A long time ago, I went to a tool show at the New Scotland Armory. At the time, I didn't have much of a workshop but I always liked tools so I went to just look around.
At one table, there was an English-made backsaw for sale. This is a short, stiff hand saw used for fine cuts in wood. The top brace of the saw was plated gold, and the handle was exquisitely made of hardwood with matching gold rivets.
When I picked it up and held it, I gasped at first — this tool fit my hand like a fine glove, like it was made just for my hand. Before or since, I've never picked up any tool with that kind of feeling, a feel that, with this tool, which was basically an extension of my hand, I could work with total confidence and precision.
The saw cost, if I remember correctly, $45, which was a lot back then. I didn't buy it and I've been kicking myself ever since. A tool of that quality will easily last a lifetime and then some.
What brought this to mind was something that happened with my father the other day. He'd been cleaning out the trunk of his car, which was still full of stuff from a recent move.
One of the things he pulled out and gave to me was his father's wood saw. This saw is strong and stout, maybe 100 years old. There's a little rust on it but overall it's in fine condition.
When I first gripped it, I got the same feeling like I did when I picked up that backsaw at the tool show. It didn't fit my hand perfectly like that saw, "the one that got away," but it was close. It's clearly a quality product built for serious work by a craftsman. Amazing that this classic tool was just bumping around in my father's trunk for the last few years.
My grandfather was retired by the time I knew him, so I never saw him do any real work, but he would always putter around the apartment where he lived. The interesting thing about him was he'd fix everything — including his false teeth — with a file.
Sounds odd, I know, but talk to any craftsman and he will tell you a good man (or woman) with a file can fix anything. To think I now have his saw in my own personal possession is quite an honor.
When my parents moved, I did pick up a few of his other tools, most notably a really nice Stanley hand drill, but this saw is much larger and makes a wonderful visual impression. It still looks like it's ready for anything.
My lovely wife and I used to go to a lot of garage and estate sales where we'd often find vintage tools like this, but we had to stop going. The problem , for every nice thing we'd find we'd bring home 10 other things that we really didn't need, which leads to clutter.
There are reality TV shows about out-of-control hoarders that get good ratings. We're not that bad but I've decided that, until we clear most of it out, we're not "sale-ing" (hitting the yard and estate sales) anymore.
I have a buddy, a tool guy like me, who made a rule for his family — nothing goes in unless something goes out. So, if you want a new TV, the old one goes. Same with furniture, housewares, etc.
I wish I'd done that years ago, believe me. You don't own stuff; it owns you. Everything needs to be stored properly, cared for, dusted, and maintained. The less you own, the less work you have to do.
I like motorcycles but I only want to own a few that I can really ride. I know several guys who have around 50 bikes, and I know one guy with over 100. No way I would ever want to own that many bikes, unless I were opening a museum.
There is a TV show called New Yankee Workshop where master carpenter Norm Abram builds various projects. He does a great job but the thing is, he has a large, heated shop and every power tool ever made.
For regular guys like me, it loses a lot of relevance because of this. I'd like to see him build a cabinet with just two sawhorses, simple hand-held power tools, and old-style hand tools like my grandfather's saw and drill, in his driveway, garage, or basement, the way most normal guys work.
He virtually never uses any hand tools, yet I still do many times. For example, when I want really fine control, or to clean up the end of the cut where the curved circular saw blade can't reach, I still use a handsaw. Works great.
As well built as it is, I couldn't see using my grandfather's handsaw for any real work. Instead, I removed the rust and polished it up real nice.
Here's a tip: To remove rust from an old tool, go to the supermarket or health-food store and pick up some powdered citric acid — about one cup to a gallon of warm water will do. Let the tool soak in there for a few days and the rust will magically disappear.
After the saw was cleaned up, I made a display case for it and it now sits proudly on the wall in my family room. I thought about mounting it behind glass but instead I left it open, attached by magnets. This way, if I ever have an intruder I can quickly pull the saw out to defend myself. I'll bet Grandpa would have loved that!
Displaying Grandpa's saw like this just seems appropriate for such a well-preserved relic from a prior generation. Truly they don't make 'em like this anymore.
I have other hand-saws that are not as nice; I'll use them to do real work. For a special tool with sentimental value like this, celebrating its heritage in this way is the right thing to do. There's nothing like passing down an old tool from generation to generation.
Isn't it funny how things work out: I let the one saw I really liked get away, but the one I really needed found me anyway.
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