In Shop Blog, Techniques

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I’m a child of the Cold War. I remember the drills in elementary school where we curled up under our desks in the event of a nuclear attack (to kiss our butts goodbye I suppose).

One of my closest friends, Bill Tofflemeier, was obsessed with the Soviet Union and spent a lot of his earnings in junior high purchasing smuggled goods from the U.S.S.R. His room was covered in enormous propaganda posters featuring heroic drawings of Lenin.

I was so jealous.

It’s taken me 27 years, but I think I’ve one-upped him. Thanks to a very generous reader I now own an awesome Soviet machinist square and straightedge.

The Soviets were known for overbuilding things (Tofflemeier had some really cool belts and military equipment from there), and these little measuring tools are no exception.

Both tools have beveled edges, which makes them more accurate. I use the straightedge for checking plane soles and the like. The square is great for sharpening. I can check the camber or the tip of a chisel with the square while the cutting tool is still in a honing guide.

Mostly I like the Cyrillic writing, the cool instructions indicating the tools were made in 1986 and the story (which might be fake) behind the tools.

The story goes that these tools were en route to Cuba when they were captured by an American military ship. Then they languished for years in a warehouse. When I got them, they were still in their original packaging.

I know, I know this isn’t useful to you. Unless you have a friend who deals in smuggled goods…¦.

– Christopher Schwarz

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Showing 9 comments
  • Christopher Schwarz


    You might want to give it a try. It’s quite accurate.


  • Norman


    I have the very same machinist square made in CCCP.
    It comes in a small pink plastic box with a paper certificate in Russian.
    The certifcate indicates the precision of the square and has a stamped date of 1988.

    Picked it up from a fellow woodworker in my area for a pittance.

    I never did use it, more of a conversation piece to me.


  • Steve McDaniel

    Thanks. Pretty interesting stuff.

  • Alex Grigoriev

    The tools marked with "USSR" were produced for export. These usually had tighter quality assurance.
    The factory mark УИЗ (Ульяновский Инструментальный Завод) means Ulianovsk Tool Factory. City of Ulianovsk (Symbirsk before the revolition, where Lenin was born and grew up) was renamed after the real (family) name of Lenin – Ulianov. Lenin was his chosen conspirative name.

  • Steve McDaniel

    Hmmm. If the Soviets were labeling their own products for themselves, why would they label one of them "USSR"? Isn’t that an abbreviation for the English name of their country? The straight edge has "USSR" on it. Shouldn’t they all be labeled "CCCP" like the square? I could be wrong though. In any case, these are cool.

  • Alex Grigoriev

    "The story goes that these tools were en route to Cuba when they were captured by an American military ship." Doesn’t sound as something that could happen with things made in 1986…

    Oh, I’ve got an award banner hanging on my computer desk. It quotes: "We shall come to the victory of the communistic labor. V.I.Lenin" and designates the possessor as "Group of communistic labor".

  • Eric

    Sweet, Chris! I’m jealous.

  • Bob Demers

    Wow, Chris, didnt know you were old enough to have learned those Duck and cover drills of the early 60s 🙂

    I went to school near an airforce base, so of course, we did the drills, right after we sang O Canada, then did our prayers and then the drills. Could never understood that logic. Always thought that if we were to pray first, we would’nt have to do the drills?? 🙂

    I have ‘worked’ on some soviet era electronics stuff, very old technology but really overbuilt…like a tank I suppose. Always wonder why we dont see any Russian WW tools coming up on da bay?

    Bob, feeling naked without his trusty school desk, although I bet i no longer fit under…:-(

  • J Nelson

    Does it mean anything that in one blog you tell us about "RED" tape and in the next blog about Soviet made squares? Put the two together and we’re talking about "RED" squares.

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