What’s with Lee Valley?

I love Lee Valley, always have. But lately there seem to be some strange things going on. First there’s a lot of Festool, which is nice. Then there is the foray into Rikon workshop machinery. All good. But today I went in to buy a JessEm dowel jig in the downtown TO store. I also wanted to buy some dowel pins… but guess what? They had none. Nada, zip. No product page on the website unless you search for them… then the webpage says “These products are no longer available.”. NO dowel pins. They sell at least three dowel jigs, but no dowels? Maybe they plan to have a new supplier soon. Who knows? But not having any stock in store, or no ability to buy online means going elsewhere.

So if you are looking for dowel pins in Canada, I suggest JustJoinery in Ontarrio, or Bear Woods.

Now the next saga… finding a Swedish carving axe in Canada!
– going to buy one from Bushcraft Canada


A mini adjustable wrench (or spanner)

This is a cool little tool made by Abingdon King Dick, a Birmingham company (founded in 1856). It is a handy adjustable wrench made for use with motorcycles, and cars. Four inches in length, it has a certain heft, adjusted using a straight-knurled knob in the central part of the wrench. The adjusts a screw threaded stem, which in turn moves the jaw of the adjustable wrench.

The wrench has a number of markings, denoting the number, No. 765509, and “WAR FINISH”, implying it was made during the war years (WW1 vs WW2?). The spanner itself seems to have been based on a US patent by Charles E. Billings, for “Improvements in Wrenches”, awarded in 1879.  The “WAR FINISH” likely indicated that it was one of few tools sold to the public during the war, the remainder of resources/production being geared towards the armed forces. It likely entailed a lower quality finish, i.e. rough sanding, and no plating or extra buffing/polishing. This may also have been stamped to indicate that “usually the tool has a better quality finish”.

This wrench was often supplied  in different sizes  in tool rolls for cars such as those built by the Austin Motor Co. – this site shows the various tool kits for the Austin Seven built from 1923-1939.

Patent Info:

  • The original adjustable wrench awarded to Charles E. Billings, in 1879 (US 212,298)
  • A patent for an adjustable wrench in which the lower jaw was adjusted by means of a “milled nut and screwed rod”  was awarded to Abingdon-Ecco in 1909 (GB 19,863).
  • A patent for an improved adjustment mechanism was awarded to James William Reynolds of Wolverhampton in 1920 (GB 144,943).

And if you are interested in collecting adjustable spanners, here is an excellent book on the subject.

The plight of urban trees

Having lived in inner Toronto for many years, I have seen a lot of changes in the tree canopy of the city. When we first moved into our house over 15 years ago, the trees on our street were towering, some 2-3 feet in width and hanging over the street. But time has worn on, and the largest trees are slowly disappearing. Ice storms, improper pruning from utilities, poor maintenance – it’s surprising many have lasted as long as they have… but trees don’t last forever.

Below is what is left of an urban ash, clearly showing the drill lines where the city tried to prevent attack by ash borers by injecting insecticide – unfortunately it lost a major limb in the ice storm a few years back, and the wound was the catalyst in its demise. The brown staining is a consequence of the wound, which can apparently cause the stain to bleed through the whole trunk of the tree. The stain is not true heartwood, but rather a reaction to the wound, and any infection that occurs. It was only a matter of time.

More important though is to actually replace the tree canopy. Why isn’t there more effort spent on replacing the urban tree canopy?

The block planes of superheroes (ix) – Twix

A new addition to the steel block plane collection (C$12), and in seemingly great condition.

The TWIX company of New York state (Long Island City) made a couple of pressed-steel block planes. The one described below has a blade adjustment mechanism, but others had none. This steel block plane is one of the longer ones, at 7¼”. The entire housing seems kind-of compact, as the walls of the plane maintain their height for a good length of the plane. The lever cap therefore sits quite low in the plane, allowing limited access to its thumbwheel. This compactness also makes the knob on the front of the plane oversized – this is also one of the few steel block planes which use a wooden knob.

This is a unique plane in many ways, not least of which the depth adjustment mechanism used. A sled-based system, it used a tab integrated into the planes “frog”, which meshed with a horizontal slit in the blade. To facilitate lateral adjustment there is also a vertical slot on the top of the blade. Unusually, the TWIX trademark is oriented toward the back of the plane (which makes little sense, as it is covered by the lever cap).

Here you can see the combined depth and lateral adjustment mechanisms. The depth adjustment mechanism is a simple knurled knob which is attached to a machine screw which moves the sled. The lateral adjustment mechanism is also very simple, using an integral lever with a tab, which can be moved from side-to-side. The tab meshes with the vertical slot in the blade, adjusting it left or right. The blade is then held in position by the  clamp screw.

This is an odd, yet lovable kind of plane…. and its shape kind-of reminds me of a steam locomotive with a large spark-arresting funnel. There were a number of variants of these planes, but it seems hard to find much out about  the company TWIX.


Block plane throat adjustment mechanisms (iv) – odd ones

Just when you think everything has been covered, you always manage to find another weird mechanism. This is a mechanism which I discovered on a Union block plane recently. The plane is a Union No.9½ with an “improved throat adjustment or slide, by means of which the opening for Cutter may be closed or enlarged” (Union catalog  “Iron and Wood Planes”, 1905). The adjustment mechanism is a simple metal plate with a diagonal slot cut into it. Either end of the plate is bent at 45° to allow for adjustment. As the plate is moved from side-to-side, the threaded screw attached to the throat plate moves forward and backward, adjusting the size of the throat opening.

Streamlined block planes

It is not uncommon these days  to see aesthetics take a role in tool  design, but in earlier times, the onus was more on the utility of a tool, rather than its looks. There are exceptions of course. One of the most interesting time periods was likely  the “atomic” age of the 1950s. This was the culmination of the age of streamlining, which began in the 1930s. A good example of this in design are the streamlined trains of this period, such as the Zephyr.

The most iconic of streamlined trains – the Zephyr

Probably the most recognizable streamlined tools were those designed by Garth Huxtable, of Millers Falls fame – and the most famous was the Millers Falls “Buck Rogers” planes. It is unfortunate that many of Huxtable’s designs never made it to the prototype stage. His block plane study of 1948 clearly illustrates the ergonomic lines of the planes.

It is a shame that none of these designs ever made their way to production. Likely the demise of interesting designs like these coincided with the overall decline in the production of hand tools in the late 1950s. Some elements of these designs have however been reimagined by contemporary plane makers such as Veritas.

Now if they just made them in fire-engine red!

Tools of the Trades roundup (spring 2017)

Visited Tools of the Trades last Sunday for a couple of hours. Uber-busy when it opened at 10am, and for the next hour and a half. I didn’t know what I was really looking for – and in reality I didn’t buy much. There were lots of the usual planes, and chisels, a good amount of Swedish chisels, and the like, some Japanese tools. I ended up buying a 700mm Ulmia frame saw, two block planes (a Union and a Twix), a 1/8″ mortise chisel, and a small hand adjustable wrench. A super huge selection from John Pirie at Ontario Antique Tools.

Always a great selection of sets of Swedish chisels – this Beaver set looked like it had never been used.

A good selection of tools from Britools – purveyors of quality British chisels, planes, saws, and measuring implements.

Loads, and loads of moulding planes. ( I mean bucket-loads, and often inexpensive).

A super great selection of planes (at excellent prices) – Stanley, Millers Falls, etc.