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Millers Falls Langdon Star Miter Box

June 4, 2015

Before he invented the iconic Langdon Acme Miter Box, William Parsons, an employee of the Millers Falls tool company, created a light-weight “miter machine” (so called because it wasn’t very box-like). Patented in 1902, it was marketed as the Star Mitre Box.

Millers Falls Miter Machine

Millers Falls Miter Machine

This early invention of Parsons was significantly smaller than the typical wooden and cast iron miter boxes commonly found in shops at that time. It was also more rugged, lacking the fragile legs you often find broken (and then brazed) on older miter boxes. Millers Falls promoted this combination of durability and portability in their marketing, claiming you could even use it to cut cornice moulding while standing atop a ladder!

1904 Advertisement of the Star Mitre Box No 40

1904 Advertisement of the Star Mitre Box No 40

In 1907, they released an upgraded version of the tool. This newer version featured a tilting saw guide, giving you the ability to make compound miter cuts. The earlier version is referred to as the Star Mitre Box No. 40 in old tool catalogs I’ve seen, while the latter version is referred to as the No. 41.

Star Mitre Box No. 41 Advertisement

Star Mitre Box No. 41 Advertisement

I recently acquired my example of this tool while searching for who-knows-what on my favourite auction site. At first, I passed over it without a second thought, my mind on other things. But five minutes later, I had a “wait a second…’ moment as my brain finally kicked in and I’d realized what it was.

Langdon Millers Falls Logo

Langdon Millers Falls Logo

Having read about it before on OldToolHeaven (which is also where I got some of the information used in this post), I knew it was the precursor to the Langdon Miter Box. I also knew I’d never seen one before, either in a collection or for sale. Frantically, I retraced my searches (not always an easy thing) and, finding it once more, took a longer look.

The Star of the Star Miter Box

The Star of the Star Miter Box

It didn’t take another five minutes for me to decide the seller didn’t really know what they were selling (the BIN was under $30, with free shipping) or to conclude that I wanted to get it and study it more closely. Honestly, I also thought it might prove useful in my shop. I seem to do just as much work with construction-grade lumber as I do with dimensional lumber, but I hate lugging my miter box around the house and garage and I hate carrying the lumber down to the shop to use the miter box. I don’t think I’ll ever find myself cutting cornice moulding while standing atop a ladder, but I could see it earning its keep.

It arrived in the post in short order and the next time I was able to get into the shop, I disassembled it and began removing 100+ years of grime and gunk. There was a fair amount of japanning loss, but it still looked to retain maybe 75%; not bad for a tool designed to see use outside the shop.

The Millers Falls Langdon Mitre Box No. 40

The Millers Falls Langdon Mitre Box No. 40

In disassembling it, I quickly discovered it was adjustable! Of course it is! You can’t rely on a factory setting to remain true for the life of the tool, can you? The two screws on either side of the sliding pin that locks the fence in position can be adjusted with great precision. A notch in the fence plate allows you to set the fence to 90 degrees. Additional notches on either side of the center notch are presets for 22.5, 30, and 45 degree cuts.

Detail of Presets

Detail of Presets

The guide that holds the plate is designed to work with full-sized, panel, and back saws. As long as you have a big enough saw plate that it can stay in the guide and still cut to the depth you need, it should work. I made test cuts with a full-sized D-8, a D-8 panel saw, and my Bad Axe 20’ miter saw; all performed well, though of course my Bad Axe miter saw excelled at the task.

Using the No 40

Using the No 40

The Star Miter Box isn’t perfectly balanced that it would sit on its own, so I chanced using some double-sided tape on the back of the fence with the lighter panel saw for the stand-alone pictures. I didn’t want to risk the miter box falling with the heavier saws; even just a few feet off of a cork floor, I’d rather not drop and damage it before owning it less than a month. And, of course, I didn’t want to damage my saws, either!

A square cut right off the saw; tail courtesy of Oliver the Cat

A square cut right off the saw; tail courtesy of Oliver the Cat

As you can see, it made a perfectly square cut with almost no effort on my part. Oh, yes, I can see this being used in my house.

I spent a little time practicing my Google-fu to see who else on the interwebz had an example of one of these miter box guide thingys. Interestingly enough, I was only able to track down one other person, Mark van Roojen, who has posted anything on the internet. I sent Mark an e-mail and we exchanged some thoughts and discussion on our highly unusual items.

Whereas I have the original Star Miter Box, he has the 1907 version (which has “No. 41” cast into the main body). He had an interesting story about acquiring his – he first saw it at a flea market, but didn’t buy it. He later realized what he’d missed out on and kicked himself for an extended period of time for NOT buying it. At an MWTCA meeting four years later, he found what he suspected was the exact same miter box for sale. That time, he bought it. I’m glad it only took me five minutes to figure out what I was looking at…

Detail of the miter saw fence

Detail of the miter saw fence

Aside from a few forum hits, where it is Mark asking for any information about his No. 41 back in 2007, I couldn’t find anything else. So I figured I would document what I found, partially because I found it highly interesting. But I also thought maybe there are others out there who have one of these sitting in their shop and they don’t know anything about it. If you’re one of those people, now you do.

If you’re not one of those people, now you have something new to keep an eye out for. Sorrynotsorry.

TKW

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. June 4, 2015 1:33 pm

    Nice find!!

    Like

  2. June 5, 2015 7:16 am

    With your full sized D-8 what would be the max depth of cut? I am doing some timber framing now and this might be useful for tenon work. Congrats on this great find.

    Like

    • June 5, 2015 8:35 am

      Ummm… I didn’t measure that. But it would be whatever your saw plate height is, minus an inch or two.

      It would probably be useful if you could find one. (“If” being the operative word here…) I don’t know of any for sale, for any price. 🙂

      Like

  3. June 6, 2015 5:07 am

    Awesome, Ethan! That is a neat tool. Perhaps someone should be making that again!

    Like

    • June 6, 2015 8:57 am

      Great idea, Joshua! I’ll check with Robin and/or Tom and see what they think!

      (When I make a statement like that, I’m totally serious.)

      Like

    • August 11, 2016 12:51 pm

      And now I have the No. 41, as well, Josh. 😉 I was wondering if this was something Crucible Tools might have an interest in…

      Like

  4. June 7, 2015 11:40 pm

    I like the new/old tool, You did great in getting the tool.

    Like

  5. August 3, 2015 6:11 pm

    Is their a value for no 41 miterbox.What would be a good price to sell it.

    Like

    • August 3, 2015 7:28 pm

      I have absolutely no idea. Your best bet is going to be to search completed listings on eBay to see what they’ve sold for in the past. Or look for several examples of any actively for sale by tool dealers.

      TKW

      Like

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