Category Archives: tools

Cutting-Edge Education

Bidding goodbye to my old alma mater – Assumption Boys School, Butterworth – in 1970, I applied for entry into The Technical Institute of Penang, located along Jalan Ibbetson.   There I was, from Form Four (MCE), right up to Upper Six (HSC).

“TI” was a unique secondary school of sorts, which combined the twin pursuits of nurturing academic brain power, and acquiring useful hands-on engineering design and workshop practice.

For us in the Mechanical Engineering course, we had many hours of very enjoyable experience, learning to use machine tools, such as the Milling Machines (horizontal & vertical types), the Shaping Machine, and the Lathe.  In a nutshell, using powered cutting tools to fashion objects from steel and other metals to the precise shapes and forms desired.

Among the items I made were a Bolt & Nut pair, and a Spur Gear.

I made a return visit in 2015.

Gripped By Vices

All vices will have a grip on you, but not all of them are evil. In fact some types can help you hold a job steady while you work on it !

My first encounter with a vice was in my Form One Industrial Arts class in 1968. That was a massive chunk of cast iron, bolted onto a sturdy workbench.  We gripped pieces of metal between its jaws, whereupon we did our manual sawing, hand filing and drilling.

Later on, in my studies at the Technical Institute, Penang, there were more occasions to “indulge” in  vices of all sizes and configurations, while the class underwent advanced training in metalcraft at the Engineering Workshop.   I enjoyed these lessons a lot, as I was and still am a very much “hands-on” guy.

I bet many younger folks have not seen one.

An Aye For An Eye

So, what’s the big deal about this pair of scissors?  To cut to the chase for this case, this “Eye” Brand pair of scissors was made by Carl Schlieper of Solingen, Germany – a company established in the 18th century.  Sadly, the company went bankrupt in 1993.

My late grandmother had a pair, and I remember she vigorously endorsed it as “the finest in the world” – being able to maintain its keen edge cut after cut..after cut. 

After her passing in 1984, her belongings were divided and given to her children (my father, my uncle and my aunties).  Am not sure where the pair of scissors is now.  Perhaps it was thrown away, as the Chinese (at least in those days) have superstitions about giving away items like knives, scissors, etc.

I think it is a collectors’ item now.

I’d Rather Keep The Hammer And The Nails….

Yes I could and I would, keep these to show my grandson.

While sorting my three vintage tool boxes, I had Simon & Garfunkel’s classic El Condor Pasa play in the background.  And then….

Lo and Behold, I re-discovered my old friend – the vintage Claw Hammer – and a bunch of semi-rusted nails, which I have not found occasion to use for probably 20+ years.

The hammer has been with me for probably over 30 years, and was one of the first tools I acquired upon re-locating to Singapore.  Perhaps it was nostalgia baggage from living in the kampong as a youth;  there was always something to saw, hammer and nail.  However,upon settling in Singapore, I soon discovered that  D-I-Y was trending as redundant and “uncool”.

In the last few weeks I had discarded a lot of “junk”, but I won’t be dumping these.

Grandpa’s Shaver…

Just kidding, folks!  The Spokeshave used in carpentry work — to take fine shavings off pieces of wood — was one indispensable tool for all “tukang kayu” of olden days.

There were two main types, one with a flat base, and another with a convex base (for finishing work on concave surfaces)

Strange to say, since my final school class of Industrial Arts in 1970, I have never used nor even encountered another specimen.  What happened ?  I suppose master craftsmen have been replaced by mere machine operators.

In my recent house renovation work, I happened to peep into the tool boxes of the carpenters who came in to work.  Inside, all sorts of manual and powered tools inside. But no sign of this tool.

I think the nature of commercial carpentry has changed very dramatically.

By Hook And By Brute

Never mind the bad English – I just needed to give this post a catchy title, by hook or by crook.

In my young days, I used to see lorries that came by to the shops that lined the two roads in my kampong.  Tough, brawny men would off-load goods in wooden crates, bamboo baskets, gunny sacks, etc, using only raw muscle power, and nearly always with the help of a vicious-looking hook.

In local Hokkien dialect, we called it “Dar Gao” … it was only much later that I learned the right English description is “Stevedore’s Hook”

Elsewhere, there were variants known as Baling Hooks (I suppose for picking bales of hay, wool, etc).

Locally, I have not seen such hooks for many decades – thanks to trucks with powered cranes and hoists.

The Classic Bean Counter

Long before the advent of calculators, merchants of Chinese origin depended on this simple yet ingenious machine for doing their math on their day-to-day transactions and business P & L.  The “click-clack-click-clack” sounds of the Abacus beads beating against one another was the music of money to their ears

Honestly, it was amazing to see how deftly the experts manipulated the beads up and down each column. I ever tried learning this art of “Finger-Flicking-Good” at an early age, but gave up after a short while.   Well, maybe because I was not born to be a bean counter.

I think there are some shops, such as Chinese “medical halls” where these ancient calculating machines are still in use.   But I do not think their use is going to outlast me on this planet.