They say you can't go home again. That's what they say. But
you can go the same direction again, if you want.
About 2 months ago I dropped my stone.
Nothing special of an old sharpening stone to anyone else, except
I'd had it ever since a "desperate emergency" appeared one time over
25 years ago.
A dear friend and a great lady had just
moved into the most elegant little gem of a home in Berkeley, CA
that you ever saw. A real heartbreaker of an old 2 bedroom,
hillside, 1920's cottage home. You can imagine in your minds eye if
you want to, easy. Just what you'd think too. Built there when it
was a longer drive out from the center of town and land wasn't so
expensive. Or rather, they could barely give it away out that far in
Setting well up from
the moisture of the bay with a throat tightening 180 degree sweeping
view out the back. Because in the 20's, if you were going to
live up there it'd better have a good view and it had better be a
cute house. So it was- cute, down into the smallest details
and trim. Such as floral cast solid brass air registers and
sun turned purple glass doorknobs on solid brass mounts over heavy
ornate brass escutcheons.
Details, details everywhere and don't spare the molding!! Just
The emergency I was called about was the lack of stairs of any
kind down to the ground level where there was a small yard
enclosure. A rather boisterous, near full blood, generous throated hound dog
figured into the trouble. His doghouse and enclosure were in the
little lower yard and his temperament required attention many times
a day. (Way too much attention to keep a hound dog in the city if you
ask me, but nobody did.) The only way to get there was to go out the
front and around the side and then down through the crawl space
under the house.
It was around a 20 something foot vertical drop, off the
balcony/deck. The old stairs and all remnants of them had been taken
away when the previous owner was trying to sell the house. All that
remained was the hasty barrier thrown up across the end of the
balcony where the entrance had once been.
Well, it wasn't a terribly tough sell at the time to get me to go
camp out for a couple days in the new/old house. Short visit/vacation/save your friends?? The folks were particularly
easy company (for the most part) so we loaded up the kids and as much
junk as a full sized 1970's Ford station wagon would hold (a wagon
that you could park a small golf course inside of), and headed off
to the bay.
It was an interesting trip all told. All manner of bizarre Berkley and Bayside shenanigans packed into a couple three days,
and the stairs were built from the best, used, old growth clear
heart redwood that could be found. There was a salvage yard and some
old ship's timbers came to the rescue, besides ordinary lumber yard
offerings. The stair horses had to be very long and strong and no
second growth wood was anywhere near acceptable. New stuff was fine
for the treads and railings, but not the horses. Not this long and
It's always with the figuring when it comes to stairs. Once you
get it settled in your mind, the construction is pretty
straightforward. A staircase is a funny thing. As soon as any mention is made that
stairs are needed, everybody pretty much takes a step backward. You
can always get plenty of help in construction and help in trimming,
but when it comes to designing stairs, I end up alone every time. The staircase was a joyous success though, and only a day or
two's work. Pretty straightforward once I figured out how to make
the parts that were available, fit together into a safe and sturdy
After the excitement had worn down a little, after everyone had
run up and down a dozen times and the handrail was heaved and pushed
on and proven completely sturdy, and after another 100 times dancing
out to the balcony to look over that fantastic view unafraid, we all
settled down into the house itself.
I soon realized all I had brought were construction tools. There
was small important trim work to be done all over the house. Many,
if not most of the doors and practically every drawer, the entire
kitchen and this and, well, it's an old house, gimme a break. The
very words Old House means the attention of a concerned carpenter is
desperately required in the beginning and every so often after that,
or it's hell on earth to live in one. Fix all the little extras and
it's heaven on a pogo stick!
I needed more refined tools for this! By this time it was the weekend, so the "tool library" was
They had a local program then, where tools were loaned and
returned in the normal library fashion. But I didn't get to see it.
I would have loved to look over a selection of public loaner
tools (groan). I can barely imagine the condition they must have been
in. I'm sure more work to restore the tool would be needed than the
work you could get out of one on loan anyway. So it was off the swap meets/junk shops/antique parlors to see what could be found.
Well, nobody I knew or came across could point me to a decent
swap meet in the neighborhood, so I took the best I could find on my
own, on short notice. I had to get tools and get them right now! I
hit several small meets and every shop I passed and made fast hard
sweeps taking whatever I could get that was reasonable cheap.
Not much, Berkeley in the fall is not a gold mine of available
tools on the secondary market. Maybe in springtime. But I didn't
expect a lot and certainly no disappointment was forthcoming. It was
barely enough to squeak through with. A few chisels and a couple
planes. A couple/three saws and coping saw, the barest minimum.
The one thing I couldn't find anyplace was a bench stone. I'd
brought one or two dinky things from home for construction touch up,
but now I needed to sharpen a plane iron, not a pen knife!
So, as it happened I found a very small old family style hardware
store along the way. Dropped in for look, found a stone innocently
hanging on an old rack, Plenty of dust. I immediately choked on the
price, but I bought the Norton 2X8" crystolon combination stone
anyway. One of the wisest investments I ever made too. The stone of my
life you could almost say.