Provenance

I love old tools. I especially love it when I know the history of them, like with my dad’s tools or when someone gives me something and the backstory to go with it. The word to describe where something has come from is “Provenance” and it isn’t as simple as meaning “to come from”, it also imparts the underlying story of an object.

There’s something I find slightly magical about using a tool that has been loved before you got it. Take for example the Stanley #5 plane in the banner at the top of the blog or shown below. Frequent readers may have noticed the damage to the tote and that it had been put back together with a normal bolt. This wasn’t my doing, it was a fix made by the original owner and I’m loathe to replace it even though I have a spare tote now as it’s part of its history and character.

I got this number five earlier in the year when I was just starting out from a generous member of the Australian Woodwork Forums (Thanks again Ern!). He’d been showing a friend around his workshop and the friend told him that he had some of his father’s planes sitting around unused and offered them to Ern for either his own use or to pass onto someone who could use them.

Ern gave this #5 a bit of a tidy up and offered it free to a beginner, and I was the lucky person to get it. I’d been using my #3 size trojan plane for everything including jointing board until that point and so using this plane was a revelation. It was also special because I got the backstory with it

“This was used by a good friend’s father to make cupboards and kitchen cabinets for the family home.”.

Later conversations revealed that it had helped build a house full of furniture and the owner’s son wanted this to continue. Every time I use it I think of what it’s done and try to give it the respect it deserves.

The reason I’m thinking about this today is that I’m working on restoring the little $3 tenon saw I picked up on Wednesday and have found an owners mark inked into the handle. It reads “J.L.Ford”. I don’t know who he is or was, but it looks like he loved his tools and cared for them well as besides the surface rust there is no sign of damage, just of good honest wear. I plan to leave the mark there rather than sand it out. It does me no harm and I think it’s a sign of respect to the previous owner and adds to the provenance of the tool. Who knows, I might even add my own someday and someone 50 years down the track might be wondering who I was as well.

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