Adding a little family heritage to the tool chest

Over the past couple of years visiting my parent’s house has become an opportunity to learn more family history, and connect with the lives of long-gone relatives I never got the opportunity to meet. While the Apprentice rampages around their beautiful garden with her Nana (my Mother) in tow, my Father will often weave more threads to the family tapestry. Some of these threads relate to relatives who had skilled trades, and occasionally the insights into our family history will be accompanied by surviving tools. There are several wooden planes now sitting on my bookcase which previously belonged to my great-great Uncle Bill, who was a pattern maker by trade.

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The Starrett catalogue entry for the No.900 Set for Students and Apprentices (screen grabbed from Instagram)

We last visited in August, and while the BBQ was cooling we got to talking some more about family history. During the Second World War my paternal grandmother worked at Lucas – a major electrical and engineering firm in Birmingham whose name is still present on some impressive buildings in the city centre. Dad disappeared into his workshop to find the micrometer his mother had made at the start of her time at Lucas, and while he couldn’t find that, he did unearth a wonderful boxed measuring tool set by Starrett.

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Great-great Uncle Bill’s set

This set belonged to another great-great-Uncle Bill (not the paternmaker) who worked as a scales engineer repairing and recalibrating shop and industrial scales. Specialist industries in the Midlands have long been focused on specific towns, including chain making in Cradley Heath (including chains for the Titanic), lock making in Willenhall, nail manufacture in Dudley, and leatherware for horses in Walsall. The manufacture of springs, and measuring scales, focused in West Bromwich. Dad believes that great-great-Uncle Bill Phillips worked for Avery, rather than Salters (the other great West Bromwhich scale manufacturer).

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I’ve not seen a Starrett set like this before, but thanks to the help of the good folk of Instagram in piecing the puzzle together, it appears to be an example of the No.900 set for students and apprentices. The fabric case marks it out as having been manufactured in the 1930s and 40s, following which Starrett switched to a wooden box. The lack of patent date on the dividers suggests that this is an early (1930s) example.

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The 6″ combination square moves sweetly and is still dead-nuts square

The tools themselves show some patina (as you’d expect from being part of a workingman’s tool kit) but the mechanisms move sweetly and the numbering is clearly legible. There are a couple of tools missing  (No.390 centre gauge, No.83 4″ divider, and the No.241 4″ caliper), and I am going to try and track down period authentic examples of each of those to complete the set.

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The set fills out a couple of gaps in my own toolkit, and thanks to the generosity of my Father in entrusting me with an item of family history, I’ve added the set to my Anarchist’s Tool Chest where I expect it will serve me well for many years (and likely outlast me – Starrett tools are both precise and built to last). So the Starrett set joins my Grandfather’s hammer and a number of other tools in my toolchest which have been passed down through the generations, adding a sense of family history and hand tool heritage. And the toolchest will preserve them until the time comes to pass them on again.

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Rising to the Occasion

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Furniture & Cabinetmaking issue 274 is now in stores, and features my in-depth review of the new panel raising plane by Philly Planes. Also included is Nancy Hiller’s article on the history and social significance of the Hoosier Cabinet, and part 3 of Steve Cashmore’s on-going series of WoodRat techniques, along with plenty of excellent content and inspiration.

Help Fund Auriou Tool Works

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Forge de Saint Juey, home to Auriou Tool Works

Last week a mailshot landed in my inbox from Classic Hand Tools about a crowdsourced funding drive Auriou Tool Works are undertaking. I was fortunate to visit Auriou back in 2016, and it is a truly special place steeped in over a century and a half of dedication to craftsmanship. Michel Auriou, the 4th generation of his family to work at the forge, has an encyclopedic knowledge of his craft, and a real passion for building on the Auriou legacy. It would be a real tragedy if Auriou were unable to continue trading

The crowdfunding site can be found here, and the newsletter from Classic Hand Tools is reproduced below (with kind permission of CHT). If you want to invest in a woodworking institution, and help ensure the survival of an incredibly important family business, then click through to read more.

Auriou Toolworks is just 162 years old. It survived the 2008 financial crash through assistance from 2 altruistically inclined investors who worked hard to keep this historic forge going when the proverbial hit the pan several years ago.
The order book for Auriou tools has always been full this last decade with great demand from North America and the UK in particular. However,  retiring skilled workers, worn out spring hammers, tooling and other essential equipment plus lack of credible government funded training schemes for apprentices have always constantly undermined the drive to get the forge on an even keel.
Funds are now needed for capital investment to keep the company going.
The ownership fully returned to Michel Auriou last summer and he is seeking help through crowd funding to help secure the future of toolmaking at Forge de Saint Juery (home of Auriou Toolworks).
We are happy to direct potential funders to this cause as at Classic Hand Tools, we do believe that Forge de Saint Juery is alone in its forging and rasp/riffler techniques which makes them appreciated by hobbyist and professional woodworkers worldwide.
Commercially, as their UK retailer, we would like to see them continue for decades to come.  Of greater concern to the wider woodworking world would be the loss to the hand tool making fraternity should Auriou tools disappear from the marketplace for ever despite their healthy order book.
As a matter of disclosure Classic Hand Tools Ltd does not (since September 2017) have any share capital in Forge de Saint Juery – home of Auriou Toolworks. Consequently we cannot comment on the financial well being of the company but can confirm we have recently received 2 large stock orders and have large orders placed with Forge de St Juery for delivery this year.
Michel Auriou is unaware of the posting of this newsletter. We feel his crowd funding initiative deserves as wider audience as possible. Any correspondence can be directed to Michel at michel-auriou-fsj@orange.fr
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A stitcher uses the barley corn pick and hammer to cut each tooth individually

Karl Holtey profile in Handplane Essentials

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Over the past 5 years I’ve found the first edition of Chris’ book Handplane Essentials to be an invaluable reference, so when he announced last year that he was working on a revised second edition I knew I would have to pick up a copy. What I didn’t realise, until an eagle-eyed reader at EWS 2017 told me, was that along with a lot of new content by Chris the 2nd edition of Handplane Essentials also contains my profile on Karl Holtey.

My copy arrived last week, and although I have only had a brief opportunity to flick through it so far, my first impressions are that the second edition builds on what was already an excellent body of reference material. To have one of my articles included in this collection is a real thrill, and I’m looking forward to stealing some time to read the new edition in depth. Handplane Essentials can be found in the Popular Woodworking store here.

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Book Report – the OtW Top 5 Picks for Woodworking Knowledge

My first introduction to handwork was in a formal class environment at the Totnes School of Guitar Making. In contrast, save for two week long classes through New English Workshop, all of my furniture building has been self taught through trial, error, and judicious amounts of reading. I’ve always been a voracious reader, and so it was inevitable that as I became more invested in woodwork I would start to build up a healthy reference library. A common question posed on forums and social media (as well as, you know, actual human to human interaction) is what woodwork books are worth reading, especially from the perspective of the beginner. Vic wrote a thought-provoking post on this very subject a couple of years ago.

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This is why I need to build the boarded bookcase from The Anarchist’s Design Book – half of my woodwork library is currently languishing on this Billy bookcase from IKEA, and the remainder is still boxed up.

So, I thought it was about time that I threw my hat into the ring and offered up my five essential woodwork texts. This bost has been percolating at the back of my mind for ages, and to be honest whittling the list down to my top five picks felt like a really tough challenge. There is a huge volume of woodwork reading material out there, and it pains me to omit Roubo, Moxon, Hayward, or Krenov (especially Krenov). So this list is a starting point, and not a list of the only books you need to read. It also reflects some of my enduring pre-occupations with woodwork, namely how to make the crafts accessible to new entrants, which a woodworker more inclined to other matters, might skip. I’ve also focused on furniture making rather than lutherie (otherwise Bob Benedetto’s excellent book on archtop guitar making would have found a slot). But without further ado…

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The Anarchist’s Tool Chest – Christopher Schwarz

The inclusion of this title will be a surprise to exactly no one. The Anarchist’s Tool Chest was such a pivotal book for me (and countless other woodworkers) when I first read it. Chris made a critical leap by linking the philosphy and practice – expressing exactly what it was about woodwork that appealed to me, and then identifying exactly how to go about it. And while the tool chest itself may have been a literary conceit, Chris offers a much needed antidote to the forums which insist you cannot build anything until you have a well appointed machine room in addition to bulging lists of handtools. The book thoughtfully guides you through a compact tool kit which will cover nearly all furniture building needs, and explains how to separate used tools worth buying from tool-shaped junk. In short, The Anarchist’s Tool Chest equips the reader with the motivation to make things by hand, and the means to execute those ideas.

If I could only have one woodwork book, this would be it. The following passage sums up the power of this book, and the thrill I still get everytime I lift the lid on my Anarchist’s Tool Chest: “The mere act of owning real tools and having the power to use them is a radical and rare idea that can help change the world around us and – if we are persistent – preserve the craft”.

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The Joiner and Cabinet Maker – Anon

I’ve written about the The Joiner and Cabinet Maker previously, but it would be impossible to write this list without including this book, so it’s worth explaining again.

The story of The Joiner and Cabinet Maker follows a young lad called Thomas through his mid-nineteenth century apprenticeship, and covers in great detail three projects. The first is a packing box (which I also wrote about here). Then follows a school box at the mid-point of his apprenticeship, and finally a chest of drawers before Thomas becomes a journeyman. By following a progression of projects chronologically, we see Thomas start out with only a few tools and using them to learn key skills to build simple items, and then growing his tool kit and his skill set. Building along with Thomas offers an opportunity to build skills in a structured and organised fashion, and to invest in a tool kit on an as needed basis, organically and cost efficiently.

If you have never built anything out of wood, I would suggest starting with this book, and building all three projects in order, only using the tools and techniques mentioned in the book. That would give you a compact (and affordable) tool kit and a solid set of the fundamental skills needed to build a wide variety of furniture. I still haven’t built the chest of drawers from The Joiner and Cabinet Maker, but I plan on doing so as soon as I have a clear slot in my workshop calendar.

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The Perfect Edge – Ron Hock

I’m not sure any subject in woodworking carries as much voodoo or conflicting information as sharpening. Which is nuts, because really sharpening is ancillary to the fun of working wood. Sure, humanity is wonderful in its variety, and there are probably folk out there who just sharpen things as a hobby. Me, I really like making tools blunt by using them (and then I have to sharpen them again, dammit). But it is nigh on impossible to do woodwork until you can sharpen properly – sharpening is one of the fundamental gateway skills. Fortunately, Ron has written a book which explains metallurgy, the science behind sharpening, and the various sharpening options, in a way that is clear and free of voodoo. I’ve never read any other books or articles on sharpening  because I’ve never needed to – with Ron’s clear guidance I can get a razor edge on my tools quickly, and back to the business of working wood.

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Making Things Work Nancy Hiller

This book won’t teach you how to cut a perfect dovetail, or how to design your dream cabinet, but what it will do is give an incredible insight into the life of a professional woodworker. Nancy is an entertaining and thought-provoking writer who recounts annecdotes gathered over the course of her career with humour and insight, exploring why people are motivated to make things with their hands as well as the hard reality of what that career can entail. When I started formulating this list I knew I needed to include something which spoke to the why of woodwork as much as the how. Written from the perspective of a life dedicated to craft, and with a sharp eye for detail, this book fills that slot (and pipped The Impractical Cabinetmaker by Krenov to the post).

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The Minimalist Woodworker Vic Tesolin

Want to try woodworking but don’t have a workshop or a tool kit? Worried about the space and cost demands of embarking in the woodcrafts? Let Vic be your guide. I’m all in favour of anything that can lower the entry bar to woodwork, and Vic’s book should frankly be essential reading for all aspiring woodworkers. Through the course of the book, Vic explains how to set up a work space, identifies a minimal tool kit, and walks the reader through a series of projects building essential shop fixtures (a workbench, tool storage, and bench appliances) to develop the skills to use those tools. The quality of photography is great (poor photographs in woodwork books is a particular bugbear of mine – for some reason lutherie books often contain the worst photos, although I’m never sure why) and the book is written in Vic’s customary no nonsense style.

My Ritual… part 2

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I’ve written previously about how I find ritualised activity helpful for entering the right frame of mind at the start of a workshop day. And although at the end of a project I am always eager to start the next build, I have taken to spending a couple of hours cleaning up and re-ordering the workshop before I start work on something new. I suppose that this is really another ritual of sorts, helping as it does to clear both my head and the ‘shop.

 

The workshop was in sore need of some attention and tidying by the time I had finished the Policeman’s Boot Bench. Although I try to keep a clear and tidy workspace, working on the Boot Bench had prompted some major reorganisation of the ‘shop, including relocating my bench against the lefthand wall. Changing one element of a workspace invariably means you have to reorganise other areas, and I’d not had the time to complete this process since January.

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Having completed the Policeman’s Boot Bench – the shop is in need of a good clean and some thorough re-organisation.

 

And so although I am chomping at the bit to start building a staked work table (out of the Anarchist’s Design Book) for my study, I spent half a day clearing the shop, having a thorough clean, and re-organising everything into a more ergonomic and less cluttered, space. Sweeping up all of the hard to reach shavings once a piece is finished really does help to clear my mind for the next project. My Anarchist’s Tool Chest has become a favourite refuge for shavings, as it is just high enough off the floor to collect plenty of debris, but too low to the floor to get a broom underneath it. So after wheeling the tool chest out of the ‘shop, and pulling the workbench into the middle of the floor, I had a thorough sweep up followed by vacuuming any stubborn fibres I’d missed.

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The much improved clamp and timber storage corner of the workshop

Moving my workbench from the middle of the workshop to the wall had provided much needed stability while planing stock. However, it had resulted in cramped working considitons at the right hand end of the bench, which was squashed up against a growing stack of lumber and my overflowing scraps bin (the contents of which towered above the brim of the bin, threatening to cascade across the ‘shop floor). I’d not had time to address this corner of the workshop while I was working on the Boot Bench, and this was my first opportunity to impose order. I emptied out the timber racks at the end of the workshop, reorganising the timber I was keeping, and consigning less useful pieces to the recycling pile. This meant that a lot of the loosely stacked timber could now go in the racks, with a couple of larger pieces being stored in the rafters. Only one plank of Canadian pine is now freestanding, and that is because at 16′ long it is 5’ longer than my workshop is wide. The scraps bin received similarly ruthless treatment, and the contents which survived the cull were neatly stacked back in the bin. The other source of clutter was my growing collection of Bessey sash clamps, which found new homes clamped around the edge of the go-bar station.

The final element of this ritual is to break down and clean all of the tools I have used particularly hard on a project – usually my bench planes, and some of the more specialist joinery planes. Although I clean my tools after each use and sharpen regularly, giving them some extra attention at the end of a build does keep them in good working order and gives me an opportunity to address any minor issues. This included tightening the frog on my Clifton No.5, as it had started to come a little loose and rattle – probably from several months of taking big traversing cuts through tough oak.

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The re-organised and cleaned workshop, ready to start the staked work table

The workshop is now cleared and clean – providing the perfect setting to start the next project free of distractions or niggles. I’ve found the ritual of bookending each major build in this way to be very beneficial. So what rituals do you find help in the workshop?