Sometimes I feel a tad guilty for owning tools from Veritas, Lie-Nielsen and Blue Spruce. But then I pick up my very first chisel and I get over it.
I’ve had that chisel since I graduated from college , it’s a 1/2″ chisel I bought at WalMart and it’s branded Popular Mechanics (is that an example of irony? I can’t tell. I’m American).
In any case, I think I have butter knives at home that hold a better edge and are more balanced for dovetailing than this tool. Its blade was probably 5″ long when I bought it, and now it’s been ground down to 3-3/4″. I thought about throwing it away, but I just can’t.
So I recently sharpened it up for my 8-year-old daughter and made a nice little blade cover from a business card. She was thrilled with the tool. This weekend she used it for some light chopping and paring. After about 15 minutes, the tool’s edge folded over.
If this were an isolated incident, I wouldn’t be blogging about it. So many inexpensive modern tools that I’ve encountered don’t even deserve to be in the tool crib of the store. My first miter box saw was American-made and made badly. Same with my first combination square, block plane and even hammer.
Who can mess up a hammer?
I’m sure you’re thinking: Why didn’t this idiot Arkansan buy vintage tools? Well, I stumbled on old tools all the time at the antiques fair in a tobacco warehouse that my wife and I went to every month. But to my inexperienced eye, all I could see was rust and grime. The tools at WalMart were shiny. And there was no Internet to help guide me.
As I watched my daughter struggle with a dull chisel, I concluded that I was going to stop calling these things “tools.” Tools have to work at some baseline. Chisels have to do a certain amount of work before they crap out on you. Saws have to cut wood , crazy, I know. Combination squares should be somewhat square. Anything less is just an object decorating your garage wall.
The new tools that perform these basic functions are what we now call “premium” tools. But no more.
This morning I re-ground and honed that cursed chisel-shaped object and it’s sitting on my bench. I should bring home a good tool for Katy and throw this thing away.
Or perhaps we have some paint cans that need opening.
– Christopher Schwarz
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