A questionable collection

This year, my family and I are not making our annual pilgrimage up north.  Bummer.

The fact that we live in Florida means that – as with many of our friends and neighbors, we didn’t start here.  We have family stretched along the length of the east coast of the United States.  North Carolina.  Maryland.  New Jersey.  Keeping those family ties strong is the prime mission on these trips.

During the summer break, we typically load the kids into our minivan and begin the epic odyssey.  By the end of the trip, we have logged nearly 3,000 miles, slept in six different homes, two hotel rooms and eaten countless dinners out.

No wonder I needed a vacation after those vacations…

Chain restaurants on the highways are our friends during these trips.  Subway and McDonalds get a decent chunk of our change on the highway, but, for breakfast, it’s hard to beat the Cracker Barrel.

If you want down-home kitch, Cracker Barrel has it in spades.  From the offerings on the menu (that’s where this New Jersey boy first ate collard greens) to the rows of rocking chairs out front, the restaurants attempt to exude the whole country cookin’ theme.  That follows through to the decorations up on the walls.

That’s where I have issues.

During last year’s trip, we had just crossed the Florida/Georgia state line on I-95 when we pulled into the parking lot.  We were seated in the dining room and had just placed our drink orders when I took the opportunity to scan the items up on the wall.  Sure, there were the various antique signs, family portraits and various farm implements from bygone eras.  But, up near the front of the restaurant was a collection of old woodworking tools.  Saws.  Chisels. A nice old brace with some bits.  And a large wooden jointer plane.

I got up to stretch my legs and check out the display.  The plane caught my attention.  It was in gorgeous condition, complete with its wedge and iron.  The body was in perfect shape, with only a few very minor checks in the end grain at the heel.

And, it had been screwed to the wall through the body.  Ouch.

Part of me was tempted to go out to the van and get the screwdriver, remove it from the wall, sharpen the iron and show the restaurant patrons what a plane like that could do.  Many tools from that era are exceptionally serviceable and with a little TLC can outperform many modern models.

The question that ran through my mind was, “Are the things on these walls real?”  Once I got to an internet hot spot, I did a little research. According to an article written by Cecil Adams of the Straight Dope, the answer is yes.  Restaurant chains such as the now-defunct Bennigans, Cracker Barrel and other establishments do have buyers who scour the country looking for these old bits of Americana. They do attend auctions, yard sales and other events to find the elements to add to their restaurants.

While displaying old items in itself is not a terrible thing, my concern is about they way these tools are handled. Screwing through the body of an antique plane is certainly not the best ending for something as noble as a properly built hand tool.

Remember, these are the tools which helped to build our country.  Artisans toiled for for years with these tools in their hands.  These tools were their livelihood.  They were part of their identity and should be treated with some care.

I have held and used some very old woodworking tools over the past decade.  There is a connection with the craftsmen and women of old when you swipe a properly fettled plane across the surface of a board, raising a fine fluffy curl of wood.  These tools are more than just ‘stuff’ from the past.

Should every old tool be refurbished and used in the workshop? Nah.  If you have a sentimental attachment to a tool – say one owned by a grandfather – there’s nothing wrong with putting that tool up on display to show off the family heirloom.  Other planes could have major defects – shot soles or cracked castings – and not be salvageable.  That’s what happens when you work with old tools.

And, since I don’t own these old woodworking tools hanging on the walls, I really have no say in how they are handled or displayed.

I guess I’m just a firm believer that these old tools should be treated with the utmost respect and given a new life in a woodworking shop, not screwed to a restaurant wall.

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