Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Preston Clump

Tools, it seems, come in cycles. Not to suggest that a pair of T&G planes would likely turn up on the doorstop on a bicycle made for two, but rather that the habitual rust hunter does tend to find themselves presented with a certain category of tool all in a clump and can then go for months, nay years, nary seeing a one. Was not I in danger of turning Alf Towers into the wad punch capital of Europe not that long back? I was. Have I seen a wad punch at all this summer? I have not. Crisis averted.

Luckily, for every disappearing tool group, another will shuffle up and take its place. I'm pretty sure I've jinxed the latest one now anyway, so I'll share this weekend's flavour of the month. No danger of a surplus mountain forming anyway - quality not quantity is the thing in this case. In short, I seemed to be doomed to buy tools by Edward Preston & Sons this weekend. Hence quantity not being an issue (worst luck) and in fact I didn't really see that many tools all told at all. Of course it was the August Bank Holiday weekend and just for once the forecast was for sunshine (a foreign concept to this island for most of this summer) so the car boot sales were heaving with sellers (and buyers) so I managed to haul myself round on both Saturday and Sunday - Monday was a day of rest and cleaning...

On Saturday there were a few tools, but many were old friends I've been turning over and disgarding with a sigh all summer and it looked like it might be a hollow vessel. If I see one more Diamond brand chisel (made in China) masquerading as a Real Chisel and giving me False Hope I may cry, but that's by-the-by. Things were so bad I broke my own vow to myself and looked at a box of woodies. Side bead, side bead, side bead, round, rebate (most with worm holes), sash (of course - never a pair though, naturally) and, ooo, small ovolo.

Picked it up, not boxed but pretty clean and wait, yes, a beautiful clear Preston mark.

Two of Her Majesty's finest pounds sterling? Small, and thus furniture-friendly profile and I don't have a Preston's moulder of any sort. Hell's bells, even the iron's almost ready to go. Sold.

Note to self - start using your wooden planes instead of just accumulating them "in case".

But that was it for Saturday. A combination of there not being that much, a strong sense of guilt about the tools already waiting to be ministered to and my recent record of Foolish Purchases has been acting as a pretty good brake just recently. The appalling weather applied the brakes most other times. On the way out I did spot a boxwood tool handle with bits, very like the one at the top here and I think I could just make out "Prest..." faintly stamped on it, and maybe I should have got it, but I wasn't sure whether it had all the bits, I already have a lesser example from another maker that I never use, and fundamentally there was a £10 price tag on it and I'm too cheap... But you see what I mean about tools in clumps? I can, and have gone for years between seeing anything by Preston.

Anyway, Sunday and again there isn't much, but a fairly regular seller who fairly regularly never has a tool of any sort had a fresh box out and I can spot a backsaw handle at 50 yards. Cue a classic Swoop and Rummage move. Alas, both backsaws had seen better days and I left them; indeed the whole box was looking a better prospect viewed from as far a distance as possible but I persevered. The trouble with rummaging through boxes is as fast as you burrow into one corner the rest of the stuff piled up in the other corners starts sliding into the hole you're carefuly forming in the sub-strata of the rust; after the fifth or sixth time of moving it, I actually looked at the piece of brass flat that kept jabbing me in the arm. Here's a reconstruction of what it looked like to me when I first pushed it aside:

Here's what I found when I turned it over; a 12 inch rule:

Now you know where this is going, right? Right.

I tentatively asked how much, seller does a worrying "the lad put the boxes out and he doesn't pick out the good stuff" peer and mutter at the Preston mark while my heart sinks and sez "Coupla quid?' I sez "okay". I'm not sure why I did exactly, except I've never seen a brass rule before and I may never see one again. I don't know enough about Preston stuff to know why they made a 12" brass rule (my catalogues only show larger ones, often folding, sold for blacksmiths. Why do blacksmiths need brass rules? So they don't mistake the rule for a handy length of raw material...?). Of course Preston are famous for making endless varieties of every possible tool, so perhaps they simply thought there ought to be a brass 12" rule so they made one? Or maybe my rule ignorance is showing and everyone else is sadly shaking their heads at me in a kindly but pitying manner and observing to their friends "fancy not knowing that". Worked out a costly buy though; that was enough to tip me over the edge at last and I've ordered the Preston catalogue reprint. Heaven help me now... And that's what I mean when I say I've already jinxed the Preston Clump. Anyway...

Only had a tenner and would you believe he checked the £2 coin before he gave me the change? Apparently one with a particular stamping went for £8 on Ebay. No, that wasn't one of them; I merely offer that up in the hopes that all over the country readers will now get funny looks as they check every £2 coin they ever get...

So there I am on Monday gathering to my person these two items, go into the workshop (workshop lets out gasp of surprise and tools collectively ask "who are you?") and my eye falls on the spokeshave lying on the bench waiting to be cleaned that I bought on the last Bank Holiday weekend. The adjustable mouth spokeshave. The #1384. Yes, that spokeshave by Teddy Preston and his boys.

Blimey, talk about coincidence. And what's worse is there isn't another Bank Holiday until Christmas!


  1. Nice haul, Alf. A brass rule looks quite classy.


    Paul Chapman

  2. Why do blacksmiths need brass rules?

    Because steel rules don't half rust fast in a forge - water, dirt and heat.


  3. To which irrefutable logic I can only say "d'oh" (forehead-slapping smiley is probably a given...)


Owing to vast quantities of spam this blog is getting, I'm afraid only registered users can post. All comments are moderated before publication, so there may be some delay. My apologies.