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Cutting escutcheon recesses

Peter Smithurst, Curator Emeritus of Historical Firearms at the Royal Armouries shares an insight to the cutlery trade and how to cut escutcheon recesses by hand with a ‘two-legged’ parser.

If you aren’t familiar with pocket or pen knife terminology then you should definitely check out Peter’s earlier post about the differences between a pen knife and a pocket knife.


How many times have you seen old, or sometimes new, pocket or pen knives with a decorative escutcheon set into the scales? Something like this.

pocket knife

Pocket knife with a rectangular escutcheon or shield on the handle scale. © Peter Smithurst

Have any of you ever thought how it was fitted? I suppose many would imagine it was done very carefully by hand.  The recess created with minute chisels and gouges into which it fit . That would have been even more difficult for more complex shapes, like shields.

The Sheffield cutlers had a very clever tool that could cut any shape of recess. It was known as a ‘shielding’ parser or ‘two-legged’ parser.

Two-legged parser

A bobbin like handle with two steel legs protuding

Two-legged parser. © Peter Smithurst

The two legs were made of tempered steel. Two small projections can be seen at the tips. By closing the legs together, these tips could be inserted into a hardened ‘shielding plate’. The shoulders of the blades fit tightly up against the plate and the small sharpened tips projected beyond it.

The plate was clamped tightly against the piece of ebony or bone or, dare I say it, ivory, and the parser pressed hard in place and rotated by a bow. Because the ‘legs’ were sprung they were forced to follow the outline of the ‘shielding plate’.  As it turned, the projecting tips scraped a recess in the material it was clamped to.

shield plate with two legged parser inserted

Shielding plate with tips of two-legged parser inserted. © Peter Smithurst

It was a fiendishly clever tool — probably the first profile milling machine or router — but no-one knows who invented it. It was also ideal for inletting escutcheons into the stocks of guns, or such as keyhole escutcheons into boxes.  But I have never heard mention of them oustide of the cutlery trades. Now a thing of the past.

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