written by:
photos by:
March 23, 2010

I was a carpenter and architectural woodworker in Northern California for 12 years before sidestepping into a related writing, photography, and editing career in 1988. I’ve also been swinging a hammer between keystrokes lately to help make ends meet. After all, when media work gets scarce, there’s always a fence to mend, a wall that needs a window, a door that doesn’t “click.”

 

It never fails that, as I perform my rituals to prepare for carpentry, such as sharpening plane irons and lubing gears, I see tools as something more than merely form following function. If only for a moment, I see art, animated by timeless design, world geography, and memories—every bit as riveting as the architecture and furnishings it helps to create. I envision, at the very least, photos of these and other tools populating dwellings, coffee shops, and boardrooms, not to mention The Museum of Modern Art. Here’s a glimpse of some of my photogenic favorites.

The oldest scientific artifact inside the Caltech Archives in Pasadena, California, is an Egyptian plumb bob that’s estimated to be 2,500 to 3,500 years old. It’s made of an igneous rock called diorite with a bronze ring attached. My contemporary Stanley
The oldest scientific artifact inside the Caltech Archives in Pasadena, California, is an Egyptian plumb bob that’s estimated to be 2,500 to 3,500 years old. It’s made of an igneous rock called diorite with a bronze ring attached. My contemporary Stanley 16-ounce plumb bob is solid brass with a replaceable hardened-steel tip. Basically a pointed weight on a string that uses gravity to establish or confirm true vertical, its high density and sleek figure help it summarily dismiss the wind.
Photo by 
1 / 27
The best carpentry levels, including this spirit-and-electronic hybrid, are made by Stabila Messgeräte in Annweiler am Trifels, Germany, which is located on the enchanting Southern Wine Route. Stabila’s factory is less than a mile from Trifels Castle, whe
The best carpentry levels, including this spirit-and-electronic hybrid, are made by Stabila Messgeräte in Annweiler am Trifels, Germany, which is located on the enchanting Southern Wine Route. Stabila’s factory is less than a mile from Trifels Castle, where the English King Richard the Lionheart was reputedly held hostage in 1193 and 1194.
Photo by 
2 / 27
 The oldest wood-cased pencil in captivity happens to be a carpenter pencil. It was discovered during the renovation of a 17th-century German house and now lives in the Faber-Castell archives in Nuremberg, Germany. Modern carpenter pencils—a common promot
The oldest wood-cased pencil in captivity happens to be a carpenter pencil. It was discovered during the renovation of a 17th-century German house and now lives in the Faber-Castell archives in Nuremberg, Germany. Modern carpenter pencils—a common promotional freebie at lumberyards and trade shows—are strikingly similar. The pencils are stronger than standard hexagonal ones, don't roll or easily blow away, and have a rectangular lead that can be sharpened with a utility knife to a durable chisel point.
Photo by 
3 / 27
Stanley’s ergonomic No. 199 cast-aluminum utility knife, complete with fleur-de-lis, was introduced in 1936 for cutting fiberboard. It’s still the most popular knife for ripping drywall panels.
Stanley’s ergonomic No. 199 cast-aluminum utility knife, complete with fleur-de-lis, was introduced in 1936 for cutting fiberboard. It’s still the most popular knife for ripping drywall panels.
Photo by 
4 / 27
Folding or zigzag rules were indispensable to American carpenters and woodworkers right up until self-retracting pocket tapes measured up in the mid 20th century. Some of us still use 6-foot folding extension rules, which add a sliding 6-inch extension fo
Folding or zigzag rules were indispensable to American carpenters and woodworkers right up until self-retracting pocket tapes measured up in the mid 20th century. Some of us still use 6-foot folding extension rules, which add a sliding 6-inch extension for taking inside measurements where absolute precision is required. I bought this hard-maple Lufkin Red End rule in the 1980s, and it’s still in the Lufkin catalog.
Photo by 
5 / 27
The resin-impregnated poplar stock isn’t what makes this Canadian-made Veritas sliding bevel special. It’s the ingenious cast-silicon-bronze cam lock that tucks flush with the stock so it never interferes when gauging angles as some locking mechanisms do.
The resin-impregnated poplar stock isn’t what makes this Canadian-made Veritas sliding bevel special. It’s the ingenious cast-silicon-bronze cam lock that tucks flush with the stock so it never interferes when gauging angles as some locking mechanisms do.
Photo by 
6 / 27
The rafter square—the original carpenters’ calculator—is so complex that H. H. Siegel copyrighted a 47-chapter instructional book about it (titled The Steel Square) in 1957. My contemporary Stanley No. 45-011 aluminum rafter square is shown equipped with
The rafter square—the original carpenters’ calculator—is so complex that H. H. Siegel copyrighted a 47-chapter instructional book about it (titled The Steel Square) in 1957. My contemporary Stanley No. 45-011 aluminum rafter square is shown equipped with Starrett’s classic No. 111 stair gauges, which make it easy to lay out repetitive angles. The faint eagle emblem inscribed on the square’s heel pays tribute to the legendary Eagle Square Manufacturing Company of South Shaftsbury, Vermont, which was officially founded during the 1840s, acquired by Stanley Rule & Level in 1916, and closed in 2002. Bernstein Display now inhabits the building, where it makes mannequins.
Photo by 
7 / 27
I bought this popular General No. 843-1 pencil compass and scriber at a hardware store decades ago for bisecting angles, drawing circles, and scribing trim to fit against irregular surfaces (bending the pin out slightly for easier scribing). You can still
I bought this popular General No. 843-1 pencil compass and scriber at a hardware store decades ago for bisecting angles, drawing circles, and scribing trim to fit against irregular surfaces (bending the pin out slightly for easier scribing). You can still buy an identical new one for just $3.50.
Photo by 
8 / 27
Thanks to its innovative Gravity-Rise stand, a carpenter can take this new Bosch Worksite table saw for a walk, then almost effortlessly raise it into the upright position. The stand was designed by Bosch engineers in Mount Prospect, Illinois.
Thanks to its innovative Gravity-Rise stand, a carpenter can take this new Bosch Worksite table saw for a walk, then almost effortlessly raise it into the upright position. The stand was designed by Bosch engineers in Mount Prospect, Illinois.
Photo by 
9 / 27
Western handsaws cut on the push stroke alone or on the push and the pull. The steel blade has to be thick and springy enough to endure that without buckling. Traditional Japanese handsaws cut on the pull stroke only, and are therefore made of thin, hard,
Western handsaws cut on the push stroke alone or on the push and the pull. The steel blade has to be thick and springy enough to endure that without buckling. Traditional Japanese handsaws cut on the pull stroke only, and are therefore made of thin, hard, and brittle high-carbon steel that holds a razor edge and cuts a smooth, narrow kerf for minimal waste. This handmade Japanese dōzuki-nokogiri saw has a decorative rattan-wrapped wood handle.
Photo by 
10 / 27
Although I bought this crosscut saw and convex flooring saw new in the early 1980s, I consider them souvenirs from the Industrial Revolution. They were made in Sheffield, England, by W. Tyzack Sons & Turner Ltd, which was established in the 19th century t
Although I bought this crosscut saw and convex flooring saw new in the early 1980s, I consider them souvenirs from the Industrial Revolution. They were made in Sheffield, England, by W. Tyzack Sons & Turner Ltd, which was established in the 19th century to make scythes, harrow discs, files, and other steely merchandise. The company dispersed into the corporate ether in the late 1980s.
Photo by 
11 / 27
I admire the aluminum truss that supports the cutting head on my Makita 12-inch sliding compound-miter saw, which was designed in Japan and assembled in Buford, Georgia. It reminds me of cantilever bridges such as Canada’s Pont de Québec (the world’s long
I admire the aluminum truss that supports the cutting head on my Makita 12-inch sliding compound-miter saw, which was designed in Japan and assembled in Buford, Georgia. It reminds me of cantilever bridges such as Canada’s Pont de Québec (the world’s longest cantilever span) and New York’s Tappan Zee.
Photo by 
12 / 27
Made in Rotherham, England, this Stanley No. 92 shoulder/chisel plane was a meaningful going-away present in 1992 from John Lively, the inimitable publisher of Fine Homebuilding magazine.
Made in Rotherham, England, this Stanley No. 92 shoulder/chisel plane was a meaningful going-away present in 1992 from John Lively, the inimitable publisher of Fine Homebuilding magazine.
Photo by 
13 / 27
This white-oak sori-dai-kanna compass plane from Japan and cast-iron Kunz 100 pocket plane from Germany look like a score from the FAO Schwarz toy store in Manhattan, but they’re actually razor-sharp tools for delicate woodworking.
This white-oak sori-dai-kanna compass plane from Japan and cast-iron Kunz 100 pocket plane from Germany look like a score from the FAO Schwarz toy store in Manhattan, but they’re actually razor-sharp tools for delicate woodworking.
Photo by 
14 / 27
Made by E.C. Emmerich in Remscheid, Germany, this Primus Improved Smoothing Plane is yet another tool that I bought almost 30 years ago and could replace with an identical new one today. The sole is a waxy tropical hardwood called lignum vitae, which is s
Made by E.C. Emmerich in Remscheid, Germany, this Primus Improved Smoothing Plane is yet another tool that I bought almost 30 years ago and could replace with an identical new one today. The sole is a waxy tropical hardwood called lignum vitae, which is so tough that it has been used for pulleys and machine bearings.
Photo by 
15 / 27
I once had the privilege of putting the deck on a westernized Japanese house in Tiburon, California, built by Len Brackett, who had completed a five-year temple-carpenter apprenticeship in Japan and is the head of East Wind Inc. This Sakura Fubuki brand J
I once had the privilege of putting the deck on a westernized Japanese house in Tiburon, California, built by Len Brackett, who had completed a five-year temple-carpenter apprenticeship in Japan and is the head of East Wind Inc. This Sakura Fubuki brand Japanese hira-kanna plane, which is pulled rather than pushed, helped put a silky finish on the Port Orford cedar deck posts. Sakura fubuki means “cherry blossom blizzard,” which is depicted on the plane iron.
Photo by 
16 / 27
Under the hood of this vintage 1982 Inca planer/jointer—which can reduce the rowdiest lumber to the desired thickness while imparting a flawless finish—is a constellation of planetary gears and sprockets that synchronize via belt and chain to propel wood
Under the hood of this vintage 1982 Inca planer/jointer—which can reduce the rowdiest lumber to the desired thickness while imparting a flawless finish—is a constellation of planetary gears and sprockets that synchronize via belt and chain to propel wood through. The innovative aluminum-bodied machine was built in the same Injecta AG factory in Teufenthal, Switzerland, that now performs aluminum and zinc die-casting and other deluxe services for distinguished customers such as Hansgrohe, Audi, and Triumph.
Photo by 
17 / 27
I have often carried a four-in-hand rasp and file in my tool belt for fine-tuning finish work, but this Nicholson milled-tooth file from Mexico works better and is a thing of beauty. Originally developed for working auto-body panels and aluminum, it has s
I have often carried a four-in-hand rasp and file in my tool belt for fine-tuning finish work, but this Nicholson milled-tooth file from Mexico works better and is a thing of beauty. Originally developed for working auto-body panels and aluminum, it has sharp curved teeth that take a speedy and clean shearing cut.
Photo by 
18 / 27
19 / 27
This arboreal high-speed-steel Irwin Unibit step drill does the work of a dozen twist drills for boring, enlarging, and deburring holes in sheet metal, stainless steel, copper, brass, aluminum, plastic, and other thin materials. I used this one to modify
This arboreal high-speed-steel Irwin Unibit step drill does the work of a dozen twist drills for boring, enlarging, and deburring holes in sheet metal, stainless steel, copper, brass, aluminum, plastic, and other thin materials. I used this one to modify a gorgeous anodized-aluminum TracRac lumber rack to fit a new pickup truck. The original was patented by Harry C. Oakes of Wyoming, New York, in September of 1973.
Photo by 
20 / 27
Made in the United States, this MegaPro 15-in-1 screwdriver has a stainless-steel shaft, stores seven different double-end bits in its innovative pull-out revolving cartridge, can drive 1/4-inch hex nuts and sheet-metal screws, and is a joy to use.
Made in the United States, this MegaPro 15-in-1 screwdriver has a stainless-steel shaft, stores seven different double-end bits in its innovative pull-out revolving cartridge, can drive 1/4-inch hex nuts and sheet-metal screws, and is a joy to use.
Photo by 
21 / 27
Cordless drill/drivers date back to 1961, when Black & Decker introduced a small one powered by nickel-cadmium batteries. A decade later NASA used a special Black & Decker cordless drill for boring holes in the moon. Cordless has come a long way. Milwauke
Cordless drill/drivers date back to 1961, when Black & Decker introduced a small one powered by nickel-cadmium batteries. A decade later NASA used a special Black & Decker cordless drill for boring holes in the moon. Cordless has come a long way. Milwaukee’s jazzy new M12 12-volt sub-compact screwdriver, which was designed in Brookfield, Wisconsin, and made in China, is powered by lithium-ion batteries, weighs just two pounds, can ride in a pocket, and can drive an amazing 130 3-inch screws per charge. It even has an LED headlight and a battery fuel gauge.
Photo by 
22 / 27
I’ve worn out at least 10 Vaughan “999” framing hammers since the 1970s, which is a compliment. I love their perfectly balanced forged-steel heads and their hickory handles, which are skinny just below the head to impede shock waves, swell in the middle t
I’ve worn out at least 10 Vaughan “999” framing hammers since the 1970s, which is a compliment. I love their perfectly balanced forged-steel heads and their hickory handles, which are skinny just below the head to impede shock waves, swell in the middle to form an alternate grip for nailing delicate materials or working in confined spaces, and then narrow slightly before flaring at the butt to form a primary grip that won't slip out of your hand. I guess I’m in large company, because Vaughan has been making the “999” since 1918. The hammer’s name honors steam locomotive No. 999, which powered the Empire State Express passenger train from New York City to Buffalo in 1891 at a world record average speed of 61.4 mph and a top speed of 82 mph. The train also reached an unofficial top speed of 112.5 mph in 1893, which would have made it the first vehicle on wheels to exceed 100 mph.
Photo by 
23 / 27
Introduced in the 21st century, Stiletto’s ClawBar cat’s paw is a model of cultural cross-fertilization. Cat’s paws pull nails, and can be struck with a hammer to grab hold. Traditional western cat’s paws don’t work well because they often require a secon
Introduced in the 21st century, Stiletto’s ClawBar cat’s paw is a model of cultural cross-fertilization. Cat’s paws pull nails, and can be struck with a hammer to grab hold. Traditional western cat’s paws don’t work well because they often require a second bite to pull a long nail. Japanese cat’s paws, on the other hand, have longer forks and unique rocker heads that make it easier to withdraw a nail in one pull.The ClawBar, which is made in the United States, is not only patterned after the traditional steel Japanese cat’s paw, but it’s made of titanium, which won't rust and is nearly as strong as steel while weighing much less. A truss-like shaft further trims the weight to just half that of a comparable Japanese cat’s paw. Stiletto also introduced the world’s first titanium framing hammer in 1998.
Photo by 
24 / 27
A remarkable article in the March/April 1985 issue of Fine Woodworking magazine documented the results of metallurgical tests performed on 11 popular chisels from England, Japan, Spain, the United States, and West Germany, including one of these Japanese
A remarkable article in the March/April 1985 issue of Fine Woodworking magazine documented the results of metallurgical tests performed on 11 popular chisels from England, Japan, Spain, the United States, and West Germany, including one of these Japanese ōire-nomi chisels. The chisel was made by the Oiichi family, descendants of samurai swordsmiths, by forge-welding a shock-absorbing, mild-steel back to a tool-steel cutting edge. The article revealed that the Oiichi’s fine-grain cutting edge registered an exceptionally hard 63.5 on the Rockwell C scale and had evenly distributed carbides, yielding “the very sharpest edge and the best retention” of the group.
Photo by 
25 / 27
Made in Finland, this modern Gerber Back Paxe hatchet has a forged-steel head and a lightweight and almost unbreakable glass-filled nylon handle. It normally lives in a survival kit in my pickup truck, but I’ve learned that its compact size and super-shar
Made in Finland, this modern Gerber Back Paxe hatchet has a forged-steel head and a lightweight and almost unbreakable glass-filled nylon handle. It normally lives in a survival kit in my pickup truck, but I’ve learned that its compact size and super-sharp cutting edge can be a blessing for basic carving.
Photo by 
26 / 27
Japanese waterstones wear quickly and must be flattened frequently, but they sharpen chisels and plane irons much faster than oilstones do and create an incomparable cutting edge. Soaked with water and rubbed with a nagura-to stone to create an abrasive p
Japanese waterstones wear quickly and must be flattened frequently, but they sharpen chisels and plane irons much faster than oilstones do and create an incomparable cutting edge. Soaked with water and rubbed with a nagura-to stone to create an abrasive paste, this synthetic King “Gold Stone” can put a mirror polish on a cutting edge.
Photo by 
27 / 27
The oldest scientific artifact inside the Caltech Archives in Pasadena, California, is an Egyptian plumb bob that’s estimated to be 2,500 to 3,500 years old. It’s made of an igneous rock called diorite with a bronze ring attached. My contemporary Stanley
The oldest scientific artifact inside the Caltech Archives in Pasadena, California, is an Egyptian plumb bob that’s estimated to be 2,500 to 3,500 years old. It’s made of an igneous rock called diorite with a bronze ring attached. My contemporary Stanley 16-ounce plumb bob is solid brass with a replaceable hardened-steel tip. Basically a pointed weight on a string that uses gravity to establish or confirm true vertical, its high density and sleek figure help it summarily dismiss the wind.

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...

Latest Articles

45 dva 2270 persp1 cmyk 0
The prospect of retirement doesn’t just signal the end of a career; it offers the chance to recalibrate and re-prioritize in life.
July 25, 2016
18
You don’t have to choose between sustainable energy and curb appeal.
July 19, 2016
jakemagnus queensland 1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
July 06, 2016
content delzresidence 013 1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
June 29, 2016
abc malacari marwick stair 01 0
A simple set of stairs is a remodel’s backbone.
June 28, 2016
Design Award of Excellence winner Mellon Square.
Docomomo US announces the winners of this year's Modernism in America Awards. Each project showcases exemplary modern restoration techniques, practices, and ideas.
June 27, 2016
monogram dwell sf 039 1
After last year’s collaboration, we were excited to team up with Monogram again for the 2016 Monogram Modern Home Tour.
June 27, 2016
switch over chicago smart renovation penthouse deck smar green ball lamps quinze milan lounge furniture garapa hardwood
A strategic rewire enhances a spec house’s gut renovation.
June 26, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent coralie gourguechon treviso italy cphotos by coralie gourguechon co produced by isdat planche anatomique de haut parleur1
Coralie Gourguechon's paper objects will make you see technology in a whole new way.
June 26, 2016
green machine smart home aspen colorado facade yard bocci deck patio savant
Smart technology helps a house in Aspen, Colorado, stay on its sustainable course.
June 25, 2016
Compact Aglol 11 television plastic brionvega.
The aesthetic appeal of personal electronics has long fueled consumer interest. A new industrial design book celebrates devices that broke the mold.
June 25, 2016
modern backyard deck ipe wood
An angled deck transforms a backyard in Menlo Park, California, into a welcoming gathering spot.
June 24, 2016
dscf5485 1
Today, we kicked off this year’s annual Dwell on Design at the LA Convention Center, which will continue through Sunday, June 26th. Though we’ve been hosting this extensive event for years, this time around is particularly special.
June 24, 2016
under the radar renovation napa
Two designers restore a low-slung midcentury gem in Napa, California, by an unsung Bay Area modernist.
June 24, 2016
Exterior of Huneeus/Sugar Bowl Home.
San Francisco–based designer Maca Huneeus created her family’s weekend retreat near Lake Tahoe with a relaxed, sophisticated sensibility.
June 24, 2016
light and shadow bathroom walnut storage units corian counter vola faucet
A Toronto couple remodel their home with a special emphasis on a spacious kitchen and a material-rich bathroom.
June 24, 2016
Affordable home in Kansas City living room
In Kansas City, an architecture studio designs an adaptable house for a musician on a budget.
June 23, 2016
modern lycabettus penthouse apartment oak vertical slats office
By straightening angles, installing windows, and adding vertical accents, architect Aaron Ritenour brought light and order to an irregularly shaped apartment in the heart of Athens, Greece.
June 23, 2016
kitchen confidential tiles custom cabinetry oak veneer timber house
A modest kitchen addition to a couple’s cottage outside of Brisbane proves that one 376-square-foot room can revive an entire home.
June 23, 2016
feldman architecture 0
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
June 22, 2016
Blackened timber Dutch home
A modern dwelling replaces a fallen farmhouse.
June 22, 2016
hillcrest house interior kitchen 3
Seeking an escape from bustling city life, a Manhattan couple embarks on a renovation in the verdant Hudson Valley.
June 22, 2016
angular
Atelier Moderno renovated an old industrial building to create a luminous, modern home.
June 21, 2016
San Francisco floating home exterior
Anchored in a small San Francisco canal, this floating home takes its cues from a classic city habitat.
June 21, 2016
modern renovation addition solar powered scotland facade steel balcony
From the bones of a neglected farmstead in rural Scotland emerges a low-impact, solar-powered home that’s all about working with what was already there.
June 21, 2016
up in the air small space new zealand facade corrugated metal cladding
An architect with a taste for unconventional living spaces creates a small house at lofty heights with a starring view.
June 21, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent marjan van aubel london cwai ming ng current window
Marjan Van Aubel makes technology a little more natural.
June 21, 2016
urban pastoral brooklyn family home facade steel cypress double
Building on the site of a former one-car garage, an architect creates his family’s home in an evolving neighborhood of Brooklyn.
June 20, 2016
Modern Brooklyn backyard studio with plexiglass skylight, green roof, and cedar cladding facade
In a Brooklyn backyard, an off-duty architect builds a structure that tests his attention to the little things.
June 20, 2016
the outer limits paris prefab home living area vertigo lamp constance guisset gijs bakker strip tablemetal panels
In the suburbs of Paris, an architect with an eco-friendly practice doesn’t let tradition stand in the way of innovation.
June 20, 2016