The Beauty of Tools
Tools can be just as gorgeous as the home you make and maintain with them
The curved claw and lightweight head of a general-purpose hammer (top) make it capable of finish work as well as light-duty framing and demolition. A straight claw and long handle mark a framing hammer (bottom). Its heavy head (20 oz. or more) can sink a big 16d nail in three strokes—the carpenter's equivalent of a home run.
A shovel blade slicing into fresh earth marks the first step in the process of planting a tree or shrub. This classic round-point shovel is an essential tool in most landscaping projects.
Five little curlicues, known as expansion slots, have been cut into the rim of this 80-tooth veneer-plywood and laminate saw blade. Their job: to prevent the blade from distorting and throwing the teeth out of alignment as friction from cutting heats up the metal.
This 1872 Miller's Improved Joiner Plow Plane #50 with bronze frame and fence is the rarest of the hand tools manufactured by the Stanley Rule and Level Co. of New Britain, Conn., now known as Stanley Works. Sold originally for $8, the plane fetched $18,150 at auction in 2005.
The ideal tool is one suited to the specific task at hand. And you can't get more specific than these split-end-box-wrench heads. When used with a ratchet, they're meant to grasp the flare nuts that connect the tubes in air-conditioning and gas-supply systems. This unusual ratchet by HuskyPro Tools has a swivel head that locks in seven different positions. Not exactly for your average homeowner, but still pretty cool.
Tie a length of string to a lump of metal and you have a plumb bob, a gravity-powered tool so simple and so accurate that it's survived virtually unchanged since the Egyptians were building pyramids. Use it to transfer marks from ceiling to floor (and vice versa). Or measure how far the string is from a vertical surface: If the measurements are equal top and bottom, the surface is plumb, Bob.
Beaklike jaws and curved handles mark the diagonal cutter, specialized pliers for slicing through wire, nails, and screws. The jaws offset cutting edges, or knives are angled about 15 degrees from the plane of the handles, allowing flush cuts without scraped knuckles. Electricians rely on it for working in tight spaces.
These wheels of cotton, silk, and brass wire bring out the luster in metal doorknobs and other hardware. When mounted on a polishing lathe and spun at a high speed, some wheels generate enough heat to melt the surface of those knobs, filling in any blemishes left by the casting process.
A hacksaw is little more than a frame (with a handle) that grips the ends of a tiny-toothed metal-cutting blade. The tighter the grip, the better it cuts. You tighten this curved-back saw, meant for nosing into narrow spaces, by turning the screw-knob in the bottom of the handle.
Dibbles are stout, pointed implements for poking round holes in soft earth—just the thing for planting flower bulbs. The first dibbles, also known as dibblers or dibble sticks, were cow horns. This more modern version is fashioned from a broken spade handle.
Although identical in size and shape, these polyester-filament paintbrushes are distinctly different in price and performance. The less expensive silver blend of hollow and solid filaments, at right, holds lots of paint, but is more prone to brush marks than the all-solid white filaments, at left. Use the silver brush with flat paint on exteriors; save the white for glossy interior work.
Behold the Goodell-Pratt Hand and Breast Drill: 2½ pounds of state-of-the-art "cordless" technology circa 1896. Though it can't match the speed of today's cordless drills—its steel chuck spins four times for each turn of the big hand gear—it still works 110 years later. That's a feat no modern cordless is likely to equal.
Gardeners once watered plants with hoses made of leather or canvas. Then, in 1870, Benjamin Franklin Goodrich introduced the first rubber hose. Thirty years later, it was still a luxury; Sears Roebuck's hose sold for 14 cents a foot—$2.80 at today's prices—but without any couplings. Now, an everyday garden hose like this vinyl model sells for about 25 cents a foot, couplings included.
Long before lubricants came in spray form, homeowners used oilcans to keep tools and machinery in working order. These cans have only one moving part—a thin, slightly convex bottom plate. Pressing it pops the plate concave with a distinctive "click" and squirts a drop of oil from the needlelike spout. Hence the term "oilcanning"—the noise a sheet of metal makes when it flexes.
Calipers, descendants of the straight-legged compass, are curved-legged tools for gauging and transferring measurements from three-dimensional objects. Whimsical dancing-master calipers first emerged from workshops in the 18th century. Now considered folk art, their shapely steel legs can still accurately take the measure of inside (toe-to-toe) as well as outside (heel-to-heel) dimensions.
Back in the 1870s, a tool's decorative beauty was as important as its function. Case in point: this 12-inch inclinometer for finding the pitch of rafters and stair rails. The part that registers the incline is a simple disk of engraved brass, but the frame around it is ornately filigreed cast-iron highlighted with gold and black japanning, a baked-on enamel.
The vise—not to be confused with "vice," a moral or physical flaw—derives from the Old French word vis, or screw, the component that allows vise jaws to exert their iron grip. This steel-and-cast-iron bench vise, with its little anvil and 360-degree swiveling base, is for working metal and pipe; those serrated jaws would indelibly scar wood.
These chasing hammers, used for crafting jewelry and pounding designs into metal (a technique known as repoussé), are practically works of art themselves. While their delicate hickory handles can't tolerate heavy-duty jobs, in a pinch the forged-steel heads could flatten a carpet tack, round over a rivet, or tap in a brad.
Old tools never die, they just become decorations. This whimsical evocation of a Christmas wreath has screwdrivers, hammers, a bit brace, and a molding plane—53 tools in all—wired to a metal framework that hangs year-round in the offices of This Old House.