What is the Oldest Thing You Made That You Still Use?

Bottom half of a sheet metal tool box I made in shop class.

A few days ago I wondered, what is the oldest thing I made that I still use? After digging through a lot of stuff, I think it is this sheet metal tool box that I made in high school shop class in 1981.

At that time, it was one of the standard projects in metal shop. I still use the skills I learned when I made this: how to layout and bend thin metal, how to follow a two dimensional pattern to make a three dimensional object, how to join sheet metal, and the value and economy of using off the shelf parts in conjunction with handmade ones. I didn’t have enough time to paint it, so it remains with the layout blue exposed.

I still use the toolbox for storage, even though the spot-welded, piano-hinged lid failed a long time ago and is lost. The bottom part of the box is currently holds over 15 pounds of scraps, and is totally solid.

It is comforting to have had this tool box for the past 38 years, and still use it, even though it is damaged. Like an old friend, it is easier to overlook its faults. It is satisfying knowing this toolbox will outlast me — like most of the tools I make and use, and the books I work on —  a persistent reminder we are not so important.


Upcoming Live Stream Lecture. Cabinetmakers of German Origin in Eighteenth-Century Paris: A Chapter in European History of Migration and Transfer of Knowledge and Craft in the Age of Enlightenment

Dr. Ulrich Leben’s upcoming lecture, “Cabinetmakers of German Origin in Eighteenth-Century Paris: A Chapter in European History of Migration and Transfer of Knowledge and Craft in the Age of Enlightenment” sounds fascinating. He apprenticed as a cabinetmaker then received a PhD. A very full quiver for a scholar interested in craft.

The blurb: “The fact that a large number of cabinetmakers working in Paris during the eighteenth century were of German origin is well known. It is therefore surprising that there has never been research on the lives and work of these more than one hundred craftsmen. This talk will present various aspects of a project currently being undertaken by Dr. Ulrich Leben and Miriam Schefzyk on these craftsmen and provide insight into archive-based research in France and abroad exploring questions regarding social, economic, and cultural circumstances. A major goal of this project is the publication of a dictionary of these craftsmen that will be a tool for further work in the field.”

If you are in the New York City area, you can attend a brown bag lunch Monday October 9, 12:15 – 1:15 at Bard Graduate Center, located at 38 West 86th St. You need to preregister. I’ll be there, say hi!

If you are not in New York City, the event will be livestreamed on youtube: <https://www.youtube.com/user/bardgradcenter&gt;

Two Reprinted Catalogs

Mini Sears

A mini facsimile (ca. 1970-80) Sears and Roebuck catalog. Orig. 1902.

I’m not sure when, where, or why, but I acquired this mini Sears and Roebuck catalog when I was a kid. I do remember reading it with a magnifying lens, and I kept it in a stash of prized possessions.  I think the childish thrill of wishing I could go back and time and buy a dozen of one thing or another then bring them back to sell at todays prices was part of its appeal. The lure of a wood burning porcelain clad kitchen stove for $14.95 is strong. Since this catalog had images and prices of real things, it somehow seemed to me more of a time-travel-portal to the past than story books, which were fiction. Maybe something about it being in miniature intensified the secretive nature of this little time travel machine?


Today, the appeal of older catalogues, though perhaps less for prices than for other types of information.  And I have to confess that most of the time it still doesn’t matter all that much if it is a reprint or original. For example, the 2014 annual reprint from the Mid-West Tool Collectors Association, which is free (and ONLY available with membership, just $25 per year) is Otto Bergmann’s Woodworking Tool Catalog from Berlin, 1928-29.  This is a beautiful facsimile: cleanly laid out, well printed, the cover design even incorporating small details such as three staples from the original, both on the front and back.

bergmann catalog

Facsimile Otto Bergmann’s Woodworking Tool Catalog from Berlin, 1928-29.

At first I thought it would be useful to have a german words for a number of tools familiar to bookbinders (winkel, schabhobel, ziehklingen, spitzzirkel, bogenzirkel, leimtopfe, etc…) but soon I recognized a familiar friend: a hilfskantenzwinge, as it is called in the image below, or single screw edge clamp. I bought one very similar to this last year—since it seemed incredibly useful for something—I just wasn’t sure what. Mystery solved.

Bergmann catalog

Facsimile Otto Bergmann’s Woodworking Tool Catalog from Berlin, 1928-29. Detail page 13.