forefathers lost, great tools found.

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Blog entry by woodbutcherer posted 02-05-2009 05:07 PM 1316 reads 0 times favorited 14 comments Add to Favorites Watch

hand toolsHi, I was posting pics of my workshop last night, and it got me to thinking about my old tools. I posted some of those thoughts in the description of my shop, but then decided they may be more appropriate in a blog, so…

-My father was not handy. Dad had a hard time figuring out what end of a nail goes into the wood, LOL. However, when my grandad passed in ‘91 (I was 17), dad inherited all of grampa’s tools.

Gramps was a pattern maker by trade and gunsmith by hobby. He had an extensive hadge-podge of metal and woodworking tools that dad had no idea what to do with, nor ambition to learn. Out of nostalgia I suppose, dad hung on to all of it anyway, letting it rust and dust in the store room of the house. This was really surprising to me. You see, the two of them (Dad and Grandpa) had not gotten along all that well

Meanwhile, I went to University and then began working as a Corrections Officer. In search of a hobby to de-stress, I discovered that flannel-shirted Norm guy on Public Television. I have been learning the craft ever since.

After I spent lots (and lots) of my money on fancy Norm-esque power tools, dad gave me an old wooden carpenters box filled with a rusty mix of grandpa’s chisels and hand planes and some other odds and ends.

Dad said had it just seemed like I should have them, as they weren’t any good at the house and I can get some use out of them. I think It was a way for him to finally say goodbye to his old man.

Well, they sat in their box in my shop for a year or so. What the heck was I gonna do with them? I had POWER TOOLS!

Then one day, on a lark, I researched how to clean up and “PROPERLY SHARPEN” these tools (it turns asking about “PROPERLY SHARPENING” hand tools is like talking politics and religion, but I muddled through). As I began to buff off the surface rust, little memories of my late grand-dad began popping into my head. As I sharpened the chisel and plane blades on an oilstone I recalled long forgotten lessons Grandpa had taught to me on using THAT very same stone the proper way. When I re-assembled the planes, I remembered how gramps would dig a hand full of pocket change out for me and would always have a couple small screws or nails in the mix from whatever he was tinkering with at the time. I could almost see him sitting at his dining room table with a portable vise holding a new stock he was carving for the next rifle to be made.

In fact, I discovered the link to my grandfather that I had abandoned years ago when I entered my teens, asserting my independance from the people I loved the most, and never rediscovered because of his passing. When I use grampa’s hand tools now (which is way more often than those loud, dirty and dangerous NORM machines) I cannot help but think of the man who created with them before me. I remember the love of a young, only grandson for the man who was a poor father, but tried to do right by the next generation. I feel the link to that flawed but wonderful old man as I grip the same worn handles that he held, and create with the same tools he had created with. It’s such a powerful, “romantic” thought that sometimes I can almost hear the old man again, telling me the story of how he got started in life, how he had purchased most of his tools second hand back in the 40’s from an older coworker who was retiring.

Now, I have the disease common to all uf us “dark side” woodworkers; I spend hours surfing ebay and garage sales for more old iron, and have added 8 or 9 planes to Gramps “starter set”. I work with those tools almost exclusively now, only using my power tools for the rougher beginning work.

I even have other old tools whose history I know. There’s the 1940’s 14” bandsaw and 6” joiner that I purchased from a local gentleman who had used them since they were brand new to create wooden boats for the Century Boat Company. Those boats are now sought after collector’s items. Theres is an old Mont. Ward scroll saw that I bought at a thrift store. It was originally mounted to an antique TV cabinet, but I restored it to working condition. My vintage carvers bench that I found in pieces in the basement of this house, and moved to the shop belonged to Mr. Haley, the gentlleman who lived here for the better part of the last century. And so on with all the others.

For me, there is a connection to the past when working the hand tools. It is cool for me, because these old tools have a story (and a life) of their own. Not one antique in my shop is just a tool. The 1940’s Delta stuff made some true works of art in those Century Boats, and I own some of the rifles made by grandpa. It’s a link to the past that I can’t wait to pass on to my son (or daughter…she seems to have more interest in the woodworking so far).

To ebay my old tools would get me a couple thousand dollars, I am sure. But money cannot describe the true value of an old tool. They all have a story to tell, and thats why they should be treated with the same reverance and respect as a box full of heirloom jewelry.

-- POST NUBILA SOL - After clouds sunshine

14 comments so far

View Karson's profile


35125 posts in 4425 days

#1 posted 02-05-2009 05:27 PM

Very nice story and to publicly remember your Grandfather is a great way to share that love. I never knew either one of my grandfathers, but my times with my father are very precious. All my fathers old tools were sold at a garage sale by the family at home. I lived 1000 miles away.

So I’m toolless when it comes to family tools.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Southern Delaware soon moving to Virginia †

View mmh's profile


3677 posts in 3747 days

#2 posted 02-05-2009 06:23 PM

What a wonderful introduction to your tools and their history. My husband has a few very worn and tired looking tools from his father that he has held on for pure sentimental value. He made a special holder for them on the recently installed tool wall we created from the plans as shared by Steve Korz: (I will have to post photos of our installation soon.)

My Dad has done some sculpture and so I am blessed to still have him to talk to and I hope to get together this spring with him to work on some pecan and maple logs that were harvested. As far as grandparents, I only knew my mother’s mother and grandmother. I always urge young people to get to know and cherish their grandparents as they will not be around very long and I didn’t have much opportunity to know mine, so I can’t stress enough for them to get to know them as much as possible before they’re gone.

As far as parents handing down their knowledge and craft, well that is beyond monetary value and I can only urge any parent and child to take advantage of this opportunity before it is gone. There so much to learn and share between generations, if only we can get away from the electronic gizmos that distract us from each other. I met a young man on the bus from NYC to DC who had just visited his grandparents and I suggested that he document his grandparents by interviewing them by taking movies of them and their stories. He was quite interested in this concept, as he was still trying to figure out what to do with his life, and he was visiting them on weekends.

I hope to hear more on your tools. It gives us insight as to who was here before we were and what they did during their lives.

-- "They who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night." ~ Edgar Allan Poe

View HallTree's profile


5664 posts in 3792 days

#3 posted 02-05-2009 07:19 PM

I very much enjoyed your story. As a small child in the 40’s I would watch my grandfather work in his shop. He would only allow me to watch and never allow me to go into the shop alone. He did not have any power tools. I think he just did not want me messing around. I often wonder what happen to all of his old tools. My dad was a woodworker and taught me a lot. My son does some woodworking. My grandsons are just starting out on their own and as of yet are not into woodworking.

-- "Hold on to instruction, do not let it go; guard it well, for it is your life" Solomon

View blackcherry's profile


3338 posts in 3848 days

#4 posted 02-05-2009 07:34 PM

PRICELESS …. I too have the affliction of old hand tools, man I say its more like a therapeutic way of working. Power tools are great for the quick and easy and we all need that to make quick cash but the use of hand tools just speaks to a woodworker soul. Enjoy the use of your new old tools their the best money can buy….Blkcherry

View pja's profile


3 posts in 3849 days

#5 posted 02-05-2009 08:03 PM

Your blog struck a chord with me. As I was growing up my dad was always remodeling the house somehow. It seemed as though he wasn’t quite sure what he was doing, and later in life he admitted to me that he didn’t. He did however work at the local lumber company so materials were at a discount and advice from the local builders was free.

Now in my later life I find myself doing some woodworking, some remodeling and even built myself a bass guitar. I have inherited my dad’s old rusty tools that sat for too long in his basement as he got old and eventually passed away. Suddenly as I clean them up and learn to sharpen and use them I feel a new connection to my father. I find myself remembering things he tried to show me back then and I swear I sometimes feeel his hand guiding me today.

As I read further in your blog I was really taken back. You mentioned tools you recieved from a gentleman who used them to build boats at Century Boat, a place I actually worked at for a while after High School. By the time I worked there they were making fiberglasss boats but I remeber the guys building Teak everything for themselves out of the scraps in the mill. What I wouldn’t give now for seemed like an endless supply of teak.

I’m heading back to Manistee soon, for a while I will be setting up a small shop in my dad’s basement. I look forward to more memories. Perhaps we can meet sometime.

View woodbutcherer's profile


30 posts in 3480 days

#6 posted 02-05-2009 10:21 PM

Wow, looks like I got a few people thinking. Thats cool, I am glad my thoughts touched you all. Thanks for reading and sharing your own thoughts.

Small world. I was born in Benton Harbor where my folks are from (Mom in St. Jo), we moved up North when I was 5. I can still remember the stink of that fiberglass curing in the buildings there. As a kid I used to swim off of the little dock they had set up off of 9th street.I wish I knew the name of the man I bought those tools from, but I don’t think he ever said. I know he was about three days older than dirt when I bought them in ‘04.

-- POST NUBILA SOL - After clouds sunshine

View woodyoda's profile


117 posts in 3482 days

#7 posted 02-05-2009 11:29 PM

Like Karson, my family sold off most of my fathers tools, but you did bring back memories of working with my father in his custom cabinet shop, I use to do the finish on his cabinets when he made them…..allot of trust on his part, because he let me start staining his cabinets when I was about 12. I never seen or heard of him refinishing any of them so they must have been ok. His work was in Better Homes and Gardens Mag. a few times, that says something. But thanks for the memories….........................................yoda

View HallTree's profile


5664 posts in 3792 days

#8 posted 02-06-2009 01:25 AM

As a teenager in the 50’s I would help my dad rebuilt pool tables in his pool hall. I still have most of his hand tools. My son has got off with some of them, but that’s ok.

-- "Hold on to instruction, do not let it go; guard it well, for it is your life" Solomon

View wadestock's profile


24 posts in 3647 days

#9 posted 02-06-2009 06:41 AM

My dad recently gave me a block plane and an old hand brace. I remember seeing them in the garage since I was a kid. Now that I am more Roy than Norm in my approach to the hobby, I appreciate these old tools of my dad’s more and more. I feel a real connection to my past. I just wish I could have gotten my grandpa’s drawknife when he passed away. When he taught me how to use it I thought it something out of the stone ages, but dang if it wasn’t fun to use. Too bad I don’t have some crazy uncle out there with a nice dovetail saw he doesn’t use any more.

View noknot's profile


548 posts in 3466 days

#10 posted 02-06-2009 01:54 PM

Its kinda funny that woodworking skips generations but my great grandfather was also a pattern maker. Along with my grandfather but alot of the tools were also sold but while visiting my grandfather for the last time 3 weeks ago I happened across a disston saw my aunt had been using to cut tree limbs with and promptly asked to have it( after a scolding) Thats nice that you have your memories to pass on I hope that the future gens care about our work. P.S. Hand tools are the way to work when you need to relax


View Douglas Bordner's profile

Douglas Bordner

4024 posts in 4089 days

#11 posted 02-06-2009 04:22 PM

Thank you for a powerful reminiscence. This really resonated with me although both of my progenitors were skilled in wood and metal. Dad was a tool-maker and tester for the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad, Grandfather as well. Uncle was an Electrician there. My Grandfather was gone before I was born, and my Dad was not the most patient teacher. Like you, a rebellious period pulled me away from family; I was blessed with a few years back in the fold with Dad before he passed. Now with a pile of their tools around, I also feel mystically connected to these two gentlemen in the great tribe of woodworkers. It’s true…theirs no tool like an old tool.

Bless you for sharing this.

-- "Bordnerizing" perfectly good lumber for over a decade.

View 8iowa's profile


1580 posts in 3786 days

#12 posted 02-07-2009 12:37 AM

Thanks for the great story. There isn’t a day go by that I don’t remember my grandfathers.

My summer workshop is NW of Manistique, about 100 miles “over the water” from you.

-- "Heaven is North of the Bridge"

View SCOTSMAN's profile


5849 posts in 3610 days

#13 posted 02-07-2009 01:07 AM

Hi could you give us more detail and some pics of the tools in question I loved your description of them being passed to you.Alistair

-- excuse my typing as I have a form of parkinsons disease

View MsDebbieP's profile


18615 posts in 4185 days

#14 posted 02-24-2009 08:01 PM

how wonderful!

with all the “minimalist lifestyles” out there it makes me wonder what stories our great-grandchildren will have to hold onto.

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (

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