Hand Tool Fever

I had to go to a doctor, just to find out that I have HTF. Hand Tool Fever. It is very similar to New Tool Acquisition Syndrome (NTAS), the only major difference being that not all the hand tools have to be “new.” Unfortunately, there really is no known “cure,” however; death, having to flee one’s home in the middle of the night, and being shipwrecked on a deserted island are about the only things that can cure HTF. And I was just informed that loss of limbs might make the symptoms go away, but I shudder at the thought of this.

Case in point; I recently got a “new” rip saw. Hey, I really did need it! You know, for the Hand Tool School? Besides, my Stanley rip saw just doesn’t cut it anymore, if you will excuse the pun. It actually works better as a cross-cut saw than a ripper. So you see, sometimes the only way you can relieve the symptoms of HTF is to actually buy a tool.

Now here’s the serious part. There are a myriad of different types of rip saws, and I do not have the funds to buy a brand new high-end saw that might not be right for me. So I went to Matt Cianci, the author of “The Saw Blog.” I have been reading his blog for a couple of months, and this guy knows saws. So I asked him, “what would be the right rip saw for me?” I explained what I would be using for, the type of wood I usually use and their thicknesses, and we even determined the correct length of saw for my body size. I told him that I was reluctant to buy an older saw myself on eBay, and he said that he could find one for me and even tune it up. It did not take too long for Matt to find a very pretty Atkins #53 rip saw (mostly likely made in the 1920’s to 1930’s). Then he sharpened it up and mailed it to me. Of course I paid him the saw, and for his services which were extremely reasonable.

When you are an orthodox Jew, you don’t work on Shabbos (Saturday), so when the mail truck pulled up and delivered the package I was excited, but it was forbidden for me to open it up. You don’t know how hard it was for me not to touch that package. I was like a dog with a treat balanced on its nose waiting for his master to give the okay. As soon as Shabbos was over, I was on that package like white on rice. I knew what the package was, but my three little girls and wife did not know. So I unwrapped it very slowly, making sure that they could not see it until it was fully released from its packaging. You should have heard all the wild guesses about what it could be! Once I popped the saw out, that look of joy on their faces instantly disappeared. However my face lit up! First thing Sunday morning, I was out in my shop testing the saw on the saw bench I made for the Hand Tool School. It was a smooth and straight ripper! It’s hard to describe the joy you feel when you use a properly working hand tool for the first time. Ahhhhhhhhh, a little bit of heaven.

My "new" old rip saw

Matt filed the rip teeth with 5 degrees of negative rake. With the 6 points per inch, it should be able to handle all of the woods I usually use with a good compromise between speed and smoothness. Oh how sweet it is!

Naturally one can’t have just one good hand saw, I need a good cross-cut hand saw too. So I already emailed Matt and he is looking for a Disston D-8. If you also suffer from Hand Tool Fever, and you need information about hand saws, then I can not recommend Matt’s blog enough.

When I think about it, my Hand Tool Fever is not too bad. Right now I only want; a good tenon saw, drawbore pins, dividers, a scrub plane, low angle block plane, a bigger brace, a plow plane, a set of molding planes…… well, errrr. Yea, I got it bad.

About yaakov

Husband, Abba, Furniture Maker, Turner, Bookseller, and all around working stiff.
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5 Responses to Hand Tool Fever

  1. knottywood says:

    I’m subscribed to your blog, read and enjoy it all the time as e-mail. There are many times when I wish I wish I could make a comment or tell you about something that happened to me, I thhink you as a wood working kind of guy would dig, but it won’t let me comment from the e-mail.

    I wrote this story a few years ago. Your talking about being a tool junkie and buying the rip saw reminded me of it. I went through a phase where I was tripping on tools and had the money to outfit a big shop. I built all kinds of stuff for a number of years in support of my remodel contracting business. Long story short, with the exception of a few hand tools and a table saw, all that stuff is long gone. Then I tripped on racing motorcycles and was a superbike junkie for years. Got that out of my system too.

    I don’t care if you publish this or not, but it’s easier right now to copy it than send it in an e-mail…

    I have a friend named Ted, that I have known since 7th grade. We spent many summer days riding skateboards and learning tricks in the early ’60s of sunny California. We were pretty tight.

    We grew up and went off to do what we did. 35 years later, I get a phone call from him. In the passing years, Ted had been a very sucessful painting contractor, bought property in a remote part of the Northern California Coast and built a very special hand made house that took him many years to construct.

    The reason for his call, was that his house had suffered some leaks in the harsh coastal environment and he needed a carpentry contractor with advanced remodeling skills and the capability of setting up a small woodworking shop onsite, to restore his house. Seven years before, he was diagnosed with emphysema and he ran up some huge medical bills. He needed to fix the water damage and put the property on the market. No way he could do any kind of work. He is rarely able to even go outside.

    I packed up my tools and spent the summer of 2006 in Southern Mendocino County, high in the Redwoods over looking the Pacific Ocean. Ted’s wife Debby, told me that she had to go feed her neighbor’s cats each night and would walk down the road to the ridge overlooking the ocean. This went on for weeks, until I ask if the neighbors were ever coming back. Debby looked at Ted and they smiled at each other. Ted said, “Why don’t you show him the place?”. She said, Ok let’s walk over there.

    Slowly, Debby told me about all the years that they lived on the ridge property. They could have bought this other property out on the cliffs, but they thought that the 37 acres they ended up with had a more sheltered home site, trading a direct ocean view for protection from storms. They shared a common road through the ridge property and so, when… let’s call them the Jones, bought the cliff property, they had many common dealings.

    Ted described Jones as a survivalist wing nut. The Joneses wanted to move out into the sticks and be self sufficient, so when the end of civilization came, they would be able to live in paradise. Wow, this was a pretty mind blowing location I thought, as we got to the end of the narrow gravel road and spotted the ocean through the forest. The house was not visible until you got right to the edge of the cliffs. I could see a narrow wooden stairway between two boulders about 40 ft. in diameter. The stairs were set into pockets chipped out of these huge boulders. At the top, the stairs connected to a weather beaten deck that wrapped around to a similar looking, three bedroom house perched like an eagle’s nest on the side of this thousand foot mountain.

    The interior of the house was beautifully decorated, modern, had picture windows all across the western elevation, with sweeping vistas of the Pacific. Sure enough, here were the cats. They didn’t go outside. Debby said Mrs. Jones spends most of the year in San Diego. Debby fed the cats and said, let’s go look at the house site.

    I was confused. We walked out, back down the stairs, down a path to a big flat area. It too had a sweeping views of the coast. There was a big building that reminded me of a county or state road maintenance facility. It had three big commercial style roll up doors with glass transoms as wide as the doors. It had a standing seam, metal, shed roof that went from two stories on the ocean side to three stories on the eastern side. There was a big 6′ thick concrete driveway with a Case 580 back hoe/loader, a little Ford dump truck and a Ditch Witch, all in new condition, parked in front of each door.

    I’m taking all this in as Debby unlocks a man door on the side and lets us in. I find that we are in someone’s dream garage. There are big Snap-On rollaway chests on each side of two big work benches all strewn with tools. There are lockers chock full of every kind of mechanics tool you can think of. There are book shelves with repair manuals and a desk. On the floor, is a built-in hydraulic auto lift, with all the goodies you would expect in a auto shop. There were welders, transmission jacks and rolling oil drain pans.

    I’m stunned. This was the last thing I would expect to find way out here in the boondocks. Debbie walked away to check on something while I took it all in. On the ocean side of the building was a big furnished office with picture window so you could see into the shop area. In back of the auto repair area was a staircase going up to a mezzanine over looking the shop and a furnished apartment with a full kitchen.

    The thing that struck me as odd, was the tractors and truck being parked outside. In the bays, were row upon row thousands of used books in eight foot tall book cases, cobbled together out of #2 1×12 pine boards. I start looking at this “library” and realize that they are all how-to kind of books. How to make Stained Glass, how to can vegetables, how to make whatever.

    Debbie comes back and motions to me to follow her. I’m not really putting two and two together, and ask what all this stuff is. I ask what does Mr. Jones do?

    Do? She replies. He doesn’t do anything he died two years ago. I’m stunned. What’s happening with all this stuff I ask? Nothing, she says, and points to the far end of the building.

    She leads me to a big bright space partially walled off from the Garage area. It is a full woodworking shop. It was like somebody leafed through the Delta and Powermatic catalogs and said, give me the big planer, jointer, shaper table and dust collection system… oh and throw in one of those Hitachi 2 1/4” band saws too. It was just ridiculous, all the brand new hand and small power tools. Crazy as the garage setup.

    My heart skipped a beat. I had just packed up my shop in the Bay Area two summers before and all my tools and machinery were still in storage in Portland. I was dumbfounded and ask, what is this all about?

    Debbie motions me out another exterior door opening, out towards the most spectacular view of the coast in both directions. We walk down a narrow foot path in the middle of an overgrown gravel driveway that has been abandoned. We were at the edge of the old redwood forest that had grown wild right up to the rock outcroppings at the top the cliffs. Around a turn, is another area, not very big or very level. Here was a concrete perimeter foundation and piers that described the building line for a large residence.

    Off to the side, is a what is left of a pile of dimensional framing lumber, melted in the rain and sun. Debby said they were building this new house to live in, when Mr. Jones had a heart attack and died. Everything was pretty much left where it was. Mrs. Jones spent the summers here, but then went to live in San Diego to be near her kids. That is why Debby fed the cats.

    We walked back up to the road. Debbie wanted to double check the doors and I stood looking at the maintenance station, when my gaze fell on what looked like a mobile home trailer with no windows. There was a big door in the middle and some kind of air conditioning system on top. When debbie catches up, I point, afraid to ask. She says, its a kiln, they they wanted to mill all their own lumber for the house. I said, can I look? She says, I think there was some redwood from downed logs that had fallen where they graded the driveway.

    The doors creak and light reveals a huge pile of thick, wide, flitches from different trees. It’s dusty and my woodworkers curiosity is in full throttle. I wipe some boards and there is thousands of board feet of the most exotic madrone, oak, black walnut as well as monster planks of old growth redwood at the back.

    I’m incredulous. What’s going to happen to all of this material I bleat out? Debbie says, I don’t know, nothing. I’m over come with envy or wood lust or something. I want this material in the worst way. My little brain is thinking of all the tables, chairs, bookcases, that I have designs for. Oh, what a rocking chair I could build with that Madrone! I could come down here with a rental truck and steal all this lumber! And then I realize how stupid that all sounds.

    That evening we talked about the Joneses and life in general. Ted said that when he was diagnosed, they told him he would only live two years. That was seven years ago. He has been through some really rough times. Somebody came to the property in ‘03 who had a cold and Ted caught it. His immune system is so compromised that he became very ill, very fast and Debbie had to call 911.

    They had to life flight Ted to the hospital. His heart stopped en route and they revived him. There was fog and so they couldn’t land at the hospital where his doctors were, and had to take him to another. Now his insurance company wont pay for a half million dollars worth of bills. His heart stopped in the ER, but they revived him and he spent six weeks in ICU.

    Ted is a tough guy. We talk on the phone all the time. Sometimes he can’t talk and so I say, well just listen then.

    We have hashed over so much philosophical stuff in the last few years. Ted gave almost everything he owned away. He had three nice guitars. He gave me one of them because he can’t play them any more. The medication that he is on gives him osteoporoses. The last time he tried to play he broke two ribs. He keeps his guitars, a stereo and some CDs. Nothing else in the house is his anymore. The house is on the market. When he dies, Debbie will have a laundry basket full of cloths to give away, and that’s it. Ted told me that I’m going to get the other two guitars. I protested, saying I have more instruments than I have time to play. He said, “we are only caretakers. I have been the caretaker for this land and my house to the best of my abilities and somebody else will have to take care of this stuff. You will find somebody that needs to play them.”

    That’s it boys and girls. It’s all just stuff. We are just taking care of it. It’s not who we are.

    • yaakov says:

      Wow! Thanks for the story. That was really interesting. I guess I don’t need to repost it, becuase it is here in the blog! I hope it gets many reads.

      I am really happy to hear you are enjoying my blog. Thanks so much!!!


  2. Pingback: To All of You I Wish I Knew « The Accidental Cootchie Mama

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  4. Lora Maniscalco says:

    There are thousands of tools on the shelves of the hardware store and the work benches of seasoned do-it-yourself gurus, but it you were to break them down into categories, they all do some of the same things. So with five basic pieces of hardware as your foundation, you can build anything and then work from there to build your own workshop.”

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