I suppose I could have curled up in the recliner with cocoa and a good mystery novel.

Or I could have gone to an afternoon movie.

Or I could have perched on a bar stool and solved the problems of the world with Jim or Randy or Theresa or Dave or Beau.

Instead, to pass an afternoon too rainy for the end-of-season gardening I wanted to be doing, I got out John’s Box.

I should explain.

My buddy John stopped one day at a garage sale (not unusual; John’s pretty much incapable of passing a garage sale unless maybe blood is puddling on the floor of his pickup or there are broken bones involved) where he came across a red plywood box. He dickered the $10 price tag down to $5 (he’s also incapable of paying the asking price) and brought the box to me.

Because it was full of tools.

Very old tools.

No, VERY old tools.

There were half a dozen chisels and gouges ranging in length from a few inches to more than a foot, a cast-iron spokeshave, two wooden block planes (but, sadly, not their blades), a couple of marking gauges, a sliding T-bevel and a pair of pliers whose oddly shaped jaws suggest they were designed to grip something in particular.

But I don’t know what.

The tool box once might have belonged to someone who worked in leather or canvas. There also was a marking wheel and a nifty little wooden tool with a chuck for needles that could be stored in its hollow handle along with a bobbin. Sort of a hand-held sewing machine.

And there were several gadgets I’m still trying to figure out, although I think one may be capable of cutting tenons on the ends of chair stretchers. I’ll try that if I can ever get its many little machined parts working.

Because not only are the tools themselves old, I’m fairly certain the rust and dirt and general grime that encrusts them is equally ancient.

Which is why John’s Box is a good place to go if you have a rainy afternoon to kill.

My tool resuscitation gear is pretty basic: penetrating oil and naval jelly, sandpaper and steel wool, various wrenches and pliers, metal polish and rags.

Lots of rags.

Chisels, gouges and the like tidy up fairly quickly. All that’s involved is elbow grease and a fair number of abrasives. The naval jelly helps, too.

But the tools with the moving parts are more challenging.

For example, it took me two hours to get that sliding T-bevel back into operating condition.

It has just five parts — a wooden handle with brass bolsters, a steel slide, a nut, a short bolt and a little brass lever — but all of them move. Or at least they’re supposed to move; rust had left them pretty much frozen in place for (I’m guessing) the past 30 years.

I started with the penetrating oil, liberally and repeatedly soaking the pivot bolt until the tiny brass lever finally shifted and the nut came loose. After that, it was simply a matter of rubbing rust off the blade and polishing the brass bolsters.

I’m not sure what species of wood was used. It seems too dark for rosewood, which was popular in the manufacture of fine tools some decades ago, but the grain’s wrong for it to be ebony. Besides, it’s not that high-end; this was a “working” bevel.

If it keeps raining, I’ll have the rest of John’s Box working in no time.

Send your questions to: HouseWorks, P.O. Box 81609, Lincoln, NE 68501, or email: houseworks@journalstar.com.


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