Treasure Hunting & the Restoration of a Starrett Sliding Bevel – Part 1

If you happened to see a pile of free stuff outside of a neighbor’s house, or on the side of the road, or on the sidewalk of a busy street, would you stop by and sort through it?

If it were me, the answer would most likely be YES!  And, I hope that by the time you finish reading this story you will join me in this mindset.

It is summer here in the lower Hudson Valley of New York and the real estate industry is in peak season. Houses switch hands, people move in and out, and lots of stuff is tossed out to the curb. 

Just in our neck of the village, a few houses are for sale, some are under contract and some have sold. When a house is sold, the old owners have to face with one of the most stressful events in a person life – The Move. I read once that Death, Divorce and Departure (moving) are the most stressful periods we go through in life, and moving when you have a lot of stuff is even more stressful.

We (Americans) perhaps more than any other nationality, for better or worse, accumulate quite a lot of stuff. Our houses are bigger, we have 1-, 2-, or 3-car garages, basements, attics or all the above. And if this is not enough, our stuff can spill over into rented storage units and even friends and family’s places. Now, if on top of this you happen to be a woodworker, you might have an even bigger problem – your passion is known to be a bona fide real estate guzzler.

So the situation is this: We have too much stuff, our fellow citizens have too much stuff and they move out. Should we stop and look through their free “gifts?” The answer is yes – because you may find treasures. Perhaps not treasures in terms of diamonds, gold and dollar bills, although in my dumpster diving career I have found and returned a large sum of money to its oblivious owner (it’s a long story.)

What I talk about here is mainly tools, wood, antique furniture, hardware and nice art. When I find tools, preferably high-quality tools I am happy as a pig in mud. This is both figurative and close to literal – sometimes I actually need to clean my finds from dirt and mud. I am especially jubilated when I find prime quality tools made by recognized makers from pristine materials and to high manufacturing standards.

In the back of my head, I know that if not for me and other conscientious savers, come next trash day these tools would be gone forever. At best they will be smitten by the panel that compacts trash in the garbage truck, then magnetized up in the land fill to be later melted into mild steel or iron. Or, at worst, they could be consumed by rust in the landfill. Over the years I have found rusted tools, bent tools, dull and even broken tools but that never discouraged me, as I know that I can rehabilitate most of them back to functional order. You see, we woodworkers are actually omnidexterous and can master the basic talents of metalworking, including rust removing, drilling, tapping, filing and sharpening, with much success.

Piles of free stuff outside our neighbor’s home. Our neighbor made effort to give his freebies extra display time on the street by placing the items outside immediately after the trash had been picked up. Doing so allowed the local population of dumpster-divers enough time to discover and go through the goods before the next time the trash had to be picked up.

And now the story of my finds from last week. It all begins when our neighbors from down the hill sold their house. Over the last month or so, approximately twice a week, they carefully portioned out of their property old agricultural tools, housewares, furniture and you name it. They did it with much thoughtfulness, making sure to place the items outside a few days before the garbage pickup time, to increase the chances that the good stuff would find a new home. Among the beautiful items that I saved from their goodies were an old Swiss ice pick, some garden tools, wooden dowels, brass buckets, artisan made wooden spoons (which I will show to my students in September) and a few more items. 

It was raining last Friday while I was driving my son, Asher, to daycare when I noticed the pile of free stuff intended for the weekend shoppers was at the curb. I told myself that I would stop by after dropping him off to check it out. On the way back I stopped and inspected the goods. I was extremely happy to find a tray filled with rain water and in it two dozen or so of metal tools. Among them a Starrett sliding bevel No. 15 and a 12” Starrett ruler, both in early to intermediate state of corrosion – surface rust that hasn’t yet begun pitting the tool. After getting back home I decided to immediately begin the restoration process.

This is the tray filled with rain water in which I found the precious tools.

Next time I will talk about a few strategies to remove rust and show how I restored the bevel.

– Yoav Liberman

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Yoav Liberman

About Yoav Liberman

Yoav S. Liberman is a woodworker and a teacher. His pieces have been featured in several woodworking books, most recently in Robin Wood’s CORES Recycled. Yoav teaches woodworking at the Rudolf Steiner School in Manhattan, and also frequently guest teaches in craft schools across the country.  Between 2003 and 2011 Yoav  headed the woodworking program at Harvard University's Eliot House. Yoav’s articles have appeared in American Woodworker and Woodwork Magazine. He frequently contributes woodworking web content to a number of digital publications   Yoav has a degree in architecture and later held two competitive residency programs: at The Worcester Center for Crafts in Massachusetts, and the Windgate Foundation Fellowship at Purchase College, New York. He lives in Chestnut Ridge NY.

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