Steel bodied jack plane

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I sold this plane yesterday. A very good steel-bodied jack plane with rosewood infills. What I liked about the plane were the hybrid materials used, something you don’t see that often on a plane this size. What with no makers names, I did a bit of research, but I think it was craftsman-made. David Barron suggested the craftsman would probably have purchased the unfinished steel body, then would have made his own infills.
David also suggested the marriage of materials isn’t a particularly successful one, as setting a wooden wedge inside a steel body wears the wedge over time. At the moment however, all appears tight and the plane works very well.
This will soon be winging it’s way off to another gentleman’s workshop.

North Bros Restoration

North Bros “Yankee” 2100 Brace

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I’m currently looking out for one of these braces. Not easy to find in the UK, but hopefully some US readers may turn something up.

North Bros. Mfg. Co. of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, made a line of high quality braces, starting within the year preceding March 6, 1923. You can see the patent drawings courtesy of Google, via the excellent ‘George’s Basement‘ website. I cannot begin to describe the knowledge the author of this site has of braces, but one glimpse of the home page will give you a glimpse of just how deep the ‘tool-obsessive’ rabbit hole goes…

Personally, braces are one of those tools I’ve never become too freaky about. Unlike planes, with their fascinating unique qualities, I have always found braces a little dull. Even the different brass and ebony ‘Ultimatum’ confections leave me a bit cold, I mean, you can’t really tune them, they just twist round and round, right?

However, when I saw the North Bros “Yankee” 2100, I realised this was a brace I could learn to love! The design is beautiful, and if you strip it down, you can see that the component parts have really been thought through to give smooth-as-silk performance. The chucks on these bad boys have ball bearings all round, so they spin like a dream. Man, got to find one!

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(NB: I have to extend my warm thanks to Isaac Smith of Blackburn Tools, who gave me permission to use his superb pictures of the Yankee brace for my post).

I buy old, good quality woodworking tools. If you have any tools you would like to sell, please get in touch using the contact form on the home page.


Sunny September!

Apologies for lack of posts recently. Real life took over for a while as the kitchen renovation took precedence, and it continues to fill my spare time. However, a quick stock check sees Hackney Towers laden with toolage, some of which will find it’s way onto the next Hackney Tools Newsletter. If you haven’t signed up yet, and do want to buy some tools, please click on the box on the right of the home page.

Hackney London Practical techniques

Built to last.

Like many cities and towns in many parts of the world, Hackney in east London is seeing a fair amount of change, as property developers move in, snapping up every disused building and ‘brown field’ site.

Our local council seem to be agreeing to every whim of these developers, and many people (including myself) are up arms about the loss of some of Hackney’s best vernacular architecture, usually to some poorly thought out, bland, brick box.

Money talks. Often the excuse is that Hackney needs more affordable homes, but in reality, what’s delivered is not affordable homes, but more homes for the lucky few who have manage to stay one step ahead.

So far, so bad. On the other side of Hackney we are fighting to keep our beloved green spaces. Hackney Marshes, a delightful area for walks, wildlife, football pitches (well-known as a place where football stars of the future are found), is also under threat. Developers are desperate to start chopping up their parts of the bounty, with some illegal car parks already being planted on the site.

It’s not a unique problem I know. Who are we to expect to live in a city that never expands? London has always expanded. Back in 1500 this whole area was pasture land, a few stagecoaches and wagons coming through. Now every square metre is premium rental space.

1. People aren’t stopping having babies.
2. We all need to get to work.


Of course, the problem with all this is that the developers rip stuff down that we like, build cheap stuff we don’t like and know that people will have to buy the stuff we don’t like, because they also know about (1) and (2). Which in many ways I think is true. They are businesses after all. But recently I’ve seen a change in the way people are objecting to developers. They aren’t questioning the developers’ motives, they are questioning the quality of their proposals.

The locals want to leave buildings behind that their families will be proud to see, just as we adore those architectural treasures we find in London now. The rallying cry for those opposing the QEII development (link above), was not that it particularly shouldn’t happen, (we all knew it would one day), but that such a cheap appalling design had been approved by our council, Tower Hamlets.

And again, what does this do? Hundreds of people sign a petition to try and stop it and the council raise no objection, they don’t even ask for a review, or a single alteration. Where’s the quality? Where’s the thought? Where is the response to situation, surroundings, sympathetic materials? Where are the details that say in a building, ‘we didn’t have to do it like this, it’s quite expensive, but we thought we would do it because after all, this is built for future generations. Of course it isn’t anymore. A development round the corner from me has pretty much gone up in two months. Concrete pilings, poured concrete floors, metal window frames banged in, first fit on it’s way. First-time buyers already calling about completion dates. Not made to last, made as cheaply as possible and easy to knock down and replace in another decade.

We mistrust the council. We mistrust the developers. Locals don’t understand the new people moving in. The new people moving like the locals, (but really, they want to buy their houses, ‘have you seen those Victorian period details?!’). The people who have been here for years give in, sell up, maybe get a great deal on their house, but ultimately, they leave, diluting what was once a great community, leaving it to others to make their bit of money. Walking away.

It got me thinking.

What’s the opposite of all this? What inspires the people in a community? What draws them together. What sort of building would they all help to build in a common, universally admired form? A building put together buy a team, used for all different activities, but something that would sit in a green space and say to the developers, yes, ‘we know it’s not for you, but it IS for us. We live here and this is worth a thousand of your brick boxes’.

Then I thought you know what? Those Amish have it right. It would be great to raise a barn. It wouldn’t solve much, but it might bring back a little of the spirit of doing something for the community. Stripped back to an empty barn, we would be forced to think of what a space like this would be, could be, used for. Birthday parties, celebrations, a place to learn about nature. A place to learn how to make things. A place for the young to meet the old. A place for the young around here, to just enjoy being young.

(This post was inspired by looking at the woodwork of Tom Arrigo (he makes timber frames), and reading the books of Jack Sobon, (also recommended to me by Tom Arrigo).

I also thought the following paragraph from Wikipedia on ‘barn raising’ was substantially more exciting than any proposal I’ve seen from a London developer in the past decade.

A barn raising, also historically called a “raising bee” or “rearing” in the U.K., describes a collective action of a community, in which a barn for one of the members is built or rebuilt collectively by members of the community. Barn raising was particularly common in 18th- and 19th-century rural North America. A barn was a necessary structure for any farmer, for example for storage of cereals and hay and keeping of animals. Yet a barn was also a large and costly structure, the assembly of which required more labor than a typical family could provide. Barn raising addressed the need by enlisting members of the community, unpaid, to assist in the building of their neighbors’ barns. Because each member was entitled to recruit others for help, the favor would eventually return to each participant.

Hackney London Practical techniques Restoration Slideshow

Bridgewood & Neitzert

Bridgewood & Neitzert Ltd, Violin Repairers, Dealers and Makers, 146 Stoke Newington Church Street, London N16 0JU.
I had such a nice reponse to the first photoset about London makers I made, that I wanted to do another one. I was therefore delighted that Gary Bridgewood of Bridgewood & Neitzert Ltd took me up on my offer to photograph inside his building. My brief visit to the shop in London confirmed to me that this must be one of the most intriguing and skilled crafts still in demand today.
I asked Gary for a few brief lines about the history of how the business came about for my intro on the photoset. His story was so interesting I thought I’d reproduce it fully in the post instead. The business is owned by Gary and his business partner, Tom Neitzert.

Tom and I met whilst students studying at the London College of furniture. We were in an amazing workshop in Henriques street (I think formerly Berniers Street) renamed as one of Jack the Rippers attacks happened here!
We were on the first floor of an old Victorian school building overlooking a primary school with a theatrical company hiring the floor above for prop storage. What was so brilliant about this place was we all had keys and so the workshop was nearly always open until the early hours and often never closed at the weekend. We were a very small group, each year had 4 students and there were 4 years with a total of 10 students. I guess we all thrived on this time and the positive shared knowledge and competition between one another. I flitted between this department, Early Musical bowed string instruments e.g. baroque violins, viola da gambas and lutes and the modern office style building across the road where I learned violin making from William Luff.
Before the end of college I and three others started our own workshop in Dalston at 2 Crossway above an old East end gambling office called Sid Kikki jnr. This was quite an experience, we were on the second floor above a bespoke furniture maker called Kirk, in fact this was smoke screen for his rather more insalubrious activities as a drug dealer and pimp. On a Saturday morning we would be visited by one of Sid Kikki’s associates, a bovver boy called Mark, who collected the rent. We always felt relieved that we could pay the rent!
I shared a workshop with Robert Louis Baille (French), who is now a successful violin maker/dealer working in Seville and Tom shared a workshop with Craig Ryder (South African) who is a very fine bow maker working now in Paris.
We moved from here, our friends Robert and Craig moved to France, to Ilex Works in Northwold Road. Our Landlord, Mr Schwarz, had been in Auschwitz. He used to bring a few dolls house toys which they had somehow saved from this horror which I repaired for him; they were made from Olive wood, extremely hard. We had a good relationship with him, and would carry out repairs to the building for an occasional subsidy to our rent. Sadly this all turned sour when he mortgaged this property to improve his other Covent Garden ones. Strettons Estate Agents came in and very quickly we no longer could afford to stay.
We moved to Stoke Newington Church street after this and have been very fortunate to have a very suitable building for our needs.