Boxes of tools
By John Lane, Tutor, Pioneer Sailing Trust
When Julia Jones emailed to tell me her friend, Seona Ford, was “ruthlessly” clearing out her garage and needed a home for some old tools, it prompted me to “put pen to paper”.
We are offered tools from time to time, and get quite excited, expecting a chest-full of rare and desirable woodworking tools, each lovingly preserved with the patina of care by some old, wise master-craftsman – sadly, most often deceased. Rosewood mortice gauges with brass fittings, a selection of bollow and rebate planes, long paring chisels, Diston handsaws – perhaps even a nice No.73 shoulder plane?
|Charlie's No 73 plane, found on ebay|
It usually starts with a phone call – “Well, yes, the apprentices, especially the newer ones, always need tools. What do you have?” I ask.
And it usually goes something like this: “They’re in an old wooden box; some planes, saws and chisels and things – surely too good to throw away? They belonged to my father”, they say. “He was a boat-builder before the war, down in the yard… you know, where they’ve built all those ugly flats. Are you sure you want them? I can bring them round to you this afternoon, if you like? I just don’t want to see them thrown away……………….”
“Mum’s” the word as we await the arrival of the mysterious box with eager anticipation. There must be no hint of its impending arrival or the apprentices will gather like vultures squabbling over a freshly-killed zebra on the Serengeti.
The box arrives. Although the apprentices pretend not to notice when someone comes round to the yard, they never miss a trick. One of the lads sees us lifting something from the boot of the car and comes over to help. His eyes light up when he sees the box. Then others begin to join him, smelling blood.
|A box of assorted tools donated to PST|
The box is indeed quite old and heavily built, with some initials carved in the top. Sensing a kill, more bodies begin to gather round as the box is set it down on the concrete. Resisting the temptation to rub my hands together, I slowly open the lid. Inside there is a rusty Record No.4 plane with a broken handle, a wooden jack plane – split, with no blade and spattered in yellow paint – a selection of cheap plastic-handled screwdrivers (ca 1980), a tenon saw of dubious quality (blunt, with no set) and in a wooden tray, a range of old drill bits and other paraphernalia, all quite useless. There are several chisels with short, worn blades and split wooden handles, some with no ferrules. Rummaging about in the bottom, there are old files, blunt by varying degrees and mostly with no handle, and a coping saw with a flaking chrome frame and no blade. A seized hand drill might be salvageable, but of the two spokeshaves, one has no blade and the other has a broken casting. Then, at the very bottom, we suddenly see a box marked “Stanley Combination Plane”, but our brief moment of hope is dashed by more disappointment: the box contains nothing but an assortment of rusty steel screws.
|A selection of good quality donated tools|
The apprentices begin to drift off, almost unnoticeably. Nobody says anything. As for me, I find it difficult to appear both delighted and grateful as I thank and assure the donor we will find a good home for the tools. Unsure if they believe my attempt at sincerity, I begin to lie. “Our newest apprentice can certainly use some of these”, I hear myself saying. “Mostly, they just need a good clean”.
|Our new apprentice Tariq|
As the car drives away, the box is taken into the workshop and shoved under a bench. It will sit there for a “decent interval” - probably a couple of years - and then someone will decide the box itself is useful - and the tools probably thrown in the skip.
But in reality, more often than not, there is always something of use in a box-full of donated tools – as evidenced in the photographs. And sometimes, just sometimes, there is the odd gem to be found. So, if you do have any tools needing a good home, please do not be put off by this rather tongue-in-cheek post. We are ALWAYS grateful for donations of tools, whatever their condition!