What's new
What's new

Favorite hand tool brands no longer available

We called those drills "punch drills", and used the heck out of them when I was a kid. Anyplace you would use a drill-driver now, we used those.

Ours were brass-plated steel, mostly, and had the storage for drills under the handle cap. The cap had a hole, and a ball with spring as a snap retainer. You pushed down the ball, and turned the hole to whatever size drill you wanted, and tipped up the drill to slide it out.

Drills had a notch on the shank, and had half of the end removed for 0.1" or so. The notch was a retainer notch, and the end took the drive. The nose of the drill had a sleeve that either pushed in, or pulled out, depending on maker, to let the drill slide in. When the nose sleeve was released, it moved a ball into the notch to hold the drill in place, if you had it rotated to the right position.

They worked pretty well, despite having drills that looked like a figure-8 in cross section, straight fluted, with a standard point.
I still have two Handyman push drills. Years ago I even modified a 1/4" hex drive extension to fit the Handyman chuck so I could use it with standard insert bits.
When I started using my fathers tools in the 1960's, water pump pliers were known as "Gland-ups". Adjustable spanners were "Crescent" whoever made them. Dad had 6 inch German "crescent". The screw/jaw operated in reverse to all others. No wonder they lost the war.

Nowadays I have Stahlwille "Box 13" R&OE spanners -superb tools. Also Stahlwille 1/2" socket set. Snap on side cutter & long nose pliers - very good.
I prefer my old NZ-made screwdrivers (Lincoln Turner) to my Snap on set.
I miss Porter Cable. Yes, there is still something being sold under the same name, but like Grandpa's second wife, just not the same.

The old Porter Cable was always making something innovative, whether it turned out to be useful or not. I mean hell, they bought a product line from our esteemed leader here back in the day.

Obviously now it is just Dewalt's cheapo brand, or Black and Decker with cheap lipstick, however you want to look at that.
We use INDUSTRIAL grade Porter Cable tools on the production line at my work.

I haven't looked to see if they are USA made, but the quality is there and they are much much better than consumer grade PC. Expensive as all get out though.
Porter-Cable has an interesting and involved history. Tony Griffith's 'Machine Tool Archive' delves into the history of Porter-Cable in terms of their years as a machine tool builder.

When I was a kid in the 1950's, Porter Cable was known for floor sanders (used to 'match' wood flooring after installation, or for refinishing wood floors). They were also known for woodworking power tools such as cutoff saws (aka 'Skilsaws', to use the slang name in the USA), routers and drills. These were all contractor-grade tools.

Porter-Cable had been in Syracuse, NY. Syracuse was a major industrial city in NY State, and Porter-Cable fitted handily into the area's manufacturing, furnishing production lathes for the making of transmission gears and shafts by "New Process", an automotive gearbox maker in Syracuse, and for other industries. Their floor sanding equipment was heavily built, and was kind of an 'industry standard' for many years in the USA. I am not sure when the move from Syracuse, NY happened. I suspect it occurred when Porter-Cable was purchased and merged into some business conglomerate. I have seen the latest generation of Porter-Cable power tools on sale at places like Lowe's. The corporate address for Porter Cable is (if I recall correctly) Jackson, Tennessee. The current generation of Porter Cable power tools are Chinese made. I've used some of them belonging to friends on various woodworking jobs. These seem like good quality power tools, albeit probably made in the same Chinese factories as a few other old-line US name power tools and maybe some European ones. I make a habit out of picking up and studying the 'old-line name' power tools when I am in places like Lowes or Tractor Supply. Bosch is now having their tools made in China. Even my Metabo cordless drill, while made in Germany, has the Li-ion battery packs and charger made in China. Dewalt gobbled up Black & Decker. Dewalt made their name with the radial arm saw. Black and Decker made their name with electric drills. Now, Black and Decker seems to be focussed on things like plastic coffee makers, and Dewalt seems focussed on power tools and probably has not built a radial arm saw in 50 + years. Dewalt seems to be 'playing the field' for where their power tools are made. I go thru 4 1/2" angle grinders pretty regularly on steel fabrication work. Dewalt is what Tractor Supply sells and seems a good buy. One 4 1/2" angle grinder I had came out of China, one from Mexico, and the latest is from India. The larger Dewalt angle grinders are "US made from US and globally sourced parts" (familiar chorus).

Plainly, none of the old-line US power tool makers is making much, if anything, here in the USA. I always liked the idea that Porter Cable had been a NY State located firm, but it may well be 50 years since they were. A few years back, a neighbor bought a Porter-Cable cutoff saw and 'radial arm saw kit' (or whatever P-C called it) at a yard sale. It had seen little, if any use. It was vintage 1950's, polished die-cast metal casings, plenty of machined steel parts on the 'radial arm saw' adapter. It was a heavy saw to hang onto, but well made. I believe that saw and the radial arm saw kit with it were built in Syracuse, NY.

In my own tools, I have an old Black and Decker 7" angle grinder. 1960's or early 1970's. All metal housings, still a good old tool that I run flexible abrasive discs with.
Another old-line power tool maker that comes to mind is "Sioux". They made a variety of power tools, including angle grinders, drills, recip saws (air driven), as well as automotive service tools including valve and valve-seat grinding equipment. I wonder if Sioux still exists, or is there 'in name only' like so many other old line firms.
Rockwell bought Porter-Cable in the mid-to-late 1960s (IIRC), and introduced the "too cheap to repair" portable power tool shortly thereafter. Rockwell also dropped the P-C name, replacing it with the Rockwell name.

Homebuilders in the San Francisco Bay area were buying the $US 9 Rockwell drill motors by the dozen, while homeowners were buying them one at a time.

At about the same time, Black and Decker bought DeWalt and quickly introduced el cheapo radial arm saws based on B&D hardware and manufacturing technology to replace the DeWalt designs.

In trying to compete with at the bottom end of the market with Rockwell's "disposable" drill motors and, at the upper end of the market, destroying DeWalt's reputation as a builder of exceptionally good products, B&D figuratively shot themselves in the foot.

Sales of all three quality-levels of B&D portable power tools plunged. In response, B&D dropped out of the radial arm saw business entirely, and tried to rebuild their reputation at the homeowner level. They were fairly successful, but sales of their top-of-the-line tools never recovered.

After a few years, B&D decided that they needed to disguise their high-end tools in some way. And, since the original DeWalt line of radial arm saws was still very well regarded, B&D decided to gamble that their trashing of the DeWalt brand had been largely forgotten. The reversed the yellow-print-on-black color scheme of the B&D Industrial tools, to black-print-on-yellow casings, and sold a supposedly-all-new lineup of DeWalt industrial-grade portable power tools "manufactured by DeWalt".

A couple decades later, after the Stanley Tools / Black and Decker merger, the reputation of the DeWalt brand was rehabilitated enough that Stanley / Black and Decker gambled on using the DeWalt name of non-powered hand tools. That gamble has obviously been successful.

And that's the story as I heard and remember it.
I’ve got “ DeWalt “ power tools for home use and I think they’re good value for money. Even for industrial use I would expect them to be ok just as long as you don’t abuse them. Lots of places over here still use compressed air tools although getting good ones is becoming harder and harder. I had a little air powered “ Dotco “ die grinder for about 30 years, I couldn’t wear it out, just changed the vanes now and again. Try getting one as good now.

Regards Tyrone.
I've got a DeWalt hammer/standard drill/driver that is at least 25 years old. I also have a newer one that I got maybe 15 years ago, basically to get new batteries, as the kit was cheaper than batteries.

Both are still working fine, with medium to heavy home use. The new batteries are assembled with screws, and have been each rebuilt twice (they are NiCd, which I prefer).

Nothing to complain about on either of them. The older one works a little better than the new, but I like the newer chuck better. If that is the crappy DeWalt, I'd buy more of it.
I have a vintage DeWalt radial arm saw, from the DeWalt-AMF days, in my shop. It is built exceptionally well, machined parts, iron castings, and the green 'spatter-dash' factory paint job. It was considered as a 'home shop' tool in the 1950's. It has the same quality as the heavier/larger DeWalt radial arms saws we had on heavy construction jobs for cutting form lumber. Years ago, I met a man down in Florida who had been raised in Pennsylvania. He told me that when he was a high school student in PA, he'd had Mr. DeWalt as a woodworking shop teacher. This fellow said his shop teacher had the idea for the radial arm saw and developed it and patented it.

I've found the DeWalt angle grinders, regardless of where they are made, seem to hold up well to my using them on welding and steel fabrication work. The first one I bought lasted a few years and when the switch went south, I figured it did not pay to repair it. I had used it hard with zero maintenance, and for 70 bucks and maybe 3 years or hard use, it did not owe me anything.

Black and Decker was quite the power tool builder 'back in the day'. One of the founders of B & D (the 'Black" of B & D, if I remember right) had his name and a photo of the hydroelectric plant on his estate appearing in the "Fitz" waterwheel catalog. Mr. Black is listed as "the largest maker of electric drills" (or words to that effect).

I remember the old B & D power tools were all made with die-cast metal casings, and they were all 'contractor grade'. Another brand of power tool that is history is "Mall". When I was in maybe 1st grade, my father found a Mall cutoff saw that had been thru a Lumberyard fire. Dad fished it out of the debris and junk at the site of the fire. Dad went to the Mall factory branch down in lower Manhattan (getting there by subway after work), and got the parts to rebuild that saw. Dad and I sat at the table with newspaper spread out and he took me thru the rebuild of the saw. New field winding, new armature, new brushes and new brush caps, new wiring in the motor (which Dad soldered with his "American Beauty" electric soldering iron), new bearings, new switch, new line cord, new spring for the blade guard, and pack the gearcase with grease. That Mall saw was a powerful beast and Dad cut a lot of framing lumber doing an alteration to our house. Unfortunately, a thief got into our basement shop one night and cleaned us out of power tools. Dad never had another cutoff saw that equalled the ruggedness and beef of that old Mall saw. I use a Milwaukee (about 35 years old that I bought new, still US Made) cutoff saw, and a Milwaukee 3/8" low-geared single speed drill I bought new in 1973 (a real wrist breaker). I gave away a Skil 3/4" electric drill, made in the early 50's. The kind of drill that uses a piece of 1" screwed pipe for a 'holdback' bar. After busting or bending too many turned-shank drill bits and wrassling with the Skil drill once too often, I gave it away to a guy doing timber framing. He will run ship's auger bits with it, and was happy to get it. Another prized Skil tool around these parts is an original Skil worm drive cutoff saw. These used to turn up at yard sales. A buddy of mine has a 10" worm drive Skil saw from the year 1. I used it once to cut some heavy framing timber, and once was enough. Back 50 or 60 years ago, Skil, like Black and Decker, built 'real' power tools, and included electric demolition hammers and rotary hammer drills. The Skil name nowadays is just a name applied to tools made in China. Skil hasd apparently been making something of a come-back for heavy contractor's power tools. They have re-introduced worm drive cutoff saws, and have an absolute monster for timber framers called the "Sawsquatch". They also have a version with a multiple-row saw chain and bar for cutting mortises in timber framing. Nice to see Skil getting back to the kind of power tools they used to build, albeit in China instead of Chicago.
"Syracuse was a major industrial city in NY State..."

Hey Joe, they still are!

John Garner:

I've perused the 'alloy artifacts' site many times. Quite interesting to learn the history on old-name and just plain old hand tools. One name that always stuck out in my mind was 'Vlchek'. Dad left me a pair of Vlcheck water pump pliers, along with pairs of Kraueter and Boker lineman's pliers, and a bunch more old hand tools. My late uncle served in the US Army Signal Corps in WWII. He brought home his tool kit and when he died, it passed to me. Amongst the tools are a neat pair of 'vacuum grip' ignition pliers (minature water pump pliers) and a Scholler adjustable wrench (made in Buffalo, NY). Another interesting name is H.K. Porter. This firm, located in Pittsburgh, PA, is best known for bolt cutters and electric cable connector crimpers. Porter started off also building smaller locomotives, steam and diesel-electric.

When I lived and worked in Ohio (1975-6) on a nuclear powerplant construction project, I rented a small house from an older couple. The man had been a 'steam hammer forge man' at Herbrand Tool. My landlord and I got on famously. He was fairly deaf and as punchy as an old prize fighter from years running steam drop hammers. He told me Herbrand forged parts for equipment makers such as Galion (road rollers, cranes, graders, since absorbed into some other larger conglomerate). I have a few ancient Herbrand wrenches in my tools, and always think of my landlord. A few years back, on a job up in Buffalo, we were driving thru the streets and came on the remains of the old "Barcalo" factory buildings. Barcalo made adjustable wrenches and, in a totally odd twist of things, made reclining chairs - the ever popular "Barcalounger". I look at names like Utica and Crescent, once NY based independent manufacturers of fine hand tools, and the king of the hill (at least in NY State for hand tool manufacturers): J.H. Williams. Now, the names may remain, if that much, owned by conglomerates like the "Cooper Group" or Stanley, and tools are made in China more often than not, still under the old names. I was astounded recently enough to see an adjustable wrench with the 'spud' end (used to line up bolt holes in erecting structural steel) with the Williams name, for some very low price. Sure enough and sadly enough: Chinese made.

I look at old beat up tools at the few yard sales I stop at (I am tooled up, we have everything we need in our household in doubles, triples and quadruplicate). If I see good old tools from US makers, I try to buy them if the tools are usable. One tool company that still exists and still produces US made tools is "Warwood"- a maker of sledge hammers, heavy pinch bars, and railroad track work tools as well as wood splitting mauls. I have a Warwood 8 lb maul that I split a lot of cordwood with. At a yard sale years ago, I found some 'Wagnerware"- US made cast iron cookware. Never used, a little rusty, so 50 cents per piece for iron skillets and a good sized dutch oven with lid. At that same sale, I fo und an "Atha" (a division of Stanley tool, made blacksmith tools as well as splitting mauls) 6 lb splitting maul head, handle broken off, but otherwise in good shape. 50 cents. I showed my son how to remove a busted handle from a hammer or maul head, and how to 'hang' a wood handle. He was a little guy then, and he and I would have a great time splitting cordwood, laughing and working out in the cold air. A family friend gave my son a present of a youth's axe, made by the original Snow and Neeley, in Maine. Snow and Neeley went out of business, then the name was bought and abused by being stuck on junk axes made in China, and finally the name was bought by (supposedly) an Amish family who brought production and quality back to the name . Another old maker of axes and similar was Collins, originally in Collinsville, Connecticut, now existing made overseas. I have an ancient box of NOS 'Collins House Axes', never used, probably something my heirs can figure what to do with. In my blacksmith shop I have a mess of Atha tools- hammers, swages, fullers, flatters, and tongs, as well as a few Warwood sledges and a "Plomb" sledge. At yard sales, if I see old hammer or axe heads, or the same with loose or split wood handles, I usually buy them. Clean them up, hang new handles in them and give them to my nephews and other young people who appreciate good hand tools. I take a piece of bent welding rod and heat it up and brand the recipient's initials into the handle, and finish the handle by scraping with a scraper made from a piece of busted power hacksaw blade. A little linseed oil on the handle and head completes the job. I get quite a nice lift by giving good tools to the younger people in my life who appreciate the tools as well as "Uncle Joe".

We did a job a few weeks back to straighten some heavy steel brackets for a steam locomotive's front steps. These were about 1 1/4" thick x 6" wide steel, twisted all to hell in a derailment years ago. It was a rainy day when my bro and two volunteers arrived at my house with the brackets and a few sacks of smithing coal. We went out to my smith shop and I laid a fire in the forge hearth. One 'strike anywhere' match, and crank the blower by hand. No electricity in the smith shop. The younger volunteers had never seen a forge, let alone turned a hand blower. I built up a heavy coke fire, using a sprinkler dipper made from a tomato can to control the size of the fire and help the coking. I 'read' things right as far as pulling the steel from the fire. It took two of us to handle it, and we had it at just below a welding heat. 60 ot 70 lbs of hot steel went onto the anvil, and I had the youngest volunteer hold the flatter where I told him to, another guy who knew how to swing the sledge was the striker. We straightened both brackets, nice and flat and restored the 90 degree bends. The younger volunteers were initially a bit intimidated when the large hunks of orange-red hot steel came out of the forge. When the wood handle of the flatter began to smoke, they were even more awed by the whole thing. The younger volunteers could not get over the fact we did the job without the use of any sort of powered tools or machinery, and did it by using eyes and senses. I showed them the 'Atha' horseshoe logo on the tools and the "Warwood" logo and explained these were what quality US made tools used to be about. We handled the hot steel using a Williams spud wrench stuck in a bolt hole at one end, and smith tongs on the other end, two of us hefting the steel onto the anvil with me calling out how to position it and where to place the flatter and telling the striker when to whale away. It was a nice experience for everyone, and a chance for the younger hands to see what simple hand tools and basic skills can do. Even my forge was rescued from a junkyard where it had sat for ages, sunk into the mud, but salvageable. A 30" x 40" Champion forge with nice deep cast iron fire pot and Champion hand blower which I had to rebuild. The blacksmith shop is made of lumber from trees logged by friends and cut into framing and board lumber in their own sawmills. It is a nice old timey shop and a nice retreat, and I make good use of my smithing tools. Some are factory made, and a number are hand forged, either by unknown smiths, or by me as I needed them.
A bit of trivia about those Crescent-type adjustable wrenches with hole-alignment-"spud" handles. The story as I heard from Jack Licht, one of the salesmen at Western Hardware and Tool Company in San Francisco in 1972 or thereabouts:

The spud-handle adjustable was conceived by one of the maintenance guys who worked on the San Francisco - Oakland Bay Bridge. He made a welded-together version for his own use by welding an adjustable wrench head to (IIRC) an "American Bridge" style spud handle, and started using it at work.

Several of his coworkers saw, liked, and copied his idea, but one of them had a bad weld . . . resulting in an on-the-job injury.

In the aftermath of that injury, the Bridge Safety people prohibited use of homemade tools.

The guys who had been using the homemade tools grumbled enough about not being able to use their adjusjable-spud wrenches that their supervisor took the original model to Western Hardware and asked about having similar wrenches made as custom items.

Western Hardware at that time was one of the biggest Proto distributors in the U S, so Western Hardware's owner, Ozzie I-forget-his-last-name, asked Proto about having some made.

Proto pooh-poohed the idea, as not commercially feasible, and set the prototype wrench back to Western Hardware.

Ozzie put the prototype on his desk and left it there, for its owner to pick up. A few weeks later, the wrench was still setting on Ozzie's desk when the Klein factory rep came in for a visit.

The Klein rep picked up the prototype, and played with it a couple of minutes before asking Ozzie about it.

Ozzie told the wrench's story, and and the Klein guy asked if he could take the wrench to Chicago.

Ozzie said yes.

A few days later, the Klein rep called Ozzie and told him that Klein's owners loved the idea and were negotiating with J H Williams (Klein's OEM for adjustable wrenches) about price, quantity, and delivery.

Williams didn't plan to offer those wrenches under their own brand, as like Proto, they did not see profit in them.

As it turned out, Klein ordered several lots of those wrenches from Williams before William's started selling them under their own name.

Coincidentally, Klein introduced their hook-handle "tie wire" model side-cutting plier at about the same time as the spud-adjustable wrench. Both of those tools have been widely copied by Klein's competitors over the fifty years since then.

In the early 1970's, on powerplant construction jobs, I recall ironworkers have the home-made adjustable spud wrenches. The accepted way to make one was to cut off a heavy adjustable wrench and cut off a spud wrench for the tapered 'spud' portion. Both portions were then ground out to weld bevels and were welded (usually) with E 309L stainless electrode. The ironworkers knew that welding with a carbon steel filler metal such as E 7018 was almost guaranteed to crack due to the higher carbon content in the tool steels. The downside to the E 309L stainless steel filler metal is that it does not have the tensile strength of the heat-treated carbon/alloy steels used in the wrench parts. The other prevailing thinking was the DIY adjustable spud wrenches were used for making up 'soft bolting' to first pull connections together, or were used to pull up the 'hard bolting' sufficient to hold the connection. The final tightening was referred to as 'rattling up' by the ironworkers and was done using air impact wrenches. With those lines of thinking, management let the ironworkers keep on using their DIY adjustable spud wrenches. Or, on a nuclear powerplant construction site with over 1000 men in the various crafts at work, who was going to chase up onto the high steel to see what the ironworkers were using for
wrenches ? The ironworkers on the jobsites were a rough bunch to begin with, and not too many people in management were going to get into an argument or confrontation with the ironworkers.

The DIY adjustable spud wrench matter did come to a head when there was a fatality. This was in the pre-OSHA and pre-fall protection days. Ironworkers wore their safety belts with rope lanyards. Most of them were not in the habit of tying or choking the lanyard around the steel, and the belt served solely as a tool belt. Ironworkers could be heard some distance away if they were walking on the jobsite. They had a few spud wrenches, a short handled sledge hammer, a 'sleever bar' (a 30" long pry bar with a tapered drift on one end, pry on the other), and a bolt bag. Their tools jangled distinctively as they walked around the site. The lanyard was often removed from their belts. I remember discussing the matter with some of the ironworkers and got the following answers: the lanyard is a pain in the a-- to use when you are moving around on the steel.... if an ironworker gets to depending on the lanyard and his belt to stop him from falling, he won't be as careful, alert, etc....

The story with the DIY adjustable spud wrench and the fatality was this: the ironworker made his DIY adjustable spud wrench. He was making up bolting that was just beyond the range of the adjustable wrench jaw opening. He then took a die grinder and made one more tooth on the rack on the wrench's moveable jaw. Up on the iron, he opened the wrench to its new/increased maximum and put it on a nut. He pulled on the wrench to tighten the nut. The extra tooth on the jaw's rack had the jaw over-extended from the wrench body. The moveable jaw gave way. The ironworker went backwards off the steel and fell to his death. That was when management started cracking down on the DIY adjustable spud wrenches. At the time, if Klein was offering the adjustable spud wrenches, no one on the jobsites knew about it. Maybe the whole matter pre-date Klein bringing those wrenches into their product line.

As for the wearing of safety/tool belts: the belt and the rope lanyard were a whole other issue. Once OSHA mandated fall protection came into being, the use of body harnesses rather than belts was required. I remember going thru training in 'fall protection' and getting certified as a climber (to go up on the steel). My harness. lanyards and soft stop devices were replaced on a regular basis, whether or not it had seen me take a fall wearing it. We were told that the old ironworker's belts might save a life if a man were falling. However, the body was restrained by only the belt and there was little to no real shock absorbing in the lanyard rope. The result was men who did fall wearing the belts and using their lanyards survived but usually had some serious internal injuries due to the concentration of force at the belt and the lack of any shock absorbing in the lanyard. On one powerplant job, an ironworker lost his life due to his lanyard. The coroner's inquest found that the ironworker's lanyard had been partially burned and melted (synthetic rope lanyard) by weld slag. When the ironworker took the fall off the steel, he took the slack out of the lanyard. The shock load and the localized damage from the hot weld slag on the lanyard caused the lanyard to part.

Working on the powerplant jobsites in the 70's, it was almost expectable that there would be fatalities. I was fortunate in that I never had anyone working in my charge wind up with anything worse than some lacerations, simple fractures, or back injuries. I remember the DIY adjustable spud wrenches quite well. I owned a Klein adjustable spud wrench years ago, but when my vehicle was broken into, my tools (and that wrench) were stolen. Never replaced that particular wrench. Miss it from time to time.
I've been mentally chewing on the difference(s) between "American Bridge pattern" and the older "industry standard pattern" spud for a few days now, and it's apparently buried farther back in memory than I can reach.

The likely suspects are 1) single "straight" taper vs dual taper on the spud, or 2) shorter handle to reduce knee-banging when hanging from the belt. Maybe both? Some other dufference?
John Garner:

Interesting sidenote in your post # 94. I never knew American Bridge had their own pattern of spud wrench. I am unclear as to what 'single straight taper' vs 'dual taper' on the spud refers to. In my time in heavy construction, we ordered spud wrenches by the size wrench required, and either Armstrong or Williams, or a few other firms made them.

I know the bigger firms doing field erecting often had tools made by vendors to their design. Chicago Bridge and Iron ( CBI) was, at one time, perhaps the biggest builder and erector of large storage tanks (and the "Horton Sphere" spherical tanks). CBI used to have runs of drift pins, and other hardware used by field boilermakers to put plate steel tank work together made by vendors. When CBI arrived on a jobsite, it was like the circus coming to town. Their rigs paraded in, and at the tank erecting site (usually a large circular area, the footprint of the tank), tools and material were offloaded in precise locations. This made for next to no double handling. CBI would drop off 55 gallon drums of things like wedges and key plates to be used in lining up the edges of the plates on tank work. By the 1970's, when I started my career as a mechanical engineer, CBI's title was misleading. They were almost exclusively a tank shop. No bridge building. I learned a great deal from their boilermaker foreman on my first job.

American Bridge was a division of US Steel. They were similar to CBI as being one of the biggest, if not the biggest structural steel fabrication and erecting firms. Their work was not limited to bridges but included high rise building framing. They would have been big enough to order wrenches made to their design.

When I worked for Bechtel, my first employer out of engineering school, Bechtel was either number 1 or close to it amongst the largest heavy construction firms in the world. Bechtel, mainly to prevent theft, used to order tools made with their logo integrally on them. I remember seeing aluminum chainfalls with the Bechtel logo cast right onto the coverplate for the chainwheel. Adjustable wrenches were ordered in such bulk that Bechtel's name and logo were on the web of the wrench handle. Bechtel had all their welding lead made with yellow insulation, yellow being one of their 'company colors'. As if that was not enough, they had the Bechtel name embossed in the insulation every couple of feet. Regular welding lead typically has black insulation.Bechtel bought their cutting outfits from Victor, and bought them in such bulk quantities that Bechtel's name was cast into the front of the regulator bodies, and on the gauge faces. Nothing special or unique about these tools and equipment, just hoping to discourage theft. It didn't stop much thievary. Bechtel also had a standing order with 'Uniroyal' for foul weather gear, and the rain jackets all had the Bechtel logo (the Bechtel name across a globe of the earth) in large red print across the chest. When I was on a nuke job in Connecticut for Bechtel in 1973, we were close enough to NYC to get the NY "Daily News", a tabloid newspaper. A front page photo appeared of fans in the stands attending some big league sporting event down in New York City on a wet day. The caption read that a number of seats had been set aside for welfare recipients (or maybe they phrased it more delicately). In that front page photo, clear as day, the fans were wearing Bechtel foul weather gear. Stamping or printing logos on tools, equipment or foul weather gear did not slow anyone down in liberating it for their own use.

I've got a few spud wrenches and a sleever bar (made by Owatonna Tool or OTC) along with a pail of assorted drift pins from the various jobs. Nothing special pattern about any of it. The ironworkers and boilermakers referred to the drift pins as "bull pricks". When making up connections on structural steel (which some ironworkers referred to as 'points'), the spud wrench tapered handles went in first to hold the connection in rough position. Then, it might be the sleever bar to use more leverage to get things into better alignment. If the holes were still not quite lined up, the next step was to drive in a drift. The ironworkers carried drifts (which had a flanged big end to allow carrying in a loop on their belts), and a short handled sledge for this purpose. I use the drifts, spuds and sleever bar occasionally, even in 'retirement'.

What used to happen on some of the jobs, if you were there at the end of it, was the disposal of the tools and equipment. The big stuff like cranes, trucks, welders, compressors and similar was dispatched to either storage/maintenance yards, or sent to other jobsites where it was needed. There was so much work 'on the books' with powerplants being built all over the USA, so that sending equipment to an auction lot was almost unheard of. The small stuff like tools and some of the chainfalls, comealongs, drill motors, welding supplies and the like were often considered as a writeoff. They had been bought for the job, and were often considered as 'fully depreciated', or simply not worth the effort to inventory and move to the next site. The small stuff was usually a hodge-podge between crews' gang boxes by job's end. Mismatched wrenches from different sets, air tools, hose whips, compressed air hose, abrasive wheels (usually worn about halfway down), welder's files, sledges, pinch bars, tangled up cutting outfit hose and welding lead, drills, pipe taps, pipe wrenches, a few cable slings, shackles, hammers, lead cords, cans of pipe dope, never seez, rope, pipe fittings, bolts, gaskets... it was all in the gang boxes in no particular order, often in a tangled mess. In some cases, the client (power company, usually) would send some of their people to pick over the stuff that was written off against the job. After that, anything left often went into the scrap heap, and on some smaller sites, was literally buried. I remember on one site, the power company guys looked at all the Victor cutting outfit stuff and said "we only use Airco". Did not want to mix and match or risk their crews being on a job and having the wrong tips for a torch or similar. So, we picked thru the pile of Victor cutting outfit stuff and instead of scrap or burial, it went home. Same with some of the chainfalls and comealongs. The outfit said it did not pay to ship used comealongs and falls, too much expense to service and load test, so the order was to smash them, cut the chains with a torch, and put them in the scrap pile. A few chainfalls and comealongs escaped that fate. In those days, property removal passes were issued rather freely, and it was often easier to let people pick over the piles of small stuff left at job's end than go through channels to transfer it to the client or re-inventory it for dispatch for re-conditioning and re-use. The gang boxes were to be moved out for re-use, but the contents were often dumped in a heap and made for good pickings. Different times when there were new powerplants (both nuke and fossil) being built all over the USA.

With the passing years, firms I thought were the foundations of US industry like Bethlehem Steel and American Bridge are now history. Not sure what became of Chicago Bridge and Iron. Bechtel still survives, though most of its competitors in their league are long gone. As I write this post, I am reminded of another symbol of a bygone era that is hanging in my shop. It is a longshoreman's baling hook. Dad found it laying in the street on Hamilton Avenue in Brooklyn, in the 1950's. Hamilton Avenue runs along some of the Brooklyn waterfront and piers, and bulk freighters used to tie up there. The longshoreman often would gather at the gates to the piers to be hired in what were called "shape ups". They would gather, some with their baling hooks on their shoulders, handle facing forward. This is a heavy baling hook, forged from good steel and with a hardwood handle. The baling hooks figured as weapons in labor disputes and in waterfront violence. A millwright I worked with years ago recalled seeing a man killed deliberately with a baling hook on the Brooklyn waterfront. Wicked thing when put to the wrong uses. While I have no use for that baling hook, it hangs on my shop wall as a momento of the old Brooklyn waterfront. The spuds and sleever bar and drifts at least see some use by me and are a tie to my early career. I often say that I wish old tools could talk and tell their stories.
I often say that I wish old tools could talk and tell their stories.
Joe -

Another good story and I agree with your closing statement.

Over the years I've accumulated many old tools and machines - many from unknown people and the really old and finely crafted ones make me think. Also the tools that were in my family - a few for many generations. Then there are those of older neighbors - some were old men when I was growing up - that I have gotten at auctions after their deaths. Every time I use one of them it makes me think about how and why they used them, as well as memories of those neighbors. About 15 years ago a friend died - Skip was a very talented man who among other things had worked as a millwright and pipe fitter in the Philadelphia area. He was probably 15 years younger than me. A couple of us helped his widow clear things out and were there at the auction she had. I got a few things that I could use. Then there was the beryllium copper pipe wrench he had screwed to the wall in his shop that the auctioneer called a 'brass' wrench - can't fault him as in these parts I was probably one of the few who recognized what it was. Had to outbid the scrapper bidding against me but it now is screwed on my wall. Skip and I had worked together on many projects at our church and were always telling each other stories. I just wish I had the story that goes with that wrench because there has to be one. Meanwhile it hangs over the anvil in my shop.

JM mentions the HK Porter bolt cutters..........everywhere you go you see the HKP cutters lying about .........but no replacement jaws for them for 50 years......I have a nice set came NOS from the army ......but someone has tried to cut the bead wire of a tire and wrecked the cutters beyond adjustment.

I know many of us have gotten old/used tools from people who passed along more than the tools to us. I think that those of us who appreciate and use old tools also appreciate the people, their stories, and the times they lived and worked with those tools in. Often the old tools are a tie to almost forgotten ways of life, or to people who otherwise would pass into oblivion like windborne chaff. I lost a very good friend to suicide going on 4 years ago. She lived in Omaha, and we had gone thru welding inspector's training together. She had wanted to learn all I could teach her, so I used to send her tools and 'step by step' samples of work she wanted to do in her own shop, with writeups. We went so far as to build up a 'sister' to my own BMW motorcycle, as she wanted to ride a motorcycle just like mine. I rode that bike out to Omaha to deliver it to her, and also to meet her fiance' and his parents and speak up for her. I was supposed to walk her down the aisle and give her away. Unfortunately, that was not to be. Now, the tools I sent her are somewhere spread around the Omaha area. She was battling bipolar mental illness and eventually lost everything she owned and became a drifter before ending her own life. I liken her life and end to the tumbleweed, loess, and chaff that seems to always be blowing around out in parts of the western USA. I got that BMW motorcycle back, and my son rides it, knowing the story of how it came to be and all that went with it. I often wonder if the wood Gerstner chest and tools I sent my friend are intact, with the photos of my wife and I in the 'top till', now in someone else's hands. I wonder if whomever got her tools wonders what their story is, how they came to them and whose hands they had passed through to get there. My friend died and had the shortest death notice I ever read, about two sentences long. I suspect her remains were treated as a "Jane Doe" by the local authorities, which is what she had wanted. I still have a few odd tools that I had put aside for her that never made it out to her when she was herself and doing well in her life and profession.

At this point of my life, I find myself well aware of my own mortality, and realizing that, no matter how much or what a person's life's work is, about 99.9999 % of the time, we all pass into oblivion. Depending on custom, people are buried and monuments of stone are erected to their memories. Eventually, after a few generations, people who had some tie to the persons whose lives were memorialized on those monuments also pass into that same oblivion. Even the stone on some monuments weathers and the inscriptions become indistinct, perhaps readable only by taking a 'rubbing' of the gravestone.

Tools are sometimes a continuum that spreads some bit of knowledge of long-deceased persons far beyond their immediate circle of family and friends. Tools can be some of our legacies if we take younger people under our wings and pass the tools to them while we are capable of using the tools and teaching and imparting not just the tools but often a 'life's lesson" with the tools used symbolically as well as in a practical sense. Taking on a few young people and passing on what we can is one way that our tools will talk for us, as well as for the people we got them from.

Your millwright friend's beryllium copper pipe wrench is likely made by a firm called "Ampco" (same firm that makes bronze alloys used in automotive valve guides).
It is a non-sparking wrench, intended for use in potentially explosive atmospheres such as chemical plants, grain elevators, munitions plants and oil refineries where low-flash point stuff like gasoline or benzene was around. Your friend, coming from the Philadelphia region, could well have worked in some of the big oil refineries located there, or in some of the big chemical plants, or perhaps DuPont (chemicals, explosives). Keeping the wrench on your shop wall memorializes your friend, and I am sure you think of him and perhaps hear his voice when you see that wrench.
I really cherished my tools in my working career. If I lent them to you it was a token of my respect for you. Having said that I either sold them gave them away without a backward glance when I retired. No point having them doing nothing when somebody else can have the benefit.

Regards Tyrone.
I really cherished my tools in my working career. If I lent them to you it was a token of my respect for you. Having said that I either sold them gave them away without a backward glance when I retired. No point having them doing nothing when somebody else can have the benefit.

Regards Tyrone.

I was the recipient of a couple of those. They reside in my basement workshop's Gerstner chest, along with the note you sent along. They accompany tools from a few others I respect and who were good friends along the way. 🙂