Friday, September 7, 2012

Working Combinations

Tonight I was cutting some 2x4’s for a bench. I had picked up a combination square from the measuring tools drawer and laid out lengths and hole positions without thinking about much more than where the marks ended up.
I got to a stopping point and began to put away the tools I had used. When I got to the combination square I picked it up and noticed that it was heavier than I was used to. Looking more closely I read the name, Millers Falls on the blade. Out of curiosity I pulled another combination square out of the drawer. This was one my Dad had used as long as I can remember before he gave it to me. I’ve had it for 40 years or more. Setting the two next to each other I studied the differences.
I picked up the Millers Falls at an antique shop. I prefer using good tools when ever possible but my budget precludes going with the haute couture name brands that are priced as art works rather than tools. My only rule on buying tools is that they must be usable. I may only use them once but the rule works and so far I’ve been able to keep from sliding too far down that slope. Buying tools works best at an antique shop that doesn’t know what tools are. They generally cost less when set against Victorian bric-a-brac.
The head on the Millers Falls was made from cast iron. The japanning was still pretty much intact and the vial on the level was clear and read accurately. The scribe point that screwed into the head was there and the point was still sharp.
The head on Dad’s was made from aluminum. If there ever was any paint on the head it was long gone. The vial on the level was missing completely along with the scribe point. All that was left was the holes where the two used to be.
The blade on the Millers Falls is straight, the markings clear and even though someone had wire brushed the blade the numbers are still sharp and easily read.
The blade on Dad’s is worn to the point of being nearly unreadable in anything but good light.
When I checked the two for square, drawing a line from the edge of the bench, flipping the square over and checking against the line, they both read exactly the same. The lines were straight and square at 90 degrees to the edge of the bench.
The Millers Falls felt better in my hand. The weight, only a few ounces on such a small item, made a difference in how it set on the board. I guess solid would describe the feeling. The pencil rode along the blade smoothly. No hesitation or wobble in the blade as the line was cleanly struck.
I have no idea how old the Millers Falls is. Dad’s is at least 50 years old. The wire brushing on the Millers Falls tells me it might have been rusted at some point but there isn’t any pitting on the blade. Dad’s is just as clean as the first time I saw it in Dad’s toolbox.
When new the Millers Falls was probably much more expensive than Dad’s. Having the scribe and level intact indicates that it was well protected. Dad’s has been used an average of once a week for everything from laying out steel plate to setting kitchen cabinets. Dad’s square never did have a scribe or level vial that I’m aware of. My parents taught me that I should always buy the best I can afford. New doesn’t always mean better. Keep what you have, take care of it, and it will last.
I intend to keep using Dad’s square. It’s nice to have the connection through the tools that we both used. It’s like having him still helping. However I will be using the Millers Falls much more frequently.