. Lesley Edwards says:

    I’m afraid all the answers so far are wrong. These are a very old hair curling tongs used in wig making. A length of hair is tightly rolled into a curl using fine tissue paper to wrap round the hair to protect it. The tongs are heated and then the curl held between the flat discs and the tongs pulled together tightly and a neat tight curl of hair results. I have illustrations of these from the 18th century and own a similar pair of tongs.

  27. Lesley Edwards says:

    Slight amendment to my answer above saying everyone was wrong. Apologies to Travis’s who’s answer of 23rd July was quite correct in describing it as a hairdressing tool!

  28. Lesley Edwards says:

    Me again. Does anyone know what a mid 18th century cauterising iron looked like????

  29. Tony says:

    First, a clue: a blacksmith would most likely not make a pair of tongs that can’t be dropped quickly in case of emergency. With the handles wrapping around, it would be more difficult to drop those if needed.

    I have the unique position of having worked as a blacksmith, knowing what that is from seeing their use in historical re-enactment, and owning one that has been converted into a bullet mold.

    It is a hair straightening iron. The one I have is french made. They don’t make the best bullet molds, as without alignment pins, they tend to work loose. the metal handles also do heat up and become uncomfortable, even with gloves. And without a sprue plate to cut the excess lead, you have extra steps in the process, and get less than consistent results.

  30. Thomas Quinn says:


    Medieval re-enactor, smith (armor) and leather worker.

    Whatever it was intended for, with those shallow-concave faces, I’d use it as a rivet set.

    If you made one with a 12-14 inch reach on the jaws, you could work your way along the strake rivets while building your longship without dropping your punch and/or hand hardie all the time.


  31. Graeme says:

    Both Travis and Lesly Edwards are right, they are an early 18/19th century hairdresser’s tool called “pinching” irons. I think that they were used on both wigs and living hair! W & C Winn and R Timmins of Birmingham England show them in their respective Pattern books of 1820 and 1840, along with a large range of other hairdressing tools.

  32. Mike Wilson says:

    I don’t think it could be for making glass beads. Glass pressed between these would have a wedge shape. There would be a gap if it were made to flatten hot glass. And it would not be a cost effective tool. a press or roller would be better suited.

  33. Brittany Osborne says:

    I was trying to find out what a tool almost identical to this one was… and I finally have come to a conclusion. It is a “hair pinching tool” or “hair pinching iron” just as Graeme said. I got confirmation from the company C.S. Osborne & Co. (who produced the product) that it is a pinching iron used for hair. I do have a copy of a page from their order book that verifies this, only I don’t know how to post it on here. Hope that helps you, too!

  34. Ram Cnaan says:

    In Ronald S. Barlow’s book, Victorian Houseware, Hardware and Kitchenware (1992, Dover Publications) it appears on p. 359 and it is labeled as “pinching irons.” Pinching
    irons were used to curl hair. It is likely that both functions of this tool were used by different users.

    It was also used as Buttonhole Iron. To iron the area where the cloth was embroidered and then cut to allow the button to go through.

  35. Mary Ann says:

    this is a dixie gun works blank pellet mold. I work at a historic park.

  36. Philip Mitchell graham says:

    I collect plier action tools and have two Dixie mould blanks similar to this. The best pair of hair tongs I’ve ever seen had folding wooden handles.

    Both my Dixie moulds have improvised wound twine insulation on the finger holes. They came from different union states but look like they came out of the same workshop. The handles are filthy. Clearly not used for human hair. My guess is it was some sort of farm application.

    I conclude these tools were widely used for several purposes beyond the intent of their manufacturer. This is an example of a ‘folk application’ for a tool. Worthy of further investigation.

  37. Greg Theberge says:

    Leslie is absolutely correct. They are hairdressing irons, for pressing hair, usually with papers.

  38. jeroen says:

    I have the same tool….
    It isn’t really a “tool” It is a curling iron (a really old one)

    Today i askedmy parents wath it was earlier today!!!

    (sorry for bad english)

  39. jolynn self says:

    I agree with rob. My great grandmother had one that I now have. Did not know what she would be doing with a tool like that. Small iron makes sense. Hers has material rapped around the handles.

  40. jolynn self says:

    Just read the hair dressing tool. That makes sense too for my great aunt owned her own beauty shop. Thanks. …

  41. william noble says:

    I have this exact tool. I inquired from C.S.Osborne to see if they could identify it for me. they sent me a page from a very old catalog. that tool appears on page 22 of this old catalog and is described as “312 hair pinching irons”. The fellow from C.S.Osborne thought it might be for horse hair. I tend to agree that it is for human hair. The mass at the end of the tool is to hold heat so it can do its job.

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