Old Tools: Recondition and use

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

OldToolsWe often forget today, in this modern age, that the old tools, seen as obsolete by many today may, one day, have to come back into use and the more of them that we can rescue and then refurbish and recondition the better for those of us who still can use them. And this day may not be all that far off either.

Only early in 2013 the government of the Russian Federation announced that the FSB, the successor of the Soviet Union's KGB, in light of the Wikileaks affair, is going back to typewriters and paper for sensitive information and messages and this brings typewriters back into the limelight really. How many of us even remember what those are and were?

However, while the FSB is going to use electric typewriters the old manual ones, whether desk or portable (portable is a little far stretched with the weight of some of them), should be reconsidered by those of us looking ourselves for a safer way to communicate and to be able to write letters that are more readable than written in handwriting and newsletters and such should we ever lose the things we have today.

I have recently – more or less because of the hint from the FSB – dug up my old “portable” Remington Rand “Quiet Riter” typewriter that was built in the 1950s and was a common military field typewriter and, as long as I can find still color ribbons for them and a way to re-ink them, should the need arise, I should be fine in that department. Must remember though to give it a thorough clean and maybe even overhaul.

Old tools still have a role in today's world, and in some trades and jobs more than in others, for sure, and knowing how the work and how to use and maintain them is important and that even more so should we have to reduce our dependence on powered tools because of lack of gasoline and such like, for instance.

In forestry and woodland management, for instance, hand tools, as in horticulture, and even agriculture, and also and especially the old kind of tools, still have their place and often are more efficient than using power tools, and that includes chainsaws. Axes, billhooks, sickles and handsaws, more often than not, are more efficient, especially in small woodland management operations and in coppicing, where smaller trees are being felled and where things such as brambles and other encroaching vegetation needs to be tackled and the sickle is the best tool for removing grass and other vegetation around tree saplings. A strimmer (grass trimmer) more often than not, as people do not seem to understand that on approaching a sapling the revs should be reduced to as low as possible so as to avoid damage.

There are also many other old tools that deserve rescuing and refurbishing for use when it becomes necessary. In fact, it is a shame that so many old, well made, hand tools have and are still being consigned to the rubbish tips all over the place when they should be rescued and refurbished rather.

We are talking here also about specialty tools that were developed for a variety of tasks and many of which will be lost for ever if we don't look at the ones that are still about, refurbish them, learn their designs and find ways to reproduce them for as and when they may be required again. The latter, however, will also require the skills (and tools) to do so and while advances in CAD (computer-aided design) and 3D Printing may, at some time in the future, make it possible to just reproduce such tools it may also be possible that in that time in the future when we need to reproduce those tools again such technology is no longer possibility for one reason or the other. Thus is is better to rescue tools (and skills) now and refurbish and retain old tools of all kinds for such a future use and need.

I, for one, am putting together a kit of manual tools of various kinds, but especially those needed for working the soil and the forest, and others besides, such as old knives and others.

Every now and then another old tools falls into my lap, sometimes free, sometimes acquired on e-bay and sometimes in secondhand, thrift or junk stores or at flea markets and they often are in need of some TLC and many of the ones that come for free definitely do.

Even tools that require some restoration and new handles and such are worth obtaining when they come for free or almost free and are not traded by someone as antiques, and that goes for any and all that may fall within the range of tools that you have an interest in in not just restoring but also, at some later date, using.

In my case, as indicated, those tools are the kind that are used in particular trades and thus they include billhooks, sickles, scythes, hatchets and axes, crosscut saws and also a variety of gardening and farming tools, plus the likes of an old manual typewriter (or two – still looking for the second one), farming, forestry and similar knives and tools used in wood working and such. Though I do look also at getting and refurbishing anything worth doing up.

The great majority of those old tools and “appliances” were made to last and thus are worth the time spent on refurbishing and caring for as they will be able to provide another generation or two of faithful service if handled the way they should, with love and care.

Tools were not made to be thrown away in those days when a handle would break but were, and still are, capable of being fitted with new ones that could be bought but that can also be, with some knowledge and skill, be made by the user. Thus old axe and hatchet heads, for instance, are always worth saving and re-handling. And the same goes for old garden spades and forks, pitch forks, hoes that still have lots of life in them, and others.

In my estimation, many of those old tools will be needed again and we will also have to acquire the skills to make them again as we will need them again and in the same quality as they were made way back when.

We can see from the fact that many in countryside management and grounds maintenance are returning to the old tools and their use that this is going to be the case and carbon reduction and rising fuel costs are but two of the reasons.

Not only, however, are skills of using and of making those tools are being lost, the maintenance skills for those are too. There are very few people today who know how to correctly sharpen a knife, a billhook, hatchet or an axe, saying nothing about sharpening and setting of a crosscut saw. Even so-called professional grinding services often have little or no clue as to how to do the jobs properly.

A high-speed bench-grinder is not the tool for sharpening a knife or other edged tool but all too many people make that fatal – fatal for the tool – mistake including and especially the professionals, though many hobbyists also. The course grit and the speed of the grinder heat up the metal to such an extent that the temper will be removed and the edge becomes soft and loses its edge-holding ability. In other words the blade becomes (almost) useless.

Mistakes of similar nature are also made in the maintenance of other old tools and machinery as people today are no longer familiar with them and their use and especially their maintenance, whether bladed or other hand tools, hand-operated machinery for the garden, the farm, the kitchen or elsewhere, or typewriters or whatever.

Today many people do not even know how a manual typewriter is used, how to change the ribbon, let alone how to maintain it and the same goes for the sharpening of garden, forestry and farming tools and even kitchen knives. And let's not even talk about sharpening and setting a crosscut saw of the forestry kind, and many other things that ones was the repertoire of almost everyone who used such tools.

I must say that there are many times when I think that we have not advanced much at all if at all despite the fact that we now have and use computers and all that jazz. Our tools are made so cheaply and are of such inferior quality often that all one can do is to throw them away when a handle breaks or such. It is for that reason also, and not just for the sake of rescuing them for their own sakes, that I advocate rescuing and refurbishing old tools.

And axe, a hatchet, a hammer, etc. with a wooden handle can, should the handle break or otherwise become unusable, have the handle replaced while with many modern counterparts, including the new-fangled billhooks, this is not possible as the handles are either plastic or, in the case of many hammers today, thin metal tubes with rubber grips that I have found more that once to fail.

The very reason why many of the old hand tools are still about today, sometimes well after more than fifty or even a hundred years, is the fact that they were made to last and to be repaired and given some regular TLC they will last for many more decades to come once you have rescued and, where need be, refurbished them.

© 2014