The Perfect Screwdriver Rack (Long)


It's been years since I visited this group, but I found it again during a google search and looked in... Still a wonderful group! I decided to post a rather personal letter I wrote to my mother (she'll be 90 in October,) about a recent project of mine. Since this is a personal letter to my mother, a little background. My father died in '98, and we often didn't get along. "Grampa and Gramma" were my mother's parents... my father's parents died before I was born. "CDM" were Grampa's initials. My apologies for the LENGTH of this thing, but I felt some in here might appreciate it, and maybe identify with it...
Hi Mom, The other day, I finished building a special screwdriver rack. It's a long story, and I can only figure out how to tell it in several disconnected episodes, so bear with me... Or maybe humor me...
May 17th, 2010 I picked up an old Kodak Enlarging Camera off ebay. Its a darkroom type thing built early in the last century to make enlargements. Unlike most modern enlargers, it looks more like a head- on collision between two old folding plate cameras... Two sets of maroon bellows connected at their smaller ends with a lens board in between. The negative goes on one end, the printing paper on the other, and by moving the various sliding parts you can choose a size for your picture and focus it in. You don't see many of these... Anyway, it came at a decent price of 56 bucks, probably because it was filthy and looked pretty awful in the pictures. Once it arrived, it fortunately proved to be pretty restorable... the first step though, was to take it apart. A few pieces of wood needed gluing, ALL the wood needed cleaning and polishing, the leather needed treating, the bellows were folded wrong, and most of all, the 25 or 30 various nickel plated fittings were pretty heavily oxidized... they needed a soak in vinegar before polishing with Simichrome. It was during my efforts to take it apart that this story, or at least the most recent part of it, began. They didn't used to make all wood screws like they do now. The slots were often more narrow, and modern screwdrivers just don't seem to fit. My little sets of small modern screwdrivers are fine, and usually work very well on old shutters and such, but for slightly rough screws set into century old hardwood, they just don't fit, and the tiny handles make it difficult to apply enough "omph." I found myself relying on one old very small wooden handled screwdriver of unknown origin. Even where it didn't really fit, it fit better than my more modern screwdrivers, and the thicker handle allowed more leverage and control. Once I got the old thing back together, I was happy with the results, and I got to thinking about getting more of those old, small, wooden handled screwdrivers. Again, I prowled ebay. Tool collectors tend to be a serious bunch, but dinky little screwdrivers evidently aren't what they're interested in. More often than not, I put in the only bid, and soon had a pretty good accumulation of the things. In one case, I got ten of them for eight dollars and change. I've used them on a couple more century old cameras since then, and I've wondered why I didn't get more of them a long time ago. They're also kind of fun to look at... out of maybe fifteen of the things, no two handles are the same. I got to thinking they'd look good lined up on a little rack mounted above my desk-workbench thing in my little room in the basement, and it would also be very convenient. Walnut would look nice... But getting a small piece of walnut to make what I decided should be a seventeen and a quarter inch long rack turned out to me more difficult than I'd anticipated. I'm sure there are lumber yards offering such things, but in your typical small town lumberyard, there just isn't much call. Sam, who works out back of Rasmussen Lumber here, said he knew of a guy that said he had some around, but he couldn't remember who it was... I had one piece of walnut that might work, but it was special, and I didn't really want to cut it up....
November 27-28 1968 We went up to Gramma and Grampa's in Wayne for Thanksgiving. Dad had an old single shot Wesson carbine with a chunk broken out of the stock up by the receiver, and he brought it along to see if it could be fixed with help from Grampa. The first night, Thanksgiving Eve, Grampa came up with a piece of walnut, about two feet long and roughly an inch and quarter square. Using a coping saw, we cut an odd shaped piece out of one end to roughly fit the missing piece, filed around on it a bit, and glued and clamped it into place. Grampa, of course, was the carpenter, and had the tools and knew how to use them. Dad was pretty good at such things too, and also served as chief perfectionist. I filled the position as gopher, etc. After the glue had set overnight, we shaped it down to fit on Thanksgiving day. It came out very well... almost undetectable. I remember Dad saying that the walnut was just soft enough to mold together a bit under pressure. As an aside, while all this was going on, I remember seeing Grampa's old Brownie box camera on a shelf in the basement, and Grampa saw me admiring it. It was a very early Brownie, and since I'd been collecting cameras for maybe a year, Grampa gave it to me. At the same time, he gave Lyle an old Emerson Radio, which I believe probably led to an interest and a career in broadcasting... but this is all another story. Anyway, that broken rifle stock was the first and only project that Grampa, Dad, and I worked on together. It's a memory I treasure.
Late 1975 or '76 Not long after Grampa passed away, I was visiting Gramma in Wayne. She suggested I take any tools I wanted out of the shop, and I went down and looked around... Grampa had some wonderful old tools, and after picking out his Stanley #45 Multiplane with it's box of cutters and a few other things, I saw that piece of walnut that was left over from fixing Dad's old rifle laying in his scrap wood box! It was easy to recognize with the distinctly whittled away end where we'd cut out the odd shaped piece to fit the broken gun stock. Evidently, the right project never came along to use the rest of it, and he must have considered it too good to toss into the little pot belly stove he used to heat the basement. (I remember sleeping down there once, and seeing the flue on that thing glowing cherry red in the darkness...) You may have noticed that I'm strange about "artifacts." I had to have it! Not as something to use, but as a tangible piece left over from that first and only project that the three of us had worked on together... a physical chunk of a wonderful memory. I was 25 or 26 at the time, and 1968 seemed longer ago then than it does now... I brought it home and put it in the basement.
Back to the present All of my dinky little old screwdrivers were laying in a little bunch in the corner of my table in the basement... I've got an old machinist's chest on one end of it that I use for small drawers, but there wasn't really much room for them, and it would be kind of clumsy using them out of that thing. I really wanted to build that rack. I was sure I could eventually pick up a decent piece of walnut, but I wasn't sure where, and if we went somewhere, there was usually other stuff to do. I considered making it out of cheap crap pine, and staining it. I could always make another. A few days went by, and I began thinking more about Grampa's old piece of walnut. That piece of wood would mean nothing to anyone else. And Grampa tended to make boxes and such for his tools... I have a cheap set of spade bits he owned (I think spade bits are cheap almost by definition,) that reside in a custom made fitted wooden box with a sliding lid that was obviously Grampa's work. I hadn't actually looked at that old board for years, and if I made that rack out of that wood, it would be right there whenever I went down there, prominently displayed... The idea started to appeal to me... I started looking for it, and I COULDN'T FIND IT. On and off for several days, I scrounged around in the basement trying to find it. It HAD to be there. The more I looked, the more important finding it became. Before long, it was the ONLY piece of wood on the planet that I could POSSIBLY use to make my new rack! FINALLY I found it, on a bottom shelf in a corner under some seldom used tools... putty guns, a hatchet, mallets, hedge clippers, a grease gun, a splitting wedge, sets of torx screwdrivers, odd wrenches, bicycle training wheels, paint brushes, an impact driver, steel wool, cable ties, copper pipe, coils of electrical cable, etc, etc, etc... I'd looked there before, but it was clear back against the wall. I pulled it out and studied it. It wasn't the greatest board for a project... it had that distinctly carved five or six inches on one end, about two thirds of the other end was missing one corner because, well, that was the outside of the tree, and there were a couple of small cuts taken out of another corner on the good end where Grampa must have needed a little piece to patch something in. There was also a slight warp to the entire piece, and the board wasn't shaped right at all to make a screwdriver rack out of. However, I'd convinced myself that esthetically and emotionally, this was the ONLY piece of wood that would work. The still mostly square end of the board was just long enough at seventeen and three eighths inches long, and it had two good corners. The first step was to rip a long, half inch thick plank off of that edge to make a decent rack. I hadn't used the bandsaw since I'd hauled it up here from home, but this was the time. It was back by the heater, and I got all the stuff off of it and looked for the on- off switch. There wasn't one. We just plugged it in and out. OSHA would have a fit, but they wouldn't have approved of the way Grampa cut the ground plug off all of his tools either. I'd carefully marked the wood, and then somewhat hesitantly (this was the only board in the WORLD that would work) plugged in the saw and made the cut. It went well, and I was on my way. The decent end of the other side of the board without that bad corner was just long enough to make a couple of brackets to hold the rack up on the wall. The two little cuts out of one side of it would define and put limitations on the design... I marked a small radius around that defect with a heavy old compass made of solid steel or iron castings with "CDM" stamped on it, and marked another curve in a mirror image to outline the two end brackets. They sawed out easily on the bandsaw. I was going to use a jack plane to flatten and smooth out the long rack piece, ( I'm accustomed to using planes, they're "the violins of the woodworker's orchestra,") but I figured this might be the time to assemble the electric jointer-planer that Dad had bought, but never gotten around to assembling. This took me maybe an hour, since most steps included warnings that if not done properly, a closed- casket funeral would probably be necessary. It was also a larger version of this machine that cost Grampa the ring finger of his left hand. Once I got it together, I lugged it out to the back porch. I was beginning to wonder if I should try this thing out on "the only board in the world that would work," so instead, I ran a few pieces of scrap through it... It worked very well, and left a very smooth, flat, surface. I set the table for a thin cut, and ran my piece of walnut over it... very nice! I flipped it over and did the same to the other side. Thirty seconds of work. I was happy with the result, and left it at that. A few more passes would have probably gotten rid of all the curvature from the warp, but it was close enough, and I didn't want to cut too thin. Also, I left the edges raw... that's what that board looked like. To drill the holes to hold the screwdrivers, I assembled Dad's drill press adapter. I've always been a little leery of these things that try to turn your electric drill into something it isn't, but I figured it might help me drill the holes a little neater. It did work well... twelve one quarter inch holes, and four seven sixteenth inch holes. The press adapter allowed me to let the brad point wood bits cut very slowly into the surface of the wood, and the holes came out very clean. Finally, I attached the rack to the little brackets with brass pins made from cut off key hooks, so that I could lift the top off if I wanted to, and screwed the brackets to the wall with brass, slotted, wood screws. DONE. FINISHED. All my little screwdrivers are sitting in it, and I'm happy. Just looking at it feels good.
Profound Epilogue (at least for me...) I never would have guessed when I first saw that piece of walnut on Thanksgiving at the age of 18, that I'd take it home with me when I was in my middle twenties, much less that I'd build something with it when I was 60. I mentioned earlier that that gun stock was the first job that Grampa, Dad, and I worked on together... This was the second.
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Nice story. How about posting a picture of the rack?
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Thanks. :) The story is better than the actual rack though. I'll see if I can make this work. Me and this laptop have a sort of adversarial relationship...
The rack
http://img.villagephotos.com/p/2005-7/1052094/screwdriver%20rack%20001.jpg
another shot
http://img.villagephotos.com/p/2005-7/1052094/screwdriver%20rack%20002.jpg
the old enlarging camera
http://img.villagephotos.com/p/2005-7/1052094/Kodak%20Enlarging%20Camera.jpg
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no pictures?
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On 8/15/2010 7:45 AM, Marty wrote:

No apologies necessary! On the contrary, I think we all owe you a debt of gratitude for sharing a great story and giving us all a good reason to keep reading this group. Thank you!
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In article

Great story, Marty, and thanks for sharing.
I have some of both my grandfathers' tools, and cherish them.
--
“The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s
money.” - Margaret Thatcher
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The Perfect Screwdriver Rack....
.... front and center, right where it belongs.
Rewarding for all of us. Sonny
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On Sun, 15 Aug 2010 05:45:11 -0700 (PDT), Marty

Thank you for that great story. I only wish I had more memories like that of my Father. He has been gone 20 years now...
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wrote:

My father has been gone >45 years, so I don't have that many memories.
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Neat story. I appreciated it. . . . .. . . ... just a stinging in the eyes from the beginnings of a tear.
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~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
DanG
Keep the whole world singing . . .
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