Gensco Chisels

Gensco chisels were made by Eskilstunasteel, a company located in Torshälla, Sweden just a short distance north of Eskilstuna. They were made primarily for export to the United States from around 1948 to the early 1960’s.

Eskilstunasteel has produced chisels since 1936, including the “Eskilstunasteel Garanti” brand and the “Esteel” brand. However, the earliest mention that I have seen of their “Gensco” chisel brand was in the 1946 U.S. wholesaler and dealer price list below.

Gensco 1946 Price List 550px

The company that imported the chisels from Eskilstunasteel in Sweden to the U.S. was the General Steel Warehouse Company Inc., Gensco Tool Division. They were located in Chicago, Illinois — first at 1830 North Kostner Avenue in 1946 and then at 1832 North Kostner Avenue from 1949 on. This company marketed several Swedish hand tools including chisels, Sloyd knives, Mora hunting knives, and Bushman Swedish bow saws. While the Gensco chisels were manufactured and exported by Eskilstunasteel, the other items were made by other Swedish manufacturers.

The first Gensco chisels had very attractive masur (curly) birch handles and came in graduated widths from 1/4″ to 2″. They were tanged and bevelled-edge butt chisels — the only style that was ever ever available in the Gensco brand. Below is a 1948 Popular Mechanics ad showing the newly-introduced chisel.

Gensco Ad - PM a9May 1948 – Popular Mechanics

 The Gensco chisels still had masur birch handles in 1949, according to the Popular Mechanics ad shown below. The chisel illustration  shows a stamp on the front of the blade, but I have never seen a Gensco chisel with a stamp there. It may have just been artistic license.

Gensco Ad - PM a8February 1949 – Popular Mechanics

I really like the looks of the masur birch-handled Gensco chisels. They often used highly-figured and nicely finished masur birch and applied a colorful decal to the handle. Although the chisels were made in Sweden, the decal was printed in the U.S. and likely applied to the chisel handles when they reached the U.S.

Gensco Wood Handle 600px1

Gensco Wood Handle 600px2Gensco Masur Birch-Handled Chisel – Front and Back

The birch-handled Gensco chisels have a steel hoop at the top which is pierced and pinned in place by two small nails. The handles are typically ornate masur birch, although sometimes the birch is on the plain side. Some good examples of the  handle decals can be seen below. The brass ferrules at the base of the handle vary in appearance. Some have medium to coarse vertical knurling on them and some have finer diagonal knurling on them.

Gensco Handles RN 600px1Gensco Wood Handles and Ferrules – Photo Courtesy of Randall Nelson

Here is a close up of the colorful Gensco decal. It reads “MADE IN SWEDEN” | “SUPERIOR GENSCO QUALITY” | “PRINTED IN U. S. A”.

Gensco Handles RN 600px2Gensco Decal – Photo Courtesy of Randall Nelson

 Gensco stamped their brand information on most of their blades. (They etched it on some of the narrower blades.) Here is an example of a Gensco stamp running lengthwise along the chisel blade. The stamp reads “ESKILTUNASTEEL” | “GENSCO” | “MADE IN SWEDEN”.

Gensco Wood H Stamp 1 600px2 Blade Stamp on Birch-Handled Gensco

This blade stamp reads the same as the one above, but runs across the width of this wider blade.

Gensco Wood H Stamp 2 600px1Blade Stamp on Wider Birch-Handled Gensco

Some narrower Gensco blades were etched rather than stamped, as shown below. The stamp reads “ESKILTUNASTEEL” | “MADE IN SWEDEN”.

Gensco Wood H Etch 1 600px1Etched Blade Stamp on Narrow Wood-Handled Gensco

Here is an example of a box used to ship wood-handled Gensco chisels some time between 1946 and 1950. The front of the box shows a masur birch-handled chisel, complete with a steel ring on the top. There are also “Esteel” logos on the paper tape wrapped around the centre of the box.

Gensco Boxes 600px b3

Here is a closer look at one of the “Esteel” logos on the tape.

Gensco Boxes 600px b1

This early box had “GENERAL STEEL WAREHOUSE Co. INC.” | “CHICAGO 39 ILL.” printed below the logo in the upper left corner.

Popular Mechanics ads in the U.S. show that the wood-handled Gensco chisels were replaced by ones with yellow plastic handles in 1950.

According to the ad below, the chisels were available in the 11 sizes from 1/4″ up to 2″. Although not stated in the ad, these sizes included: 1/4″, 5/16″, 3/8″, 1/2″, 5/8″,  3/4″, 7/8″, 1″, 1-1/4″, 1-1/2″, 2″.

 

Gensco Ad - PM a7April 1950 – Popular Mechanics

 A close look at the handle reveals that the printing on the plastic handle says “GENSCO – CHICAGO”. And the stamp on the front of the blade, although blurry, reads “MADE IN SWEDEN”. I think that both of these imprints may have been artistic interpretation only. I have never seen Gensco chisels with those handle or blade imprints. Still, I can’t say with 100% certainty that those imprints don’t exist.

Gensco Ad Label 1 600px a1

I believe that the early handle stamp on the Gensco yellow plastic chisels looks like the one below. It’s printed from the bottom of the chisel handle to the top and reads “SWEDISH <GENSCO logo> STEEL”. I haven’t seen a lot of these handle stamps around and I believe that they were only made sometime between 1950 and 1952.

Gensco Early Label 600px a1Early Gensco handle stamp 

Gensco Early Label 600px a2Closeup of early Gensco handle stamp

By January 1952 the imprint on the Gensco chisel handles had changed. They were now oriented from left to right on the plastic handle and read  <GENSCO logo> | “SWEDISH” | “STEEL”.

Gensco Ad - PM a6January 1952 – Popular Mechanics

 Here is a closeup of the chisel in the above ad.

Gensco Ad Label 1 600px b

Here’s a mint example of the Gensco handle stamp.

Gensco Std Label 350px a

Once again the Popular Mechanics ad above shows “MADE IN SWEDEN” stamped on the chisel blade. I don’t believe that blade stamp stamp was ever used by Gensco. All of the blades stamps on yellow plastic-handled Gensco chisels that I have seen look like the ones shown below.

Gensco Markings 600px c5Gensco 1-1/2″ blade

Gensco Markings 600px c6Gensco 1″ Blade

Gensco Markings 600px c9Gensco 1/4″ blade

By September 1952, Gensco had begun imprinting the chisel’s width on the very top of its chisels.

Gensco Ad - PM a5September 1952 – Popular Mechanics

Imprinting the chisel blade width on the top of the chisels sounds like it might be a good idea. However, the marks were difficult to see since they were just stamped and not filled in with a contrasting color. Also, the mark tended to disappear as the top of the handle got bashed more and more by a steel hammer. The fourth chisel from the left show how the top of the handles would begin to deteriorate when pounded.

Gensco Markings 600px c1

The boxed set of 3 chisels shown in the September 1952 ad above was probably aimed at the Christmas market and was priced at $5.95 east of the Rocky Mountains.

By November 1953, Gensco chisel ads were mentioning that the plastic chisel handles were made from “Tenite”. Tenite is the brand name of the wood-based cellulose plastic (cellulose acetate) developed by the Eastman Chemical Company in 1929.

Gensco Ad - PM a4November 1953 – Popular Mechanics

 Gensco advertisements in Popular Mechanics did not mention any changes or innovations again until April 1957 when two notable things were mentioned: (1) “Tennite II” and (2) the availability of chisel sets in tool pouches and tool rolls.

Gensco Ad - PM a3April 1957 – Popular Mechanics

Gensco chisel handles were now being made of “Tenite II”. Tenite II had the advantage of not being as flammable as Tenite, which is very flammable … don’t ask me how I know 🙂 . Tennite II was also reputed to resist deterioration from use and natural aging better. Tennite II was developed by Eastman Kodak in 1938 and is also known as cellulose acetate butyrate.

The second thing announced was that Gensco chisels were now available in sets of 4, 6, and 11 that came in vinyl-coated pouches and tool rolls.

The Gensco #300-4 chisel pouch contained four chisels in the following sizes: 1/4″, 1/2″, 3/4″, and 1″.

Gensco 300-4 Set 600px a2Closed Gensco #300-4 Four-Piece Tool Pouch

Gensco 300-4 Set 600px a1Open Gensco 300-4 Four-Piece Tool Pouch

 The Gensco #300-6 chisel tool roll contained six chisels in the following sizes: 1/4″, 1/2″, 3/4″, 1″, 1-1/4″, 1-1/2″.

Gensco 300-6 Set 600px a2Gensco 300-6  Six-Piece Tool Roll

Gensco 300-6 Set 600px a3Unrolled Gensco 300-6  Six-Piece Tool Roll

Gensco 300-6 Set 600px a1Open Gensco 300-6  Six-Piece Tool Roll

The Gensco #300-11 tool roll included all 11 Gensco chisels in the following sizes: 1/4″, 5/16″, 3/8″, 1/2″, 5/8″,  3/4″, 7/8″, 1″, 1-1/4″, 1-1/2″, 2″.

Gensco 300-11 Set 600px a1Open Gensco 300-11 Eleven Piece Tool Roll

In additon to tool pouches and rolls, the yellow-handled Gensco chisels were also shipped in boxes. Below is an example of minty Gensco chisels and the box they came in. Unlike the box shown previously for the wood-handled Gensco chisels, this one has “GENSCO TOOL DIV.” and “1830 N. KOSTNER AVE.” below the Gensco logo in the upper left corner instead of “GENERAL STEEL WAREHOUSE Co. INC.”.

Gensco Boxes 600px b2

Most Gensco boxes for the plastice-handled chisels are more likely to look like the worn one below. The chisels still look pretty nice, though.

Gensco Boxes 600px a1

This label was inside the box and shows the complete range of sizes for all 11 Gensco chisels.

Gensco Boxes 600px a2

Below is the last Popular Mechanics ad that I’ve been able to find for Gensco chisels. It was run in February 1958. I assume that it was one of the last ones run by the General Steel Warehouse Company Inc. since Eskilstunasteel was bought out by Bahco in 1959.

Gensco Ad - PM a1February 1958 – Popular Mechanics

The Gensco chisel brand seemed to survive for only a short while after the 1959 buyout by Bahco, although some odd and interesting variations showed up before they disappeared.

Below is an unusual A. B. Bahco version of Gensco chisels that were produced in the very early 1960’s. In addition to showing the A. B. Bahco name on the upper left corner of the box lid, the name and address below the Gensco logo now reads: “General Swedish Hdwe. Corp.” | “1161 McCabe Ave.” | “Elk Grove, Ill. 60007”. Prior to the Bacho buyout, the U.S. Distributor for Gensco chisels was the General Steel Warehouse Company Inc., Gensco Tool Division located in Chicago,  Illinois. I presume that the General Swedish Hardware Corporation was Bahco’s distributor in the U.S.

Gensco Jern Berg 1960s5Lid of  Bahco’s Gensco Chisel Box

Gensco Jern Berg 1960s6Left Side of Bahco’s Gensco Chisel Box

While still sporting the familiar Gensco logo on the plastic handle, the blade is etched (not stamped) with Jernbolaget trademark and associated information: “1030”  “1/4″ 5mm”  <Jernbolaget logo> “SWEDEN”. The four chisels in the box all bear the same blade stamp.

Gensco Jern Berg 1960s8

Here is a closer look of one of the Bahco-Gensco chisels showing the front, back, and blade etch.

Gensco Jern Berg 1960s1Bahco-Gensco chisel – Front

Gensco Jern Berg 1960s2Bahco-Gensco chisel – Back

Gensco Jern Berg 1960s3Bahco-Gensco chisel – Jernbolaget Blade Etch

 Initially, I was puzzled to see  “1030” etched on the blades of these chisels. I was familiar with “1030” as part of the E.A. Berg chisel numbering convention. (1030 was the number Berg used to identify butt firmer chisels with beveled sides.) Recently, I learned through a Jernbolaget catalog that Jernbolaget used “1030” to identify their butt firmer chisels with beveled sides as well.

I’m not certain of the exact date when Gensco chisels were phased out by Bacho, but current research points to the early 1960’s. It does not seem that Bahco was keen to continue marketing and selling the Gensco chisel line under the Bahco name.

Summary

1936 – Eskilstunasteel of Torshälla Sweden began operations, producing chisels, as well as other hand tools and edge tools.

1946 – Gensco chisels are imported from Sweden into the U.S. and distributed by the General Steel Warehouse Company Inc., Gensco Tool Division of Chicago, Illinois. The first Gensco chisels were tanged, bevelled-edged, butt chisels with masur (curly) birch handles. They were available in sizes from 1/4″ to 1/2″. The steel hoops at the top of the chisel were pierced with two holes and held in place by two nails. The brass ferrules at the base of the handles have a variety of knurling on them including coarse vertical, medium vertical, and fine right diagonal. The blade stamps read “ESKILTUNASTEEL” | “GENSCO” | “MADE IN SWEDEN”. The blade etches on the narrower chisels read “ESKILTUNASTEEL” | “MADE IN SWEDEN”. The decal on the birch handle reads “MADE IN SWEDEN” | “SUPERIOR GENSCO QUALITY” | “PRINTED IN USA”.

Gensco Wood Handle 600px1
1950 – Wood handled Gensco chisels were replaced by ones with yellow plastic handles. The yellow plastic handles were described as “unbreakable machined plastic”. The chisel blades were the same as before, but were covered in plastic to protect their sharp edge. Chisel widths came in 11 sizes, including: 1/4″, 5/16″, 3/8″, 1/2″, 5/8″,  3/4″, 7/8″, 1″, 1-1/4″, 1-1/2″, 2″. I believe that the Gensco label stamped on these early plastic-handled chisels ran from the bottom of the handle to the top and read “SWEDISH <GENSCO logo> STEEL”.

Gensco Early Label 600px a1

1952 (January) – The imprint on the Gensco chisel handles was changed. They were now oriented from left to right on the plastic handle and read  <GENSCO logo> | “SWEDISH” | “STEEL”.

Gensco Std Label 350px a

1952 (September) – Gensco began to stamp the chisel width on the top of the plastic handle. These stamps were hard to see and they tended to disappear when the chisels took a hard pounding with a steel hammer.

Gensco Width Imprint a1 600px

1953 (November) – Gensco ads stated that the plastic chisel handles were made from “Tenite”. Tenite is the brand name of the wood-based cellulose plastic (cellulose acetate) developed by the Eastman Chemical Company in 1929. It’s not clear if Tenite replaced the yellow plastic used previously for handles, or if it was used from the start.

1957 (April) – Gensco ads announced that the chisel handles were now being made of “Tenite II”. Tenite II was less flammable than Tenite and was also reputed to resist deterioration from use and natural aging better. Tennite II was developed by Eastman Kodak in 1938 and is also known as cellulose acetate butyrate.

1957 (April) – Gensco tool pouches and tool rolls are advertised in sets of four (#300-4), six (#300-6), and eleven (300-11).

1959 – Eskilstunasteel, the manufacturer of Gensco chisels, was bought out by Bahco.

Early 1960’s – Gensco chisels ceased to be manufactured and sold.

7 comments on “Gensco Chisels
  1. Randall Nelson says:

    So the Gensco brand only had a 12 year run, with possibly only two years of wood handle production? What a short window of opportunity. No wonder the nice wooden handles are so rare! Many of the Gensco plastic handles I have seen are very orange- do you think that is because of UV action or was one style of plastic more likely to turn orange over time? Thanks for all this info- you’ve done a lot of research on this post. You must have looked at the ads in the back of every issue of Popular Mechanics from 1945 to 1965. Great job!

    • Birch says:

      Thanks, Randall. I did look a a lot of old Popular Mechanics magazines before writing that article. 🙂

      Yes, the wooden-handled Gensco’s are really attractive and were only available for a short while.

      The early plastic Gensco chisels seemed to deteriorate and turn orange worse than the later ones. I believe that’s because Eskilstunasteel eventually changed the formulation for the plastic handles from cellulose acetate to cellulose butyrate.

  2. Randall Nelson says:

    Two things that you mention that I have never noticed- Gensco chisels with Beech wood handles and the sizes stamped onto the tops of the plastic handles. I’ll have to look more closely at some of my oldies and see what I find.

  3. TKL says:

    Very impressive.

  4. Randall Nelson says:

    Here is another observation: the Gensco dealer ad you show, for 1946, illustrates longer bladed beveled firmer style chisels, but then the next ad, for 1948, shows only butt style chisels. I have one long blade Gensco with an original wood handle. It is the only one I have ever seen and I am guessing it is probably from that very early post-war era, when Eskilstunasteel first put their Gensco brand chisels on the market in America.

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