Everyday Woodworking Podcast Ep 17
My Grandfather’s Tools
Hey everyone. I’m Ricky with Everyday Woodworking, your Podcast Home for tips, tricks and information on how to make the most of your woodworking time and money, every day.
Well welcome to another episode of Everyday Woodworking. I’ve got to tell you, if you’re listening to or watching this, then you’re probably thinking “Hey, what’s wrong? Ricky’s actually on time this week!” LOL!
And you would be correct! I AM on time with this week’s show! What do you know about that?
Hey it doesn’t happen very often, so live it up, kids! Celebrate while you can because who knows what next week’s gonna look like.
No I really am glad to be knocking this episode out in time this week. I really do want to be on time, but sometimes we just get dadgum busy.
But this week, this is a special show. It’s a subject that is very personal to me. And I’ll tell you a little more about that in a minute. But today, I’m talking about my grandfather’s tools.
If you’re like me, then you’ve got a dad or a grandfather (or as I called him, my granddaddy) that was just larger than life. He was or is your hero. And chances are, there’s a shop, full of the smells of things that have been built or worked on, little jars of screws and nails, scraps of things that might get used “some day”, and a whole bunch of tools that you just can’t buy anymore.
That’s me and my granddaddy’s tools. They’re more than just a bunch of tools that have a logical purpose. But they’re touchstones of a man and the era that he represented. And there’s no amount of money that would make me part ways with them.
Before we get into it, let’s take a quick break and then we’ll come right back. Then you can hang out with me for a few minutes and we’ll take a trip back as we talk about My Grandfather’s Tools…right here, on everyday woodworking.
Well before we talk about the tools that are more precious to me than gold…let me tell you a little about the man that owned them.
Charles William Gillespie, Jr. That was my granddaddy. “Bill” as they called him. He and my Granny, Ruby, grew up during the Great Depression. He worked hard, served his country in WWII, knew how to do most anything, never was to be found without a joke on his lips, and he was the greatest man I ever knew.
My grandparents were more like older parents to me. I lived with them for mostly the first 6 years of my life and they raised me like a son. Even then, my granddaddy was my hero. He was uncommonly intelligent, had a memory like no one I have ever known, and seemed to know how to do anything.
While working part of his 42-year tenure at Blue Bell Manufacturing in Commerce, GA, he did odd jobs on the side when and where he could. He helped build their house, and I watched him create their outbuildings, chicken coop and garage out of scrap lumber, saved nails, leftover paint and nothing but hand tools.
It always amazing me to watch him work. So meticulously. So patiently. He never seemed to be frazzled or rushed, and he always took the time to teach me how to do whatever he was doing. He was a constant life teacher to a young boy.
His tool collection was vast. But I remember noticing that a lot of them were “cheap tools”. Things he would pick up here or there. Something that just cost a few dollars. And he would oil it and clean it and treat it like it was a prized possession. And he made his tools last a lifetime, no matter the name stamped on them.
This is the man that taught me to love to think. He infected me with a love for local history and nostalgia. He helped me learn to plan and sketch and innovate. And he gave me a love of tools and clamps and neatly labeled boxes of a thousand little things.
He taught me to save as much as I could and waste as little as possible. And he always taught me to plan enough time at the end of the day to clean and reorganized everything for tomorrow.
And I’m blessed today, to have some of his old tools, still clanging around in my collection.
To me knowledge, my granddaddy never owned a skil saw. Or a table saw or band saw or any manner of power saw at all. But he did have an impressive collection of hand saws. And he knew how to use them.
Regardless of his instruction, I never developed the knack for using a handsaw well. My cuts, to this day, will not stay straight, no matter how careful I am! But boy he could cut a straight line in no time flat.
Most of his hand saws were old Craftsman brand. And I later learned that one reason he kept so many is because each of them had a specific purpose. A rip saw or crosscut saw with all manner of teeth per inch.
He also knew how to sharpen his own saw. A task he did routinely. Much like the skill of sharpening your own chainsaw blade by hand, sharpening your own hand saw is something every man should know how to do.
In other episodes, I’ve talked about the hammer. And just a couple of weeks ago, I know I mentioned my Estwing 16 oz framing hammer as the ONLY hammer I would recommend. And I stick by that.
But my Granddaddy never owned an Estwing.
He did however, own a plethora or wooden handled 16-20 oz claw hammers. They aren’t my cup of tea, as far as using them. But aesthetically, they’re perfect.
My favorite one is an old Craftsman claw hammer. Hickory hand, worn almost black from years of sweat and dirt being pressed into the fibers of the wood from strong hands. Worn almost too smooth to hold, today. Drops of white, green and silver paint, randomly left on the handle and head.
It stays on a shelf in my work room, never to see the dusty light of the shop again, for fear of damaging it. It’s probably 60-70 years old by now. And it’s something I just hold, every now and then…almost like a talisman, connecting me to the spirit of some long gone era. It makes me feel like my Granddaddy is smiling at me when I pick it up.
WEN ELECTRIC DRILL
One of the very few power tools my Granddaddy owned was a huge Wen electric drill. God only knows what year it was made, but it was before anyone cared about weight!
If you worked all day, handling this big, silver beast, then you’re a man in my book. It is heavy. A good five pounds, if it’s an ounce.
It still works, although I rarely get it out of its case. But when I gently plug it in and pull the trigger, it smells like it’s burning some half century old motor winding right out of the housing. I imagine OSHA would come unglued if they thought anyone was using it on a job site.
But it was his. And now it’s mine. And it looks like some sort of power tool version of a 1925 Rolls Phantom. Just sleek and shiny and sexy. What man wouldn’t want to own one?
BRACE AND BIT
Even though the Wen is an awesome tool, I never saw my Granddaddy use it. Whenever he drilled anything, he did with his brace and bit.
It was a Stanley. Hollowed head with storage for small bits. It and the handle, made of wood. The rest, heavy, machined steel. Plenty of 3-in-1 oil to keep is all whirring smoothly, as it still does.
The thing about a brace and bit is, I don’t think you can really use it in a hurry. I mean, in the right hands, it gets the job done, but it’s meant to be used intentionally…and that might not always mean “quickly”.
My Granddaddy would use it with sort of a grace. Just smooth, fluid motion. And it never seemed to bind. Never seemed to fail him. He just laid his weight on it and methodically turned the handle til he finished. So simple.
This is another tool I never use, but I still put it in my hands periodically. Just to imagine I feel his pleasure at my having it.
Although I have many tools of my Granddaddy’s that I never use, his bubble level is one that I use often. I still have other newer ones, and I never take his away from the house.
But in spite of its worn and beaten frame, it’s still accurate. And why wouldn’t it be…it’s as simple as you can get. But at first glance, it looks like it would never be true.
I can’t say if this was a store bought level or a handmade one. I’m inclined to think my Granddaddy made it, but I can be sure of that. But it’s a wooden “shell”…which is basically a 2X4, about 24 inches long. Painted a (very) worn reddish brown color, with decades of paint spatters all along its length.
It has three glasses, two of which work. All of them are cloudy and scratched. The vial is missing in the 45 degree glass.
It’s the most “beat up” of his tools I have. Which is extremely odd. But it is well, well used and very well worn. But it still knows when something is a bubble off or not.
My Granddaddy didn’t have a powered router or a planer. But he did have a variety of Stanley and Craftsman hand planes. Some are in need of some TLC by someone who knows what they’re doing. But some are in good enough condition for me to still use in my own projects.
Most of the time, I’ll pull one out to impart a nostalgic touch to a reclaimed board. But nothing much beyond that.
For the work I do, the hand plane doesn’t particularly work better than say, a trim router. But I doubt my trim router is going to be in anyone’s prized tool collection when I die either.
So I definitely keep them. They’re more tools that I like to hold, although I’m not proficient enough to use them well. But the man that used them before me, knew how to get them to do his bidding.
I don’t remember seeing him use any of the planes very often, but I did see him sharpen the blades, often. Sometimes I think he’s just get them out, take the blades out and sharpen them when he was bored, just because. It seems like that generation of men liked to have their hands busy at something…industrious.
That’s not even close to the list of tools I’d like to tell you about, but those are my favorites.
And like I said earlier, having, holding and occasionally using these tools makes me feel closer to my hero. They’re a reminder to me that there’s a purpose to the work I do…that it’s more than just a job or something a client is paying me for. And it sort of recalibrates my thinking…gets my mind right.
I think these old tools, for all of us, can be some of the only things that can keep us connected to our roots. I know they do for me.
They remind me that there was a time when a man’s tools were an extension of the man. And how you took care of your tools was an indication of how you took care of other things in your life. They weren’t just “man toys”. They were a glimpse into the men of that time.
Man, that as a sweet ride for me. I love reminiscing and thinking back on times past. I just love it. And I hope that was cool for you too!
If you have any stories to share with me about any of your old tools and maybe your heroes…let me know. I’d love to hear it.
And until then...thanks for being here with me. We need to do something like this again.
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That’s it. Have a great day. Thanks again. And I’ll see you next time…right here, on Everyday Woodworking.
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Wen Power Tools - https://wenproducts.com/
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Stanley Tools - https://www.stanleytools.com/
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