In the current days we find the front porch as a place to collect bees nests, pollen, and religious saleswomen. I find this a shame as I feel the front porch was designed to greet good company, not turn companionship away. I grew up in the mountains on the end of a mile long rough gravel drive. Neither the pitch, the distance, nor the gullies of the drive were vast enough to keep the stinging members at bay. I find the same to be true of where I live now with my wife and kids. The front porch is a stone’s throw away from the gravel state road. We try to keep a warm and welcoming house, but by doing so, our precious few minutes of private family time are often interrupted by folks thinking its their god given right to trespass as long as they have literature in their hands titled “Awake”.
But then there are neighbors. Most good, some bad. The good ones don’t stop by often enough and the bad ones make you want to do the snake crawl across your own decking boards to give the false impression that no one is on the porch to talk to. Fortunately, my daughter has the snake crawl down. Unfortunately, her timing is a bit off. She only snake crawls when the neighbors with psychotic episodes are leaving our property…much too late. The good ones do, however, threaten to take full action in the holidays that bear little stitching…such as the most recent one, National Garden Naked Day. I don’t fault them for wanting to celebrate, I fault them for telling me about it for I want to celebrate it as well (but in my own garden), but I lay in fear that my psychotic neighbor will think its an invitation as she did the one night she came up to my shop and peaked in the windows for several minutes at me at a couple hours past 11:00. I slyly retrieved my sharpest chisel and put it in my back pocket that night..just in case she wanted to enter. Fortunately for me, she was just a peeper, not an intruder. Unfortunately for my stool, I forgot my honed chisel was in my back pocket.
Back to these good neighbors. My wife and I are very fortunate to have neighbors that we’d consider damn good family friends. They have all kinds of wit, they are independent, they cook great food, brew great beer. What’s not to like about them? Ain’t a thing as far as I can tell. This is the first time that April and I have ever had neighbors so dang perfect. Actually, if I may be truthful, they did drop from their perfect ranking for not running off the psychotic neighbor, but don’t hold it too much against them for ranking in the 70th percentile, they do keep busy and travel frequently. Its hard to run someone off if you are never in town to do so.
A good length of time ago, the good neighbors were out of town. One of them had requested me to make a mantle and hang it for the other’s Birthday surprise. How hard could that be? Ever met Granite? I swear that was the best camouflaged granite I had ever seen! Looked like regular old river rock, but I couldn’t get a masonry bit to do anything more than make a slight dimple. Every time I had to leave the house to get items for another strategy to hang the great timber, I had to reintroduce myself to Tucker, the chihuahua. Every time I would somehow leave the treats sitting at the destination of my trip, so I did my best to use my 4 foot level and use it as a Hunter-Jumper training device, trying to keep him well enough occupied so my limbs would make it to where the rest of my body was going. Fortunately, it began to rain and Tucker didn’t care to be wet, so it allowed me freedom to cross the yard and only 6′ of heavily guarded porch to cross.
The mounting of the mantle was done in the most perverse fashion…usually the unwritten mantle law is to use the smallest fastener or brace to be able to support the mantle. Did I mention the timber that was going up was of good size and weight? Five feet of oak bridge timber. I started at the top of the size of fasteners and worked my way down. One inch diameter bolt, seven inches in length. I couldn’t get a hole a quarter of an inch deep in an hour’s time with plenty of water and lubrication. I went through the sizes, down from one inch. I stopped at three-quarters of an inch. I had a good hole. I used a combination of bits meant to drill tile, bits meant to drill glass, bits meant to drill granite, and bits meat to drill rock. They all played a role in the four additional holes that followed. What was supposed to be the hard part..the mounting of the mantle…actually ended up being quite easy. A couple of licks with the rubber sledge and the mantle was secured in place. I then mounted the corbels to the bottom of the mantle, cleaned up 10 gallons of rock dust, and the job was done….after I made several trips to the truck carrying all of the tools out through the gauntlets of the chihuahua that loved me so well.
The neighbors returned home. I found this out by them messaging me a picture of their young grandson SITTING ON THE DAMN MANTLE!!! I thought they had lost their minds! Did they know that I mounted that mantle and it defies all logical definitions of gravity?
Fast forward quite a few months and I find myself in full blown anxiety mode. My son is due to enter the world at any moment, I’m knee deep in a four day project of rebuilding a riding lawn mower that was initially only going to take me three hours to complete. I’m also finishing two large pieces of furniture, one going to Chicago, and one going to the Pacific Northwest. I’m nervous about shipping them because if anything happens to them, I’ll have little time to rebuild with the new addition to the family. How is the nursery you ask? Dandy. Just dandy. The new insulation is up and the new ceiling board is down…down in the carport waiting to be lugged up a ladder and through the window.
Unfortunately I have to leave all of the above mentioned behind. I’ve got to spend the weekend in the office: creating menus and working on budgets and scheduling before I take my Man Maternity Leave. Its on this drive to work that I receive a message from my good neighbors stating that they have a friend that follows Cattywampus on social media and has a set of nice old hand planes to donate. I have become quite well known in the area for accepting donations of slightly used and abused antiques…what my wife and any normal being would consider JUNK. I figure this donation to be a treasure in need of a good bit of sanding, and polishing, and grinding and more sanding.
My day at work continues….until my visiting mother sends me a picture of a box on the porch. Its a beautiful old box with what looks to be a rosewood handled coping saw, a block plane, and some squares. I become excited and get little to nothing done for the rest of the day, aside from running my phone out of juice by staring at the picture of the box on my front porch all day. My wife and I exchanged a few words with one another as she threatened to put the box on EBAY before I got home. She has a way for keeping our relationship exciting! Unfortunately I’m very deserving of all the excitement she lends out to me.
The workday finally comes to a halt, but I am off like a shot. Upon my arrival at the house, I don’t think my shoes hit the soil once. I levitate to the box, grab it will all I’ve got (it’s a heavy little sucker) and run inside. What I thought was an intriguing box with a couple of tools in it ends up being an entire set of hand planes.
I feel the need to take pause here. I have spent countless hours researching antique hand tools and compiling a dream list. Once the list is complete, I throw it out since I realize that there is no way that I will find the tools I desire, and if I do find them, there is no way I can afford them and not be divorced and homeless. Then the process repeats itself..I compile a list, find a few of the tools on Ebay in England, and then find that there is no way I can afford any of them, and then throw the list out. My obsession for acquiring the proper hand tool collection got so bad that I was buying big German power tools so I could make more profit to spend on hand planes. My obsession grew cloudy as each power tool led to a purchase of a new power tool. You see power tools are funny. They can do one thing and do it fast, but if you try to figure in an angle or a depth, then they quickly lose the speed and the ability to complete the task. With a hand tool, you don’t have that problem. I was quickly drifting away from the hand tools. I was creating sawdust instead of shavings and piercing mechanical noise instead of the faint sound of the hand plane at work.
Back to the box. I opened the box and the clouds lifted. Every one of the planes on my list was in that box. Chisels were in that box. Saws were in that box. Layout tools were in that box. Clamps were in that box. Awls were in that box. That box seemed to have no bottom. The tools were in excellent shape. The blades were sharp and had correct bevels. Everything was ready to be put to use! I didn’t know whether to cry or to hide! I’ve had bad experiences in the past of divorce or breakups going south that I was unaware of and when loading up wood and tools that I rightfully paid for, I became blocked in by an enraged husband who apparently didn’t know his woodshop was for sale. I truly spent the night concerned with my box of tools. The tools were such a nice gift, I felt like it was all a dream and reality would snatch them away in the morning. I kept the tools hidden in the closet while I slept for that exact reason. Morning light finally came and the tools were still tucked away in the closet.behind the dress shirts..under the carpet, beneath the tacked down floor boards.
A few days passed. The furniture shipped. My son was born! I found out that the owner of the tools is no longer with us. My heart sank. I immediately thought of my mother and what she went through with the passing of my father. He was a musician. He loved music. He had his own music studio and after his passing, my mother gave his studio equipment to the younger lads that shared his passion and dedication to the arts. I felt the same being done in the instance of the planes. The tools were meticulously taken care of. Some of the planes predated 1910, but they were beautifully sharpened and adjusted like a dream. Some of the planes were modified with a piece of metal or canvas, so the original tool could be had again if desired, but if kept modified, the tool would perform even better. I learned so much from the shape the tools were in. As soon as I set the plane to a piece of wood, I learned that no muscle was needed, just a gentle guidance along the board’s edge. With this guidance, a beautiful profile is created that a router couldn’t mimic in the best of it’s days! Everything was a pleasure to work with! I am used to buying a junk tool that I want to learn how to use, but never fully understand it because I don’t know how the tool should function if in good shape. There was no question with how these tools were to function. They seemed to be on autopilot as soon as they were placed against wood!
Tongue and Groove Plane hard at work
I’m forever grateful for the gift of the planes, but I do wish dearly I could have met the craftsman that allowed me to learn so much in such a short period of time just from handling his tools. Could you imagine how much I could have learned from him? I can’t thanks his wife enough for the gift. I think of him every time I pull a plane out to begin working on a project and think of him every time I wipe the planes down with oil before I tuck them in at night. I ask him, sometimes aloud, Am I doing it right? Is this how you set the blade? Did you use mineral oil on the metal? Is it ok if I do? Do you mind if I fix the crack in that one handle? Or did you keep it there for the memory it brought back?
Combination Plane: has an entire tool roll of different cutters
You know what excites me the most about these planes? Teaching others with them. Teaching my daughter. Teaching my son. Teaching their friends. Teaching my friends. Teaching those that are willing. Teaching those that don’t quite understand and think its all history. The invention of the plane may be history, but the use of the plane will outlive Ikea.
Thank you Lisa! Thank you, Thank you, Thank you! They will always be treasured and handed from one craftsman to the next!
Box of treasures!
Inside of box:
Old door lock for box latch
Assortment of Chisels and specialty planes
Rabbet or shoulder plane
Can never have to many Jorgies during assembly!
A special edit: Lisa introduced me to Davis via these wonderful photos. His childhood doesn’t look too different than mine!