East Coast Tool Hunting


I was in the DC area recently on business and extended my stay by a day to visit with family. And to try my hand at vintage tool hunting back east. That is why you’re reading this post right?

Virginia was home to me as a kid for a few years. Aunt Pat and Uncle Ralph lived in Alexandria, VA with their four kids. As a 12-year old I remember many touring trips. Aunt Pat is a natural docent, well-read on history and culture. And she used those skills hypnotically, as we toured all of DC, Mount Vernon, Monticello, civil war battlefields like Gettysburg, and museums galore.

Today, Aunt Pat and Uncle Ralph live in the retirement community of Easton, Maryland. But before I arrived, Aunt Pat did some scouting for me. She identified flea markets of interest and likely antique stores to fuel my vintage-tool habit.

Boy, 7:00 a.m. came early as we ate breakfast and I shook off the jet lag to walk to the car. First up, the flea market. It’s only a 20 minute drive from Easton Maryland to St. Michaels. It’s a quaint little town with a resort feel, full of wine bars, intriguing eateries and shops that will occupy SWMBO.

The local fire station shielded 30 booths and a flurry of locals from the driving rain. Right off the bat I found a box of dividers. As I was rummaging through the options, an elderly gentleman with an English accent came up to talk to me. He was the one selling these.

As it turns out, he was also an antiques dealer. Not to mention my Aunt and Uncle’s family doctor until his retirement last year.

Among the choices, I selected two and paid the nice lady attending the table $6.00 for them both.

One was marked “The Lufkin Rule Co. Saginaw, Mich.”

Two thoughts came immediately to mind. First, I have actually been to Saginaw on a past business trip. And second, “Never heard of Lufkin.”  (Later, my Internet search revealed that Lufkin was a competitor to the better-known Starrett company. The former manufactured rules, dividers, gauges and such for decades.)

I studied the layout tool.

The adjustment knob moved freely. Check. The steel points were sharp enough to slice through plastic product packaging. Yep. Adding minimal corrosion to the list, I put this one in the “yes” pile. At the time, I didn’t notice that it was missing its spindle but it will work just fine for me.

The other divider was marked Brodhead Garrett, Germany.

It was in excellent condition and I’ve seen similar ones like it priced at $15.00 or more new. It too went into the “yes” pile. The yes became a “great!” when Uncle Ralph later informed me that I could swap out one of the metal tips for lead. Which means that now I have an efficient way to transcribe arcs and circles.

How woodworking sages are using dividers
And while we’re on the subject, dividers have a lot of uses for the woodworker.

For example, A. P. Laughlin’s Tool Processes in Woodworking, lists three main uses.

1. To lay out circles or arcs of circles. (So far in my woodworking, I’ve only used dividers for this purpose)

2. To space off equal distances.

3. To scribe lines parallel to an irregular edge or surface.

Noted furniture designer/maker, George Walker uses them to determine proper proportions in the furniture he analyzes and designs—both period and his own.

After years of using measuring devices, Chris Schwarz has shunned them in favor of direct, on project measurements and using dividers.

Chris Fitch, senior project designer for ShopNotes, created the plans to build a set of calipers and dividers in ShopNotes issue no. 105. He finds them invaluable when dividing circles, scribing curved lines and to transfer dimensions from irregular objects.

More to explore
Braving the rain, we went on to visit three more antique stores with no more tool luck.

However, we did come across this beautiful wood tool chest.

The materials and fine craftsmanship were evident in finely fitting sliding trays and dovetail joinery. If you’ve got $3,500 at hand it can be yours. Coincidentally, my divider merchant, the retired doctor, happened to be the one who had put it on consignment at the antique store.

From there, our journey found us at the St. Michaels’ Maritime Museum, where Aunt Pat volunteers as a docent. Here’s one of the tool displays.

Now get this. The Museum has a boathouse where they refurbish and repair boats.

And as a service you can hire yourself on to be an apprentice for a pittance of $45.00. “Hire on”, as in, you pay them for the privilege of working woody kinds of things in a boat environment.

So the next time I visit, I’m going to supplement good family fun, food and wine with a day in the boathouse.

Here’s a parting “artsy” shot of the view from our lunch table.

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About The Write Biz

By day, I'm a mild-mannered copywriter who harnesses frontal-lobe creativity (right brain) to help B2B marketers generate leads and sales. By night I pick up hand tools to create wooden masterpieces...and give my black lab Bella the "red dot" laser to chase after.
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