Story of Tool Belts - Harvey Ltd

Story of Tool Belts

In 1889 a company called Carhatt was founded. Shortly after, other companies such as Dickies sprang up. In the span of thirty years, the workwear business became a manufacturing powerhouse. During both world wars, many workwear companies were sequestered to produce army uniforms. When World War II finally ended, workwear companies were no longer needed by the government. They began producing heavy duty clothing for miners, as well as factory and construction workers. The workwear brands recognized the need for industry specific designs and created “carpenter’s aprons”. These aprons were similar to today’s “overalls” and quickly gained popularity among carpenters.

During the first half of the 20th century, carpenter’s overalls were further perfected to include simple tool loops and fastener pockets. These heavy overalls offered protection from the weather and job-site scrapes and abrasions. It was that very weight however, that also constricted movement and left the workers feeling very hot during the day.

Because of the movement constraint, by the 1940s many carpenters had traded their overalls in for jeans and cloth aprons. The aprons were cooler and easier to move in, but they wore out quickly, and did not have the necessary support structure to stay open at the top, to allow for easy tool reach. Therefore, the cloth aprons proved to be difficult for carrying multiple tools.

“Although I missed wearing the white carpenter’s overalls I used to buy at Sears, they were one of the first things that had to go. They had a dozen pockets and offered some protection from both the weather and from job-site scrapes and abrasions. What they didn’t offer was the freedom of movement I got with a pair of jeans and a cloth nail apron. I wore the cloth apron for a few months, but I couldn’t get my big hand in the nail pockets without having to straighten up every time I wanted to grab a handful of nails.” – Larry Haun, Carpenter Legend

Tool Belt Evolution

It was not until the 1950s that the leather tool belt was born. The first models were often cobbled together at home or custom-made by shoe repair and saddle shops. The leather belts offered durability and large open pouches for 16 and 8 penny nails, as well as the variety of hand tools common at the time.

The market for leather tool belts began to grow in the 1970s. That’s when a handful of premium companies separated themselves from the less expensive brands by focusing on selling the leather tool belt. While the leather tool belt was much better than any of the previous items carpenters had to choose from for workwear, the significant downside of the leather tool belt was its weight. Because the leather tool belts were so heavy, they constantly slid down on the job and caused back strain. As a way to keep the leather tool belt from sliding down and relieve strain on carpenters’ hips, many carpenters added suspenders to their workwear arsenal.

By the 1990’s, companies began experimenting with a tool belt design that combined a harness with heavy duty nylon. The harness was similar to those used in rappelling and windsurfing and was therefore extremely tough. They combined the harness with extra durable, but lightweight nylon, that was utilized in winter sports equipment.

The nylon belt design provided back support and was worn above the hips to reduce stress on both the lower back and hips. Meanwhile, the lightweight nylon was as durable as premium leather, at a fraction of the weight. Makers were able to stitch a wide variety of pockets, tool slots and other features in the more pliable nylon while giving the bags structure with foam and webbing.

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