In Shop Blog, Techniques, Tools

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A few weeks ago I was reading through “The Rule Book,”
an amazing piece of scholarship on measuring tools by Jane Rees and
Mark Rees. A few of the minty, minty old rules in the book really caught
my eye.

How, I wondered, could something so old look so new?

photo’s caption offered an answer. These tools had been found inside
the joists, studs and foundations of old buildings. Presumably they had
been lost by the craftsmen during the construction of the building and
were protected from light, moisture and the evil brass wire wheels of
shady tool dealers.

When I first read that explanation, I scoffed
into my beer. I know how important the two-foot rule is to an early
woodworker. I couldn’t imagine that an expensive tool like that could be
lost so casually. But hey, Jane Rees is the real expert (Mark passed
away some time ago).

Within a couple days I found out that yes, Jane Rees really is an expert.

was in the basement of my shop that I am sprucing up and was installing
some chair-rail moulding over some beadboard wainscott. Whenever, I’m
in a tight spot like this, I end up using a flush-cut saw quite a bit.
In this case, I was trimming back some lath strips to fit the chair

Here at the magazine we all have a favorite flush-cut saw – the kugihiki saw sold by Lee Valley. We prefer it to saws that cost four times as much.

sure you know what happened next. I dropped my saw between the
wainscott and the foundation. It dropped about five feet to the
subfloor. Behind the baseboard. Behind the shoe moulding.

here was my choice: Spend several hours ripping out a section of the
wall, baseboard and shoe moulding to retrieve my little saw, or I could
finish installing the last piece of chair rail moulding and call the job

Sometime in the distant future, when tool historians write
the scholarly “Flush-Cut Saw Book,” my minty, minty tool could be
featured there. It’s waiting there, patiently, to be discovered.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Showing 14 comments
  • Dave Riseberg

    I live in a 3 decker house, built in 1908. All the piping and electrical goes up the chimney chase for the 3rd floor. While trying to run a new wire along the chase, after running an electrical snake,I hit a snag. I pulled on it to free it, and suddenly heard a loud ZZZIPP. A 10′, 3/4" steel black pipe came loose, and fell right in front of my face. We figure, when they built the house, the pipe got stuck, and instead of retreiving it, they left it there. It only took 100 years to fall. It looked brand new. Except, I aged 20 years in that second.

  • Al Frampton

    I’ve acquired a claw hammer and London pattern screwdriver that way. Not in the same place, or even the same house, I hasten to add. That would have been one really careless workman…

    And that saw really is excellent. One feature is a nice large hole in the end of the handle; I should take a tip from the navy and use it to attach a lanyard during future remodelling jobs, Chris 😉

  • joel

    If you were seriously interested in someone in the future finding your saw you should at the very least squirt some oil down onto it. You wouldn’t want anyone to find a rusty saw and think less of you – would you?

  • Mike Siemsen

    I was working on repairs to an outdoor toilet with an older carpenter. He dropped his six foot folding ruler down the hole. He looked at it a bit and then threw in his hammer and a block plane. "Why did you do that?" I asked, a bit shocked. "You don’t think I would go down there just for a ruler do you?" was his reply.

  • Floss

    Oh yeah,

    You can address the payment to Reverend Floss.

  • Floss

    With shipping that saw is probably around $35.00

    E-mail me off-line and I will send you my address.

    Mail me $35.00 and I will absolve you of your sin.


    PS. Cash

  • John Preber

    I agree with Mark. Every one of my toolboxes has a magnet and string. It also makes a wonderful poor man’s stud finder.

  • Tom Holloway

    Losing a tool and not knowing where it is, is one thing. But *knowing* where that good saw is, and not retrieving it, would give me bad dreams, I think–like that guy bricked into into the wall of the wine cellar in Poe’s "A Cask of Amontillado." What a way for a tool to die!

  • Man, all I’ve ever found in house walls was an old six pack of pull-top tallboys. Neat looking cans, but I really would have preferred a drinkable brew at that point in the process.

    We’re living in a house from the 1800’s now – now I’m a little more excited about having to work on a few large sections of plaster and baseboards now… (100 years of being a poorly maintained rental requires a lot of work) … but not much.

  • better BS'er than you :)

    I call bull poo, no effort to retrieve it?

  • Glenn Madsen

    I’ve abandoned I don’t know how many electricians pull tapes in buildings I’ve wired for data cables. They are cheaper than the labor and materials required to retrieve them.

    That’s the metric that really seems to count…

  • Justin Tyson

    I’m surprised to hear that you disregarded Rees’ explanation so quickly at first. I have remodeled two homes inside and out, I assume that anyone who has done much construction work was nodding their heads knowingly while reading that explanation. I had the rare opportunity to recover one of my tools that disappeared behind a new sheet of drywall when I remodeled a bathroom. It was a 1 1/2" wide chisel that I missed dearly for two years until I decided to install wainscoting in the hallway on the opposite side of the bathroom. I cut away the drywall below 3′ and there it was, sharp, shiny and ready to work.

  • Andy Mail

    You really ought to print out this blog page, roll it into a plastic pill bottle, and drop it back there with the saw. At least future historical tool finder will know the back story!

  • Mark

    What? No rare earth magnet and string?

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