Give me Liberty or give me Tools!

This summer I made the pilgrimage to Liberty Tools.

I had to drop my son off for camp in Portland, Maine.  I was by myself so I figure I’d trek a little further north and check out the hand tool mecca I’ve read so much about.  I’ve gotten more into hand tools lately and thought I would see what I could find.

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My brother has a place in Maine, so I’ve made the trip to Lie Nielson, stopped in at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship and enjoyed all that Maine has to offer.  I figured there would be some quaint place along the way, a place by the road to grab a killer lobster roll, perhaps do a little antiquing, ya know– Maine stuff.  Well not so much.  I love a road trip and  I am always up for an adventure,  but this place is out there!  As always the anticipation was enough to keep me going.

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After turning down a nondescript road I finally arrived in Liberty. Don’t blink or you’ll miss it.  There are approximately five buildings in the town, two of them belong to Liberty tools.  I started out in there main building, an old general store I presume.  It has that old antique store summer smell to it and is jam packed with tools!

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It is overwhelming at first and your not sure where to start.  It had never occurred to me but woodworking tools are just a portion of the inventory.  Every trade seems to be represented.

The really stunning part is to stop and think for a moment at how many jobs these tools have done.  How many houses, barns, shelters, furniture,  vehicles, toys….wow, the stories these tools could tell!

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I love this stack of saws.  So beautiful.  Its fun to think how many people owned each saw.  Were they handed down from father to son, borrowed from a neighbor,  spent all of its time in one trade-man’s shop, abandoned in a barn?  What caused all that wear and tear? Each one has so many stories.

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As you wonder the shop, it fascinating to pick up an odd looking tool and wonder “Hmmm,  now what was this for”

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But I have to be honest.  As I meandered through the shop I grew rather disheartened. I had hoped to find a few woodworking braces,  a set of tiny awls and perhaps a small treasure.  Instead I found a massive assortment of well used tools.  Tools that showed more than their age, but rather battle scars from a century of use and abuse.  I was on search for a tool that I could proudly bring home, take apart, remove the rust and restore to a working tool on my bench.  I came home (almost) empty handed.

Its not that those tools can’t be found, especially at Liberty, or don’t exist anymore, it’s that someone else has come though and beat me to it.  I got real sense of what pickers and Ebay has done to a place like Liberty. Perhaps its even financially good for the proprietors and they’re thrilled to see a professional buyer come through the doors and walk out with a truck load of profitable antiques, but for the rest of us, the scavengers looking for a bargain, its a little disheartening. Someone has beaten us there.

I’ve been hesitant to write this, because I don’t want to spread anything negative about a mom and pop establishment, one of the last of its kind for sure.   Perhaps it just wasn’t my day.  After all, as with any antique hunting, its always hit or miss.  So if you find yourself in that tiny corner of the country, by all means, take the time to stop in.  I am sure I will again.  Perhaps we can beat the pros to the next pile of treasures!

 

 

 

 

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My once in a lifetime afternoon in the shop of Sam Maloof.

A few weeks ago, when I was in LA,  I snuck out of work one day and drove down to take a tour of the Sam Maloof house.

I was very excited to be in California and to have the opportunity to go down and tour the house.  I read up on the tour and it occurred to me that they mentioned nothing about the workshop.  Hmmm.  So I decided to email them and see what the deal was.  I explained that I was a woodworker from NY and was very interested in taking a peak at the shop.  I quickly received an email back from Kiristine who runs the tours at the Maloof house.  She pointed out that there was one day a month where woodworkers could come for a day and get a tour of the shop.  I explained that while I was still going to be in LA for the next opportunity, I was going to be working that day.  To my amazement she emailed me back and said one of “the boys”,  Larry, would be around that day and could show me the shop.  How awesome is that?

I arrived and for the first tour at noon.  I met Kristine and she told me to come find her after the tour ended.  The grounds are pretty are amazing by themselves, but the tour of the house is really something else.  You really get to walk around a true artist’s space. Nothing over the top or pretentious, just the setting of a very talented artist, with a keen attention to detail.  It’s a pretty magical place. 

After the tour Kristine took me back to meet Larry.  

For those of you who don’t know Larry and John, affectionally known as “the boys” were the workhorses of the Maloof shop. They received the rough pieces from Sam and put all the finishing touches on them from shaping to sanding to finishing.  Every piece went from Sam to the ‘boys’.  While Sam was the visionary, the ‘boys’ were the craftsman. Together they created the most amazing American furniture at an outstanding rate.

Larry White met us at the door with welcome arms.  He first showed me his space where he has begun to set up shop, he told me he recently retired from the shop, but that he was planning to use this space for his own work.  He then took me into the shop.  The shop where Sam and the boys had create decades worth of furniture.  The shop isn’t huge or glamorous, or particularly tidy.  It’s a working shop.  But it’s not the shop that’s special, its the wood and the history.  As we walked around Larry was kind enough to reminisce, telling me wonderful stories, as pieces in the shop would jar a memory.  He’d stop and investigate a template on a table, still curious about what was being built.  Great fun figuring out together what the other boys were creating.  And the templates!!!  Every piece has a template that hangs around the walls of the shop, all dated and labeled (in Sam’s writing) for the piece of furniture, as well as the particular part.  What a unique thing, to have the original templates.  Even after Sam’s passing, his legacy continues and grows as orders are still being filled.  Few crafts offer that ability.

It’s hard for me to articulate the joy I got from my time Larry spent with me.  Just being in Sam Maloof’s shop was an incredible experience, but to have someone like Larry take so much time to just share his time and stories with an aspiring woodworker such as myself is, well, humbling.

I had driven down from Hollywood where I spend my days working with the ‘hottest celebrities’ and most notable people in show business, and all I wanted to do was stay with Larry and learn more about the superstar Sam Maloof.

Woodworkers are the kindest folks.

No pictures at the house *From Larry's site

Thank You Larry!

The Do’s and Don’t of Yesterday: Warped Boards

Do unwarp boards with wetness and/or heat.  Wood, cardboard or other panels expands on its wet side (or heated side) curling downward.  Simply wet or heat the opposite side for awhile, and the board will straighten.  A board curled from laying on the ground will straighten simply by reversing it (while on the ground) until the warp disappears.

from The Do’s and Don’t of Yesterday by Eric Sloane.  A Treasury of Early American Folk Wisdom.