Everything Old is New Again

I learned a lot from my dad, but not much about woodworking.

What I learned from him was that you never really know if you’re able to do something until you try it and either succeed or fail and you never discard something if you can fix it or use its parts to fix something else. Dad had a camera repair shop, back in the days when cameras had moving parts and could actually be repaired, and whether or not he knew for sure what the insides of a particular model of SLR were going to do or how they should behave, he’d open it up and take a shot at it and most of the time he’d get it working.

There are very few things in my life that I’ve lost that I continue to miss long after they’ve gone. My dad is at the top of that short list and I don’t know that I’d ever expect him to fade from his #1 spot.

So like I said, Dad wasn’t much into woodworking other than the odd home repair job. I took most of his tools after he’d passed away at my mother’s insistence. Most were not very useful to me other than stuff like his jigsaw. The man had a metric ton of tiny little jewelers’ screwdrivers and tweezers. He had one woodworking tool, a 1960’s era Montgomery-Ward jack plane with a plastic handle, no chipbreaker and a busted cap iron lock ever. I kid you not, the chip breaker and iron were held tight to the frog by a lot of duct tape. It worked, kind of.

Last week I did a major shop cleanup in anticipation of some guys coming to blow insulation into the ceiling of the garage. There was a box of Dad’s old tools that I’d never gotten around to sorting through. Most of it was random plugs and switches, a ginormous soldering gun, hinges for doors long-forgotten and other detritus and junk stuff still in packages bearing price stickers that haven’t existed since I was a kid. But there was one cool find: A tiny little block plane. You’ve probably seen these before. Here’s my dad’s:

Nothing too thrilling, really, unless you’re me. Finding that tiny plane jogged a memory loose. Thumbing through an old photo album of my grandma’s, I found what I was looking for:  An old picture of my dad, with his dad, from a long-ago Christmas. In the picture they are standing side-by side looking as much like a matched set in full size and miniature as I ever did standing by my own father, each raising aloft a hammer and standing by a child-sized tool chest.

It was Patrick’s  Blood and Gore website that had planted the seed that made me go looking for that picture. The plane is a Stanley  #101 and it came with the tool chest that my dad was standing near in the photo, presumably a Christmas gift. Quoting Patrick’s site:

“The plane was designed for household use, and lighter work. It was originally sold in toy tool chests, but gained such popularity that it was soon advertised as a craftsman’s tool.”

It makes sense that my grandfather, a pattern-maker among other things by trade, would have given my dad a tool chest for Christmas. My son has a set of plastic tools, is insisting I build him a kid-sized workbench just like mine (including dog holes and vise hardware) and he has, at 5 years old, his own block plane, though I took the iron out. Sons do tend to go through a period where they want to do whatever Daddy is doing.

The iron of the little block plane was pretty rough, hand-sharpened at some point by someone who didn’t know how to do it, and the plane itself isbadly pitted on the bottom. No value other than sentimental and not at all useful in it’s state of disrepair. Still, I felt that I needed to do something with it. The iron was salvageable. A fair amount of elbow grease and waterstone work (ok, I cheated and used a WorkSharp to re-define the bevel) soon had it lapped and honed to a shine, sharp enough to shave with, small enough that I wouldn’t want to shave anything larger than a hamster.

A piece of bubinga, a little maple, a couple of slow days at the store later…

And yes, it does work. (For some reason when I took this photo I had the iron and wedge on the wrong side of the brass pin. Call it fatigue) I’ve never tried to make a plane that small, it’s maybe 4 1/2″ in length and just over an inch wide, but it fits nicely in my hand and did a pretty sweet job putting a chamfer on the edge of a piece of walnut I had laying about.

My dad had and used camera equipment whose make/model could only be called “Frankenstein.” If a camera went south beyond reasonable repair, it went into a cigar box to be cannibalized for parts later. We closed up his shop about 2 months before he died and there were more of these boxes than one person could reasonably be expected to count. Dad was all about not wasting, saving it… you can probably use some part of it… not quite a hoarder, but always trying to figure out a way to make something work, or use it to make something else work, instead of just tossing and buying again. I think he’d like my little plane, at least I hope he would.

Published in: on February 2, 2010 at 4:27 am  Leave a Comment  

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