10.08-1: 1898 Home Made Ash Sifter

HHCC Accession No. 2006.155HHCC Classification Code: 10.08-1

A late 19th century, home made, manually operated ash sifter, roughly hewn, nailed together of old boards found around the home, with broom stick, shaker handle and 1/8 inch galvanized screening, etched and eroded through the effects of prolonged use, in sifting ash so as to reuse the unburned, and partially burned pieces of coal, a simple made at home energy conservation technology, Circa 1898.


10.08 Solid Fuel (Coal and Wood) Burning Equipment - Other Components and Parts


Home made

Serial No.:

12 x 15 x 3’ box with 28 inch handle


4 lbs.




Exhibit, education, and research quality, illustrating the form, structure and operation of a late 19th century, home made ash sifter for attending to wood and coal fired home heating furnaces.

Patent Date/Number:

From York County (York Region) Ontario, once a rich agricultural hinterlands, attracting early settlement in the last years of the 18th century. Located on the north slopes of the Oak Ridges Moraine, within 20 miles of Toronto, the County would also attract early ex-urban development, to be come a wealthy market place for the emerging household and consumer technologies of the early and mid 20th century.

This artifact was discovered in the 1950’s in the used stock of T. H. Oliver, Refrigeration and Electric Sales and Service, Aurora, Ontario, an early worker in the field of agricultural, industrial and consumer technology.

Used in a Spruce St. home, Aurora Ontario, through to the late 1930’s

Type and Design:

Late 19th century, Roughly hewn Home made, Crudely fabricated of old boards, nailed together, 1/8 inch galvanized screening Broom stick, shaker handle Etched and eroded through the effects of prolonged use


Rough pine boards

Special Features:
Performance Characteristics:
Control and Regulation:
Targeted Market Segment:
Consumer Acceptance:
Market Price:
Technological Significance:

The hand operated ash sifter is an example of a ‘small’, ‘appropriate’ Canadian technology of its time, responding to the social, cultural and economic needs and constraints of the period. The ash sifter was an early energy conservation device, used to conserve a scarce costly energy resource, coal Energy conservation would be a re-occurring theme in the residential home heating sector, one which would be echoed into and throughout the 20th century and on into the 21st. A news letter to Fess Oil Burner of Canada dealers in 1947, responded to the energy shortage of that period, advising the home owner and service technician of their shared responsibilities for energy conservation, this time in the conservation of home heating fuel oil [see note #2]
A simple handcrafted tool, a made at home technology, the hand operated ash sifter was invented as a response to needs at the turn of the 20st century, would be strangely anticipatory of the needs 100 years later at the turn of the 21st century. The issue then as now is one of energy conservation, a reoccurring theme, marking the ‘scarcity’, ‘availability’, as well as ‘market price’ [affordability].
The hand operated manual ash sifter would find its place in the large homes at the turn of the 20th century many of which were heated, at least in part, by coal fired fireplaces, without the luxury of built in shaking mechanisms The shaking of ashes manually by a hand sifter technology would be a fact of life for those with coal burning fireplaces. For those with central coal heating furnaces with built in shaker grates [operated by turning of a crank], it would be a backup to retain the un-spent coal that escaped the mechanised sifting process.

Industrial Significance:

Crudely fabricated of old pieces of wood, found around the home, clearly the largely unskilled work of a homeowner or household handyman, it is rare marker of the days well before technology’s invasion of the Canadian home, with endless line of labor saving tools, appliances and products for comfort, safety, health and convenience. The finely made 1/8th inch galvinized sifter screen appears to be a bit of an anomaly, standing in sharp contrast to the other found-at-home materials used. The screening appears not to have been a later addition, however, given the integrated construction detail. All of which says something about the relatively advanced processes for the production of galvanized coated screen of the period - anachronistic

Socio-economic Significance:
Socio-cultural Significance:

Crudely fabricated of old pieces of wood, found around the home, etched and eroded through the effects of prolonged use, it is rare marker of the simplicity and rigors of Canadian urban life, as the 20th century dawned, when it came to keeping warm through the seeming endless of a Canadian winter. The process of sifting ash, so as to retain the un-spent coal was above all an act of thrift, one reflecting a ‘culture of thrift’, often practised by those of considerable means. The motivation for manual coal shaking technology also arouse out of the need for energy conservation measures, in a costly energy market. As well it reflected the economic constrains of the times in which the preponderance of Canadian families lived throughout the early years of the 20th century. From the perspective of the early 21st century, the large, architecturally sophisticated urban homes that began to appear in central Canada, in the closing years of the 19th century, present anomalies. The product of a new middle class affluence, they presented a perfect picture of a new life style of comfort and convenience. Yet, produced from the pattern books of the period, the designs were poorly fitted to Canadian winters - comfortable they were not through much of the year. This was, then, the market that the Canadian home heating industry would target and for which it would develop many of its earliest products and technologies, including the central warm air furnace, hot water boiler and related heat distribution systems [see images, homes and systems]


G. Leslie Oliver, The T. H. Oliver HVACR Collection

HHCC Storage Location:
Bibliographic References:

Caution in handling is advised, rusty exposed nails See Fess Oil Burners of Canada Limited, Toronto, Bulletin 5, October 27th 1947, Oil Scarcity, Though Temporary, is Still Acute