Tools of the Trades spring ’15 wrap-up

So today was Tools of the Trades. A good show, with quite a few vendors – Brit guys were missing though. There was the usual bunch of stuff. I saw quite a few Millers Falls bench planes, lots of vises (some big ones too), and measuring tools. Sometimes it’s as though there are waves of tools, with every show having 2-3 tools in abundance. I wasn’t after anything uber specific. There were no wooden planes which really stood out, and the infills are always a mixed bag quality wise (and expensive). There were a couple of Victor block planes, but I just couldn’t fork out the $240+ for them (I’m eyeing a Veritas DX60). Maybe one day – just one of them.

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Tools

Lots of planes, and chisels…

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More tools…

What did I end up buying? Three block planes – no surprise there. The first is a Record No.230, with a knuckle lever cap. The second is a Stanley No.130 double-end block plane. I consider double-ends to be ugly ducklings, but I should have at least one in my collection.

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The Record No.230, and the Stanley No.130

Lastly, an odd companion to my other BOSTON block plane, the BOSTON 2A. The vendor selling these had three of them (extremely odd) – and this was the nicest. These planes are completely aluminum – bar the blade. Oddities to be sure.

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The Boston No.2A and together with its sibling the No.2

 

The “Zig Zag” ruler

In North America we don’t see many folding “Zig Zag” type folding rulers anymore (in North America anyways), as they have been waylaid by the tape measure (at one point Lufkin catalogs dedicated 10 or more pages to these rulers). Growing up though, there were numerous folding rulers from Switzerland in my house. In Europe, they are often branded with company names and given out to to advertise the company. They are still heavily used in Europe, especially by trade such as cabinet makers. They are portable, light, adjustable, and accurate. Below are zigzags from Lufkin, Stabila and Wiha. Lufkin called these rulers “spring joint rules”.

Zigzags from Lufkin, Stabila and Wiha Tools

Last week I bought a new Wiha zigzag ruler at my local industrial tool emporium “Atlas Machinery“. It was just sitting there on the shelf for $15.95, and I thought – why not? What drew me to this one was, firstly the “Made in Switzerland” stamp, and secondly that it is made of plastic (with both imperial and metric scales). Part of the issue with older rules of this form is that they were made of wood, and the joints often became loose over time. The fact that they are made of wood is only an issue if you want to use them outside, the joints are another issue all together. Below are some of the features of a zigzag – a brass sliding depth gauge (for inside measurements), and the clarity of the scale.

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Sliding depth gauge and imperial scale

In the older zigzags, the joints are often made of metal that tends to rust over time, which means bending the joints is less than smooth. The new plastic zigzags have no play in these joints because each is spring loaded, and unlike their wooden brethren, these have 90º stops. Better than tape measures? They certainly aren’t as long, however they won’t rust, or kink. And they stay open. The scale is embossed, so it won’t wear off. These new rulers are made of fiberglass, and are chemical, water and scratch resistant.

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Zigzag joints: old vs. new

Historical note: Lufkin patented the folding rule joint in 1953 (Patent No. 2,713,206). They cite a zigzag patented in Switzerland in 1941 (Patent No. 215,429, Fabrique D’Instruments de Mesure). They also mention the patent of Stanley Rule & Level Company of 1913 for a “Folding Rule Joint” (Patent No. 1,080,192).

Time for tool fest!

You guessed it… time this coming Sunday (29th) for “Tools of the Trades“, in Pickering Ontario. Sure to be a good show. This time I have nothing I’m really looking for, except maybe “unusual” looking planes. There is always one tool seller with the odd Victor block plane – so maybe one of those. Starts at 10am – get in early for the coolest stuff!

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When the collecting gets harder

The problem with collecting anything is that once the low-hanging fruit are gone you are stuck with trying to find the rarer things. So it goes with block planes. Now that my collection contains most of the more “available” block planes, the focus moves to those which are somewhat rarer – but only insomuch as they are rare because they are hardly ever seen in the market. Take for example the Millers Falls No.36/37/47 block planes – the knuckle cap versions of Stanley’s No.18/19/65. They just don’t seem to surface that often. But how rare is it?

It would be easier to conclude that something is rare if we knew how many were produced – but these statistics are mostly unknown. We can derive some measure of “rarity” based on when the tool was manufactured, and for what length of period. A plane which was made in 1873 and appeared in catalogs for two years could be quite rare. Or it is also possible that it was never produced.  We make the assumption that if something was in a catalog for 10 years, then quite a few must have been manufactured and sold – but in reality it could have been in the catalog because it didn’t sell well, and it took 10 years for the stock to ebb away. We just don’t know.

A plane can of course be considered rare if it is in pristine condition, still in the original box, or an earlier type. It’s also possible that a plane becomes rare because it was manufactured well over a century ago, or that the company disappeared. Tools get lost, recycled, damaged, destroyed, misused. An excellent example of a rare plane is either of the chariot planes of British tool manufacturer Edward Preston & Sons (although they technically look more like a block plane). These “Irish pattern” planes were made with a cast bed and either a rosewood or ebony wedge.

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Edward Preston & Sons Catalog (1901).

These planes are rare due to: (i) their age (>100 years old); (ii) their geographical locality (produced in the UK); (iii) their design (a cast bed coupled with the use of a wooden wedge, reminiscent of the British infill planes); (iv) their style (chariot-style planes were predominantly a British thing); and  (v) the fact that the company that made them dissolved (in 1934). There is currently a No.1364 for sale on eBay for US$686.

 

Cooking by hand

Working with old-fashioned tools is what makes you feel like cook, and, even more, like a human, instead of fiddling around with the latest electrical gadget.

René Redzepi, NOMA, Copenhagen (René Redzepi Journal, 2013)