Product Review

Stuarts Draft, Virginia

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Amid a cacophony of tectonic activity there lies a valley of peace and tranquility.  Prosperity, jobs, and amazing opportunities for outdoor types.  Nestled here amid the Allegheny, Appalachian, and Blue Ridge Mountains,  NIBCO manufactures world-class copper plumbing fittings.

Brian’s sports bar in University City is a hopping success.  Near three colleges, it is de facto dorm room to scholars and athletes alike.  But by the northern battery of beer taps, what is that smell?  The beer tray indirect trap had issues.  Nothing the right plumbing can’t fix.  Brian will tell you, for great food, it starts with quality ingredients.  Likewise, for plumbing parts, I turn to the leaders. NIBCO.

With the right fittings and tools, Brian’s longstanding issue disappears.  After a little all-purpose cleaner mixed 50/50 with hot water and a heavy scrub pad, his floor tiles are back to Union Specification. 

The fittings came to me from the supply house in pristine condition.  Blessedly with no gooey stickers affixed.  Deeply and proudly stamped NIBCO.  Country of origin?  A call to NIBCO’s general number immediately connected me with Susan, who zapped me onward.  In a flash, Jem in Technical Support looked up the fittings, confirmed origin, right as I was viewing the Stuarts Draft article on NIBCO’s webpage.  Sunday morning calls to area businesses confirm the vibe:  Stuarts Draft is a great place to live, work, and raise a family.

Vintage Laura Ashley Comforter

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A typical love story.  The small town girl loved the idea of a big city.  A city filled with arts and liberal thinking and culture and men.  She moved herself across country.  From the hot arid Southwest to the Ice Capital of the Mid-Atlantic States.  Two items did not make the trip:  1] heavy winter coat, non-existent back home, and 2] satisfyingly thick blanket for comfortable sleeping (same reason).

With negative percentile body fat, her blanket had to be the best a department store within walking distance could offer.  Wanamakers?  Precise provenance is blurred in a haze of Philadelphia smog.  But a thick attractive comforter was purchased.  Durable, with excellent stitching, it probably cost a week’s salary.

Philadelphia is a cruel mistress.  Some are taken to her bosom, nurtured, and blossom to fulfillment.  Others, disillusioned, return home, leaving coats, boots, and blankets for other’s hopes and dreams.  In time, the comforter was inherited and stored.

While I’ve never been a blanket guy, barely wanting even a sheet on cold nights, advancing age means thinning blood.  The abandoned Laura Ashley comforter found new purpose.  What a lifesaver it turned out to be this frigid April!

Now in its majority, the stitching remains tight.  Its strong fabric is a little faded but wearing gracefully.  

Whether enjoying your comforter trdelník-style or indulging full-court burrito, the vintage Laura Ashley makes every dreaming session a Top Hat affair.

Laura Ashley USA is headquartered in Fort Mill, SC.  Revman International made my comforter decades ago for Laura Ashley.  They continue to provide quality merchandise Laura Ashley customers want. 

Vintage Laura Ashley Comforter   74″ x 86″   5.7 pounds.

Irwin Taps & Dies

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A box of cheap spool clamps unearthed at the closing violin shop seemed a deal.  Spring clamps and forty pounds of lead bar were getting me only so far.  Centenarian violins streaming to my luthier table deserve better.  Proper violin spool clamps it would be!

After every full face lift, a violin top is reunited with its body with 33 spool clamps about the perimeter.  Quickly installed, as hot hide glue cools quickly.  Adjusted, glue cleaned from seams, ribs, and behind clamps, but in general, they stay tight on the violin for a good hour or so.

My clamps were arthritic.  Or constipated?  Binding issues prevented spools from moving freely upon their shafts.  I’d wrestle with one, make it work, maybe have better luck with the next.  Eventually I was back to vintage Pony spring clamps and lead bars.

Winter brings time for the fisherman to repair nets.  Likewise, the luthier may catch a break to refurbish tools.  After the triplets were off my table, I closely examined the clamps.  Some shafts were threaded a bit haphazardly.  There was glue in the threads.  Spools were mis-drilled.  Hmmmm . . . one man’s trash is another mans . . .

Clyde’s Hardware Store had a complete display of tapping tools in neat order, being overlooked by the casual weekend tinkerer.  I found the correct die head, ¼” x 20 (threads per inch), and with a wire brush and Liquid Wrench Silicone Spray, went to work.  Disassembling each spool clamp, wire-brushing its threads clean, sometimes running the die head all the way down the shaft, tidying up the threads.  Occasionally drilling the spool’s hole a tad wider.  Thirsty work, indeed!

Fifty clamps refurbished, enough for several ongoing projects.  With the right tools, restoration work made easy.

Editor’s note:  Irwin Industrial Tools makes their products all over the world and are currently owned by Stanley Black & Decker.  Irwin’s most identifiable product are Vise-Grips.  In 2008, Irwin announced the closing of its DeWitt, Nebraska plant, ending 80 years of American production for Vise-Grips, citing a necessity to move production to China “to keep the Vise-Grip name competitive.”

Today, this Easter Sunday morning, I visited a Lowe’s Home Improvement store.  Within the tool aisles, examining Irwin products, most were made in Asia, China primarily.  Most, but not all.  The taps and dies are still USA production.

The USA-made Radiator Specialty’s Liquid Wrench, used on the threads? Since 1941 Liquid Wrench® has been making premium lubricating, penetrating and protecting products for people who know that their choice of tools can make all the difference.  rscbrands

RUST-OLEUM

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The old planter shelf sat beside the house, baking in the sun and rusting.  Faded, looking more like the rubbish stacked upon it, the garden shelves were a step from becoming Scrapper Stan’s property.

Mom wouldn’t have it on the screened porch although it would be a perfect replacement for her time-ravaged plastic planter shelves.  She had a solution: How about some paint?

“Ace is the Place” remains true.  The same sticky oil-based Rust-Oleum of my youth is still available.  But instead of slopping it all over our rusted swing-set, we went New Hat all the way.  A set of wire brushes, half a dozen foam brushes, and half a pint of Flat Black.  Sharing the labor, they set to wire-brushing while I made a pitcher of grapefruit-crush from scratch, fresh from the tree.  While they sipped, I wire-brushed one more time.  Then all of us, to the painting!

Daub, stoke, dab, swipe.  All manner of applications.  The Rust-Oleum covered wonderfully.  Across both smooth and imperfect steel, its flat black reversing years of sun damage, the oil-based paint sticking tightly to the wrought surfaces.  One coat was nearly perfect, but an hour later we hit a few spots with another light coat.  Wow, what a transformation!  Rust-Oleum, still a winner for the professional and do-it-yourselfer alike!

Amana Woolen Mill • Iowa

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Unlimited time is chaff to the Gods.  What we crave, they suffer.  In amusing their idleness, they direct me, puppet-like, to another garage sale.  I think I’m searching for a used Lie-Nielsen #102 hand plane, but their machinations prefer otherwise.

Cold road-tripping mornings remind me of the “Old Man” comment suffered even in my 20’s.  I like a wool throw over my legs and knees to fight the chill.  Before me, in an out-of-the-way yard sale, upon the mixed textiles pile, is a nice scrap of tartan.  Wool.  Perfect size.  A few small meals extracted, but largely left untouched by moths.  Neutral smell.  Good signs, all.

We bargain the old-fashioned way.  She said eight dollars and I quickly accepted.  A small pile of worn Yankee dollars and silver pour from my hand into her jug.  I am the newest caretaker of this fine Amana wool throw.  Handcrafted in Iowa since 1855.

A perfect companion to winter mornings in the Southwest.  If that cat jumps upon my lap, I may stay here until lunch!

 

Lie-Nielsen Handtools

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When it was time to shave boxwood bushings whisker-close on an 1880s pegbox, advice was sought.  Spending other people’s money has never been a problem for my circle of advisors.  All manner of chisel manufacturers were recommended.  I settled for a couple of used Buck Bros. chisels brought back to lovely health by a pro.

Months later, I learn craftsperson Jayne Henderson had visited a Maine manufacturer recommended by my acquaintances.  Even better, a hand tool demonstration at Independence Seaport Museum, Penn’s Landing, will feature these Lie-Nielsen tools.  Perfect timing, as we want additional guidance on wood planes and sharpening techniques.

Lie-Nielsen sent their crack team of cabinet makers / salesmen to Philadelphia.  Examples, answers, explanations, it flowed with an easy pace.  Two items of immediate interest: use of a scraper, and sharpening a hand plane blade.

A scraper is a thin flat piece of steel with a sharply squared edge.  One can scrape the thinnest shavings of wood with such a tool.  The answer to my use question moved to sharpening the scraper, truing its edge.  A crowd quickly gathered as the representative covered the simple technique of producing the correct scraper edge.  Guess it was not only me wanting help!

In covering planes I might purchase for general use repairing instruments, it also came back to care of the blade.  The Lie-Nielsen honing guide is the nicest piece of sharpening equipment in the business.  After the demonstration plane had its blade sharpened, staff was removing hair-thin wisps of ribbon from a block of maple.  The wood was left mirror-smooth.  Amazing!

Their chisels?  $55 buys you the nicest wood chisel in the world.  The feel is heavenly, the machining impeccable, and the quality of the metal, unbeatable.

Luxury items or wood shop essentials?  Maybe both, but it’s a tool you’ll have the rest of your life.  I bought the scrapers.  Next big job, a Lie-Nielsen hand plane, a chisel, and sharpening tools are joining the bench!

American Style

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My favorite shoes

Good taste doesn’t cost a lot.  Great style never goes out of fashion.  Flashy is for other people.

A family friend I’d see at holidays and birthdays wore the same loafers year after year.  Plain, leather, hand-sewn.  From a respectable New England cordwainer.  His loafers developed the most wonderful patina, the soft leather fitting his stride and personality.  In the absence of a better word, they were best described as cool.  

He was of remarkable perspicacity.  A man everyone admired.  I tried to understand his cool disposition and viewpoints from the ground up.  Starting, naturally, with his taste in shoes.  His chosen manufacturer had skedaddled to foreign production, but Kenny Sherman had several options.

I balked at the price, Kenny danced a bit around the subject, but always came back to quality.  Now over eight years old, my Alden suede loafers, hand-sewn in New England, have proven to be the MOST comfortable shoes on the planet.  And value?  Even at today’s list price, divided by years owned, they’re cheap.

My depth of personality is still under review, but the concept stuck.  Well-made items last longer and provide far more enjoyment of ownership.  My kickers, closing in on a decade old?  Just getting broken in.  Cheers!