Names on Tools: Past and Future Owners

Awhile back, I published a post about vintage tools with previous owners’ names on them. While it’s fun to imagine (and sometimes deduce) the character of the men who owned and used these tools before they came into my hands, I have other tools whose owners (past and future) are better known to me.

Here are three handsaws (and one chisel) that have family significance–and that get used regularly in my shop.

The first saw is a little panel saw for which I made a replacement handle several years ago. It’s special for a couple of reasons. First, the handle is made spalted pecan wood that came from a neighborhood tree. It is wood that I dried, milled, and shaped myself. Second, the handle is smaller than a normal one. I modeled it on a Disston 7 handle, but I scaled it down by 75% for my kids to use, and right now it fits their hands perfectly. My son, who is in elementary school, especially enjoys sawing with it. Eventually he will grow out of it, but that will be a few years yet–and when he does, I’ll set this saw aside for grandkids to use.

The second saw is a peculiar one. The saw blade has no etch that might identify it (or none that I can see), but its size and shape is quite common in old saws. The puzzling part is the handle, which is made from a ring-porous wood–definitely not the traditional apple or beech wood handles found on most vintage hand saws. The top of the handle is not exactly flush with the top of the blade. And while most saw handles are about 7/8″ thick, this one is only 3/4″. All that leads me to believe this handle may be a shop-made replacement.

The thinner handle makes this saw ideal for a woodworker who has a smaller-than-average frame, so this saw now belongs to one of my daughters. When I cleaned it up, I carved her initials in the handle. Perhaps in another hundred years, some woodworker will be wondering who “KGS” was.

The final saw, however, has initials of someone who is long past but whose name I do know.

When my father-in-law gave this saw to me, he pointed out a detail that I might have taken me years to see on my own. The initials “HLT” were neatly stamped into the handle. He told me that those were the initials of his great-grandfather, who had owned the saw. Given that this saw dates from 1878-88 (judging by the medallion), I don’t doubt him.

This saw shows a lot of signs of wear–the top horn broke off long ago, and the nib seems to have been filed off. But the saw still gets used regularly in my work. I’ve got a lot of respect for a tool that’s still going strong after 140+ years!

And speaking of grandpas, the final tool I’m featuring today belonged to my own grandpa.

I don’t recall when I first picked this chisel out of a bunch of tools at my parents’ house, but I’m glad I did. Back then, this chisel had a much shorter handle–probably one that had been broken off at one point, and it had a ring fitted to the end that, upon close inspection, appeared to be a section of iron pipe.

The chisel itself has no maker’s mark anywhere on it, but it is made of very good steel. It takes and holds a very keen edge, and it’s the perfect size (1 1/4″) for many paring tasks at the workbench.

Eventually I used a friend’s lathe to turn a new handle for the chisel out of pecan–yes, the same tree from which I made the saw handle above. And I took the old ring and fitted it to the end of the handle. Even though I almost never strike the chisel handle with a mallet, I felt that the ring and the chisel had been together for so long that they ought to stay together. I still reach for this chisel more than just about any other in my collection.

I do enjoy using tools that have a story. But a story in itself doesn’t make a tool good. I don’t go on using these tools just out of sentiment. I use them because they are very well-made, and because they suit my purposes. That’s one reason they’ve lasted as long as they have. And boy am I glad they have!

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3 Responses to Names on Tools: Past and Future Owners

  1. Steven says:

    Thanks for sharing this story. I have some old tools with names and initials also.

  2. Gav says:

    Especially so when the story behind is known. Some of the tools I have were from family members, the 5 1/2 Stanley sweetheart I have which was my Dads came via a neighbour I only knew of as Mr B. Four year olds have such atrocious attention to detail. I ended up with one of my Grandfathers Titan bevelled chisels and hatchet through my Auntie who had them sitting in a bucket in a shed. The ones which really intrigue me are the many stamped tools which are marked with several different owners. Stories to be discovered. There have been very few previously used tools not worth cleaning up and keeping or passing on in my experience.

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