Galootaclaus 2017

I belong to an email list group which shares information about old tools.  Specifically, old hand tools with a focus on woodworking tools. This group has a wealth of knowledge regarding the history, usage, repair, care and feeding of old hand tools.

Each year around the Christmas, Chanukah, or other holiday around the end of December there  is an event named Galootaclaus where members may opt to participate in gift giving with other members. Those who are interested in participating toss their name in the ring, and recipients are assigned randomly. Participants may end up with an assigned name in their same town, or it could be someone half way around the world. Members then spend the next several weeks looking at old posts to The List trying to determine what their assigned recipient would appreciate as a gift.  There is no monetary minimum or limit, and user made gifts are appreciated as much or more than purchases. We share old tools, new user made tools, books, local barbecue or hot sauces, you name it and it has probably been shipped for Galootaclaus.

I live in Oklahoma, USA and this year I received a package from Canada from a very generous Galoot named Don S.

Don sent me a package of several items I opened on Christmas Eve.


There is a chunk of incredibly tight grained Pacific Madrone (Arbutus menziesii) wood from which I am contemplating turning a bowl. I will practice on a similarly shaped piece to get a feel for the shape it will take, and spend some time with a wood turner friend for tips.

There were several pieces of tooling for a metal lathe which is encouraging me to get my recently acquired small metal lathe refurbished and put back in service. And some of the bits may be pressed into service as detail scrapers.

There is a “vintage luncheon knife” made by Joseph Rogers & Sons “Cutlers To His Majesty” made from Sheffield steel which will be put into service for those times when you need a thin flexible blade for spreading glue, or epoxy.


I have an affinity for wooden handle screwdrivers and here is a Robertson tip square drive screwdriver which fills a gap in my screwdriver assortment. Additionally there is a ceramic blade detail knife which will come in handy with paper and card stock projects.

Next, a selection of books and booklets. I did not have any of Wallace Nutting’s books and I am really looking forward to digging into these texts. They happen to deal with a furniture style I find very interesting.  Don included a neat fire engine shaped bookmark from the Calgary public library, as well as a nice wooden handled cork screw.

Two booklets from TATHS

A tiny Perfect handle screwdriver, a new old stock file in an oval profile I did not have with a nice file handle.


Finally, an English made 3/4″  bead plane for repair. There is some warping along the length. Don did the research for me and included instructions and suggested readings for addressing the warp and putting this plane back into working shape.

Don, thank you for a fantastic Galootaclaus this year.


Caught a hot mic

Millers Falls No. 701R 1 inch micrometer in original box

There is joy in Mudville tonight! My son-in-law collects old USA made mechanics tools; wrenches, ratchets, sockets etc. He likes old Plomb (Plvmb), Proto, Williams, and Sherman Klove (S-K) as well as others.

During one of his rust hunting excursions to a local estate sale he bought a box lot which included many auger bits for a brace, a couple of hand planes and a little 1″ micrometer in addition to the wrenches he wanted.

My S.I.L. Sent me pics of the tools he picked up at the estate sale and I gushed over the mic. Now, he and I trade tools from time to time. I might find a good bargain on old wrenches, he may find old planes or chisels and we just pass them back and forth. It has been a good basis for bonding and we enjoy the interaction. Today he gifted me the mic he picked up in exchange for whatever I might find to trade him for. I wanted to pay him for it, but he wouldn’t have any of that. He is a good guy.

Millers Falls No. 701R 1 inch micrometer in original box

This wasn’t just any mic, this was a pristine, like new, in-the-original-box, Millers Falls No. 701R 1 inch micrometer.

IMG_1596 Millers Falls No. 701R 1 inch micrometer in original box
I have been looking for a 1″ mic for a while now, but budgetary constraints have made me hold off on purchasing one. I am not a machinist, but I do have occasional need for a mic to determine sizes for parts I am needing to replace on machines, or wanting to mic out a handsaw plate thickness, or just for giggles see how thin my smoothing plane shavings are…(oh, come on, you have wanted to check your shavings too…) And, I like me some Millers Falls tools!

So here it is, my (for all practical purposes) New Old Stock Millers Falls 1″ micrometer.



On The Level

I have been looking for a used machinist level for a while to aid in machine setup.  This weekend I went to an antique co-op which occasionally has some interesting items. I found 3 levels; one an L.S.S. Co. Athol (early Starrett) bench level in a 4″ size, a Stanley Sw era small round level with a rotating cover that I later realized is probably the level insert for a model 36 (?) cast iron Stanley level, and a 10″ no. 10 Stratton Brothers brass bound rosewood level in remarkable condition.



The Stratton Brothers level has spaces for spirit vials both for level and plumb. (Level is on the long edge, plumb is on the end).  There is an intact spirit vial in the long edge, but no vial on the end. I cannot find any evidence that there was ever a vial there despite the brass bound window cutout to read a vial. There are no traces of glass, and there is no evidence of plaster of paris or other bedding compound in the space. The location where the vial would rest is an almost pristinely clean vee notch in the end of the rosewood.


From the factory, a vial would have been bedded into plaster. Since there is absolutely no trace of plaster, I am left to wonder if this was shipped from the factory with just the Level vial. Perhaps this was a cheaper option, (although the cost of these is in the rosewood and brass and labor to fit and finish) or a mistake from the factory but one would think a purchaser would have taken it back to the store for a replacement.  I suppose it is possible that the vial became broken at some point and the prior owner meticulously cleaned out the vee notch and pared away any trace of plaster, although I think this unlikely.


At any rate, I have a fine example of a late 1800’s brass bound rosewood Level in need of a plumb vial. Lacking an original to measure, I am going to assume the diameter was the same as the level vial. I will measure the length of the space and look for a high quality glass replacement.  Anyone having new old stock spirit vials, or knowing of a good resource please let me know.


Making an old Level whole again

After posting this blog to the Old Tools List, my new friend Bruce Z. sent me not one, but two replacement spirit level vials in the size I needed to repair this old level. Thanks Bruce!  Turns out the vials that Bruce had were like they were made for this level; I couldn’t have asked for a better fit.

Now, onto replacing a spirit level vial:

Levels are a fussy thing, either they are right on, or they are essentially worthless. A level which isn’t set right won’t do you any good. I had never replaced a level vial before and wanted to do it right the first time.

I did a Google search but didn’t really come up with what I was looking for. (Apparently my “Google-Fu” was weak that day) so I turned to Wictor Kuc’s site  WK Fine Tools and found some good information. Next I queried the Old Tools List and asked for member’s hard earned experience such as problems and pitfalls to avoid as well as any suggestions. Scott Grandstaff passed on his experiences in repairing levels. Scott has a knack for fixing up old tools and when he offers advise I tend to listen. So what follows is a compilation of what I learned about replacing and bedding in a new spirit bubble vial in a level. As always, your mileage may vary.

Having never done this before, I decided to practice on a block of wood before actually working on the level.

These are the tools I used:

Plaster of Paris, measuring spoons (it doesn’t take much plaster to do this project), a container to mix up the plaster- in this case a disposable cupcake tin, a 3/8″ dowel with a 45* angle sharpened on one end and a 90* angle sharpened on the other to apply and work the plaster, a sharpie marker to mark top center on the vial, and a 2×4 cutoff with a 45* notch cut into it to practice on.  Later I used some blue painters tape, a small brass hammer, and a small screwdriver.  Additionally you need a trusted level to determine an appropriate place to test  and set the level you are working on.

I took my trusted level to several vertical surfaces around the house until I found one that was as close to perfectly plumb as I could find.  If you are working on the level vial–that is the one to measure a horizontal surface for level–find and shim that surface for setting your new vial.  Mark the extents of the surface you determined to be plumb or level with a pencil or tape so you are testing your project in the same place and position you pre-determined to be level or plumb. (Clear as mud?)

Since I had not done this before, I decided to practice on a scrap piece of wood. In this case the 2×4 with the notch cut into it. You can use any scrap for practice, just make a notch that somewhat replicates the housing for the level vial you are working on.  I am very glad I did this step.  I found that the wood sucks the moisture right out of the plaster almost immediately and makes it difficult to work.  The important lesson here was to wet the surface of the wooden level before applying the plaster and new vial. Disregard this step at your own peril!

The replacement spirit level vial I was using was curved or arched slightly. In this case it was a very small gentle curve which should make the level fairly sensitive. The challenge here was how to make sure I placed the top of the arch in the   upright-most position while bedding it in plaster. I placed the new vial on a flat surface and rolled it back and forth until I was satisfied the arch was at top dead center. Then I used the sharpie to place a dot at the top center of the vial.  This gave me a visual reference and took the guess work out of making sure the vial was in the correct position once it was in the plaster.


I mixed up the plaster to be used. The plaster of Paris instructions state to use two parts plaster to one part cold water and mix thoroughly. So I placed two tablespoons of dry plaster into the cupcake tin and added one tablespoon of cold water. I mixed until the plaster was smooth.  Here is where part of Scott G’s advice comes in: After you mix the plaster, walk away for 20 minutes or so. (I think Scott said that in his younger days he would go have a cup of coffee and a cigarrete while he waited for it to begin to firm up a little–I went for the coffee) the plaster is way too fluid to work with when you first mix it up, this waiting period is important so you have a soft paste consistency when you set the new vial in. If you try to place the vial in freshly mixed plaster, the mixture is so thin the vial would just sink and there would be no way to adjust its position.  Ignoring this advice may lead to great frustration, wailing and gnashing of teeth.

After the plaster had thickened, I used the small dowel to place some plaster across the bottom of the groove in the wooden level. The plaster not only serves to hold the spirit vial, but it also provides a white background against which the bubble is easier to see. I added a little more plaster to either end of the housing and placed the vial making sure the sharpie dot was in the upright most position.

IMG_1608After bedding the vial in, I placed the level against the wall surface I determined to be plumb and tapped one end of the vial or the other until the bubble was centered. I then turned the level around to the other edge and adjusted the vial again. Repeat this step adjusting the vial half the distance you think it needs until the bubble is in the same place regardless of which edge of the level is against your reference surface. When the bubble is centered both directions, it is set appropriately.

Now, gently set the level on a flat surface and walk away for ten or fifteen minutes to let the plaster set up a little.

Now you can go back and use a moist paper towel to carefully wipe any plaster away from the exposed wood. Wait one hour or so and use the wooden dowel to carefully scrape any excess plaster from any surface of the vial which will be visible when the level is completed.  Test your level against your reference surface after removing excess plaster to make sure the vial didn’t shift. When you are satisfied it is set right, put the level down on a flat surface and walk away for 24 hours.

The next day you can use a moist–but not dripping wet–towel to remove any excess plaster and clean the top of the vial. The sharpie mark will easily remove with alcohol if it doesn’t wipe off with water. (If you are using a plastic spirit level vial, don’t use the sharpie, it won’t come off, instead use a wax pencil like a China pencil so you can remove the mark.)

Now you can replace the cover over the vial.

IMG_1609My cover didn’t want to seat completely,  there were four little studs which seated into corresponding holes in the brass trim and didn’t quite seat all the way. I applied two layers of blue painters tape to the brass cover to avoid marring and very gently tapped the cover down with a small brass hammer.

This small hammer, by the way, was a Galootaclaus gift made by The Old Millrat Jim Thompson, it is one of my prized possessions. The striking face of the hammer is about dime sized diameter and is perfect for small work.

After getting the cover seated, I set the screws.

I had a very small ratcheting Yankee no. 2H screwdriver with parallel tip that fit the screws perfectly. The cover plate cinched down nicely.  I would have attempted to clock the screws, but since this was a near hundred year old level and brass screws, I merely tightened them down snug. I didn’t want to strip out the rosewood or break a brass screw.

Next, I cleaned the surface of the rosewood with Murphy’s oil soap and a coarse rag, wiped down the level and then applied a paste wax.  I did not attempt to shine the brass because I like the patina, and once removed it would take another 100 years to look right.

IMG_1615So, there it is, my refurbished Stratton Brothers level with a replacement vial, all waxed up and shiny. I do love me some rosewood!


That old saw?

I have decided to begin to chronicle some of my woodworking, tool acquisitions and tool rehab activities. This largely for myself, as I don’t know that I will blog on a regular basis.

I have been in a saw sharpening mood lately and went through about five of my handsaws. Now, I am not a saw sharpening expert by any means; I gathered the info available on the internet and began to learn.

Several of the saws I sharpened were in decent shape and really only required a touch up filing. As I looked through the saw till I realized I didn’t have a decent 8 point crosscut fettled and ready to use. I had a couple of 10 and 11 PPI saws which were sharp, but nothing for quickly breaking down stock.  So, I picked out an old lightly breasted Disston D-8 skew back that had a good apple handle on it and went to town.

When I started on the saw I thought the tooth line was in decent shape and attempted to just file the teeth to sharpen them. I didn’t attempt to joint the tooth line first and that was a big mistake.  I set up to sharpen with 15* rake and 20* fleam (matching existing rake and increasing the fleam from the original 15*), filed the etch side of the saw first flipped it around and completed the job. When I took it out of the saw vise I almost cried. The tooth pattern was awful. I had “cows and calves” where every other tooth was significantly smaller than it’s neighbor.  Well, crud!

There was no easy fix for this. I was going to have to reshape each tooth-a task I had never attempted before.  I went back to my on-line resources and read about shaping the teeth to equalize tooth size and realized I was going to have to joint the entire tooth line, attempt to maintain the breasting and file each tooth straight across in a rip pattern to shape them. All of that time spent attempting to sharpen earlier was a complete waste.

I was really intimidated by the thought of re-toothing this entire 26″ saw.  That’s 208 individual teeth which would have to be first filed to shape, and then do the same 208 teeth again to file in the fleam and sharpen it.  What if I screwed it up, made it worse?  I thought about sending it to a saw doctor…I mean I really considered it. Just pay a professional to do it right and fix my mistake.  After much internal debate I decided to give it a try. This was a near full depth saw plate so if it didn’t go well there was still plenty of plate for someone else to fix.

I also decided that if I was going to go to this much trouble, I was going to completely rehab the saw. Remove all of the rust, polish the plate as best I could and re-finish the handle.  What I intended to be my quick and dirty rough saw for breaking down stock was going to become a really nice saw…maybe.

I jointed the tooth line down about a third of the height of the teeth and almost panicked when I saw the huge flats on top of what used to be teeth. Now it just looked like a lot of alternating wide and narrow high desert mesa. Well nothing to do now except get to it. I began to file straight across applying pressure towards the larger flat and cutting down into the plate.  As the wider flat became narrower, the opposite tooth began to get larger. (I know, I know that is the whole point, but I was kind of amazed to see it happening.)  I did the first six or seven teeth and stopped to check my progress.  I’ll be darned if filing to the flats wasn’t working! Those first teeth were now mostly even and with the correct rake.

The file I was using was now screeching with each pass, so I turned it to the next edge which also turned out to be dull.  I went through my file drawer–doesn’t everyone have one of those? I dug out several 6″ extra slim files and they were all dull.  The cutting teeth on the edges of them were chipped off essentially making them worthless for saw filing. I looked at them and realized they were all new Nicholson files, and they were all crap. Terribly brittle with the teeth fracturing off in just a pass or three.   I found one new old-stock Nicholson file in the drawer and tried it. Man, what a difference! The old USA made Nicholson held its cutting edge and really sped up the shaping of the teeth.

I worked my way down the saw plate, occasionally going back three or four teeth and adjusting them until I was done re-shaping. I filed until the flats disappeared. It’s pretty amazing when the flats disappear, viewing from directly over the teeth, you can no longer see the points.

I pulled the saw out of the vise and held it against a white background to examine my work.  I had a pretty consistent tooth pattern all at the same rake. Success!  I identified a handful of teeth that needed some more adjusting, fixed them and then set up to sharpen. I quickly realized that filing in the fleam was a matter of watching the light reflecting off of the edge of the tooth I was working on. Since the teeth were shaped straight across, and I was now filing them at a different angle relative to the face of the plate, I could watch the new facet gradually move across the cutting edge of the tooth until the old facet disappeared. At that point that tooth was done, I could skip a tooth and start the next one.  I completed the first side of  the saw, turned it around in the vise and completed the job.

I then began to set the teeth.  I should’ve set them after the shaping, but before sharpening them but I didn’t think of that. Lesson learned.  The saw set I was using was a maroon colored Stanley 42 saw set. The hammer in it is very soft and was deformed at the striking face. I had to disassemble the saw set and file down the hammer to re-shape it. The hammer and anvil on theses saw sets are supposed to be hardened tool steel. This one wasn’t hardened at all, it filed easily.  I have to get a new (older model) saw set. I will look for a Stanley 42X with the black japanned finish. The older ones should be made better than the maroon one I have now.  After setting the teeth, I took one pass down each side of the plate with a sharpening stone to remove any burrs.

On to the handle. There was quite a bit of crazing in the original finish, so I stripped it back and put on a couple of coats of amber shellac and the wax.  The handle was in very nice condition and cleaned up easily.

I reinstalled the handle and made a test cut in pine, and then white oak. It tracked to the line very well, and cut almost effortlessly.  I am very pleased with how it turned out.

Here she is, my new best 8 point crosscut saw:

img_1564.jpgCompleted saw

Nice apple handle
Newly shaped and filed teeth. Not perfect but darn good for my first attempt retoothing a saw
Nice and straight