Thursday, October 7, 2010

Hey Sheldon, I Think You Forgot Something

This week we embarked on a complete (and long overdue) bathroom renovation project. The contractors were scheduled to start Tuesday morning. I liked the idea of a little head start, so Monday I began the demolition portion of the work. I pulled down all the plaster and removed some of the lath before running out of steam. Tuesday AM the pros showed up and started their day by removing the rest.

While they were at it I jokingly asked if they'd found a coffee can with $10,000.00 in it yet (Because everyone knows the real promise of any one-hundred year old house is the possibility that some batty Silas Marner type stuffed $10,000.00 into a coffee can and hid it in a wall). Obviously they hadn't, but we all had a good chuckle and then went back to work.

Fifteen minutes later though, Ray, the project leader, called me over. He presented an old chisel - about eight inches long and one inch wide - and said "Look what we just found in the wall". Well, it's not $10,000.00 in a coffee can, but I'm smitten with it all the same.

The chisel is a single piece of (presumably) hardened steel. It's amazingly sharp, and has the name SHELDON stamped on it. I'm guessing that's the original chisel owner's name; residing in plain view on the tool as a way to differentiate his chisel from those of others on the crew. I suppose it could be the manufacturer's name, though it doesn't really have the look of a maker's stamp or mark.

It's width (as seen in the accompanying photograph) is a perfect match for the mortises that our door's hinges sink into. My wife, being the consummate history buff, is thrilled to now have in her possession an artifact (albeit a modest one) that's actually linked to the construction of our house.

Personally, being someone who's left his share of tools in under hoods, on ladders, behind sinks, and in crawl spaces, I felt a certain sympathy for Sheldon. Clearly he set down his chisel at some point only to have the plasterers come along, hang lath, and then plaster it into history. Whether he ever realized the chisel's ultimate fate remains a mystery, but finding it now, in the year of our home's centennial celebration, was a real treat.

As a testament to my wife's reverence for the continuity of history she's decided that even if we move the chisel stays with the house. I'm not sure if that means putting it back in a wall at some point, or presenting it to the new owners at closing. I suppose we've got time to decide. There's a bathroom to remodel, and I'm going to want to stay here at least long enough to be able to say I had a chance to enjoy it.


  1. That's a great tale of home stewardship Jeff. I applaud your desire to keep the chisel with the house if and when you do sell. It has been in that wall a long time waiting to see the light of day and perhaps be put back into service. Maybe you or the craftsmen could use it in the remodel project and then whenever it is passed on to the next homeowner they could do the same. And so forth... In this way each new generation of this house's ownership would have a real and tangible connection to those who have worked to add to the beauty and essence of the place. Be well.

  2. Thanks Bill. It really was kind of a neat find, and while our house isn't exactly Monticello, there's a modest history to it that both Tutti and I appreciate. Also, the crew was really impressed by how sharp the thing was!

  3. A little late to the game but I'll throw in my 2p. That's a sash paring socket chisel. Just a guess but it's probably British. Not sure how old your place is but until just before WWI, the best tools came from either Sheffield or Solingen. After the war, American cast steel tooling was the equal of the Continental stuff. The damaged or 'mushroomed' socket is supposed to have a handle gently tapped into it. They alway's fracture from pounding which you shouldn't be doing to a chisel that's supposed to be pushed (hence the term 'paring'). As you found out, they were used for fine tuning the sash adjustments on those olde' windows. Most people just painted them shut and walked away. I've taken square yards of wavy glass out of reclaimed sashes for repro furniture. Too bad the sashes are too small to do anything with. The wood is the straightest pine you'll ever see.