Character Comes Cheap

If we walk on two legs and think to resolve puzzles, problems and concepts of design and we build and negotiate solutions, making and creating is intrinsic to us. Whether we will evolve into unconstructive beings remains to be seen, but I look at blocks of wood used for building walls and can’t help but shape them with my hands and a few tools to make a scoop or a spoon or a spatula.



When I choose my tools I look at different parts of them. Usually I find myself looking at something old, something from the past, and I respect the quality hidden beneath the superficial and neglect to its inner character. I don’t really look so much for sets or even ones from the same maker now. These are not really the ones I reach for. Yes, I admit I do look at tools, a chisel, for character I don’t find in new tools. I like interesting tools I suppose. You know, the ones that have different woods and even steel blades that take and hold their edges differently too, but let me sharpen them. I had a set of chisels where the bevelled edges came to a sharp edge on the long side edge bevels. When I pressed them to the stones they felt sharp enough to cut into my fingers so I couldn’t sharpen them properly. I called the makers and told them of the safety issue and they said to sand the corners. That didn’t seem quite right to me somehow and especially as they were one of the most expensive on the market. Another maker I bought chisels from supplied chisels where the cutting edges kept fracturing when I chopped with them. Again I brought this to the attention of the makers and they did nothing about it. DSC_0270 Of the 100 old chisels I have bought I never had one where the edge crumpled, fractured, didn’t take or didn’t hold a good edge. These three chisels cost £7 for the three plus shipping. They will last me about 50 years if use them throughout every day. It will take me 20 minutes each to get them how I want them. I think that’s good value for money. I buy character because it textures my life. I like texture like this. There’s a history in them and they have history yet to make. I like tools to have personality before they lie on my bench.


  1. It is a hard thing to replicate, an object that presents itself with a history and passage of time. From the little I know of a variety of cultures it is something that deserves or asks for some respect and appreciation. I believe that if you were to come across a chisel that was of a poor quality manufacture and of an age then that would not be the norm. Would such an item still be around because it did not perform to it’s intended function? I doubt it. The majority of poor tools I have come across either incite their own destruction through failure in use or are utilised in a manner more befitting their status- as a disposable item best suited to rough and ready work if suited for work at all. I derive little joy in this process so attempt to purchase and utilise with more care. Weed out, as it were, so as to not encourage more unnecessary manufacturing and wastage. As to the manufacturers of items that do not suit or fit their intended task and do not listen to constructive criticism and observation then they to will fall by the wayside and be discarded through deliberate action or neglect.

    1. But there is an emerging group of people in the western culture who are now established and believe everything is disposable and so cheap it’s not worth the trouble of say resharpening a saw or a plane. Add into that equation the absolute fact that few people can sharpen anything at all these days and you do arrive at reasons why things have become abused, disposable and misused. In the 60’s many reputable manufacturers tried to do what Stanley achieved with the Stanley knife and its disposable blade. Eventually no one owned a sharpenable knife and with less success the Stanley Surform plane came into being. The majority of joiners in the UK and and carpenters in the USA are unlikely to buy anything but hard point saws these days – another “success” story.

      1. Embarrassing to say but some of my family members are amongst the disposable and cheap brigade to the point of leaving tools outside to rust because they don’t care. It is an attitude I find hard to understand. How can it be any value at all if literally left out in a yard to degrade to the point of being unusable? Why purchase it in the first place? The family members I refer to are decent people whom I would assist without hesitation and yet this attitude to me is quite unsettling. Maybe I am overally pragmatic but my parents and grandparents also made a living with their hands in a variety of work and I think this was instilled in me from an early age . If you didn’t appreciate and look after your tools, and your body for that matter, you didn’t eat. By the way I purchased one of those stanley knives that you recommended for marking out and it is ideal. I may just have to sharpen it once in a while 🙂

        1. Both my parents and my grandparents on my mothers side instilled carefulness in their homes and their work ethic. On my mother’s side in Belgium they were also highly practical, working people. This was engendered in me by my mother, but my father was very organised and encouraged me not to waste.I am thankful for this influence to care.

  2. Paul another great post. My Grandparents on my Mothers side were uneducated and poor people and my Mother grew up in the great depression era so they had to be very frugal. I remember helping my Grandfather bend nails and save them when I was a young child as he threw nothing away if he could help it or recycle. I am not a wasteful person to this day because of what I remember growing up.

    I like the scoop and looks like another exciting thing to make.


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