Saturday, November 26, 2011

Information from a sells pitch

Yesterday my wife picked up Stanley Tools Catalogue No 34 for me.  A complete list of Stanley’s tool line from 1937, when they still made tools instead of “tool shaped objects” as the Schwarz calls them.  I stared at the book but didn’t want to spend the money they wanted, well she decided I should have it and I’m very happy she did.  I knew I wanted to look at the pictures of all those strange tools and maybe soak up some information from the descriptions from yesteryear.  However, I am surprised by the different types of information that are given over for thought from this little book.  Everything from social-economic differences in the generations, what tools we need, where we are in American manufacturing, to why do we value what we value. 
This may seem extreme from a silly little catalogue meant to sell stuff, but there is so much there between the lines.  I figured that I would point out five of those things I have pulled from this little book in one evening.  Now these aren’t hashed out here, frankly because I haven’t finished thinking through them.  I simply want to throw them out there for thought and maybe show someone what types of things can be pulled from them; hopefully encouraging other to seek old catalogues, books, and magazines as well."
  1. Did you know that ‘Jack’ Plane is short for ‘Jackass’ Plane; an appropriate name for the Plane that is used for the hardest and roughest kind of work.” –From the description of the jack plane on pg 42.  I have heard a few different reasons for why the jack is so named, but this one is new to me.  Besides the odd description of where the name comes from it tells us something about what the tool was used for then and what tool the used for this rough work.  They also list the number 6 fore plane as “simply a short jointer.”
  2.  A Stanley Bailey number 5 was $5.50, as Bedrock 605 was $5.75.  According to a US Government online inflation calculator $.25 in 1937 is the same as $3.93 in 2011.  That’s right, less than a $4 difference between a run of the mill jack and a Bedrock in today’s money.  The descriptions also don’t tote the Bedrock as some super superior tool either, simply that you can adjust the mouth without removing the iron.  Why then is a 605 more than $100 more than a 5 today? 
  3.  A number 750 chisel ranged from $1.05 up to a $1.85 for a 2” monster.  That’s $16.51 to $29.09 in today’s dollars.  Now I will grant that the quality tools today are built to a higher standard than they were then, but do you think you can get a Lie-Nielsen 750 replica chisel for $16.51?  Why is this?
  4.  On page 6 of the catalog there is a list of the essential list of tools for the hobbyist woodworker, page 7 contains the “Tools to add as needed.”  Now of course they are trying to sell you these tools, but their essential list is surprisingly short and even contains items that Stanley didn't sell.  More importantly is the tools they chose to add, and what they chose to leave off.  I’m not going to go into what tools make the list here, but it gives a lot to think about.
  5.  “Be sure you get good tools. We cannot emphasize this too strongly.  The long life of a quality tool makes it decidedly more economical.”  -From page 6, information to new hobbyist.  This statement was made by the largest tool manufacturer of the time.  The largest tool maker was making tools that last lifetimes.  You could apparently get cheaply made tools it seems, but most of the tools on the market were made well, seem opposite of now to anyone?

1 comment:

  1. It's because the cost of keeping the factory open and running has to be spread out over each sale and there just aren't that many sales.

    Back in the day, many people owned these items and probably companies made more items than just these. The cost was spread out over more items, so each item bore less.

    It's not like the industry hasn't noticed that woodworkers assign greater value to these planes. Lei Valley's prices are nothing compared to the bespoke planes made by small companies available elsewhere where each one is the hand tool equivalent of a Bentley. People still pay for them because this is a hobby, where discretionary income goes and people LIKE to pay outrageous sums to acquire (arguably) rare levels of excellence. It makes them feel good in the way that you feel good when you own something exclusive; it's the collector's impulse.

    It's amusing to me that I can buy a perfectly excellent second hand Ridgid jointer and a second machine,a 16 inch planer with about 500 times the amount of technology, materials, design cost, shipping and distribution costs and effective speed for the same price I can a one Lie Nielson jointer hand plane.

    Just guess where my money went.

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