Wednesday, February 16, 2011


So as I mentioned in the last post, Tara and I have spent the last couple of nights going through the tools in the various toolboxes in the cellar with an eye towards consolidating them down to reasonable and above all useful numbers. Well, okay, Tara did most of the work, as she's the one who actually knows what she's looking at, being a handy sort and a really quite good mechanic on the side, though these days most of that mechanical skill has been focussed on trying to figure out just why the Hel the coil on her Deux Chevaux has been consistently and stubbornly overheating for the last several years running (more like not running, alas) no matter what she does to the thing. At any rate, though, she knows about tools.

So we pulled them all out and dumped them into piles, since they were only superficially organized really, trying to figure out which were duplicates (who am I kidding? Triplicates, quadruplicates, quintuplicates, et cetera), what might reasonably be sets, what we had only a couple of, what were things we just weren't ever going to need to use (threading large pieces of pipe, fixing Ford engines), and stuff that was actually the opposite of useful, like dull rusty files that if you ever tried to use on a piece of wood would just rust and stain it all up and be sort of an anti-tool.

There were also, of course, a few oddities, though luckily nothing as bad for the Soul as our (coincidentally and frighteningly enough) Valentine's Day find of that packet of condoms that expired in March 1981; and I'm damned glad of that, let me tell you.

Though we weren't looking to sort any power tools yet, we did of course find a couple, including this cranky old Dremel-ish tool that eventually did turn, though it spat out sparks and smoke:

Tara thinks it is rehabilitatable; I have my doubts, but she's a grown woman and I can't stop her.

Then there was this thing.

Though it isn't specifically about hiding under the desk in case of nuclear war, I can only assume this thing is still a result of that sort of Cold War paranoia that was supposed to be cured by everyone making like a good Boy Scout and always Being Prepared; still, fat lot of good it would have done lost in the cellar under a pile of junk. But, seriously, look at that illustration: this is genuinely intended to be used if you find yourself lost on a desert island. Now if my father were, say, given to extreme mountain climbing, or had as a hobby those survival treks where you have to eat bugs and stuff, well, okay; but really, he just wasn't the sort to do anything even a little bit risky. He was, in fact, abnormally frightened of any kind of risk, in that OCPD way of being averse to Things He Couldn't Control. Which in a backwards twisty way means it kind of makes sense that he would keep something like this. He was definitely a Worst Case Scenario kind of guy, even though he hardly left the house.

Anyway, so on to the tools. Tara dumped them all out on the cellar floor and started sorting. Keep in mind, now, that these tools are mostly from the cellar; she did pull a few of the obvious ones out of the downstairs breezeway, since it was convenient, but this does not include what may be in the upstairs or downstairs garage or in the shop, which is where my father was last actively working on Volkswagens, and which is pretty much full to the brim with stuff right now.

How do you determine how many tools you might need? Some people might say, well, if it works, what's the harm in keeping it? Well you know that works if you have, say, two sets of pliers, or even five sets of pliers, but when you have twenty-seven pairs?

You may notice that these are also just one type of pliers. These are not our needle-nose pliers, or the kind with the wire-cutters built in, or round-nose or adjustable or whatever; this is just the pile of straight-up ordinary smallish pliers.

And then there were the files:

Most of those are metal files, I think, since they are fairly fine; still, as I said above, how many do you need? And if they're rusty? That's just going to make a mess. So Tara managed to weed those out a bit.

Behold, ex-files:

Har har.

Then there were the chisels:

Those mostly got saved, as I know they can simply be sharpened. Also, for a lot of the hand tools, I know I'm actually going to have to use them to see if I like them. Some of them I'm sure will be more comfortable to use, others less, so I don't mind at this point keeping more than I think I will ever need, so long as the lot of them are contained.

And now onto the main part of this tool-sorting job, the wrenches.

Here's the pile Tara started with:

Yes, that's several layers deep, in case you were wondering.

Now. Tara is a mechanic; however, she does it as a hobby, not as a profession, and so she's just never going to use some of the more specialized ones. She set herself a criteria of, 'Would I reach for it in the toolbox?' And if she said Hell NO then it went.

There were quite a variety of them, and quite a size range, too. There was in fact one little pocket-thingy filled with very tiny ones, ones that were just the right size for an old friend of ours:

That's Joe. He used to be in the Navy.

At the other end of the range were a set of very plain but quite large ones that had been painted matte black. They tuned up quite nicely, as you can see:

The biggest one was labelled 7/8:

Except, seven-eighths of what, exactly? Because it sure wasn't inches:

A bit of research later, Tara found out that that 7/8 marking was from a time before anything was standardized and so nuts were measured by the inside diameter, i.e. the diameter of the bolt that fit inside it. From a website called (really!)

In the United States prior to 1929 the sizes stamped on wrenches usually referred to the diameter of the bolt not the actual opening size. Thus a wrench stamped ½ U. S. would actually have a 7/8" wrench opening size as a nut for a ½" diameter U. S. Standard bolt would measure 13/16" across the flats and allowing for 1/16 clearance would require a 7/8" wrench opening. This same size wrench would also fit nuts for 5/8" hex cap screw and bolt and nuts for 9/16" S.A.E Standard Cap Screws and thus would be marked ½ U.S, 5/8 Hex Cap, and 9/16 SAE.

What a mess. So. These date to before 1929, when the wrench world got its collective head out of its collective ass and finally standardized the things in a logical manner. Now given that our father was born in 1923, unless these really quite solid and heavy wrenches were a birthday gift to a toddler (which I would think even then would have been considered A Very Bad Idea) these were probably one grandfather or other's. Although that might not necessarily be true, or even likely, since dad acquired stuff from anywhere and mostly at random.

Still, even though they are absolutely completely useless these days, we hung onto them, just in case maybe some collector somewhere might pay more than scrap value. Though even if they did belong to a grandfather, honestly that wouldn't make me keep them. I'm not one for sentimental value. Thinking that maybe they were is enough.

Then there was this weird thing:

It rather reminds me of a two-headed snake, in a freak-of-nature abomination sort of way. I have no idea if this is a real thing, or some kind of jerry-built joke.

In the end we still had several drawers worth of them, to split up later between Tara's place, the garage/wood shop, and around-the-house needs. Also I think we're going to make up a tool kit to live in Larry the Volvo station waggon, as that seems like a very good idea (though if Mom or I get stuck, we'll just call Triple A, to be honest).

And though there probably still are more tools, even in the cellar, since there are shelves that we didn't really go through all that thoroughly, at least now we have some idea of what we've actually got. And that's progress.

Lucky Thirteen Scrap Run

We've spent the last couple days in the cellar consolidating the hundreds (I feel quite safe using that number in a completely non-exaggeratory way) of tools; and so by today we had enough for another iron run, if a smallish one. There is also a pile somewhere out in the yard of scrap that we put aside a couple months ago, but damned if we could find it today. It's still all a blanket of white out there. Well, the stuff's kind of whitish, anyway.

Yet another butt-end-of-Larry shot:

Those bins are really rather heavier than you'd think. Tara and I were trading verses of 'Living With A Hernia', by, who else, the incomparable Weird Al as we were hauling them around; I'm pretty sure though there were no major injuries, though perhaps I should hold off saying that till I get out of bed tomorrow.

Like I said, it was a smallish run today (and the scrapyard was rather muddy), for another 660 pounds of iron removed from the property. That brings the total up to 26,260 pounds or a superstitious 13.13 tons of iron taken out of here since March 2008, and puts us at our 30th freakin' trip to the scrapyard.

Yep, still more out there.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


There are some things it is good to know about (math); there are some things that, even if you don't want to know about, still, it's a good idea to learn (taxes); there are even some things that you really wish you didn't have to know about (being diagnosed with leprosy), but it's still, ultimately, good to know; and then there's shit like this.

Tara and I could have very happily continued on with the rest of our lives without this particular bit of information. Well, okay, not like we didn't know; we are here, after all, and we've heard a thing or two around the school-yard; still, we were just innocently organizing tools in the cellar tonight when Tara suddenly let out a scream of horror and anguish. I came running and saw OMG NO:

That's right; they were squirrelled away in a toolbox in the cellar. Not the drawer of the nightstand in what was my parents' bedroom, or hidden in a sock drawer, or in a shoebox in the back of a closet, but in a toolbox in the cellar. With the, um, tools. So okay I guess that's a theme. Except I really don't want to know.

(Is it just me or does the dude on the box look like Micky Dolenz with a moustache?

You know, I don't actually know what Micky Dolenz was up to in the 70s. I can tell you what Mike Nesmith was doing (various country bands and divorcing four wives) or what Peter Tork was doing (mostly a haze of drugs), but not Micky. And I've never cared about Davy, so, y'know. It actually could be Micky. And that's all just a tangent, oh the happy happy Monkees so I don't have to think about...)

Because of course then we opened it up, because we're stupid, and saw that two of them were not there:

No no no la la la la la you can't make me.

Gah. In the cellar.

Somehow, though, it seems appropriate.

Friday, February 11, 2011

What is THAT? Bendy Wrench Edition

Wow. Everyone proved so helpful on that last installment of What is THAT? that now I have a genuine question (well, not that the last odd tool wonderings weren't genuine): what are these?

Well, yes, they are some kind of wrench, okay, that's pretty obvious. They came out of one of the four drawers of wrenches in toolbox #1 in the cellar. But why are they all bendy-wiggley like that? They must be specific to something, but what? There are more of them than just the seven here, mind you (well I mean duh). Tara, who knows a thing or two about things of this nature, can't figure them out.

What are these?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

What Is THAT?

Well now, after the bit of cleanup in the cellar today, it's time for another edition of What Is THAT? our series of posts where we put up pictures of things we've found that we just got no clue what they might be, even though in general we (or at least Tara) are pretty good at figuring things out. As always, genuine guesses or wild speculation about the things are welcome in the comments.

We've got a couple today.

The first is this group of things. They were found on the shelves over the giant scary Industrial Revolution lathe among all the bits and dies and parts that we could identify; so we are guessing they are something to do with it, though we can't figure out how they'd be used, or where they'd even attach to the thing. Keep in mind, however, that just because they were over by the lathe doesn't mean that they go with the thing, oh ho no. It is really quite likely that that is pure misdirection. Here they are:

The biggest one is maybe a three or four inch cube, roughly. They do look somewhat machiney, but we just can't figure them out.

The other thing is probably some kind of tool. We ran across a couple of similar ones which we tossed since they looked broken to us; but at the third one we realized it was its own, weird, thing. This one, the largest, also closes in an odd way, which the first two did not, and which you can see in the action shot below. It's probably like ten inches long. It reminds me rather of a Celtic-type bird from the Lindisfarne Gospels or something.

Good luck!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


Okay, yeah. It's been a little slow around here, as far as the cleanup of the yard goes. But, really: February. Massachusetts.

It's not just that there's some snow out there; it's that we got a foot or so of snow, then a couple days later another several inches; then it rained and melted a bit, then I swear several inches of slush fell straight out of the sky, which then froze solid, then we got more snow on top of that, then some rain, then it melted a bit, then refroze, and oh it's a mess. All mixed in with the dirt and sand from the town snowplowed into the yard plus the various twigs and bits fallen off the trees from the wind we got the other night. It's no longer that nice winter wonderland icicle fairy sort of prettiness; this is dirty, old, stale snow, on par with the thing you find in the back of the freezer that was probably a popsicle from last summer, but maybe it's a pork chop, who knows.

Anyhow it meant that today, when Tara and I were out in the yard, wonderin', we could most of the time sorta kinda walk on top of it. Mostly. Because every few steps one foot or the other would go crashing through all the way to the bottom with the same lurching feeling you get when you go down the stairs in the dark and miscount and find yourself briefly standing on air instead of the floor you'd expected. It was enormously aggravating, and far more physical work than you'd think. I watched enviously as the local stray cat blithely padded along on top of it all. Then again I bet her little feet were pretty cold.

It's true, it looks rather better out there now; all that snow covers up quite a lot of the gruesome details, though really it's the equivalent of piling up all the mess of a room then throwing a rug over it and saying, 'Look! Clean!'

So we did what we could today, which meant that after our brief and misguided foray into the wilderness we sensibly came back inside and started sorting things in the cellar.

Now, due to recent efforts the cellar looks rather better than it has in some time; back in November I think we made a real effort to get the south end of it somewhat clean. At the time that meant throwing away obviously broken tools, but putting the possibly useful ones back into the toolboxes to sort later. Now, I know, most of those tools, dammit, are going to leave the property if I have my way (and I will, since I'm the one who lives here), but, it is true, some of them are useful. It would be good to have one or two sets of things to keep in say, the garage which I hope to set up as a wood shop eventually, or the shop, that sort of thing. That sounds perfectly reasonable to me. It would be kind of stupid, after all, to throw them all away and then go out and buy more, especially since, given the way things are made these days, I think a lot of older hand tools are actually of a far better quality than what you can get today.

Here's where it gets tricky, though. One of the big reasons hoarders give for never throwing anything away is that OH MY GOD I MIGHT POSSIBLY CONCEIVABLY NEED IT SOMEDAY! Even the abstract idea of throwing things away fills them with utter terror and panic; or at least that's how my father always reacted. I can't imagine what kind of soul-shattering failure it would have been for him to go buy something that he'd thrown out, knowing he'd thrown it out. Of course that would have had to follow him actually throwing something away in the first place. Or him actually having a soul, for that matter.

Anyhow. So today, in the little time we had (Tara had to be somewhere later) we went through one of the toolboxes in the cellar, one of five or six still in there.

Now, though I have aspirations of setting up (and using) a wood shop in the current garage, I'm not much of an expert on tools. Oh, I know what say a spokeshave or hand planer looks like, but I'm not sure what some of the other things down there were. To be fair, though, my father saved everything, tools for woodworking, metal working, masonry, machining, tools specific to Volkswagen or other car repair, and even tools that had been radically altered by some mad genius with access to a machine shop, which is never a good thing.

So not only is the sheer amount of the things overwhelming, even Tara can't actually identify half of them. Which has led to a sort of paralysis. A paralysis, I suspect, that is uncannily similar to the kind that goes through a hoarder's brain. And it's true, though I am not myself a hoarder, I learned, sorry, 'learned,' how to clean, and how to sort, and how to prioritize tasks by watching one; which means all too often I just have no clue myself. So a lot of what we've been doing has been just throwing the things back into the toolbox drawers to sort later.

Yeah well 'later' is now. I am also very, very aware that what we have been doing is awfully similar to churning.

Eh, what's 'churning,' precious, you ask?

Churning is what hoarders do when you can convince them to 'clean.' It is not, mind you, technically cleaning, of course, and in no way does it involve stuff actually leaving the property. They basically, I think, attempt to 'organize' their stuff, which, since they cannot actually part with it, means they go through all of it piece by piece as slowly as possible. So for example, they will go through a box of papers from twenty years ago one at a time, and throw a total of three pieces of paper away. It will take them two hours, maybe three, to go through that single box, after which they will declare themselves exhausted. In effect what it amounts to is that this pile of stuff over here on the left simply becomes this pile of stuff over here on the right.

Nothing of course actually gets done, though much effort is expended; and believe you me, that is a feature, not a bug: for if all your nagging and yelling for the hoarder to, you know, clean up their fucking junk gets that kind of result? You stop nagging and yelling, right? It's passive-aggression taken to an archetypal level; one might even call it passive-aggression deified.

So anyway, though we weren't doing it on purpose, the fact that all these tools were just sort of getting shuffled around was making me very uneasy, since I am understandably, I think, rather allergic by now to crap like that. So.

Today we took every last thing out of one toolbox. Then we sorted them into piles of things that we knew might be useful, like, say, planes, files, chisels, other woodworking tools, hinges, that sort of thing, while of course pulling out obviously broken things for another iron run hopefully by the end of the week. And even though we'd already been through those drawers more than once before, we still filled another three bins full up with scrap iron.

I think Tara didn't really see the point, it's true. And yes, the cellar is of course much better than it has been in the past, don't get me wrong; still, I actually want to see it clean, genuinely clean. Not just all the junk picked up off the floor and put on shelves, or even the junk reduced by 50%. Actually clean. And that means the unnecessary stuff goes.

Because I'm kind of done with it by now, you know?