L.S. Starrett Company

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starrett-tools-athol-maL. S. Starrett Company is an American manufacturer of tools and instruments used by machinists and tool and die makers. The company was founded when businessman and inventor Laroy Sunderland Starrett bought the Athol Machine Company in 1905. –wiki

Wait, what about luthiers?  Machinists, tool and die makers, and luthiers, they mean to say.  This particular Starrett tool is the only one I found of domestic manufacture which has end graduations in metric.  Metric, because that is the language of violin luthiers when expressing measurements.

Where the C635E-150 is exceptionally helpful is in measuring violin bridge height above an imaginary line projected from the fingerboard – the projected height.  Especially important, I can measure projected height while the instrument strings are under tension, and pencil corrections directly onto its bridge.

violin-projected-bridge-height-with-starrett-rulerEqually useful, when shaping a bridge from scratch, I can get a fairly accurate idea of how much material to remove before initial fitting.

Previous to this tool, I first set up each violin and measured string height at the fingerboard end.  The bridge was then removed, carved or filed lower, new string slots cut, reinstalled, and re-tensioned with strings.  Whew!  A lotta work!  Measure again and likely repeat!

With this Starrett ruler, I can quickly do more accurate setups, and get the strings right where Steve wants them. And he likes them low when he goes ripping into Floppy Eared Mule on Stinger, his favorite fiddle!

Money is always tight running this USA-products online resource.  Yes, this is an appeal for you to hit the SPONSORSHIP button and zip us a few bucks.  There are also other ways to help.  After a few years of amateur luthier work, it became apparent this Starrett ruler would be handy.  While inquiring upon Starrett manufacturing locations (my C635E was made in Athol Massachusetts) and methods ∆, a Starrett representative offered to donate this ruler “to the cause”, without promise of review or compensation on our part.  It has helped our luthier work (100% of the proceeds are used to support the blog). It’s also a fantastic product and has made a worthy article. Six Thumbs Up!

∆ Markings on the steel rules are produced through photo engraving. As a last step in the manufacturing process, there is a light-sensitive coating placed on the rules. A mask is applied to protect the surface that should not be marked. Light exposure removes the coating where the markings should appear. Then they go through an acid etching process. One of our long-term employees believes that we took country of origin off the design, because the photo-engraving process is the highest risk for imperfections in the manufacturing process, so limiting the markings should help minimize scrap. – Starrett

Collings MT2 O Mandolin

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collings-mt2-o-by-kathryn-butler-4Among the dozens of fine mandolins waiting patiently in Jeff Looker’s acoustic instrument emporium hang a couple of the most beautiful specimens one can imagine.  With perfect, almost luminescent ivory-like finish across the top and sumptuous walnut-stained flame maple back and sides, two Collings mandolins captivate the eye – and ear.  One an f-hole model, the other an oval hole.  Amazing Jeff would have one of each!

Usually I introduce my punchy bluegrass style to the f-hole variant.  But with its rare one-piece back, the oval hole model beckons.  Designed for celtic, old-time, classical, and jazz styles, I none-the-less rip into bluegrass and fiddle runs.  The oval hole top brings out a new complexity, a surprising openness of depth, sustain, and overtone.  More expressive?  Probably, but I’m no expert.  Regardless, I am a convert, and can imagine playing this Collings in the bluegrass circle, where plenty of fiddle and folk tunes cross over into the celtic realm.

Instruments get better with age.  So can manufacturers.  Hugh Mason’s 2003 MT2 sounds and plays a certain way.  The latest offerings from Collings?  At times I’ve got to admit, even better!

Weber Charcoal Grill

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One does not imagine a marine buoy manufacturer as far inland as weber-jumbo-joe-on-benchIllinois  (geographically challenged people like myself specifically).  But that is where it all started.  A Chicago guy with an idea.  George Stephen Sr. was working at Weber Brothers Metal Works in Illinois.  The lightbulb went off.  In complete secrecy he filched a buoy from the scratch’n’dent pile, cut it in half, and made a barbecue grill out of it.  The dynasty of American-made quality charcoal grills was born.

weber-logo-1954Webers last forever.  They look good, year after year.  And functional?  George wrote the book on it.  Still privately held, Weber is estimated to have 35% market share selling PREMIUM grills.  Impressive!

Recently I upgraded from a 14″ Smoky Joe to an 18″ Jumbo Joe.  Finally, I’ve begun to understand searing and indirect heat, versus previous plop’n’pray grilling techniques.  Excellence and mastery has its price, as several inedible meals can attest.  And George’s company?  Their premium grills are tortured to durable perfection before they hit retailers.  Weber can afford to offer a fantastic warranty because their grills are so good!

An excellent Weber article written by Joe Cahill for Crain’s Chicago Business is linked here.

Saba’s Western Wear

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jerry-hall-sabas-western-wearThe VFW in Gardiner Montana greeted my first wearing of cowboy boots, borrowed from Pete.  A memorable small-town wedding made unforgettable from a new vantage point, 2″ higher.  A few decades later, horseback riding occasioned buying a pair of these useful boots.

Not until venturing into Saba’s to duck ovenlike temperatures of Scottsdale in August did my knowledge come full circle.  Within this establishment resides the former general manager of Saba’s Western Wear, selling, educating, and enjoying the people who make up the boot chain’s success.

Three days a week the spry and smiling Jerry Hill brings it all together for hundreds of clients.  His understanding of the American boot history, materials, tanning, construction, and especially fitting, make every browsing experience remarkable.  Handmade vs handcrafted finally understood, my favorite boots are about the same price as a decent pair of Aldens.  “Handcrafted means I had a machine assisting me in doing some things in building this boot … a handmade boot is unique in its own right.”  Ask Jerry about lemonwood pegs, 1880s-style!

What is Saba’s known for?  Fitting boots, shaping hats, and the quality of the merchandise.  Shaping hats?  Yes sir.  The hat is easy to fit us if certain things are covered.  A thumb high above my ear and a finger above my eyebrow.  I don’t want to be Deputy Dawg but I don’t want it touching my ear either.  And then across the eyebrow?  That’s a cowboy thing, a little social thing.  No man can see what I’m looking at unless I want him to see my eyes.  

Basic Hand Tools

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channellocks-screwdriver-flashlightTools Of The Trade are chosen without thinking.  Not the fix-it tools, but the “check it out” tools.  Not knowing what is broken, I grab a few of the most common hand tools an amateur or professional can use when poking about the mechanical systems of a house or restaurant.

A 4-in-1 screwdriver.  I’ve managed not to lose my Craftsman 6-in-1 for over a decade.  Although well qualified for free replacement, with a shaft collar which pops out of the handle, I’ve refrained from enjoying Craftsman’s Lifetime Warranty.  With occasional replacement of the reversible bits, the screwdriver has gotten me into problems and out of trouble countless times.

Channellock 430 pliers are perfectly sized for tightening compression nuts on a 1 ½” trap under most sinks.  It doubles as a hammer.  Punches holes through drywall with ease.  A digging tool?  You bet!  Anything that needs squeezing, Channellocks will make quick work of it.

Lastly, a good flashlight.  Some years ago this super-bright Surefire was gifted to me.  Surefire has since developed brighter LED handlights, but the Executive E2E has proven both indestructible and handy.  Small enough to conceal in a pocket, bright enough to expose the issue at hand, in the darkest of crawl spaces.

As the chain-smoking plumber taught me decades ago, I do know need to know what we are doing.  “Plumbing” was often the only answer I’d receive.  Whenever reprieve was given to hauling his 80 pound toolbox, it was in response to my question, “What do I need to bring?”

* Channellocks * Screwdriver * Flashlight *

Triscuit • Wheat Thins

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field-of-wheatEven before I could count past eleven, I knew there was a difference between “adult snacks” and the stuff pawned upon non-voting kittle.  Within the latter group I waited.  Better nibbles would have to wait until I could see over the kitchen counter.

wheat-thins-triscuitEventually counters lowered.  I saw what I was missing, and began to appreciate.  As the Art of Cooking took hold upon my imagination, I marveled at the Triscuit ingredients:  “Wheat, water, salt”.  That’s it.  Amazing.  Simply amazing. 

When calories consumed surpass necessary, appreciation of a good snack increases.  If you’re gonna snack, go for the good stuff.  Triscuits and hummus.  Maybe some Cracker Barrel Asagio, olives, a few pepperochini with your Wheat Thins?  Don’t forget the pickles!  WHEN is our Vlasic article coming out!?!  Product testing calls ~

Editor’s note:  From the very start  AmericanToolbox has endeavored to present entertaining, positive, and non-political articles on American products, people, and companies.  With sadness we learn Mondelēz,  parent company of  Nabisco,  is laying off half their Chicago workforce.  Associated production will be performed at an upgraded plant in Mexico.

I stopped purchasing York Peppermint Patties when production moved from Reading PA to Mexico.  The days of buying four or five packages of Oreos to take to the kid’s birthday parties may likewise be coming to a close.

Support American Nabisco workers in the following ways:

1) Check the Label: There are two ways to know if your Nabisco snacks are made in the U.S. or Mexico:

  • Check for the words “Made in Mexico” under the ingredient list
  • Check the plant identification code, which is part of the expiration date code: do not buy if the initials “MM” or “MS” are listed.  The initials AE, AH, AP, AX, AZ and XL all indicate American-made products.

AlohaLand Hawaiian Shirts

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Ray King had me in his studio to install copper irrigation pipe.  A noted sculptor in glass and optics, metal and light, Ray had his mojo working.  He wore the coolest linen batik shirt.  I immediately bought one and wore it everywhere.  After eight sweaty summers my shirt began to revert, shredding back to thread.  The vendor was long gone.

Never one to be without a “favorite shirt”, I began the search two years ago; AlohaLand.com came into my orbit.  Among dozens of fabrics, I choose “Mauve Island” with its earth tone reds, browns, and greens.  A fantasy land on fabric.

A few months ago, discretionary funds appeared while the linen batik shirt fell to rags.   An AlohaLand order was placed.  My two year ordeal ended just in time.  Judi tells me vendors usually discontinue patterns every few years.

My shirt came after ten days.  Made to order and a perfect fit.  I marvel at the quality of Judi’s sewing.  I have a shirt to last another decade, at least!  Judi, care to comment on an upcoming article?

Here’s what I say:  The best Hawaiian shirts in the world made right here in Oregon. I match up the pocket so some people ask to have a pocket.  They can’t see it. I do a flat felled Levi seam on the side so they never fall apart  (I noticed !!!❤ )  The fabric is pre shrunk so it will not shrink with washings.  I use great buttons, some coconut shell, some agoya shell and some very high quality plastic that looks like shell.  (Like mine❤❤ )  I also reinforce the collar, the center fronts, and the top of the pocket. I hope this helps.  Thanks, judi

The school bus print shirt below?  His shirt is made by Richard Tison, Paperhorse Creations,  Leesburg, GA.  It is a cool shirt and a great photo.  ATB’s “Six Thumbs Up” Honorary Mention Extravaganza Award. – editor/publisher