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.


Debra She Who Seeks said...

Love the wrench xylophone!

Elaine said...

I used to work at Dremel. If you want find out more about your tool, check the website ( You could contact their Customer Service either by email or phone. I know that they used to get all kinds of inquiries about old tools, and they refurbished old tools, too.

Sid said...

Xylophone = great.

Categorization = up my alley.

Joe = sexy.

Julia said...

That last thing you said looked like a two-headed snake? My grandma had one. She used it to pull (or push) the oven rack in and out of her 1920s gas cookstove, and she also had some curious uses for it on the wood stove for managing hot metal parts.

Those 1920s tools and lots of your VW stuff might be of interest to the guys on the American Pickers show. You should contact them.

Jon Gross LindCoulee said...

Cool blob. You might enjoy the dumb con artist of the week for this week.
cool Blog. You'll enjoy my Crook of the we eBay link.

jon gross lindcouloee said...

that was my pre-coffee spelling. Anyway his arrowhead is nothing more than a rusty 6" file, Maybe longer but it got "filed" down.