Tabitha Babbit (1779-1853)

Sarah “Tabitha” Babbitt was an early American Shaker purported to be a tool maker and inventor.

Tabitha Babbitt and the circular saw

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Inventions credited to her by the Shakers include the circular saw, the spinning wheel head, and false teeth. She was a member of the Harvard Shaker community. Woodcutters, artisans and carpenters from all over the world must thank Tabitha Babbitt, the woman who made their job easier and less dangerous.


Sarah Tabitha Babbitt

Babbitt was born in Hardwick, Massachusetts, the daughter of Seth and Elizabeth Babbitt. On August 12, 1793, she became a member of the Shakers at the Harvard Shaker community in Massachusetts. Tabitha was a member of the Harvard Shaker community in Massachusetts, living a simple life as a weaver. In December 1853, Babbitt died in Harvard, Massachusetts.

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The invention of circular saw

The first circular saw

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Babbitt is credited with inventing the first circular saw for use in a saw mill in 1813. According to the Shakers, Babbitt was watching men use the difficult two-man whipsaw when she noticed that half of their motion was wasted. She proposed creating a round blade to increase efficiency. The circular saw was connected to a water-powered machine to reduce the effort to cut lumber. The first circular saw she allegedly made is in Albany, New York. In the summer of 1948, a version of Babbitt’s saw, built to her specifications, was on display at a Shaker exhibit at Fenimore House in Cooperstown, N. Y., as a loan from the New York State Museum.

Controversy over circular saw invention

Photographie of a circular saw

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Because Babbitt did not patent her circular saw and the reference to her invention exists only in Shaker lore, there is controversy over whether she was the true first inventor of the saw. According to some accounts, two French men patented the circular saw in the United States by two French men after reading about Babbitt’s saw in Shaker papers. M. Stephen Miller argues that Babbitt was not the first inventor of the circular saw, based upon the date that she joined the sect. He contends that the circular saw was invented at Mount Lebanon Shaker Village by Amos Bishop or Benjamin Bruce in 1793 —or not by a Shaker at all.

Other inventions

A shaker spinning wheel

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She also improved the spinning wheel head, used to make thread, with a double spinning head allowing women spinning twice as much thread in a short time. Also, Tabatha assisted in the invention of cutting multiple nails from a iron sheet instead of forging each nail individually. In the end, it is believed that she was in the middle of her invention of manufacturing false teeth at the time of her death.

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