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The Story of Vlchek

[Vlchek Logo on Open-End Wrench]
Vlchek Logo on an Open-End Wrench

The Vlchek Tool Company (pronounced "Vel-check") started as a small blacksmith shop and grew to become the largest maker of automobile tool kits. Founded by a Czech immigrant, the company built a reputation for high-quality tools as well as efficient production. In this page we'll look at the company's interesting history and examine a selection of its tools.

Table of Contents


Introduction

Company History

It's sometimes difficult to find information on the early history of tool companies, but the present case is a happy exception. The founder of Vlchek Tool was thoughtful enough to write his autobiography, suitably titled The Story of My Life and published (in Czech) in 1928. Now available in English translation, the book offers an interesting look at immigrant life in late 19th and early 20th century America, and provides many details on the development of the Vlchek Tool Company.

Vlchek Tool began in 1895 as a small blacksmith shop founded by Frank J. Vlchek, a Czech immigrant who had settled in Cleveland, Ohio. For the first few years his business operated as a typical blacksmith shop of the time -- making and repairing metal items, sharpening tools, and even shoeing horses. But Vlchek was constantly pushing himself to improve his skills and learn new techniques, and this lead to the purchase of a power hammer and then a drop forge. Both tools were powered by an old gasoline engine he had purchased inexpensively and then rebuilt by hand.

The power hammer enabled Vlchek to improve both the production rate and quality of his tools, and the business expanded rapidly. By 1903 the operation had outgrown its original quarters, so Vlchek built a new larger shop at 1537 Central Avenue, with a sign proclaiming "The Vlchek Tool Manuf'g Co." on the front. As the business grew, Vlchek started selling hammers, chisels, and punches into the wholesale market, and soon raised the notice (and ire) of some long-established hardware makers.

On Feb. 24, 1909 a fire destroyed much of the new building, and this disaster threatened to close the business permanently. By this time though, Vlchek had established an excellent reputation for hard work and quality products, and so was able to gain the financial backing to set up a new operation. Vlchek and a group of investors formed the Vlchek Tool Corporation, with Frank Vlchek as President and major shareholder, but answerable now to a board of directors. The company built a new factory on East 87th Street and was back in business by May of 1909.

The new company prospered and continued to expand, chiefly due to the rapid growth of the automobile industry. Vlchek had for some time been making automobile tool kits, the collections of essential tools that were shipped with every automobile of the day. Automobile companies ordered thousands of tool kits at a time, and at one point Vlchek Tool claimed to sell to 85% of the automobile makers. (There were many more auto companies in those days.)

The tool kit business was profitable but challenging, as the automobile makers were constantly trying to reduce the price, and the production contracts specified large volumes and tight delivery schedules. Vlchek responded by improving the production efficiency and material workflow of the factory, so that raw steel moved efficiently from the loading dock through the various forging and finishing steps. Visitors of the day (frequently including competitors) marvelled at the smooth and efficient operations.

Vlchek was also a pioneer in cost analysis, and established a special Cost Department to keep up-to-date estimates of the costs of production. This move was prompted by Vlchek's observation that many of his competitors didn't know whether they were operating at a profit or loss until the books were closed at year's end; obviously, this would be a major problem in a period of fluctuating prices. The combination of efficient production and good business management allowed Vlchek Tool to expand its factory several times between 1909 and 1920.

In the decades after 1920 Vlchek Tool expanded beyond tool kits into general automotive service tools, offering wrenches, pliers, and striking tools in both carbon and alloy steels. A catalog from around 1929 shows a selection of open-end and tappet wrenches in chrome-molybdenum steel, generally regarded as the highest quality steel for tool making.

A few years later the 1934 catalog A2 shows that Vlchek Tool had greatly expanded its offering of automotive service tools. Included for the first time were sockets and drive tools, box-end wrenches, and a variety of automotive specialty tools. Another notable change was that the catalog was now divided into two parts, with the first section captioned "Quali-T-Tools" and apparently intended for the professional mechanic. The second section listed Vlchek's high-volume product lines intended more for occasional or casual use, but including some alloy steel tools as well.

For whatever reasons, Vlchek's venture into the full-service automotive market was short-lived, and by 1938 the product line had been reduced greatly. The socket tools had been discontinued, and the company apparently decided to concentrate on high-volume production items rather than specialty tools, so that its catalogs listed relatively few tools.

One interesting side line was the development of a plastic injection-molding operation around 1940, Vlchek being one of the pioneers in this area. (The Vlchek name is apparently still in use for some plastic floral containers.)

Vlchek Tool ignored the socket revolution for several decades, but in the mid to late 1950s finally started offering sockets and ratchets.

In 1958 Vlchek Tool was acquired by Pendleton Tool Industries, the parent company of Proto Tools, P&C, Penens Corporation, and other tool manufacturers. (The acquisition date comes from an article in the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History, noted in our References section.) Under Pendleton the Vlchek brand remained in production, with the Vlchek factory continuing production of tools for the Vlchek brand, as well as contract production for Fleet Tools and possibly other Proto brands. In addition, other manufacturers in the Pendleton group contributed tools branded as Vlchek.

In 1964 Pendleton Tool Industries was acquired by Ingersoll-Rand, an industrial conglomerate. Under Ingersoll the Vlchek factory in Cleveland was finally closed in 1969, but it's not known whether the Vlchek brand continued in use after this.

Patents

Table 1. Vlchek Tool Company Issued and Licensed Patents
Patent No.InventorFiledIssuedDescriptionExamples
998,660 F.J. Vlchek02/11/191107/25/1911Drill Press  
1,015,461 F.J. Vlchek06/26/191101/23/1912Bearing Scraper Bearing Scraper
1,159,626 F.J. Vlchek03/21/191411/09/1915Valve Spring Compressor Valve Spring Compressor
1,168,844 J.J. Bartenstein05/31/191301/18/1916Adjustable Spanner Wrench Adjustable Pin Spanner
1,195,297 F.J. Vlchek02/21/191608/22/1916Mortar Joint Scraper  
1,324,286 F.J. Vlchek05/01/191812/09/1919Apparatus for Forming Dies  
1,508,489 F.J. Vlchek07/08/192209/16/1924Ripping Bar  
1,808,190 F.J. Vlchek12/10/192706/02/1931Wrench Set Holder Norivell Wrench Set
1,841,688 F.J. Vlchek07/07/193001/19/1932Screwdriver  
1,877,466 E.C. Koster06/29/192809/13/1932Wrench Set Holder  
1,868,476 F.J. Vlchek03/30/192907/19/1932Drop Hammer  
1,954,157 F.J. Vlchek08/22/193104/10/1934Drop Hammer  
1,956,885 F.J. Vlchek12/22/193005/01/1934Drop Hammer  

Trademarks

Vlchek wasn't very active in the trademark arena, with the only known registrations being for variations of the "Vlchek" name.

In 1929 the company filed an application for "Vlchek" with an underline, with the first use date listed as January 1, 1910. The trademark was issued as #254,241 on March 12, 1929.

In 1949 Vlchek Tool filed an application for "Vlchek" in block letters, with the same January 1, 1910 first use date. This trademark was issued as #528,105 on July 25, 1950.


Vlchek Tool Identification

Tools sold as Vlchek products are generally very easy to identify, as with few exceptions the company used only the markings "Vlchek" or "Motiv" for these items.

Norivell Open-End Wrench Set

One of the known exceptions are the carbon-steel wrench sets sold with a metal holder; these sets may have other brands marked on the holder, and sometimes no company marking at all on the tools. One such set marked "Norivell Wrench Set" is shown in Fig. 1 below; it was identified as a Vlchek product by the patent #1,808,190 (issued to F. Vlchek in 1931) stamped on the bottom.

[Vlchek Norivell Open-End Wrench Set]
Fig. 1. Vlchek Norivell Open-End Wrench Set

The individual wrenches in the Norivell set are marked "Made in U.S.A." and "Drop Forged", but have no company or size markings. The 1938 catalog shows an illustration for a set that looks very similar, but is shown as a "Checker Wrench Set". Both "Norivell" and "Checker" seem like a word play on "Velcheck", so that may be how the names were derived.

V-Shield Logo

Tools made for contract production may be much more difficult to identify. There is one simple case though, as some such tools were marked with the well-known V-Shield logo, a "V" and nested "T" inside a shield outline.

[Vlchek V-Shield Design]
Fig. 2. V-Shield Design from a 1912 Catalog.

The V-Shield logo is based on the "Coat-of-Arms" design shown in Fig. 2, an example taken from the cover of a 1912 Vlchek catalog. The small figure forged into the tools is much less detailed of course, but on a good forging the small "T" inside the "V" will be visible. An example can be seen in the Vlchek 19/32x11/16 Wrench below.

Some contract production may have been intentionally unmarked at the request of the customer, in order not to reveal Vlchek as the actual producer. The high efficiency of the Vlchek factory gave them a much lower cost structure than many competitors, and in some cases erstwhile competitors gave up production in favor of purchasing goods from Vlchek and branding them as their own.

In other cases the contract customer may not have cared whether the tools were identifiable as Vlchek. For example, the Western Auto Supply buyers may have been happy to have customers recognize their Wizard and Westcraft wrenches as Vlchek tools. The examples in the section on Contract Production show that a number of such tools are easily identifiable as Vlchek production.


Vlchek Banner Logo

[Vlchek Banner Logo]
Fig. 2B. Vlchek Banner Logo.

Fig. 2B shows an example of a Vlchek "Banner" logo, a design frequently shown in catalogs but less often found on the tools themselves. The design consists of a large "V" with a "Vlchek" banner crossing it, with "Made in U.S.A." at the top and bottom.

This example is from the Vlchek 8 Inch Combination Pliers shown in a later figure.


Design, Production, and Marking Characteristics

Vlchek tools have a number of characteristic features that may be helpful for identification in the absence of an explicit company marking.

Forged-In Numbers

The first of these is the frequent presence of a forged-in number on one end of the wrench, an example of which is shown in next figure. (Additional examples appear in many other figures in this article.)

The meaning of these forged-in numbers is not known, but they might indicate a particular drop-forge used in production, or possibly a generation number for the forging die. (Vlchek perfected a technique for forging its dies from a master copy, rather than having to make each by hand. This would have saved them a great deal of time and money for items made in sufficient quantity to wear out the forging die.)

Asterisk Mark and Forged-In Number

[Vlchek Asterisk Mark and Forged-In Number]
Fig. 3. Asterisk Mark and Forged-In Number on WBC1618 Wrench.

Vlchek box-end wrenches typically included a forged-in mark resembling an asterisk, usually opposite the forged-in number on the reverse. This detail is seldom (if ever) seen on other makers' tools.

An example can be seen on the WBC1618 wrench in Fig. 3, with the asterisk at the left of the raised panel.


Sharp Radius on Box Ends

[Vlchek Wrench Box Ends]
Fig. 4. Box Ends of Vlchek Wrenches Showing Sharp Curvature

Another characteristic of Vlchek production is the use of a relatively sharp grinding radius on the box ends of wrenches. This can be readily seen in a profile view of the box ends, as shown in Fig. 4 at the left.

Other manufacturers commonly provide ground and polished box ends on wrenches, but usually with a much larger radius of curvature. Vlchek open-end wrenches also exhibit rounded edges on the wrench heads.


Chrome Molybdenum Marking

Vlchek frequently used chrome molybdenum alloys for its tools, and when the alloy content was marked on the tool, Vlchek commonly used a particular and distinctive marking style. The "Chrome Molybdenum" text was marked in a sans serif font using all capital letters, but with the leading "C" and "M" letters increased in height. Other makers typically used letters of uniform height for this type of marking.

[Vlchek Chrome Molybdenum Marking]
Fig. 5. Vlchek "Chrome Molybdenum" Marking Style.

Fig. 5 shows an example of the Vlchek "Chrome Molybdenum" marking style, taken from a Vlchek 94 Tappet Wrench shown later in this article. Notice that the leading letters of the words are made taller, even though the letter forms are already capitalized.


Early Production and Specialty Tools

Vlchek produced a relatively small number of different tools, preferring to make only those items that it could sell in large quantity. A look at the 1938 catalog shows a reasonable line of carbon-steel open-end "engineers" wrenches, a smaller selection of alloy-steel open-end wrenches, a small number of box-end wrenches, and lots of punches, chisels, and hammers. Most notable is the absence of combination wrenches, already very popular at this time, and the lack of ratchets and sockets.

The 1952 catalog reveals a somewhat expanded product line that included more models of box-end wrenches, as well as (finally!) combination wrenches. In addition, a line of economy tools branded "Motiv" had been established. There were still no ratchets and sockets though, making it clear that Vlchek Tool had decided to sit out the socket revolution.

The 1957 catalog No. 10 finally offers a line of sockets and drive tools in several drive sizes. (However, these tools are not commonly found, so it appears that Vlchek may not have sold very many of them.) This catalog also shows a number of tool display boards intended to assist retailers, showing that the company was apparently shifting to serve the retail market, after selling primarily to large companies up to this point.

The examples of tools shown below are arranged roughly chronologically based on the capability of production, but the actual age of particular tools is not known. Vlchek is not known to have had any date code marking system, though it's possible that the forge numbers may have some relationship to production date.

Striking Tools and Pliers

Punches, chisels, and hammers were among the first tools produced by Vlchek Tool, and pliers would have been made as soon as the automobile tool kit business started to develop.


[X872] Standard 1/8 Pin Punch

[Vlchek X872 1/8 Pin Punch]
Fig. 6. Vlchek [X872] 1/8 Pin Punch.

Fig. 6 shows a Vlchek [X872] standard 1/8 pin punch, stamped "Vlchek Standard" and "Made in U.S.A." on the square shank. The model number isn't marked on the tool, but the catalog identifies this as model X872.

The overall length is 5.0 inches.


Standard 1/8 Taper Punch

[Vlchek Standard 1/8 Taper Punch]
Fig. 7. Vlchek Standard 1/8 Taper Punch, with Inset for Marking Detail.

Fig. 7 shows a Vlchek standard 1/8 taper punch, stamped "Vlchek Standard" and "Made in U.S.A." on the square shank.

The overall length is 7.9 inches, and the finish is gray paint.


Standard 1/4 Taper Punch

[Vlchek Standard 1/4 Taper Punch]
Fig. 8. Vlchek Standard 1/4 Taper Punch, with Inset for Marking Detail.

Fig. 8 shows a Vlchek standard 1/4 taper punch, stamped "Vlchek Standard" and "Made in U.S.A." on the square shank.

The overall length is 11.8 inches, and the finish is cadmium plating.


Ballpeen Hammer

[Vlchek Ballpeen Hammer]
Fig. 9. Vlchek Ballpeen Hammer.

As a former blacksmith operation, you would expect Vlchek Tool to be an expert in hammers, and hammers were in fact one of their earliest products. The hammer shown in Fig. 9 is a ball-peen model marked "Vlchek" and "Made in U.S.A.", and is probably from an automobile tool kit.

The length of the head is 3.8 inches; the handle had been shortened, so the original length is not known.


"Auto Hammer" 10 Inch Ballpeen Hammer

[Vlchek 10 Inch Auto Hammer Ballpeen Hammer]
Fig. 10. Vlchek "Auto Hammer" 10 Inch Ballpeen Hammer, with Insets for Side View and Reverse Detail.

Fig. 10 shows a Vlchek "Auto Hammer" 10 inch forged ballpeen hammer, marked with "The Vkchek Tool Co." forged into the handle, with "Auto Hammer" forged into the reverse.

The overall length is 10.2 inches, and the finish is plain steel.


8 Inch Combination Pliers

[Vlchek 8 Inch Combination Pliers]
Fig. 11A. Vlchek 8 Inch Combination Pliers, with Insets for Side View and Marking Detail.

Fig. 11A shows a pair of Vlchek 8 inch combination pliers, stamped with "Vlchek" and "Made in U.S.A." in a banner logo on the handle, with "Forged in U.S.A." forged into the handles. The handles also have forged-in codes "19" and "18" (not shown).

The overall length is 8.0 inches, and the finish is chrome plating.


PHC208 Hose Clamp Pliers

[Vlchek PHC208 Hose-Clamp Pliers]
Fig. 11. Vlchek PHC208 Hose-Clamp Pliers.

Fig. 11 shows the Vlchek model PHC208 pliers, marked "Hose Clamp" with "Forged in U.S.A." on the handles.

A careful look at the handle shows a forged-in number "18". The finish appears to be cadmium plate over the rough forged steel.


Specialty Tools


No. 2 Adjustable Pin Spanner

[Vlchek No. 2 Adjustable Pin Spanner]
Fig. 12. Vlchek No. 2 Adjustable Pin Spanner, with Insets for Side View and Reverse Detail, ca. 1913-1916.

Fig. 12 shows a Vlchek No. 2 adjustable pin spanner, marked with "The Vlchek Tool Co." forged into the shank, and with "Pat. App'd For" stamped into the spanner arm. The reverse is marked with "No. 2" forged into the shank, as shown in the middle inset.

The overall length ranges from 10.3 inches to 12.2 inches, and the finish is plain steel.

The patent pending status refers to patent #1,168,844, filed by J.J. Bartenstein in 1913 and issued in 1916, with assignment to the Vlchek Tool Company.


Forged Valve Spring Lifter

[Vlchek Forged Valve Spring Lifter]
Fig. 13. Vlchek Forged Valve Spring Lifter, ca. 1915 to 1920s.

Fig. 13 shows a specialty tool for compressing valve springs, stamped "Vlchek Cleveland" on one arm.

The overall length is 10.2 inches, and the finish is black paint.

Although no patent notice is marked on this example, this tool is covered by patent #1,159,626, issued to F.J. Vlchek in 1915.


Later [No. 600] "Fitz-All" Valve Spring Lifter

[Vlchek No. 600 Fitz-All Valve Spring Lifter]
Fig. 14. Later Vlchek [No. 600] "Fitz-All" Valve Spring Lifter, with Inset for Side View, ca. 1930s.

Fig. 14 shows a later Vlchek [No. 600] "Fitz-All" valve spring lifter constructed of stamped sheet metal, marked with "Vlchek" and "Patent Pending" on the top. Although not marked with a model number, this tool is listed as a No. 600 Fitz-All Valve Lifter in the No. 13 and A-2 catalogs from the early 1930s.

The overall length is 10.0 inches, and the finish is cadmium plating.

The patent corresponding to the pending notice on this tool is not yet known.


No. 51 1/2 Bent Tubular Socket Wrench

[Vlchek No. 51 1/2 Bent Tubular Socket Wrench]
Fig. 15. Vlchek No. 51 1/2 Bent Tubular Socket Wrench, ca. 1916.

Fig. 15 shows a Vlchek No. 51 1/2 bent tubular socket wrench tool, bent to form an Ell-shape and marked "Vlchek Cleveland". The hex openings at each end have the same size and were measured as 1/2 (or possibly 17/32) inch. The overall length is 6.5 inches.

The wrench has a cross-bar hole for additional leverage. The construction is from seamless steel tubing, hardened after forging, and with a plain steel finish.

These wrenches were apparently made for early Ford applications. For example, an automotive supplies catalog from 1916 shows a set of five of these wrenches in a canvas roll, marked "Bent Socket Wrench Set for Ford".


Cotter Pin Puller

[Vlchek Cotter-Pin Puller]
Fig. 16. Vlchek Cotter-Pin Puller, with Inset for Detail.

Fig. 16 shows a specialty tool designed as a cotter-pin puller and as a small pry-bar, marked "Vlchek Cleve O." as shown in the inset.

The overall length is 5.8 inches.

The finish is plain steel, although it may have been painted black originally.


9 Inch Forged Steel Screwdriver

[Vlchek 9 Inch Forged Steel Screwdriver]
Fig. 17. Vlchek 9 Inch Forged Steel Screwdriver, with Inset for Marking Detail.

Fig. 17 shows a Vlchek 9 inch forged steel screwdriver, marked only with the V-Shield logo forged into one of the handle flanges.

The overall length is 9.0 inches. The finish is plain steel with traces of the original black paint.


10 Inch Forged Steel Screwdriver

[Vlchek 10 Inch Forged Steel Screwdriver]
Fig. 18. Vlchek 10 Inch Forged Steel Screwdriver, with Inset for Marking Detail.

Fig. 18 shows a Vlchek 10 inch forged steel screwdriver, stamped "Vlchek Clev'd, O." on the shank.

The overall length is 9.8 inches. The finish is plain steel with traces of the original black paint.


Bearing Scraper

[Vlchek Bearing Scraper]
Fig. 19. Vlchek Bearing Scraper, with Inset for Detail.

Fig. 19 shows a Vlchek bearing scraper with a wooden handle, marked "Vlchek Clev'd, O." on the shank.

The overall length is 12.7 inches. The finish was originally black paint, now mostly worn off.

Although not marked with a patent notice, this tool resembles the description in patent #1,015,461, issued to F.J. Vlchek in 1912.


5/8x11/16 "Reverse Gear" Open-End Wrench

[Vlchek 5/8x11/16 Reverse Gear Wrench]
Fig. 20. Vlchek 5/8x11/16 "Reverse Gear" Open-End Wrench.

Fig. 20 shows an early Vlchek 5/8x11/16 specialty open-end wrench, designed for adjusting the Model T Ford reverse gear (and brake) bands. The wrench is marked with the V-Shield logo and "Reverse Gear Wrench" forged into the shank.

The overall length is 8.6 inches, and the finish is plain steel.


Spark Plug and Head Bolt Wrench

[Vlchek 5/8x15/16 Spark Plug and Head Bolt Wrench]
Fig. 21. Vlchek 5/8x15/16 Spark Plug and Head Bolt Wrench, with Insets for Side View and Detail.

Fig. 21 shows a popular tool for Model T Ford spark plug and head bolt service, a Vlchek 15/16 open-end and 5/8 hex socket wrench, stamped "Vlchek" on the face.

The overall length is 10.8 inches, and the finish is plain steel.

Similar wrenches were made by a number of other manufacturers, examples of which include the Herbrand 2334 Spark Plug Wrench and Herbrand 2335 Spark Plug Wrench.


909 1-1/8 Single-Open Check-Nut Wrench

Tools marked with the V-Shield logo were most commonly (double) open-end wrenches, but the next figure shows a less commonly seen single-open style.

[Vlchek 909 1-1/8 Check-Nut Wrench]
Fig. 22. Vlchek 909 1-1/8 Check-Nut Wrench, with Inset for Reverse.

Fig. 22 shows a Vlchek 909 single-open wrench marked with the V-Shield logo. The size is not marked but was measured as 1-1/8.

The overall length is 7.5 inches.

The wrench is fairly thin for its opening size, and may have been intended as a "check-nut" wrench, a wrench used to tighten a locking nut.


Hub Wrench

[Vlchek Hub Wrench]
Fig. 23. Vlchek Hub Wrench, Measured 2-1/8 (Hex) x 1-7/16 (Open).

Fig. 23 shows an early Vlchek hub wrench, marked only with the V-Shield logo. The hex opening was measured at 2-1/8 inches, and the open end is 1-7/16 inches.

The overall length is 8.7 inches. The original finish was black paint, but only a few traces remain now.


ND-32 Nut Driver

[Vlchek ND-32 1/2 Inch Nut Driver]
Fig. 24. Vlchek ND-32 1/2 Inch Nut Driver.

Fig. 24 shows a Vlchek ND-32 1/2 inch nut driver with a wooden handle, marked "U.S.A." on the shank. The overall length is 8.9 inches.

The wooden handle is finished with black paint, and the shank and socket appear to be plated with nickel.


3B5166 Tee Socket Wrench

[Vlchek 3B5166 7/16 T-Handle Socket Wrench]
Fig. 25. Vlchek 3B5166 7/16 T-Handle Socket Wrench, with Inset for Broaching.

Fig. 25 shows a Vlchek 3B5166 7/16 T-handle socket wrench, marked "Made in U.S.A." on the shank.

The overall length is 6.2 inches, and the finish is plain steel.


2372 Fordson Socket Wrench

This next figure shows an example of the V-Shield logo on a Fordson socket wrench.

[Vlchek 2372 Fordson Socket Wrench]
Fig. 26. Vlchek 2372 Fordson Socket Wrench, with Insets for Construction and Marking Detail.

Fig. 26 shows a Vlchek 2372 offset socket wrench made for Fordson tractors, stamped with the model number and V-Shield logo, with "Fordson" on the reverse. The unmarked hex socket openings were measured as 3/4 and 7/8, with a 1/32 oversize allowance.

The overall length is 11.5 inches, and the finish is plain steel.


Auto Wrenches

Auto or "monkey" wrenches were one of the standard items in automobile tool kits, and Vlchek produced these tools in great quantities over the years. Auto wrenches were produced in several sizes, with the 9 inch and 11 inch models being the most common, but other sizes may be seen as well.


11 Inch Auto Wrenches

[Vlchek 11 Inch Auto Wrench]
Fig. 27. Vlchek 11 Inch Auto Wrench, with Inset for Marking Detail.

Fig. 27 shows an early example of the Vlchek 11 inch auto or monkey wrench. The movable jaw is marked "Drop Forged" and "Cleve. O, U.S.A." with the Vlchek name in a fancy emblem (see inset), a mark often seen on earlier tools. The handle has additional markings "Made in U.S.A." and "11 Auto" in forged raised letters. The overall length is 11.0 inches.

The wrench is finished with black paint, the standard for tool kit items of this type.

[Vlchek V-Shield 11 Inch Auto Wrench]
Fig. 28. Vlchek V-Shield 11 Inch Auto Wrench, with Inset for Marking Detail.

Fig. 28 shows a similar Vlchek 11 inch auto wrench, marked "11-In-Auto" in forged raised letters, with the V-Shield logo on the reverse.

The overall length is 11.0 inches, and the finish is black paint.


9 Inch Auto Wrenches

[Vlchek V-Shield 9 Inch Auto Wrench]
Fig. 29. Vlchek V-Shield 9 Inch Auto Wrench, with Inset for Reverse Detail.

Fig. 29 shows one of the staples of an automobile tool kit, a Vlchek 9 inch auto wrench marked "9 In Auto" in raised letters. The inset shows the V-Shield logo on the reverse, near the fixed jaw of the wrench.

The overall length is 8.9 inches, and the finish is black paint.

The movable jaw of this relatively early model is a forging, the standard construction of the time. The next figure will show a later construction technique.

[Vlchek V-Shield 9 Inch Auto Wrench]
Fig. 30. Vlchek V-Shield 9 Inch Auto Wrench, with Inset for Reverse Detail.

Fig. 30 at the left shows a later version of the Vlchek 9 inch auto wrench, marked "Made in U.S.A." and "9 Auto" in raised letters, with the V-Shield logo and the number "25" on the reverse.

The overall length is 8.9 inches, and the finish is plain steel.

In this later model, the movable jaw is now made with a piece of sheet steel riveted to the hardened jaw piece.


14 Inch Auto Wrench

[Vlchek V-Shield 14 Inch Auto Wrench]
Fig. 31A. Vlchek V-Shield 14 Inch Auto Wrench, with Inset for Marking Detail.

Fig. 31A shows a Vlchek 14 inch auto wrench, marked with "14 In. Auto" forged into the shank, with the V-Shield logo forged into the reverse (see inset).

The overall length is 13.9 inches, and the maximum opening is about 4.0 inches. The finish is black paint.


15 Inch Auto Wrench

[Vlchek V-Shield 15 Inch Auto Wrench]
Fig. 31. Vlchek V-Shield 15 Inch Auto Wrench, with Inset for Marking Detail.

Fig. 31 shows a Vlchek 15 inch auto wrench, marked with "Drop Forged" and "Vlchek" stamped on the movable jaw, and with "Made in U.S.A." and "15 Auto" (partially obscured) forged into the shank.

The overall length is 15.0 inches, and the finish is plain steel.

The hole at the end of the shank is roughly made, possibly with a cutting torch, and was likely added by a former owner.


Carbon Steel Wrenches

Vlchek used carbon steel for its wrenches until around the mid 1920s or so, and after the introduction of alloy steels, Vlchek continued to produce carbon steel wrenches at least into the 1950s.

The earlier carbon-steel wrenches were frequently marked with a forged-in V-Shield logo, particularly those made for contract production. Sometimes the markings also included an industry-standard model number, or the least the opening sizes, but wrenches devoid of other markings are not unknown.


Open-End Wrenches


V-Shield [727] 9/16x5/8 Open-End Wrench

[Vlchek 727 9/16x5/8 Open-End Wrench]
Fig. 32. Vlchek V-Shield [727] 9/16x5/8 Open-End Wrench, with Inset for Reverse Detail.

Fig. 32 shows an open-end wrench marked with the V-Shield and "Made in U.S.A.", with "Drop Forged" on the reverse. The sizes are not marked but were measured as 9/16x5/8 inches, a model 727 wrench in the industry-standard notation. (See our table of Industry-Standard Numbers for Open-End Wrenches for more information.)

The overall length is 6.1 inches.

The "95" in raised letters is one of the forged-in numbers often found on Vlchek wrenches.


V-Shield [27] 19/32x11/16 Open-End Wrench

[Vlchek V-Shield 27 19/32x11/16 Open-End Wrench]
Fig. 33. Vlchek V-Shield [27] 19/32x11/16 Open-End Wrench

Fig. 33 shows a wrench marked only with the V-Shield logo, without even the sizes marked. The sizes were measured as 19/32 by 11/16 inches, making it a model 27 by the industry standard.

The overall length is 5.8 inches.

This wrench may have been part of a tool kit, as the body appears to have traces of black paint remaining.


21 5/16x13/32 Open-End Wrench

[Vlchek 21 5/16x13/32 Open-End Wrench]
Fig. 34. Vlchek 21 5/16x13/32 Open-End Wrench.

Fig. 34 at the left shows a Vlchek 21 5/16x13/32 open-end wrench, stamped with the Vlchek name on the face.

The overall length is 3.7 inches, and the finish is plain steel.


729 5/8x3/4 Open-End Wrenches

The next two figures show examples of the Vlchek 729 wrench.

[Vlchek 729 5/8x3/4 Open-End Wrench]
Fig. 35. Vlchek 729 5/8x3/4 Open-End Wrench.

Fig. 35 shows a Vlchek 729 5/8x3/4 open-end wrench, stamped with the Vlchek name and model number on the faces.

The overall length is 7.1 inches, and the finish is plain steel.

[Vlchek 729 5/8x3/4 Open-End Wrench]
Fig. 36. Vlchek 729 5/8x3/4 Open-End Wrench, with Inset for Reverse.

Fig. 36 shows another Vlchek 729 open-end wrench, stamped with the Vlchek name and model number on the faces, with "Made in U.S.A." and "Drop Forged" forged into the shank.


731A 3/4x7/8 Open-End Wrench

[Vlchek 731A 3/4x7/8 Open-End Wrench]
Fig. 37. Vlchek 731A 3/4x7/8 Open-End Wrench, with Inset for Reverse Detail.

Fig. 37 shows a Vlchek 731A 3/4x7/8 open-end wrench, stamped with the Vlchek name and model number on the faces. The shank is marked with "Made in U.S.A." forged into the front, with "Drop Forged" forged into the reverse. (The inset has been rotated for readability.) The shank also has a forged-in code "9" visible at the right.

The overall length is 8.2 inches, and the finish is plain steel.


S-Shaped Wrenches

Open-end wrenches with an "S" shaped shank were a popular early wrench style, originally developed for use with square nuts. The "S" curve of the handle provides a natural 22.5 degree offset for the head, which allows the wrench to work with a minimal 45 degree swing clearance.

Vlchek offered S-shaped wrenches in a wide variety of sizes, ranging from a model 75-C (1/4x5/16) to 85-D (1-1/8x1-5/16) in a quasi-standard numbering system.


75B 3/8x7/16 S-Shaped Open-End Wrench

The next several figures show examples of "S" wrenches acquired as part of a Vlchek "Star" wrench set.

[Vlchek 75B 3/8x7/16 S-Shaped Open-End Wrench]
Fig. 38. Vlchek 75B 3/8x7/16 S-Shaped Open-End Wrench, with Inset for Reverse Detail.

Fig. 38 shows a Vlchek 75B 3/8x7/16 S-shaped open-end wrench, marked "Made in U.S.A." with "Drop Forged" on the reverse. A forged-in number "4" appears on the shank at the right, and the fractional sizes are also forged into the reverse side.

The overall length is 6.2 inches, and the finish is plain steel.

This wrench was part of the "Star" five-piece wrench set in a metal holder, shown as the Vlchek "Star" Set in a later figure. As was common for wrenches sold in sets, the individual wrenches are not marked with the company name.


79 5/8x11/16 S-Shaped Open-End Wrench

[Vlchek 79 5/8x11/16 S-Shaped Open-End Wrench]
Fig. 39. Vlchek 79 5/8x11/16 S-Shaped Open-End Wrench, with Inset for Reverse.

Fig. 39 shows a Vlchek 5/8x11/16 open-end S-shaped wrench with the industry-standard number 79, marked "Made in U.S.A." with "Drop Forged" on the reverse. A forged-in number "6" appears on the shank at the right, and the fractional sizes are forged into the reverse side.

The overall length is 8.3 inches, and the finish is plain steel.


81B 3/4x13/16 S-Shaped Open-End Wrench

[Vlchek 81B 3/4x13/16 S-Shaped Open-End Wrench]
Fig. 40. Vlchek 81B 3/4x13/16 S-Shaped Open-End Wrench, with Inset for Reverse.

Fig. 40 shows a Vlchek 3/4x13/16 open-end S-shaped wrench with the industry-standard number 81B, marked "Made in U.S.A." with "Drop Forged" on the reverse. A forged-in number "5" appears on the shank at the right, and the fractional sizes are forged into the reverse side.

The overall length is 9.3 inches, and the finish is plain steel.


83B 7/8x1 S-Shaped Open-End Wrench

[Vlchek 83B 7/8x1 Open-End S-Shaped Wrench]
Fig. 41. Vlchek 83B 7/8x1 S-Shaped Open-End Wrench, with Inset for Reverse Detail.

Fig. 41 shows the largest wrench from the "Star" set, a Vlchek 83B 7/8x1 S-shaped open-end wrench, marked with "Made in U.S.A." forged into the shank, with "Drop Forged" forged into the reverse. A forged-in number "5" appears on the shank at the right, and the fractional sizes are also forged into the reverse side.

The overall length is 10.3 inches, and the finish is plain steel.

A careful examination of the end faces shows that they are very flat but not ground, with the appearance of a rough forged surface pressed flat. This is likely the result of finishing using a "coining press", an operation using extreme pressure to produce tools with flat surfaces and tightly controlled thickness. The use of coining presses for tool making was one of the many production innovations introduced by Frank Vlchek.


Wrench Sets

Vlchek offered sets of wrenches in a bewildering array of size combinations and finish options, and under numerous brand names such as Fitz-All, Star, Norivell, and Checker. These sets were typically supplied in a metal holder made either of stamped sheet metal or with wire spring sides.

In order to clarify the contents of the various wrench sets, we have provided Table 2 below with a summary of the major set types.

In addition to these set types, each set could be purchased in up to five finish options. (The early 1930 catalog had four options, the 1934 catalog had five.) For example, by the early 1930s the Large Fitz-All "6" Piece set could be ordered as a number 2153 "Unfinished Tempered", number 2150 "Ebony All Over", number 2151 "Semi-Finished", number 2405 "Velco Rust Proof, Cadmium Plated", or number 2442 "White Nickel-Buffed Heads". To provide one last twist, the catalogs note that for last two finish options the wrenches would be stamped with numbers and opening sizes. This implies that for the other finish options, the wrenches would be unmarked -- a frequent observation for Vlchek wrench collectors.

Table 2. Vlchek Tool Wrench Sets
Wrench Set Style Pieces Component Models Component Sizes
Large Fitz-All "6" Piece Open-End 6 723, 725B, 27, 729, 31, 33B 3/8x7/16, 1/2x9/16, 19/32x11/16, 5/8x3/4, 25/32x7/8, 13/16x15/16
Junior Fitz-All "6" Piece Open-End 6 21, 723, 725B, 27, 729, 31 5/16x13/32, 3/8x7/16, 1/2x9/16, 19/32x11/16, 5/8x3/4, 25/32x7/8
Large Fitz-All "5" Piece Open-End 5 723, 725B, 27, 729, 31 3/8x7/16, 1/2x9/16, 19/32x11/16, 5/8x3/4, 25/32x7/8
Little Leader Fitz-All "5" Piece Open-End 5 21, 723, 725B, 27, 729 5/16x13/32, 3/8x7/16, 1/2x9/16, 19/32x11/16, 5/8x3/4
Star "S" Wrench "S"-Shaped 5 75-B, 77-B, 79, 81-B, 83-B 3/8x7/16, 1/2x9/16, 5/8x11/16, 3/4x13/16, 7/8x1

We hope that the above table will assist wrench historians in documenting and restoring their Vlchek wrench sets. Of course, after eighty years in an unheated barn the five finish options are likely to have turned to rust, rust, rust, rust, and rust, but the presence of stamped model numbers and sizes will at least distinguish the last two from the first three.

We have several examples of Vlchek wrench sets and will add them to this section as time permits.

Norivell Six-Piece Open-End Wrench Set

[Vlchek Norivell Open-End Wrench Set]
Fig. 42. Vlchek Norivell Open-End Wrench Set, ca. 1930s.

Fig. 42 shows a Vlchek "Norivell" open-end wrench set, marked with "Norivell Wrench Set" and "Drop Forged Tempered" embossed on the sheet metal holder, and with patent #1,808,190 stamped on the bottom. This patent was issued to F. Vlchek in 1931, allowing the set to be identified as Vlchek production.

The individual wrenches in the set are marked with "Made in U.S.A." and "Drop Forged" forged into the shank, but have no company or size markings.


"Star" Five-Piece S-Shaped Wrench Set

Now that we've seen some of the individual "S" wrenches, it's time to show the wrench set.

[Vlchek Star Five Piece S-Shaped Wrench Set]
Fig. 43. Vlchek "Star" Five-Piece S-Shaped Wrench Set, with Inset for Marking Detail, ca. Late 1920s to 1930s.

Fig. 43 shows a Vlchek "Star" S-shaped wrench set, consisting of five S-shaped wrenches in a wire spring holder. The set is marked with "Star S Wrench Set" plus "The Vlchek Tool Co." and "Cleveland, O." stamped on the bottom of the holder (see inset).

The wrenches in the set are models 75B (3/8x7/16), 77B (1/2x9/16), 79 (5/8x11/16), 81B (3/4x13/16), and 83B (7/8x1 Inch). Each wrench is marked with "Drop Forged" and "Made in U.S.A." forged into the shank, along with the sizes and model number.

The set as acquired was missing the 77B wrench, so we have substituted a model of the same size from another maker to fill out the holder for the photograph. (We later managed to find the proper Vlchek wrench to complete the set.)

The bottom of the holder is also stamped "U.S. Patent 1808190", a reference to patent #1,808,190, issued to F. Vlchek in 1931. Note that this is the same patent seen on the Norivell Wrench Set described previously. (The wrench holders don't look very much alike, but the patent was written to provide a lot of "wiggle room".)

The Vlchek catalog No. 13 from around 1930 offered the Star wrench sets in three finish options, at prices ranging from $1.55 to $2.00.


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