Saturday, August 30, 2008

When I was nine...

This morning, my wife and I began our Labor Day weekend by running over to an estate sale just a few minutes away from our house. The posted description wasn't terribly promising, but there are so few this close to us that we had to swing by and see what we could find.

With a "More Out Back" sign by the front door, the first place we headed was the tool shed in the back yard. Unfortunately, the only tool I could find after five minutes of looking was a cheap and bent-bladed keyhole saw. I don't cut that many key holes myself, so I left it there as we made our way to the house.

Inside the house, we could tell my wife's pickings were going to be slim. Pretty easy to tell if you're going to find things like cut glass or coin glass when you walk in the front door. My pickings aren't always so easily found, though. Tools have a way of showing up in the weirdest places, so I'm always sure to search the house bottom to top (you ALWAYS start in the basement when looking for tools at an estate sale...).

One foot on the last step and the other on the basement floor, I looked up and my heart jumped a bit. In front of me was an old workbench with a planing crotch screwed to the top left side and an old leather belt screwed to the apron, making loops to hold chisels at the ready. Obviously whoever lived here actually did some woodworking and the chance of finding some good tools jumped 55%!

But aside from a few jars of screws and nails and one old mostly-working German clamp, there wasn't a tool in sight. What a disappointment! I asked one of the women in charge and found out that the sale started Friday morning and we had arrived just an hour before the sale was to be over! (What kind of schmuck starts an estate sale on a Friday morning??)

My chance of finding anything good just dropped to a low, low 5%. But I'm not one to give up so easily, so I headed upstairs to see what I could find.

And this time my persistence paid off. In the last room I checked, under a small table in a corner, slightly covered by a towel that had fallen to the ground, were two of those cardboard magazine holders that allow you to store about 15 or so magazines in an upright position.

I turned my head to the side so I could more easily read the spines... the first one I saw said, "Fine Woodworking". I don't think I read it on four other magazines before I reached for both boxes to pull them out from under the table.

I held my breath as I counted them up... there were thirty-three issues in all, from as early as #33 (May/June '82 - I was nine years old that month) to as late as #123 (April '97). Quite a few of them were from 1985 or older, and I knew these would help fill some rather large spots in my FWM collection. There wasn't a price on them, but I hefted a box in each arm and headed downstairs regardless.

At the checkout table, the woman asked me how many magazines I had. "Oh, man," I thought, "She's going to charge me a couple dollars for each one and my wife is never going to let me drop $66 on a bunch of old magazines!" But I took a deep breath and mumbled, "33" as quietly as I could. Then my wife dropped a few things on the table as well, and the woman pulled out a calculator to punch up some numbers.

The grand total: $5.60

That's right, folks - I picked up these wonderful tombs of almost-lost knowledge for just $.10 a piece, $3.30 in all! I dropped the exact amount on the table and ran out the door before she realized her obvious calculation error.

This evening I spent some time thumbing through the first couple of issues. There is some amazing information in these old magazines, like articles on woodlot management, shoji screen construction, making fly rods from split bamboo, and photographing your work. I even found a detailed explanation on how to make inlaid wooden cabinet hinges! There are interviews with James Krenov and Art Carpenter, written when these fantastic woodworkers were at their prime!

There are a few articles and pictures that made me laugh out loud, like Ian Kirby, demonstrating proper planing techniques in tight-rolled jeans (can you imagine woodworking in pegged jeans???) and ads for *brand new* power tools like the Excalibur scroll saw.

It looks like there used to be a reader-written section called, "Adventures in Woodworking". Not sure when it was phased out, but the stories were great fun to read. I'd love to see something like that come back in the current iteration of the magazine. Maybe I'll write them a letter...

And then I saw things that made me a little sad. In the July/August issue of '82 is a photo of Prince Charles, holding a split and shaved child's chair, with a caption saying who made it for him and how it would be necessary pretty soon as Princess Di was expected to give birth any day. I found an ad for top quality, extra durable, one-piece Lignum Vitae carver's mallets for $6.90 that brought tears to my eyes. In 1983, you could get a brand new #52D Record vice for under $100 delivered.

(I had to run to the bathroom for a tissue when I read that one.)

Want to know when they started printing the magazine information on the spine? It was November/December '82 (Issue #37).

I can tell you when Fine Woodworking switched from the larger 12"x9" size to the now-standard 10.5"x9" size. (April '96, Issue #117)

Ever wonder when they first printed an issue with a cover in full-color? (September/October '84, Issue #47)

Would you like to know how John Lively makes his marking gauges? I'd love to know, too. Unfortunately, that article was in Issue #32 and this treasure trove starts at issue #33. :(

(Oh, well, you can't win them all...)

The moral of this blog entry, my friendly woodworking boys and girls, should be obvious. Don't stop looking until the last corner has been searched! You never know what you might find!

Now, if you'll excuse me... I have some reading to catch up on.


Kari Hultman said...

Great story, Ethan. Your sleuthing paid off!

I found a bunch of old FWW magazines at a 3-story used book barn, but they were priced a wee bit higher than 10 cents apiece. : (

Ethan said...

Aren't they usually, Kari?

A funny addition to this story - the Friday before the estate sale, I'd printed out several articles from the FWW website on inlay.

In one of the first magazines I started looking through this week, I found one of the articles I'd printed out! Who knew it was that old! So I got to throw out* the printed copy.

Then I found three more articles I'd printed out at some point in the past month or two... got to throw those out*, as well!

*Of course, when I say "throw out" I mean recycle. :)