Sunday, September 04, 2011

Wazzat den?

I get quite a few requests for tool identification, one way of another. I quite like the ones on an open forum, because generally discussion expands and everybody learns something.

Email requests of the "I'm about to sell these tools on eBay - what are they and what are they worth?" I'm less enamoured with. No-one learns anything but the seller, a complete stranger, who - not to put too fine a point on it - is looking to make extra profit off knowledge I've taken time and trouble to acquire. Amazingly enough I wasn't born into the world knowing this stuff. My fairy godmother failed to gift me with a copy of Salaman's Dictionary and the 3rd Edition of British Planemakers at my cribside. (I know, I know. You just can't get the calibre of fairy godmother these days.) In other words they've got a ruddy nerve asking me, and these days I just tend to delete and not even suggest they look up completed auctions on eBay.

Harsh, ain't I?

Often the most fun can be found viewing stuff "in the flesh". It's a downside of having lived around here and interested in old tools for sufficiently long that enough folks know who I am when I wander round a car boot sale. As a result it's very hard to buy rusty crud when you're supposed to know what you're buying. One has a reputation for discernment, don'tcha know - I don't know how or why, but apparently one does... And then you also get the testers. The "So then Alf, you'll know what this is?" with a grin and a general feeling that you're suddenly surrounded by banana skins. Reckon it's just about a score draw when it comes to correct identification vs. falling on my posterior, but a good laugh is had by all...

But then there are the genuine "What's this then?" Yes, there are banana skins available here too, but we've all got an equal chance of slipping on them. Yesterday, in a rather damp and disappointing Pool Market, I was confronted by a nifty little gadget that I just knew I'd seen before. A three armed little tool with tap, reamer and turnscrew, one on the end of each arm, trefoil style, and a corresponding die in the middle. 26tpi, 3/8", "British Made" and a name that looked to me like "J Hughnes". Frank, who presides over the now somewhat large tool emporium within the market walls, thought maybe something for bikes. Seemed plausible, except I wouldn't recognise anything bike-related (motor or push) if you waved it up and down in front of my nose and described it to me over a loud hailer - and yet this I knew I'd seen before. Alas, I couldn't drag the memory to the surface and I had to admit defeat, but, for the record, did mention I thought it might be in the MAC catalogue and I'd have a look.

The MAC catalogue is a huge volume produced by The Metal Agencies Co. Ltd of Bristol. If you're familiar with the Buck & Hickman catalogues, it's kinda like that but with added bathroom fittings, paint, tiles, and generally everything you'd need for property maintenance. And then some. Fascinating tomes, and thanks to an incredibly generous forum member, I have four of them; here's the latest one from September 1937. Thin, innit?

So, nearly spraining my wrist taking it down from the shelf, I turned to the section devoted to taps and dies. Turning to page 1307, I admit I allowed a rather smug smile to steal across my face, for lo! It seems the effects of the aluminium pans aren't entirely fatal yet, and my memory of where I'd seen the mystery tool was not at fault:

Arguably this is Bad News for Frank, because somehow I don't imagine demand for Gasfitter's Combination Burner Taps is terribly high these days. But you never know. It makes me think though; a combination of die and taper, second and plug taps all in one tool would be pretty cool, wouldn't it? Probably practical reasons why not, I dare say, but still cool.

Anyway, it turned out they were in Buck & Hickman too; just not as clear an engraving, so I'd overlooked them. Which goes to show the importance of pretty pictures when grabbing the attention of such tool butterflies as myself...

By chance I also met the Tall Scotsman in the finely falling rain, and we caught up a little. Just as soon as he sends me the details, I will plug his new emporium in Hayle. Indeed, if I can convince the transport manager, I think a road trip and site report might be nice, eh? Pig's might fly, but I can but try. Anyway, courtesy of another passing tool addict, he ended up describing another sort-of mystery tool to me. Yeah, it was one of those days.

Viz: An adze, but with a straight blade, the head at at an acute angle to the round eye, a hammer poll, and a keyhole slot such as on an old Stanley lever cap in the centre of the blade. Again, this rang bells. Someone had said they used them in their workplace making rustic style rail fences - the posts coming already with sockets for the rails, but the end of the rails themselves needing shaping to fit. We don't get a lot of those round here, instead favouring enormous lumps of granite hidden in hedges just waiting to remove vehicular paintwork, so our lack of knowledge of such a fencing tool wouldn't be surprising. However, the TS had yet to check Salaman, which it turns out was A Bit Silly, because there - if I'm not mistaken - it is on page 30. Viz: A Turkish Adze.

Salaman sez: "A straight blade with flat chequered poll and round eye. Usually has a key-hole shaped slot for pulling nails. Still used in the East as a general purpose tool."

So there we have it, and have also clearly demonstrated that I really didn't appear on the planet already knowing this stuff. With my works of reference I'm a genius - and you could be too. However, without them, I do have a nifty line in expressions of vaguely knowledgable puzzlement and that, my friends, takes talent... ;)


  1. Alf,

    Great post today, a very interesting and amusing read. I strongly agree that asking questions in an open forum creates a much better environment for identifying tools, especially because the correct responder feels happy to help, not obligated as in the case of a private message. Perhaps you should start charging a fee, say $5 per tool,to do identifications? As you say, people are certainly getting value out of your services. Before you implement this kind of system, I have some tools I'd like you to name for me...just kidding!

  2. These adzes are also common in France, I have an old one and were tucked into a traditional timber framer/roofer "charpentier's" belt, as it was the swiss army knife of the time.
    Greetings from France, Charles

  3. Hi From The Azores -
    yes they are also used here, called i think Martelo faz tudo - hammer that does all, and also in Portugal

    I miss the car booties in the UK


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