Interviews with some of the volunteers…..
We are lucky to have been joined by a great bunch of volunteers who are really committed to the project, and hail from all sorts of backgrounds. Some, very usefully, have a sound knowledge of hand tools. We are also fortunate to have had a writer and a photographer join us. The writer, Bill Gilson, took some time to ask some of the volunteers their stories. The mini interviews are accompanied here by ‘in action’ portraits taken by photographer Dayve Ward.
©Dayve Ward 2014
How did you get started with this project? I’m a member of a small group of photographers – we call ourselves IPAG – that stands for Independent Photographers Art Group. There are six or seven members who meet in Staveley. A member found out about the project and sent an email to everyone else.
I’m interested in photographing old tools – and other old things. I sometimes make arrangements of them. You quite often see them in drawers and they’re rusting away and sometimes people no longer know what they were for. And they’re interesting to photograph because there’s a lot of texture and shape there – and especially when you show them to blokes, there’s a lot of interest in them. Besides old tools I’m also interested in “times gone by,” and in the fact that in a sad way many old objects have been neglected.
Do you work in color? I work in color, although depending on the image I may convert it to black and white. The interesting thing about this project is that it is taking it from, ‘here’s a load of old tools’ to actually getting these old tools up and running, identifying them, and putting them in use again. And maybe this will help cause a resurgence of some of the old techniques so they won’t be lost. I don’t always know what the tools are. I don’t have a tool collection myself. I have an interest in them at a different level, perhaps.
You don’t necessarily go out and cut things with billhooks. No.
But it’s nice to talk with these people who have worked with the tools. Yes, chatting with people with knowledge of that. And it’s not just old tools, obviously, it’s places as well. This is an on-going thing that I’ve got – I’ve been in old derelict buildings – and in a similar way, you have something that had a glory about it. Like an old forge, for example – you know, 300 years of bashing metal – now it’s not used but it’s got a history about it. There’s an old Derwent pencil factory in Keswick and I chatted to the guy and said do you mind if I go down there and photograph it. I’m interested in all the old textures – I’m heavily interested in that side of things.
You mean the beauty of it. Well, a lot of people maybe don’t see the beauty. They think, “oh gosh, that’s falling apart”. But I’m thinking, “actually that’s really nice.” It’s sad it’s falling apart but I can capture it and get an interesting image. And then if it’s cleaned up afterward – whether it’s an old tool or a factory, I think that’s brilliant.
Lives in Great Salkeld.
Owner of the company Woodland Inspirations.
What is Woodland Inspirations? I give advice to people on woodland management and I do that through Cumbria Woodlands. They have something called a “Woodlands Advisory Scheme” and I’m one of their advisors. They get people phoning in and asking for someone to help them with their woodlands. What are their objectives? Are they keen on coppicing, or firewood, or just an area to play in? I advise them on how to achieve what they want.
How did you get interested in Walter’s Tools? Just recently I started doing some woodworking myself – green-woodworking. I happen to live on an estate and there are so many pieces of green wood that I can use. I have a shaving horse and a draw knife.
What kinds of things are you making? I’ve been on a spoon-making course, and I’ve been on a rustic bench-making course, which was great.
Have you learned about sharpening? On purpose I haven’t tried to sharpen, thinking I’ll come here and possibly learn about sharpening while working on the tools.
So this project is helping you get closer to tools – and how to treat them and fix them. Yes, while we are fixing these old tools. Next time I might bring my tool box and my tools. I’ve got an axe that needs to be sharpened. And I’ve got a straight knife and a curved knife.
Lives in Storth. Retired, IT.
Have you had some experience in your past with tools that drew you to this project? Yes. It’s from growing up, my dad was always making things, fixing things, just generally using tools. My dad was a mechanic and coach builder. He made wagons and trucks.
Did you have a workshop in the house? Yes, there was always a workshop. And as a child I used to help my dad sort his tools out. And sort the nuts and bolts.
Probably helping him sharpen? Oh, yes. And I’ve always made things, right from when I was very young. And now I’ve got a house full of tools at home.
Tools like the ones here – billhooks and that sort of thing? I’ve got all sorts. But I tend to have more woodworking tools – joiner’s tools – chisels, planes, all that sort of thing. But I’ve also got a lot of rural craft tools, green-woodworker’s tools.
Where does your interest in green-woodworking tools come from? Well it has to do with where I grew up in Storth. One of the last of the swill basket makers was in the village, and when we were kids in the fifties on Saturdays we used to go and sit in his workshop, because it was warm. And he was never bothered, he used to let us sit there and watch him make the swill baskets. So when I was an adult, Owen Jones, who now makes swill baskets, he took it over, and he taught courses. I’ve done a couple of them with him. The baskets are made from riven oak – you boil the oak and it gives off this distinctive smell that I remember from when I was a kid.
Previously ran family business,
W.A. Fell Ltd in Windermere.
I understand your family business goes way back? They started in the 1850s, making bobbin machinery for the local bobbin trade. This was a big industry here in the Lakes, using the power of the rivers off the mountains to drive turbines to run the mills. They had the timber here so they used the timber and the power to make bobbins and reels to send down to the Lancashire cotton industry – which is really the start of the British Industrial Revolution. The cotton industry used millions upon millions of reels.
What exactly are these bobbins and reels? A bobbin is really anything that you wind the cotton onto, and it goes onto a loom one way or another. And a reel is just a large bobbin. Every household had cotton reels – for sewing machines. Many of the older people will remember them. They were all made up here in the Lakes. Our company made bobbin-making machines and shuttle-making machines.
What’s a shuttle? Essentially you take a bobbin and wind cotton onto it, and then you put it inside a shuttle, and as the cotton threads are woven the shuttle shoots from one side to another across the cotton threads, weaving the cloth. There is a “picking stick” at each side of the loom which sends the shuttle across at very high speed. The picking stick is made of American hickory with a leather strip on it, and it gets pulled back, bent, and it hits the end of the shuttle, which is made of wood with a metal tip. Now, the faster the shuttle can move, the faster you can weave. A shuttle is made of densified wood.
What’s that? You heat up hard wood with steam, put it in a press, and compress it up to 40 per cent of its original width. They used to do this down in Accrington. It takes about 65 different processes to make a shuttle. When you look at one, you see it’s a work of art. I’ve always been interested in wood, because all our customers used wood. And as an engineer I was used to steel tools. I see that a lot of Walter’s tools were made by quite a few of my customers – Spear and Jackson, Burgon and Ball, all Sheffield tool manufacturers are represented in Walter’s tools. I supplied quite a few of them with machines for making the handles for their steel tools. So I thought that Walter’s tools would be a great project for me in my retirement. Because we’ve all got different skills as volunteers. Some people here are collectors of tools, and we do represent a whole range of different knowledge and interests regarding tools. Together we all add up to Walter. But separate we’re not anything like him.
What brings you to Walter’s Tools as a volunteer? At the museum I work on essentially a variety of cataloguing projects, but because of my interest in traditional crafts and my role in the HCA, and a very understanding boss, I’ve managed to wangle it so that I do a lot of work on the craft collections at MERL, where we have over 4000 products and tools.
The reason I’m here is because Sarah contacted the museum earlier in the year – asking if we could put out a call for volunteers – and I heard that it was all about cataloguing tools. That’s essentially what I’ve been doing, so I offered to help. I came up at the beginning of March and we discussed various ways of cataloguing and what is important to record.
What I particularly like about this project is the way in which it is different from working in a museum, where the stuff comes in and it just sits there on a shelf forever. Which, to me, despite my working in a museum, is not really very good. What I like is that these tools are being refurbished so that they can be used to pass on craft skills. In our collection at the museum we have a lot of brown and rusty things. These tools here are also brown and rusty but they’re not going to be brown and rusty forever.
To me, what’s important is not preserving that object, it’s kind of preserving the function. Putting a new handle on it or refurbishing the blade, from a museum perspective it’s kind of a sacrilege, but for me what you’re actually trying to preserve is the use of the tool, and you can’t use it if the tool is rusty and the handle’s split.
Lives in Morecambe. Retired. Originally taught woodworking. Studied with Edward Barnsley (1900-1987), renowned British furniture maker.
How did you hear about Walter’s Tools? I do what’s called the “Men in Sheds,” we refurbish tools at AgeUK. Graham Fell put it round at the shed. I heard it from him first hand.
You like working with hand tools? Oh yes. Well, I suppose I like making things, really. My father’s family had a woodworking-funeral directing business in Bolton many long years ago. My dad was a joiner. Fathers say never go into the business that I’m in, so I kind of ran parallel to it, and taught.
They often go together in England, don’t they – joiners and funerals?Yes. They used to make the coffins in the workshop. They don’t do that any more. The coffins come from the manufacturer, I suppose on-line
Do you have a workshop at home? Oh yes.
With power tools? Yes, that’s the reason we bought the house – it was almost derelict but it has a couple of garages and a car port, so I can store timber and have machines under cover.
What are you working on now? The house needs bringing into the twenty-first century.
Retired. Lives in Preston.
Originally from Northumberland.
Sold second-hand tools.
You’re here in connection with tools, and you know Walter. But how did you happen to hear about this project? I saw it in the paper. I answered the email and then I got talking with Sarah and she said, “Do you know a bit about tools?” and I said, “Well, most of the stuff Walter’s got he bought it off me.”
So you sold old tools? Years ago I was a drain cleaner at ICI. Then this job came up as part-time work study officer – timing people doing jobs. I did that for a long time, and I got made redundant. So I started selling old brass ware at the different markets. That turned out to be a waste of time, so I put an add in the local paper, “Old tools wanted.” People phoned up from all over the place. I’d give them a price to see if I was going to make a profit. I made a good living, oh yes. Selling tools in Kendal Market. Now there’s a glut on tools and no one’s selling tools in the markets any more.
So what do you think about this project? I think it’s good but I think they’re wasting their time with a lot of the tools. There must be 30 or 40 augers, they’re cleaning each one, they don’t need to do that!
Well at least the augers won’t get melted down. They have to oil them. Last week they said, “Could we wrap them in newspapers?” and I said “no, the print on the newspaper will go onto the tool.” I don’t know why Walter had so many billhooks, you can only use one at a time.
Maybe he just liked to collect billhooks. When he used to come to my stall he’d say “How much is this?” And I’d say “Two pounds,” and he’d say, “no, no, not two pounds to me,” and I’d say, “a pound,” and he’d say, “just chuck that axe in as well … ” That’s how he got so much stuff.
He’s got quite a good memory, though. They keep asking him where he got this from, where he got that from. And he remembers. Now, that side axe – he told me he bought that side axe for twenty pence at a car boot sale, which you would do because nobody knows what a side axe is.