I spent the afternoon today cleaning these old files and
rasps, and a few other things, which came to me via my neighbor. Just recently, my next door neighbor, who is about a dozen years younger than me, announced he had sold his property to a developer, and consequently, new houses are going to go up shortly. He said that I should come over and take whatever tools had been left by his grandfather, the original owner of his property, who had also been a woodworker and had a small shop in his basement. When my wife and I first moved to our little house 18 years ago, the house next door, my neighbor Angelo’s house, was still occupied by his grandmother Kitty. Angelo had been a little boy growing up in the house and lived upstairs until his mother and father had moved out to the suburbs.
As a grown man, he moved back to his
grandparents’ house to kind of be an overseer to his widowed grandmother. About
2 years after we moved next door, Kitty died, and Angelo inherited the house. He had told me that his grandfather, Angelo’s namesake,
had built a small woodworking shop in the basement, and that I should come over
and take a look and see if there was anything I wanted. I remember going once
in that time period and being claustrophobic in his basement. I should say that
when we moved into our house, our basement ceiling was a grand total of 6′
high, floor to joists, and that was after I pulled out the dropped ceiling that
had been installed sometime in the 1950’s. Angelo’s basement was even more
vertically challenged, and there was no way to stand upright anywhere in the
basement. How his grandfather had managed to build, let alone work, in such a
confined space was beyond me, and I politely declined all future entreaties
from Angelo to help myself to any of his grandfather’s old tools and stuff.
That was until the other day.
Knowing that soon all will be demolished, Angelo once again
made the offer, and this time I went next door to see if indeed there were
anything of value, tool wise, that I should take. After Angelo Carpino, the
grandfather, died, nobody, it seems, ever went back down in the basement to
clean or move anything around. It looked pretty much as it must have looked in
the 1960’s, only messier from decades of neglect. Anybody who has nosed around
in an old shop, of any kind, knows just how much STUFF can get squirreled away
into every nook and cranny. Nothing ever really gets thrown away. Not bent and
useless old screwdrivers. Not 3/4’s used up old pencils. Left over patterns and
scraps of paper holding scribbled notes from the 1950’s abound. Scraps of
lumber, meaningless scraps, were everywhere, because as every woodworker knows,
you never know when you’re going to need that exact scrap. The more I delved
into it all, though, the more I realized that Angelo Carpino had been a serious
craftsman and had built himself a serious home woodworking shop with quality
tooling, albeit circa 1950.
By weird coincidence, there was a blog in the NY Times today
about our natural inclination to have STUFF, and how loathe we are to get rid
of all our STUFF, even though we know we would all be better off with less.
Having set up a very cramped woodshop in my garage (Lord knows that space is
way too valuable to park a car in), the last thing I need is more tools and
STUFF. I already can’t move around in there, and I got more? My fervent prayer
is that if we should ever have to move, the place should burn to the ground to
spare me the agony of having to go through every nook and cranny and overstuffed
drawer. I can’t bear the thought of having to look at EVERYTHING and deciding
to keep or toss. Nonetheless, I came out of Angelo’s basement with some real
finds. These files and rasps are part of the haul. I don’t NEED any more files
and rasps, mind you, but if you were offered Cezanne’s brushes, wouldn’t you
take them? Angelo Carpino, who I never met, was no Cezanne, but I could tell
from his tools that he was a serious craftsman. Angelo the grandson told me
that his grandfather had worked his whole life at Zenith Corp. as a cabinet
maker building consoles for their TV sets. And now, I have some of his tools.
They’re good, and they’re old, and they’re the best kind. He and I would have
had much in common, and the least I can do to honor the man and the craft is to
own some of his tools and to carry on the tradition. They’ll probably just sit
in my drawers unused, but woodworkers and woodworking is like that. Some
tooling may change and improve over time, but hand tools pretty much remain the
same. For craftsmen long of tooth, the history of the one’s tools becomes as
important as knowing how to use them. It connects you.