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Shop Fun with Scott Grandstaff


Going Home...

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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 those days.

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 lovely. 

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 this critical.

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 staircase.

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 closed.

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. 


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