Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Tripping Down Memory Lane While Using An Old Tool...

I started a chisel rack yesterday for my almost complete set of Stanley #40’s, or #50’s, whichever version they happen to be. The problem collecting these things is that you just don’t know which model you have; the only difference between them being length. The #40’s are longer than the #50’s, opposite to what I expected, and as a result of this only difference, if you sharpen a #40 a few times too many, all of a sudden you own a #50.

Having to put beads on both edges of the stock for this addition to my tool chest, the first bead I ran was with my old wood bead molding plane. With the first bead done, I then remembered one of my latest acquisitions; the Stanley #66 Beading Tool. I dug it out and started to think things through regarding how to use it as I had never held one in my hands before receiving this one.

The first thing that struck me about this tool was its simplicity. Originally I thought I should go online to see if I could find some instructions for it but that thought quickly dispelled as I started to assemble it. You definitely do not have to be a mechanical engineer to figure out how this thing goes together.

As I have never been shy about discussing my old man in these posts, I will tell you that I thought a lot about him as I put that old tool together. My main thought was to try and figure out why he didn’t own one. I know it would be a tool he would be impressed with. In truth, for a carpenter, and a damned good one at that, he didn’t own a whole lot of tools.

His toolbox held:

  • Stanley #9 ½ Plane

  • Stanley #4 Plane

  • Stanley #7 Plane

  • Stanley #78 Plane

  • Stanley #28 & #29 Cornering Tools

  • Disston 28” Straight-Back Rip

  • Disston 26” Skewback Cross

  • Disston 20” Skewback Cross Panel

  • Disston 14” Back

  • Stanley #150 Open Front Miter. Box

  • Stanley #720 Chisels (a set of five)

  • Stanley #40 Screwdrivers (a set of five)

  • Millers Falls #610A Spiral Screwdriver

  • Stanley Bevels (3 different sizes)

  • Stanley #94 Butt Gauge

  • Stanley #77 Mortising Gauge

  • Stanley #373-3 ½” Butt Marker

  • Stanley #6 Awl (two)

  • Stanley #82 Scraper

  • Stanley Ratchet Bit Brace (I have no idea what model but he had two of them)

  • Irwin Bits (a complete set in a canvas roll)

  • Stanley #232 Aluminum Level

  • Stanley #87 Line Level

  • Hammers (2; one framing and one for trim)

  • Sand’s Craft Rafter Square 24”

  • Stanley #21 Combination Try and Miter Square

  • Stanley #20 Try Squares (6” and 10”)

  • Stanley #94 Boxwood Folding Rule (two)

  • Nail Sets (many)

  • Wrecking Bar

  • Nail Pull

  • Sharpening Stones (two)

Strange that I can list these, isn’t it? To tell the truth, it really isn’t. Not only was it my job to clean out that toolbox every Saturday afternoon for a number of years when I was a kid, but the fact is, I now own most of them. While you readers might think something poetic, like my dear father left me all his tools when he left this world, the reality is, he sold them to me. When I built my first house my father was retired. I approached him about borrowing many of his tools and his answer was that he didn’t need most of them any longer and if I paid him a thousand bucks, I could take what he didn’t need then and collect the rest after he was gone. While this may sound a little cold to you out there, in truth, I think it was payback time for him, and I will explain this if you read further.

With this simple set of tools, my old man started out in the building trade after be discharged from the army after the war. He got into building because the soldiers coming home needed homes to live in and given he had a grade 5 education, I think it was the only thing he could do. He bought a set of Audels Carpenters and Builders Guides, among others, taught himself the math required to figure out complex rafter systems and the like, and taught himself the art of drafting, something he became a true master at. By the mid 50’s, he had started his own contacting firm and was doing subcontracting with 10 men working for him. He also built a few houses on spec and renovated a number of others. Even though he was the boss, he built most of the kitchens in all these builds himself because that was what he excelled in – building cabinets, something that is no longer a craft because of the manufactured systems that are now in place.

By the late 50’s he was busted and broke. A developer he had subcontracted with to trim-out an entire subdivision filed for bankruptcy two weeks before the cheque was due. He went back working for someone else. He worked all the overtime he could to earn enough money to pay his men what he owed them instead of just passing on the loss by filing himself. I don’t think he ever recovered from that experience, but he kept at it until his failing health forced him inside. I can remember when I was a kid riding my bike to one of his sites he was working on to bring him his lunch and some cold pop.

Thinking about all of this yesterday and wondering about his limited tool selection, I realized that there probably wasn’t much money left over each month for buying extra tools once the bills for keeping a family was paid. There always was enough to meet his healthy beer budget, there is no doubt about that, but I think there just wasn't enough left to buy himself something like this beader. I guess it comes down to priorities and a limited budget.

Over the past five years I have taken his collection of tools and added to them considerably, which is what this tool cabinet build is all about; holding and displaying these wonderful examples of a bygone craft. Out of all I have so far, the only ones that show any signs of real abuse are the ones I listed above. Why? Because when I was a kid I liked to build things, just like my old man. I also wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer, and as a result, I left his #150 Miter Box out in the rain, lost the depth gauge, fence, complete with both rods, and the spur from his #78, lost many of his Irwin Bits, left his #82 Scraper under a tree for over a month, used one of his chisels to open a can of paint and broke the end off, lost a couple of his screwdrivers completely, lost the wing nut off of his #26 6” bevel, broke the end off of both his Awls - often, and lost the majority of his nail sets. These are the things I can remember doing to his tools, so image what I didn’t realize I had done. Genius, eh?

As I put this list together in my head yesterday, I wondered how I would have reacted if my son had done such things to the tools of my trade; my camera equipment. I would have killed him. As I thought this, I realized that, despite destroying a good majority of the tools my old man used to earn the money to feed me, he never cut me off them. There is no way in hell he didn’t know that I would damage more of his tools every time I used them, but he never said no. Without question, he let me use every one of them whenever the need occurred and often suggested which tools to use for a particular task. For the life of me, I can't figure out if that was a truly impressive act of a good father, or the dumbest thing I ever heard of. I’m also not saying the old man didn’t give me a serious cuff every time I damaged one of his tools, along with a long, detailed oratory regarding his views of how tools are to be respected and cared for. I’m just saying he never cut me off them.

It took a number of years but his verbal directions delivered with physical emphasis regarding tool care has finally worked its way home. The nickel has dropped, so-to-speak. Over the past couple of years I have cleaned, repaired and replaced all the damage I did to those tools in my youth. The last line in that chapter was written last week when I finally located the wing nut for his #26 bevel, located on
http://www.toolexchange.com.au/, a company in Australia. Mind you, with what it cost me for that one wing nut and bolt I could have bought a complete new example of this tool, but what the hell.

So there you go. Some personal thoughts surprisingly generated by using an old hand tool. You gotta’ love these things.