Friday, September 30, 2011

Wisdom of The Ancients

There seem to be two schools of thought on the validity of The Way It Used To Be Done. Until recently, the most prevalent seemed to be "Progress is good, two feet bad". I may have mixed my slogans a little there, but you get the gist; improvement is the goal and we know heaps more than those ignoramuses who came before us. This is clearly not always the case. (Please see good old Barry Bucknell and his crusade to swathe every panelled door in 1950s Britain with hardboard as an example.)

Recently, particularly in the hand tool world, it seems more like the rose-tinted safety glasses and "it were better when my several-greats granddad were alive" has gained the upper hand. I'm not always a great proponent of that one either, and to coin a phrase: Here's (one example) why.

One 1 & 1/8in firmer chisel of solid and, I suggest, fairly old manufacture.

'Tis by "James Cam", an old and well-regarded maker of steel goodies for the discerning woodworker. Indeed, so well-regarded, that his name continued to be used well after his demise. This is never a good thing if you want to tie down a date for a tool, and the James Cam timeline is still rather up in the air anyway. Suffice it to say it's older than a Marples splitproof anyway.

Obviously it is, 'cos it's, um, split. Not even boxwood either, and thus I undermine my own argument of yesterday just a tad. But moving on... Appreciate that nice octagonal bolster, why don't you? And if you look closely, you can probably make out what appear to be file marks on the similarly octagonal handle. Sometimes I think we all take entirely too much trouble over the prettiness of our chisel handles. Not that such an observation is going to stop me, mind you...

Now this Cam came among the goodies of the coachbuilder's kit, and the owner of same left us much evidence that he liked to adapt and repurpose tools. Unfortunately this chisel didn't escape, and has been reground into a turning skew, to go with one or two other tools similarly adapted for turning purposes.

Legitimately, you may be saying at this point "But Alf, it might have always been a turning tool. It looks sturdy enough for the lathes of yesteryear". To which I'd respond that yes, it does and please don't use the term "yesteryear" because it makes me nauseous. There's just one thing though...

I've over-layed a line on the identical bottom shot, just to make it clearer. Know what that line is? Yes, it's where the hard tool steel is laminated to the rest of the softer chisel body. See where it stops? See where the "cutting" edge of this home-brew skew is? Yes. Exactly.

Sometimes our forebears were just as daft as we are.


  1. Yes... Just because it's Vintage doesn't mean it's actually drinkable. I'm going to be laughing about "yesteryear" all day.


  2. Ah, good old Barry Bucknell. I remember seeing a TV interview of him and his wife long after his DIY programmes ended. I forget her exact words, but according to his wife he was hopeless at doing any jobs in his own house!!

    Cheers ;-)

    Paul Chapman

  3. Hee, Hee. Very good. Unfortunately there have always been, and always will be daft people.
    This is a classic.


  4. Quite funny.

    I frequently have to remind myself that history is full of fools, with a few wise people sprinkled in. Rather like now. The difference is that time has a way of weeding out folly.

    But occasionally it leaves us amusing remnants like this.

  5. The laminated thing also crops when you want to regrind a gouge from in-cannel (carving) to out-cannel (scribing)



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