My Tool Collection, Part 2: The Preston 1393s And Its Clone…
Like most things in life, it’s best to start at the beginning, so that’s how I’ll handle the first real post of my beading tool collection (where I don’t go off on other woodworkers; sorry about that, tool hoarders; still friends, right?). And like most of my favourite tools, my beading tool collection begins with Patrick Leach…
Sometimes I wonder where I would be financially if I’d never heard of the man from Massachusetts or his website. But then I would have to wonder where I would be spiritually, as well, so I don’t wonder about it too much, if I can help it. He and I chat fairly frequently now, in fact, and some of our conversations still begin with me asking, “Is this still available?”
Anyway, early in 2009, on the first Monday of March, I was scanning the latest Tool List mailing and the description of a Preston tool jumped out at me. I looked at the image before me and was enthralled, to say the least, by the small japanned tool on the screen. That was possibly the first time I’d ever contacted Patrick, asking if something was still available, come to think of it.
A short while later, I opened a package from MA and had an instant connection with this small, pelvis-shaped beading tool with one lone cutter. It felt perfect in my hands and I couldn’t wait to try it out on a piece of wood to see what the profile looked like. With just a quick flattening of the two faces of the cutter, it started working again, probably just as well as it had 100 years earlier.
Recently, I had a brief chat with someone who said they could duplicate the six cutters that originally came with the 1393s. He also mentioned being able to cast bronze copies of the tool, as well. I’m not sure about the bronze copies (unless enough of you are interested in such a thing), but I am definitely going to talk to him about duplicating the cutters, as displayed in the Preston Tool Catalogue from 1909 (reprinted by Astragal press and available from Tools For Working Wood).
The one original cutter that was in the tool when I bought it is still my favourite profile ever made off of a beading tool. But I still wouldn’t mind having the others, to see how useful they are.
Something else happened when I held that tool for the first time, though. It triggered a memory, a thought, about a similar looking tool I’d seen before. It was slightly different – bronze, instead of japanned cast iron – but the shape of it was pretty much the same. I wondered about it for days without coming up with anything, so I started digging through my file folders of ideas and wants and woodworking things that interested me (er… doesn’t everyone have file folders like this?) and found it! It was part of a page off a website (that did not contain the product numbers, unfortunately) I’d printed out for a wish list of sorts. Turns out it was a tool sold by Woodcraft; they had it listed as a Bronze Beading Tool and indicated it was a copy of an old tool they had in their collection. Oh, I know what THAT tool is now! Obviously this obsession has been welling up inside me for some time.
I jumped on-line to see if they still had it listed. They didn’t. (They’d stopped selling it back in 2004, more than five years earlier.) I did a quick search on my favourite auction site, with no positive results, but I didn’t let that stop me.
I then used my Google-fu to start looking for any reference of it on-line. My Google-fu was good! Nowadays, you can search website archives on web.archive.org, but I didn’t have that option back then. Fortunately for me, Woodcraft did not delete their old webpages; they just unlinked them from their main website. As a result, I was able to get to the original webpage and locate the Item Number for that tool as well as the replacement cutters they sold for it.
I took that information and sent a message to Woodcraft Customer Service to see if they could check inventory at all of their stores for the two items, hoping by some chance of luck one of them might still have it in stock.
My luck stayed with me. Sam, from Woodcraft Tech, responded a few hours later, indicating he’d found the bronze beading tool listed in the inventory at two stores. What’s more, he said he’d found two other stores that indicated they had the replacement cutters in their inventory.
I thanked Sam for his time (I still remember his name, obviously, to this day) and called those stores right away. Was it my good fortune that all four stores had the item in question in their inventory? Or was it my bad luck? My pocketbook and I would give you different answers.
I checked my woodworking funds and saw I could just swing it, so… I bought all four items. Within a few weeks (one of the items came from Hawaii), I had two brand new bronze beading tools and two sets of replacement cutters, all in their original packaging.
The beading tool bug had bitten me. Probably several times, even.
To Be Continued… in Part Three, where my woodworking fund’s worst nightmare came true when I met Patrick Leach in person at Woodworking In America 2010. I remember this event quite clearly because it was just three months after my son was born and I’d spent most of the three days in complete disbelief that my wife let me go in the first place. There, Mr. Leach himself put my third beading tool straight into my hand…
Post Script: Oh, before anyone asks, I no longer have two complete sets of the Woodcraft bronze beading tool. As I said before, I’m a collector, not a hoarder. I sold one of the sets to a friend of mine, for what I paid for the tools plus shipping. I have it on pretty good faith that Mike will both use and take care of these tools, so I feel no regrets in getting them into someone else’s hands.