Monday, September 25, 2023

The Joy of Tools

I grew up doing DIY around the house with my Dad. It's something we still do, and enjoy, if we get the chance. My earliest DIY memory is wiring an MK plug in my parents living room when I was 3ish. MK plugs had some unique fasteners that were a joy to install. The reason I can remember this is that I was so keen to complete the task that I would not stop to go to the bathroom...with the inevitable result!

My Dad was very well trained in DIY by his father in-law, Grandad G to me, and the man who taught me how to lay concrete, amongst many other things. My grandfather was a very talented man and had an impressive collection of tools in his garage. As I understand it, he spent his working life as a joiner, but he could have been a cabinet maker. A number of pieces of his furniture remain in the family today including the money box below which was made for my mother and was gifted to Samuel Sheep when he was little.

Sometime after my Grandad G passed away, I was fortunate enough to inherit his tool chest (right in next photo). I made a few modifications to it like installing modern latches, which I now regret, but I did also use it to take my tools to a jobsite several times in the late 90s. One of those jobs was building record racks in the now legendary Shake Some Action store in Croydon. In April 2008 I brought the tool chest over to America. At the time United were charging a flat rate of seventy dollars per bag for excess baggage, so I took advantage and exported a second tool chest at the same time. I've since been badly burned by turning up at the airport with a few extra bags, so I wouldn't recommend it.

The second tool chest (left in previous photo) came from my father's Uncle Herbert. Until recently I thought of Herbert's box as the poor relation, simply because it was an off-the shelf toolbox rather than being hand made. Uncle Herbert was a decent DIY-er; he could fix old kettles and toasters and TV sets and probably anything electrical, and he kept up with technology throughout his life. He was the first person I knew who got a microwave oven, and he had a VCR under his tellybox right at the start of the 80s. But he wasn't a carpenter, and it probably would never have occurred to him to build his own tool chest.

At the time of import both tool chests were, rather obviously, packed with tools. I didn't bring any power tools, but I did bring every hand tool I owned, very few of which were actually bought from shops. Mostly they were old tools I had been given or had acquired. My Dad's friend John District was a great source of tools, and also gave me a lot of encouragement when I was getting going building my own collection. When I was given Uncle Herbert's toolbox, it came with a fair few tools as well.

In April 2008, when I was unpacking all these tools and imagining what I might do with them in future, I had been estranged from the collection for quite some time - more than a decade had been frittered away on one university campus or another - but now I was a homeowner, and I could not wait to get going. At the time I had just finished building two huge work benches in my garage:

One of these benches is in my present workshop, and the other is in the garage. Both the tool chests are also in my workshop. I was recently looking at both the chests when I either noticed for the first time or rediscovered that Uncle Herbert's tool chest was actually a tool kit. The big label on the front which declares "GTL Tool Chest and Home Repairing Outfit" kind of gives this away! 

I did a bit of hunting around on the interwebs, and I found this advert from the November 1934 issue of Practical Mechanics:

A bit more hunting, and I found a few pictures of parts of the complete tool set. Funny thing is, I think I probably have about half of these tools. I definitely have the mallet, the hand plane, screwdrivers, the marking gauge and the tri square....and the mallet and tri square get used all the time! 

Most recently I have been working on restoring several of Uncle Herbert's old tools. Stay tuned for further developments!

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