Fine blades

A fine blade is a good thing to have. Recently a traveling blacksmith stopped at the inn for a few nights rest. I purchased three blades from him. Why? I cannot say, I certainly had no need for them. But once in a while a man has a need for something he does not truly need.

I have always had an appreciation for fine steel. All of his blades were of very good steel and fine craftsmanship. In this case one was from an old saw blade, another a used file and the third… the third was absolutely beautiful. I have seen fine blades from the Continent, Africa, Asia and here in the United States. I have only rarely seen layered or Damascus steel, outside of North Africa or Turkey. It is a rare thing to see here and it caught my eye.

The man had perhaps a dozen blades of Damascus to choose from and I chose the smallest. A fine bone handled blade for my Mrs. Mina to use about the kitchen or perhaps to carry. Knowing the woman as I do I suspect it will sit unused on a shelf but she at least claims it is a pretty blade.

The blade made from a saw blade is likely intended as a pruning knife. A young man down the road is planning to join the army next year. A soldier needs a good solid pocket knife and I suspect this on will work well enough for his needs. A knife without a point is less likely to get him in trouble while in the barracks.

The third blade is made from a used file with a handle made of bone. It is a rather effective dagger. The kind of blade I really have no use for. But there is a young lady living not to far from here who is rather fetching. A good knife in the hands of a pretty lady who has an idea how to use it can dissuade those of ill intent.

A fine blade is priceless. There are numerous quality blades in my inn and tavern. All who work and live here carry one. A knife is useful every day and one that is sharp is far better than a dull one.

Plumb Bob Level

A simple plumb bob and a board with a line scored down the middle and a space cut in for the plumb bob to hang was what was used prior to the spirit level. Simple, reliable and effective but not as easy to store or carry. Also not so good at finding level except in the vertical such as for walls and such.

I am a simple man; I like simple. While I am slow to adapt to new things I can recognize when new things work better than the old. I made this when we first started to build the business after the war. It took me only a short time and I quickly put it to use building the stone foundations.

If it works why not use it. But there is a beauty to these new levels. I like the way they look and the simplicity in form and function is beautiful.

The Spirit Level

I’m told that about 1840 or so the spirit level came about.  It is more reliable and more sturdy than the plumb bob square or level that I was accustomed to.  I bought the pair pictured above after we had built my business.  But they saw much use in building both the local church and the little school e built from an abandoned barn across the road.

I am a slow learner in these new things.  I was slow to appreciate the rifle, slow to understand the metallic cartridge and slow to understand new and more efficient tools such as the spirit level.  But I have come to fully appreciate them, though it took some time.

My first two levels were a JW Andrews made about made sometime in the 1840’s and a DM Lyon made a few years later.  I like brass and wood especially if that wood has a pleasant grain or a nice shine to it.  These levels were well used when I purchased them on a trip to Saint Paul.  The price was good and I thought I might be able to use them.

When I arrived to home I applied several coats of oil and saw the wood come to life.  They are not only functional they are of an exceptionally smooth wood that is quite pleasant to the touch.  My Mina is less impressed with them than I but she does appreciate the color I think.  I caught her using the shorter of the two to prop open a window last summer.

There is something oddly calming to me about tools.  I do not understand why but I can sit and work at my shave horse fashioning a stool or simple chair and when done I feel rather comfortable and content.  I have built something; while I known my construction is rather amateurish and crude it is my own.  There is a bit of pride in knowing that I have built something.  As a soldier I helped build many a road and did work on stone walls and buildings.  I was pleasantly surprised to discover how much of that knowledge has stayed with me.  How much I have been able to remember and use again has been useful to both myself and this growing village.

Oddly, if some more of these new spirit levels were to come my way I do not believe I would be likely to complain.  They display well on the shelf behind the bar.  having tools that I might sell in the future is an investment of sorts that seems a wise decision.

Tools, why do I have so many?

I was recently asked why I own so many tools.  I sell them to those who need them and I generally like them.  I have spent the majority of my life dirt poor.  My coin went to purchase cognac and little else.  My Mrs. Mina earned and saved much coin during the war.  Enough that we were able to easily purchase the homestead my Inn stands upon.  A few months of hard labor built a barn and three story building used as a tavern, Inn and rooming house.  We are at the junction of two roads that service the area and my failure to grossly water down the drinks I serve and the superb food the lovely Mrs. Mina serves has made us a fairly popular stop.

My attitude towards those I view as worthy has also garnered us much repeat business.  I am an honest sort of scum and have been accused of being an honorable sort of thief.  I do not steal from those who cannot afford the loss.  I do not and have never harmed a woman or child.  The neighbors say I have a reputation of being kind to children and those in need.  Every once in while my good nature is rewarded with a simple thank you.

A year or so after we got the Inn going a young family moved onto a homestead just up the road.  A lovely wife and husband with two very fetching young girls.  Their first winter was a hard one and in the spring they decided they would not suffer such a winter again.  The two girls traded their cleaning skills for a pair of axes and a couple of good wood saws.  I will admit I took a shine to the two girls.  They were pretty and eager to help Mina and I in cleaning the place so that they might pay for the tools they traded for.

The younger of the two also had a real interest in learning to shoot with the idea that she might bring food to the table.  I sold her a nice squirrel rifle and she asked me to teach her how to use it.  She proved to be a rare fine shot taking many a squirrel in the eye at fifty paces with it.  She is in fact a far better shot than I.

Now a year ago the two girls chose to allow young men to court them.  As their father has been away at the lumber camps I took it upon myself to give the young men that chose to court them the “talk” usually reserved for that of a father to a perspective son in law.  I made it very clear to the young suitors that should any harm befall these young ladies that I would be quite put out.  I promised that any discomfort inflicted upon those girls would be returned to them ten fold.   After all a happy wife leads to a longer life.

At the dual wedding I gave a nice cash gift to help them get set and Mina provided a nicely set blanket for each.  I was surprised to receive a gift from them as well.  The youngest gave me an ivory folding rule and the oldest a small horned plane.  I have only rarely received gifts of thanks in my life and these are indeed precious ones.  They shall hold a place of honor in my tool chest.


Blacksmith made tools

A traveling blacksmith recently stopped by the inn.  He was a skilled and imaginative craftsman.  When he discovered i appreciated tools and had a bit of coin to spend as I felt the urge he opted to trot out some merchandise.  Do not ask me why but I found myself with a new square, scribe and a turnscrew I have no real need of.  But it was pleasing to the eye and I liked it.  So now it is mine.

Traveling craftsman are the way of the world.  Tinsmiths are the more common though there are blacksmiths as well as carpenters peddling everything from tools to kitchen wares and furniture.  Over the years I have acquire tin and copper dippers, coffee pots and the occasional tool.  the traveling craftsman is a service to any community he touches.  Without him bringing his skills and product to the buyer many things would never reach those who could use them.  Drygoods stores in towns carry many things that are needed but a craftsman can produce what the customer needs and wants on the spot.

The wife acquired the new scribe as a cake tester, that was certainly not what it was built for but I do not argue with the wife.  She tells me what she wants and I do my best to provide it regardless of the legality.  Though as a good God fearing woman she rarely asks for anything that might make the law raise an eyebrow.  I have imbued in her my philosophy that if it looks illegal it likely is.  I have little regard for the law, I have a preference for the strength of my blade or rifle in settling disputes.  Mina believes that people are generally good, I don’t know about that.  Perhaps I have seen too much evil in the world.  I have seen too much of the devil in this world and too little of her God.  But she firmly believes even I might be saved on the way to hell.  I have told her that the good lord knows where I am and can have me when ever he chooses.

British Sergeant’s Musket Tool

The British have a well earned reputation for quality hand tools. This extends to the musket tools they issue to their soldiers. When we took Vicksburg large numbers of British made P53 Enfields were absorbed into Grant’s Army. A few made it into our regiment for a while but we opted to keep our M1841 rifles as most thought them as good if not superior to the English offering.

I had the opportunity to see some of these musket tools and thought them a quality tool. The one I was handed was of superb quality with tools that were quite useful when dealing with any Enfield pattern arm. Though experience with the hand made nature of most of the Enfield pattern arms showed me that the threads on ramrods were not always consistent and the worm and ball puller did not fit every ramrod.

During the course of the I handled at least four different version of this tool. The two versions of the Sergeant’s tool were the more complete and generally of better quality. The Sergeant’s tool had a removable handle that when paired with the ramrod gave considerable leverage on a ramrod, an oiler, oil bottle, worm, turn screw, ball puller, mainspring vise and nipple wrench as well as a nipple pick. The various privates tools lacked several aspects of the Sergeant’s tool but were serviceable.

I found the US M1855 musket tool with it’s three turn screws, nipple wrench and mainspring vise to be every bit as useful and considerably lighter and simpler to use. But it required me to also carry a ball puller, worm and oiler as well in a small leather bag. They weren’t all contained in one tool. The advantage was that they seemed more robust and had to have cost considerably less to manufacture.

I am a simple man and generally prefer simple things to the more complicated. That said the British Sergeant’s tool had almost everything needed to service and repair a rifle in the field in one compact package. I saw a good number of them during the war and as they were good quality tools I expect many made their way home with soldiers of each army as a small keepsake that was also useful with their own civilian arms.

Hatchets and hand axes

The hatchet is one of the most useful tools in or out of the tool box. I have several throughout the place, one near every woodpile a couple more around the place as well as several good full size axes. The three in the middle of the picture are carpenters hatchets of good use when working with wood. They are superb for trimming branches and a score of other uses that eventually lead to furniture or shelter. The small hatchet on the right is a small woodsman tool that is ideal for trekking through the woods. Now the one on the left is a bit of a mystery, I would be more likely to call it a hand axe. The blade is certainly strong enough for any use I can imagine and the handle long enough to use in combat or the woods.

I have a tendency to find myself with tools. Some are given me as payment, some fall out of wagons or find their way into my possession from lonely undefended campsites. All are well sharpened and hard used. What good is a dull blade? When an axe, hatchet or any other blade is needed it is more useful as a sharp implement. Whether working with wood or an errant skull that needs to be split sharp is better than dull.

My Mrs Mina favors a skillet or fry pan as a weapon of choice that she keeps close to hand. The woman even says she prefers a dull blade because it will hurt more. I have to admit that sometimes that woman scares me just a little bit. But as I have yet to wake up dead perhaps my worries are unfounded. At least when it comes time for me to introduce such a weapon to a fight I have had the courtesy to keep it clean and sharp so that it will be swift and merciful in final execution if need be. I suspect I would be quite put out if I were to appear before the good Lord to be judged with my broken body ripe with the scent of bacon grease. I do not believe it would do to be embarrassed by ones appearance before the good Lord.

A chisel from an old file

Most who know me understand that I dislike wasting things. I have never really been a wealthy man and understand that using something until it is no longer functional is the only way to save coin. Being able to take a worn out item and turn it into something useful again is priceless.

This chisel started life as a file and a blacksmith used it until the teeth were all but gone. Then with a few minutes on a saw and whet stone he created a useful chisel. I picked it up for a song and added it to my small but expanding collection of tools created from cast off files. It has seen hard use and will continue to see more for some time to come.

Simple function over form is my ideal. That said it is a simple beauty in my eye. If an artisan chooses to embellish the tool who am I to fault him such a small pleasure? I am much like this simple recycled tool. I am a man who has been and seen much, not all of it good and proper. But it has shaped me, forged me into the man I have become. Much like this file that is now a chisel I hope I still have something to add to this world. Alexandre Dumas may have said it best when he said that we are always in a hurry to be happy for when we have suffered greatly we have difficulty believing in good fortune. Is that my future, like this chisel? To be used hard and reshaped into something to soldier on? Perhaps, perhaps… I am a good bartender with many a happy customer. I like those who come to drink in my tavern and by most accounts those who frequent the place like me and mine.

Panel Gauge

I recently picked up a newly patented panel gauge made by E.B. Tyler. It is a simple but elegant design, the curve of the wood and simplicity add a beauty that I like. I have need of such a tool as I intend to build some table tops and a door or two.

I like the look of fine tools and appreciate being able to actually use them without the fear of damaging them. Functional beauty is something I appreciate and like to see. A good tool is a lot like a good woman. A good quality tool is functional and pleasant to look upon; much like a woman. A tool will treat you right if you treat it right, clean it up and give a bit of praise and she will last a lifetime. A good tool is tough and reliable as well as pleasant to look upon; much like a woman. Like a woman if you truly appreciate a tool it will not only last you a lifetime it will never fail you.

Blacksmith made Gimlet

A gimlet is a tool useful for a variety of tasks. They are ideal for starting a hole or screw, they can be used as a leather awl and in a pinch can be used as a corkscrew… do not ask why as sometimes it is better not to know.

The wife sent me to town with a list of things to pick up for her. After some time at the dry goods store I noted the mule had a shoe in need of repair. While the smith fitted a replacement shoe I noted this useful little gimlet. It was of the size that I felt might be useful so a few coins passed from my hand to the smith and we were both pleased.

This particular gimlet was made by a local blacksmith, it may look crude but it works and it works well. The handle can be easily removed for compact storage. Function has a beauty all of its own. A simple wooden handle and well worn hand forged look is quite appealing to me. I like tools made from worn out files and the everyday tools made by blacksmiths. Simplicity in form and function garner a degree of appreciation from me. I am a simple man and I like simple things. This is particularly true when carry an inherent beauty within.