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Marking time

Marking time on tools

Saturday 13 September 2014

What’s in a ballet shoe

Dancers and makers talk about pointe shoes, in this fascinating documentary.»more»

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Wednesday 13 August 2014

Railway sleepers

In the course of some work I have been doing lately, I have been seeing a lot of railway sleepers. I can’t look at them without thinking about the work of cutting, carting and installing them.

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Monday 7 July 2014

The putter

In Sheffield (once the great centre of cutlery manufacture) the person who assembles and adjusts scissors is called a putter-together, sometimes putter-togetherer, often shortened to putter. It takes years to develop the skill and judgment to do this job really well.

In this video we see Cliff Denton at work. He is a putter at Ernest Wright & Sons Ltd, one of the few Sheffield businesses that still makes high quality scissors in the traditional way.

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Friday 20 June 2014

John Smeaton, on working solo

I am committed to Continuing Professional Development. I try to keep up with the current technical literature. Just now, re­minded by John Smeaton’s birthday, I have been re-reading his ac­count of the design and building of the third Eddystone Light­house. It’s a big book, full of fascinating detail. He wrote it at the end of his long career, as he looked back on his most celebrated project.

He explains why he chose to work on his own during the early stages of his work. He was stuck in London between meet­ings with various important people, as he grappled with the problem of securing the lighthouse tower to the wave-swept rock:

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Friday 18 October 2013

Sawing backwards

One of the best things about the recent refurbishment of the Brisbane City Hall is the new accommodation for the Museum of Brisbane. The museum is up on the roof of the building, hidden neatly behind the parapet, with views of the central dome.

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Monday 5 November 2012

More about sawyers

To continue on the subject of sawyers​—​Roger Dean has just posted a beautiful photograph of some shipwrights in bas relief, paired with this quote from Henry Mayhew:

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Saturday 1 September 2012

A sawyer’s no robber

I have been working on a project at Fairview, a farm house near Maleny. The house was built around 1907 for Emily and John Robert Pattemore by their four sons. They felled the trees (with an axe and cross-cut saw), cut the logs to length (with a cross-cut saw), ripped them into boards (with a pit-saw), seasoned the boards (stacked criss-cross on a trestle), then planed and moulded the boards (with hand planes). Then they built the house in the usual way. It adds up to a vast amount of hand labour. That’s the bad news.

Now the good news. In the scrub​—​soon to be cleared to make way for cattle pasture​—​were enough white beech trees to build the house. White beech (gmelina leichhardtii) is a rainforest hardwood that saws easily, and is buttery smooth to plane by hand. The old timber handbooks recommended it for planking boats, for pattern-making, and called it the premier carving timber in Queensland.

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Tuesday 24 July 2012

Ten digital years

I got my first digital camera ten years ago, and since then I have acquired several others. Who am I kidding. The true number is not several, it’s ten. Let me explain…

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Monday 2 April 2012

Making rasps and rifflers

I have some cabinetmaker’s rasps in my kit, but they are the common machine-made kind. I have never used a hand-made rasp. Perhaps I should.

Rasps and rifflers are still made by hand in the old way by a few small manufacturers, like Forge de Saint Juery. The video below shows how much skilled handwork goes into making these tools, which explains why they are rather expensive. To justify the cost, it is claimed that hand stitched rasps work better and cut smoother than the machine made ones, as Chris Schwarz explains

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Sunday 31 July 2011

The saw maker

It’s a fine thing to see, in this video from the Institute of Back­yard Studies, that you can still have a racing cross cut saw made by hand in Australia. This delightful documentary is one of a series about people carrying on rare trades​—​the others show a shoemaker, a coachbuilder, a milliner, a painter of scrollwork, a dry stone waller, a stonemason, a tinsmith, and a bookbinder.

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Thursday 16 September 2010

Uses for a mobile phone

In my little box of 19th century prints is a steel engraving of a drawing by Thomas Allom of the interior of the Panthéon in Paris. It’s not especially rare or valuable, but I like it for the quality of the print and the connection with my former archi­tec­tural partner Richard Allom (distantly related to Thomas).

I wanted to ‘re-photograph’ the scene that Thomas Allom drew, so I needed a copy for reference. A google search turned up a print-dealer’s online catalog with an image of the Panthéon print, which I copied to my phone. With this in my hand, I found the right spot to stand. I can vouch for the general accuracy of the drawing, with a proviso. I think it is based on a properly set-up perspective drawing, but using a point of view outside the building​—​impossible, in other words, because this view is blocked by the front wall of the building.

With my widest lens (Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L on EOS 5D), and with my back against the wall, I could not get all the parts of the ceiling that Allom showed into the picture. Not, that is, unless I tipped the camera up and caused the columns to topple, and that would never do.

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Monday 30 November 2009

Bill Blair, trug maker

I was in New Zealand last week studying Oamaru’s wonderful Victorian limestone buildings. Beside the harbour I found Bill Blair. In an old tin shed he makes wooden rakes, pitch forks, grain shovels, firewood carriers and other products of woodland hand craft. His best-selling item is the Sussex trug, a type of wooden basket which he makes in a range of sizes. I bought one as a gift for my long-suffering partner Margie, who I had left holding the fort while I enjoyed this solo sabbatical.

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Saturday 24 October 2009

Rake making

I’m delighted by the quiet intimacy of this video interview with wooden rake makers John and Graeme Rudd, who live and work in the village of Dufton in the English Lake District.

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Monday 15 June 2009

Hokusai sawyers

Found on Wikipedia Commons, this beautiful woodcut of Japanese sawyers cutting some heroic planks. Neither of the sawyers, nor the saw doctor, have time to enjoy the view of Mount Fuji, but their lady companions might. I recommend following the link to the high resolution version.

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Saturday 13 October 2007

Shovel collection

The Stonehill Industrial Heritage Center at Stonehill College, Massachusetts, holds a vast archive of documents and objects about the shovel-making enterprises of the Ames family in the 19th and 20th centuries. The collection includes 755 shovels​—​something Eric Olthwaite could only dream of.

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Monday 20 August 2007

Ripping yarn

Note to self: The trials of Eric Olthwaite is available on YouTube.

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Saturday 9 July 2005

The well-dressed mower

Among the accessories offered by the Scythe Supply Co (Maine, USA) is this cow horn whetstone holder. Not keeping your scythe sharp is the way to frustration. Tradition (and good sense) dictates that you carry a sharpening stone in a holder on your belt, and stop from time to time to touch up the edge. If you find a galvanised steel holder too plain, and a plastic one too gauche, consider this alternative. As the blurb says:

It will make a marvelous accent to your mowing costume. A frivolity, but a pretty one. You will be the envy of your mowing friends.
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Thursday 16 June 2005

Axe throwing

The Swedish Axe Throwing Society organises an annual championship competition, as I learned from the excellent website of Gränsfors Bruks AB, makers of hand forged axes.

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Thursday 26 May 2005

Houses on permafrost

Following my mention of houses on stumps the other day, Phil Koontz has described sinking pilings in permafrost.

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Thursday 10 March 2005

Bad scanner

Today I collected my Nikon LS-30 film scanner which has been away at the repair shop. Here’s the technician’s report:

Dismantle, Inspect & Test, Disassemble circuit modules, Service scan mechanism, Replace scan and A.F. stepper motors, Service Parts As Necessary Clean optical unit, Checked All Modes, Adjust and Calibrate, Reassemble And Test All Functions.

After all that, it should be as good as new. But it’s not.

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Monday 21 February 2005

Getting knotted

Puzzling through the diagrams and descriptions of knots in a book may be good for my mental fitness, but Alan Folsom’s animations make the whole thing easier to grasp.

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Saturday 5 February 2005

Knocking off time

In a post to the oldtools mailing list, Jeff Gorman explained the origin of ‘knocking off time’:

In case you might just want to know, the expression derives from coalmining when at the end of the shift, the miner inverts his pick and thumps the shaft end on the ground to release the head.
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Friday 10 December 2004

Dewey’s birthday

According to a mention in Garrison Keillor’s writer’s almanac, today is the birthday of Melvil Dewey.

This prompted me to look at the middens of paper around me, and think about Dewey’s invention of the vertical filing cabinet. Thinking turned into procrastination. Instead of putting those papers into those filing cabinets, I turned to Google. I found this book review: The social life of paper. Also see the short biographical entries in the Columbia encyclopedia and Wikipedia.

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Thursday 25 March 2004

Robotic lumberjacks under water

In a sequel to my story about lumberjacks in wetsuits, there’s a related piece in New Scientist:

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Tuesday 23 March 2004

Making a split cane fly rod

I know nothing of fly fishing, but I enjoyed Thomas Penrose’s description of making a rod. Like a violin maker, Penrose carefully selects his materials, precisely shapes and assembles them with hand tools, and makes an instrument of delight.

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Wednesday 17 March 2004

Making a violin

A violin is one of the most subtle and wonderful artefacts that can be made of wood. The best violins are still made using tools and materials that were familiar to Giuseppe Guarneri (1698-1744) or Antonio Stradivari (1644-1737). I enjoyed Derek Roberts’s step-by-step description of making a violin.

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Saturday 13 March 2004

Swedish hunting backpack

Here’s another useful item from Dick Fine Tools (remember their animal glue?). This is the way to carry your mobile phone and some small dead animals:

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Saturday 15 November 2003

Message from Alaska

For recreation I read a mailing list devoted to old woodworking tools. There is constant banter about hand-forged chisels, the shapes of saw handles, infill planes, tool patents, and many other subjects. The members are almost all men, and mostly in the older age bracket. The discourse is helpful, erudite, relaxed and polite. Nobody swears or insults anyone.

This is a quirky crowd, and I enjoy visiting workbenches and toolchests all over the world. Some messages take me right away from the places I know. Like this one from Phil Koontz in outback Alaska, headed ‘That ol’ commute’:

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Thursday 9 October 2003

Mobiles and the appropriation of place

Cultural anthropolist Mizuko Ito has written an article about the way mobile phones are changing the experience of being together for young Japanese people:

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Wednesday 1 October 2003

Acme whistles

Acme whistles have been made by J Hudson and Co (Whistles) Ltd of Birmingham since the 1880s. Their range of police whis­tles, thunderers, sirens, bosun’s whistles, orchestral whistles, silent dog whistles and marine whistles is displayed on their website.

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Wednesday 17 September 2003

Stopping the Kodak Carousel

I have seen this message posted to various internet mailing lists:

Eastman Kodak Company has confirmed plans to discontinue the manufacture and sales of slide projection products and accessories in June of 2004. This early disclosure is being made to key user groups in order to allow time for adoption of a replacement technology or purchase of backup slide projector products.

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Tuesday 2 September 2003

Tool porn

A business that hypes itself as an exclusive purveyor of quality Japanese tools offers a set of Akio Tasai’s chu totsu mokume shiage chisels with aromatic sandalwood handles.

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Monday 23 June 2003

Tool patents online

Some of my cheerful companions on the OldTools mailing list have helped to build the Directory of American Tool and Machinery Patents. This is a searchable database that opens the historical records of the US Patents Office. Here you’ll find patent specifications for great leaps in American tool design (like Justus Traut’s 1888 plane iron lateral adjuster, used ever since by the Stanley company), and for thousands of smaller steps forward.

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Monday 31 March 2003

Another toaster museum

Here is another web collection of toasters to add to the one I pointed out last year.

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Friday 28 March 2003

Woodwork

Sally made this at pre-school. Beer bottle caps and slices of champagne bottle cork nailed to a piece of pine. She told me “It’s woodwork, Daddy”.

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Sunday 23 March 2003

Collecting saw handles

As a harmless distraction from war and mayhem, consider the aesthetic merits of saw handles. Like this one — the beech handle of a nineteenth century dovetail saw made by Thos Turner & Co, of Sheffield.

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Tuesday 29 October 2002

Utility kilts

The things you find on the web. A range of tartan-free kilts, including this one:

A multi-functional kilt designed for working men. Extra pockets and a modesty snap between legs. Two exterior rear pockets. Two side mount saddle pockets, with “the Grip” retractable side hammer loop and front key loop. Patent Pending Wallet Grip rear pocket. Right side scraper/­pencil pocket, heavy duty rivets at all major pocket stress points. 12 ounce Duc cloth. Fully pleated from bottom to top. Available in Neo-Traditional closure method only.
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Wednesday 21 August 2002

Letterpress museum

Briarpress.org has a delicious online museum. Dozens of virtual printing presses are here, richly linked and organised, displayed with other tools of the trade. And there is an illustrated glossary of letterpress terms​—​handy if you don’t know your frisket from your tympan. I admire the clarity of words, pictures and nav­i­ga­tion. My congratulations to Eric Nevin and the other authors.

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Thursday 6 June 2002

Tool chests

The look of tool chests can tell us much about workers and workplaces. While their purpose is to organize, carry, and protect tools, these chests also suggest what workers think of themselves and how society measures the value of their work.

See this online exhibition of tool chests on display at the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution. See the portable tool kits of various occupations: cabinetmaker, circumciser, farrier, gentleman woodworker, machinist, needleworker, piano maker, shoe shiner, office machine technician, uphosterer, and urologist. The oldest dates from the 1810s (cabinetmaker's chest), and the newest from the 1990s (technician's tool case).

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Tuesday 26 March 2002

Screw standards

James Surowiecki has written a history lesson about tech­no­log­i­cal standardisation for Wired. He claims that standards have had large economic and technological effects. OK, I agree. But he gives too much credit to just one man, William Sellers, who he calls a legend and the finest tool builder of his time.

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Monday 25 March 2002

The mortar and pestle

Janet Fletcher has written in the San Francisco Chronicle praising the mortar. It’s a well written piece, with delightful photographs of a selection of mortars. According to SauteWednesday it won a 2002 James Beard Foundation journalism award:

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Saturday 16 March 2002

A new Leica

The Leica company has just announced a new M-series camera. The M7 is a descendent of the M3 of 1954, the first Leica range­finder camera with a bayonet lens mount. Details are on the Leica website, or see this review by Irwin Puts.

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Saturday 9 March 2002

Making a birch sled

Tucked away in a story about the 2002 Iditarod trail sled dog race is this description of a traditional Alaskan dog sled:

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Monday 4 March 2002

The right tool for the job

If you ever need to escape from a car with disabled electric win­dows, you’d better have an automatic centre punch with you. Get one now for the glove box.

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Sunday 30 December 2001

Ratbag of note: Erik von Sneidern

Erik runs the Disstonian Institute, a website full of arcane information about Disston saws. Henry Disston started making saws in 1840 and for the next hundred years Disston saws were the best in America.

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Saturday 22 December 2001

Object of obsession: the infill plane

From about 1860, Thomas Norris & Son of London made the Rolls-Royce of woodworking planes, constructed with iron, steel, brass or gunmetal bottoms and sides, infilled with rosewood, ebony and other exotic timbers. High grade cabinet makers aspired to own these costly tools, known for their precision and performance. Discerning woodworkers and collectors still search for Norris planes, which have not been made since 1940.

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Monday 17 December 2001

Planespotting

If you pick up Stanley planes in junk shops and wonder how old they are, I have a suggestion. Print out this web page and carry it with you. It’s a dichotomous key: Answer a few yes/no questions about the tool to discover its date. You might find a Type 1 (1867-1869), worth a lot of money to an obsessed Stanley collector.

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Search marquis-kyle.com.au

On this page
What’s in a ballet shoe
Railway sleepers
The putter
John Smeaton, on working solo
Sawing backwards
More about sawyers
A sawyer's no robber
Ten digital years
Making rasps and rifflers
The saw maker
Uses for a mobile phone
Bill Blair, trug maker
Rake making
Hokusai sawyers
Shovel collection
Ripping yarn
The well-dressed mower
Axe throwing
Houses on permafrost
Bad scanner
Getting knotted
Knocking off time
Dewey's birthday
Robotic lumberjacks under water
Making a split cane fly rod
Making a violin
Swedish hunting backpack
Message from Alaska
Mobiles and the appropriation of place
Acme whistles
Stopping the Kodak Carousel
Tool porn
Tool patents online
Another toaster museum
Woodwork
Collecting saw handles
Utility kilts
Letterpress museum
Tool chests
Screw standards
The mortar and pestle
A new Leica
Making a birch sled
The right tool for the job
Ratbag of note: Erik von Sneidern
Object of obsession: the infill plane
Planespotting

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