Tools of the Trade – Smithfield Times



Roger Healey lends a collection of historic carpentry to the IW Museum

Back in the days when drills and power saws were becoming standard for woodworking, Roger Healey remembers seeing his father repairing furniture in his grandfather’s antique store in New York City.

“The next thing I knew, I was doing a part of it myself,” Healey said.

Now 85, he is one of the few with expertise in the use of long-abandoned hammer drills, planers and other hand tools that were once the industry standard in professional carpentry.

“I think there is a European country that still makes the breast drill,” Healey said. “You push with your shoulder or chest as you drill to punch a hole. “

Healey’s collection will be on display at the Isle of Wight County Museum until the end of February, and then returned to him. Museum director Jennifer England has dubbed the concept ‘Local Treasures’ and plans to make it a recurring exhibit featuring a variety of collections held by local residents.

“Introducing material culture gives us all a better understanding of the lives of people who interact with objects,” England said. “It helps us understand the history of mankind. This exhibition concept will allow the museum to present an interesting microcosm of the interests and pride of our residents.

Some exhibits may include items that people have in their homes that they don’t even consider to be collectibles or artifacts.

“When people see what other members of the community choose to display, they will recognize the historical or narrative value of what they have in their own homes,” said England. “I can’t wait to see the fascinating collections in our community. Sharing them here in the museum will enrich us all.

A number of tools in Healey’s collection are special purpose cabinet planes. The Stanley # 4 bench plane, for example, was sold from 1869 to 1984 as a way to smooth the surface of boards before electric sanders became the tool of choice.

The Stanley No. 55 Multiplane, manufactured between 1897 and 1963, had 53 knives and was referred to at the time as a “milling machine in a box”. It looks a lot like modern electric saws, without the battery or the power cord.

“The handles of those saws in the 1930s and 1940s, they were all anatomical; they fit your hand like a glove, ”Healey said. “If you work with this hand saw all day long, you want something high quality that is comfortable to use.

But “when the bean counters took over these businesses in the 1950s and 1960s, they were still looking for ways to make things cheaper,” Healey said.

Ergonomics were among the first qualities to put on the chopping block.

Over the decades there have also been notable changes in the way houses are built. At one time, standard two-by-four wood planks were actually 2 inches thick and 4 inches wide. Now they are an inch and a half by 3-1 / 2 inches.

“The older these places get, the more evidence you will see of the timber framing,” said Healey, owner of the Four Square plantation in Smithfield around 1807. When you see an old log cabin still standing, “the timber framing in is one of the reasons ”.

Healey used his knowledge of traditional woodworking techniques to restore his historic home and outbuildings, and rebuilt and worked in the restoration of historic Dutch homes in Wrightsville and York, Pennsylvania.

In his Smithfield home, he can tell that the tongue-groove pine flooring was hand cut.

“If you pushed the plane one way, you were hitting the groove,” Healey explained. If you pushed it the other way, you cut your tongue.

Healey credits his Stanley Tool “Bible” for his knowledge of the precise dates of manufacture of the tools in his collection. It contains the production dates of each tool manufactured by the company.

“It takes you away from the street,” Healey said. “It’s a good hobby.


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