Trials with Tools

saws-are-blind-as-batsUnder the above title a writer in one of the English building papers presents some rather caustic remarks concerning status of the carpenter in the country named and the way in which his tools are used by mechanics in other branches of the trade:

Of all mechanics, none seems to be so little regarded as the carpenter. No one can fail to notice that all the other trades expect everything to be made ready and convenient for them by the carpenter, no matter at all what inconvenience and extra work it is to do so for the carpenter. Make things convenient for the carpenter? Not on your cabinet.

In fact, the carpenter is considered legitimate prey for every other human being. Many a time have I had plasterers take a pair of trestles away from me when my back was turned for a moment, although it was plainly evident that I would need them myself in a little while. Plasterers and bricklayers seem to regard it as their rightful prerogative to help themselves to our timber and nails without so much as a thank you.

A saw can be picked out of our hand box and run on a nail just for the humor of it. The plumbers think they confer a signal favor on us by taking our 2-inch chisels and cutting them on nails until they resemble dung forks, or take a level and let it fall 10 feet, thus permanently disabling it.

No one seems to be aware that carpenter’s tools, to be of any value or service, must be in first-class condition. A thoughtless movement, a reckless jamming of a tool, will put it out of commission for satisfactory use, and that the carpenter either has to do without it or spend an hour grinding a chisel or a hand axe never disturbs the average man’s equanimity. It never occurs to some people that possibly a carpenter buys tools for his own use.

For the carpenter to refuse to lend his tools is at once to rank him in the category of stony hearted creatures, fit only for pillage and piracy. To explain to the borrower—or rather taker—of tools something of the proper way of caring for a tool, so that it may not be brought back—if, indeed, it is ever returned—so wrecked and metamorphosed and degenerated that the law of nature utterly repudiates it as incompatible with her scheme of things—I say to so explain is to invite a look of unconcealed contempt at the matchless gall of a mere carpenter telling any one anything.

Indeed, what avails it to suggest that it would be advisable to avoid nails when the uninitiated cannot discern in what mysterious places these edge destroyers lurk? Most people rejoice when they have found a board particularly well grounded in sand, as it will sharpen the carpenter’s plane for him so nicely, especially if you draw the plane backward over the grit.

Others supose that to use a spirit level for a pry tends to steady the glasses and strengthen the frame, or to strike it against every stud you touch, or to hold it against a piece while you hammer it level, is a special treatment, guaranteed to enhance its efficiency.

This dependent and inferior position occupied by the carpenter in relation to other trades and to the “taking” public hinges on his own neglect to take his rightful place in the ranks of the world’s useful workers.

Why should not the carpenter rightfully say to the other trades: “Accommodate, assist and befriend you, yes, but in plain justice, if for nothing more, let reciprocity be the rule between us; let not all the giving come from our side. Our work is as necessary as yours; our life force is as much to us as yours is to you. The extra time we take to make everything easy and pleasant for you has to be done at the expense of what is expected of us by our employers. We would not wrong you, and believe that when you hear what we have to say that you will not refuse to co-operate with us as between equals, and meet us half way.”

This self respecting attitude can be maintained together with a spirit of brotherhood and good will to all fair comers, and I believe that it would do much to call forth a proper recognition of our rights and a respect for our trade as an even handed branch of all useful and honorable work.

Carpentry and Building – September, 1904

—Jeff Burks

This entry was posted in Historical Images. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Trials with Tools

  1. kfreyermuth2014 says:

    Shame that Nicholson has, like so many other toolmakers, outsourced production of their tools and run a once great brand name into the ground.

  2. 52woodbutcher says:

    Thanks for the re-print, Jeff. Sadly, it seems that not a great deal has changed in over 100 years!
    Regards, Wes Faulkenberry, Jr.

  3. woodworkerme says:

    I buy most all my tools at garage sales and the like. the condition of some of these tools is sad,and have been tortured to the point of death. it is so sad to see this. I love to buy them and bring them back to life and put in the hands of artist that will love and cherished them

  4. tsstahl says:

    Whiny ‘crapenters’. Sheesh.

    It falls to the carpenter to do any work not important enough to have it’s own union.

    One quote and one paraphrase from electrician friends of mine.

    I’ve supervised a fair number of construction projects in my career. Many times I’ve seen trades work counter to the carpenters. Plumbers boring long strings of 4″ holes that compromise joists and electricians doing the same to studs in load bearing walls are two of my biggest peeves.

    Of course, I’ve also seen idiots build walls too short, or not long enough claiming that is what the plan called for. Reminds me that about two months ago I had a go-around with a foremen over a 66″ high ‘counter top’.

  5. bsrlee says:

    In New South Wales (Australia) this is called ‘Illegal Use’ and comes with a potential sentence of 14 years with Hard Labour, same as Manslaughter. Still doesn’t stop people using master grade Japanese saws to cut nails though, as a friend of mine found out.

Comments are closed.