You’re such aTool

Old tools - By Michael FlickHumankind has been making tools for hundreds of thousand of years. We progressed from bone and wood, to stone, bronze, iron, and with the industrial revolution came the wonder of mass produced steel. Unfortunately we seem to have taken a bit of a wrong turn with the quality of some of the tools produced lately.

When my Grandfather brought his tools as an apprentice in the 1930’s he was confident if they were looked after they’d last a long time and they did – I still have them in the man-cave with me today. And I have much more respect for his old tools because the life in them is greater than the cheaper ones available today.

Put another way, the quality of metals used to make the cheaper tools today is inferior to those you could have brought even thirty years ago. English towns like Sheffield, a town synonymous with steel production, suffered during the mine closures and strikes of the 1980s. As steel out-put decreased, the use of cheaper substandard metals increased to replace the higher grades and sadly the quality since has never been quite the same.

So where am I going with all this?

Buying good quality new tools is expensive, the cheap options are inferior, so the remaining option is acquiring old tools – and it’s easier than you think. In the man-cave I’m building up an impressive collection of quality tools (do a little research to know what you’re looking for) at fraction of the cost of their modern equivalents simply by checking out old ones at the dump or in second hand shops.

I’ll admit most need a little TLC, but the time it takes to rub off a little rust, sharpen the blade, oil the joints and re-varnish the handle it’s less than the cost of buying a new one. To date I have got a set of Irving drill bits, a brace drill, a hand driven grinder, a wooden claw hammer, a wood plane, and hand drill for under $25 – to have brought all these new would have been in excess of $300. Most of them I got for around $2 – $5 dollars which is reassuring when you see the price of their modern equivalents.

This recycling approach to buying tools certainly pays off in the long run and gives you a little smugness in the wallet department. Lets face it, cavemen has already spent thousands of years acquiring and using tools in his man-cave.

Odds and Ends.

  • Once a year some Japanese tradesmen take their tools to be blessed at the local temple, with the view that if you look after them they will look after you.
  • Tools for self reliance is a charity that donates old refurbished tools to communities in Africa so they can be more self reliant and produce goods to make a living – http://www.tfsr.org

A New Spin on an Old Mower

lawnmower auctionsA lawn mower is a strange subject to blog about, but potentially more interesting than navel gazing on Twitter. It’s also the latest project out of the ‘man-cave’ aka the workshop under the house.

So why a push lawn-mower? – Well some projects come out of necessity, and this one had a few nice lessons for me along the way. I needed a push mower for my parents to mow their smaller flat section.  A push mower was the ideal solution for cost, space and environmental benefits – it’s also got the health benefits of a workout for the old-man.

The old saying ‘they don’t build them like they used to’ definitely carries some weight in this case. I found modern push mowers to lack substance, with their low-grade steel and light flimsy plastic parts prone to breaking down. It sounds odd, but they seemed to be designed to be of a disposable nature, which is a far-cry from the push mowers of my Grandad’s generation.

So it was off to the dump, where there’s always a collection of old-school push mowers –and an increasing collection of rusting modern ones with broken plastic parts. I picked out an old Masport ‘Cleveland’ from the 1950s / 60s. And aside from some surface rust and blunt blades all the parts where there and spinning freely, something of a testimony to its simple yet effective robust construction.  The rubber on the wheels was also in good condition and the catcher practically new. – So for the princely sum of $10 it was a steal. (Had I brought it the day before it would have been half-price.)

reel-mower-4The Masport ‘Cleveland’ was something of a New Zealand icon and after working on it I can see why. It is SOLID agricultural engineering, there is nothing delicate or libel to break on its cast iron frame. I suspect there are examples still lying in the Nevada desert, having survived atomic testing.  So even after being around nearly half a century with a new coat of paint and re-sharpen, it’s once again a classic and environmental grass eating machine.

As we’re more aware of how petrol lawnmowers contribute to carbon emissions and the cost of running and maintaining them, there’s been a feel good vibe in the man-cave with this project.   I’ve even found a few fan-clubs and restorers of antique push mowers,  Iwouldn’t be surprised if there’s a Twit on the subject.

  • Each weekend, about 54 million Americans mow their lawns, using 800 million gallons of petrol per year and producing up to five percent of Americas air pollution. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a petrol driven lawn mower produces as much air pollution as 43 new cars each being driven 12,000 miles.

It’s all about the joy.

Junk-food Caveman by Banksy

Junk-food Caveman by Banksy

The first line of a new blog should be something eye catching and informative, but in this series of blogs I’m just going to focus on the few simple (but random) things that bring me some joy, blogging being one of them – single malt whiskey, land rovers, rifles, tools and my man-cave amongst others.

As a modern caveman grunting was once a valid form of communitication to convey complex messages and innermost thoughts.  So blogging I suspect is the modern equivient.

Although not present at the dawn of humankind – running upright alongside Homo-erectus, I was a child of the 80’s and there were lots of things that were new to me. My first bike was not one of them- in fact my first three bikes were either hand-me-down’s or rescued from the local dump and refurbished by me and my dad in one of those mememorable father-son moments involving a spraycan and no mention of local law enforcement.

But through this resourcefulness I recieved an important lesson of ‘the need to re-use things.’ So today as a result when I venture out of my cave to the local dump I see things I can rescue, re-use and restore – and it’s one of things that oddly brings me joy. Luckily nowadays it has a trendy name called sustainablity, thus making me slighlty cooler than I was in the 80’s.