Category Archives: tools

I Have An Axe To Grind

It is about my belief that most millenials only know the Verb form of “Axe” and not the Noun form – as in these days of economic turmoil, heads freely roll when jobs get axed. 

But who has seen an Axe in real life or even used one before?  I had this privilege in my childhood days.  Not one, but two.  One was an ordinary type which we used for chopping small trees, and pieces of raw firewood to length.

The other one had a broader head at the top where the handle was affixed.  This type was used for splitting wood along the grain.  It is actually called a “Maul Axe” or “Splitting Axe”.

Some say that Axe is Axe, and Maul is Maul; I prefer not to get mauled by splitting hairs (but wood, ok) on this matter.


Gripping The Nail By The Head

Many years back, my late uncle operated a small import business.  Shipments of bicycle parts came in from China, packaged in wooden crates – these were boxes constructed of wooden planks which had been nailed together.

To un-crate, firstly we had to remove the nails. Gladly we had that awesome Nail Puller. A simple “Bang-Bang & Yank-Yank” and out came each nail, from head to tail, no matter how stubbornly it clung on, or how deeply it was rooted. 

Now that those days were long gone, I have not seen any specimen for the last 40 years.  However, every time I see wooden crates anywhere, the sound of that “chitty-chitty, bang-bang” song would ring in my ears.

It was the solution that gripped the nail by the head, but today the younger folks may not know what this tool is for.

Can’t Get It Right? Try This..

Hmm, I have not seen nor used that L-shaped thing for a long, long time.  When I was in my LCE year in 1970, we used that quite a bit in our Industrial Arts class.   What is that ?

For folks who still are not able to get it right,  it is called a Try Square.  We used it to mark out lines on a piece of wood or board, so that the line would be at Right Angles to a particular edge of the wooden piece.

After that a hand saw was used to cut along the marked line.  Skill, determination and practice were needed to get it right.

These days, with fewer and fewer people keen on D-I-Y work, preferring swiping touchscreens with their finger tips to flexing their under-used muscles, these ‘vintage’ tools are getting rarer by the day.

Start Pinking and Stop Fraying

It was a strange-looking pair of scissors that my late mum and other senior female relatives used frequently to impart a zig-zag boundary around the pieces of cloth they used to make their dresses.

I later found out that it was called “Pinking Shears”.  Apparently it was invented by one Samuel Briskman in 1931 (there are other claims), to help minimise fraying of textile along cut edges.  Doubtful initially, I was later convinced that this gadget could let the dressmakers Stop Worrying & Start Living (happily, I think) as they turned fabric into garments.

But I suspect in these days and times, many youngsters would be confounded by an encounter with this vintage but ingenious tool.

By the way, in Penang we called it 马齿剪刀 (horse-teeth scissors)

The Grain Reaper

I wonder how many people know what a sickle is. In our kampong house of the 50s and 60s, we had one of these menacing-looking grain reapers, which I understand were used by padi farmers to do their harvesting. But we were not into farming then.

I recall however, that in the coconut plantation where we lived, coconut harvesters tied these sickles to the ends of long bamboo poles and then used these extended-reach cutters to bring down clusters of coconuts.

The tool, with its curved shape, was also good for clearing lalang around the house, and hacking away unwanted branches on trees.

There were also macabre stories of other uses too….but these are too grim for discussion here.

Hard Nut To Crack, Half Nuts To Scrape

Coconuts have featured very prominently in our culinary temptations since time immemorial, especially for folks like me who lived my childhood in a kampong well-endowed with coconut trees.

In those days, we did not have the fearsome machines which could tear apart anything into smithereens within seconds — instead we used a simple manual scraper, usually attached to a wooden “bangku”-like body.   There were many different styles to the design, some even had X-rated (oops, I mean to say X-shaped) bodies, but all required careful and patient repetitive hand action.

The coconuts were de-husked first, and then using a heavy knife, the hard shell was cracked in two with a sharp, smart strike.  The water was drained, and then the half nuts were ready for the scraping process.

Old Brooms Swept Clean

Since the day when I came into planet Earth till the time I emigrated to Singapore, the family had relied on 2 types of totally “green” tools for keeping the home clean.

The Straw Broom was used to sweep the floor, remove dust, sand particles and little pieces of junk that had been accidentally dropped on the floor.

The other was the Penyapu Lidi – mainly used to sweep dead leaves away in the fenced compound around the house.   Also deployed in the kitchen for clearing away water after washing.

Have not used either type for the last 20 years, ever since they were deemed “sapu-non- grata” in face of the vacuum cleaner.  Haiz….my contribution to global warming.