I belong to a number of Facebook book groups and with a few exceptions, the folks I meet there are friendly, helpful, courteous and a host of other positive adjectives. But as with most large groups of people, not all are. We all know of whom I speak but just in case, they are the trolls, "know it alls", judgmental and condescending people who hate their lives and want you to share their misery. Eventually they get kicked out or self destruct only to rear up and fire off their diatribes someplace else. But that's not what this is note is about. It's about how we, those of us living in this time, make judgments about how folks 100 years ago, treated their tools, planes in particular.
I was recently visiting one of my groups that has literally tens of thousands of members and a comment came about that silly thing we all know and love, the hang hole. A pet peeve to some, a calamity to others and the kiss of death to the value of a plane. I don't particularly care for them myself and avoid buying a plane with one but I have bought and sold many. I've worked on them and in using them found no perceptible difference in performance between a plane with a "conveniently placed above bench storage hole" and one that isn't so accessorized. People have been modifying plane bottoms for 150 years in one way or another, most involving removing material to make them "easier" to push across the surface of the work piece so I'm not sure why the removal of 1/4 inch of material from one end would make a smidgen's worth of difference.
Be that as it may, the comments were funny, sarcastic and entertaining but as I read through I began to think about the practicality of the practice lo those 100 years ago. Just why would someone drill a hole in a perfectly good piece of 14 inch cast iron? The answer seems quite obvious. "To hang the tool on a hook above one's tool bench for convenience". Makes perfect sense.
But is it just that simple? Well, maybe it is or maybe it's not.
We judge others everyday by how they speak, act and interact with us. We have real time experience with them and assume that what we are seeing is what we get. We perceive them in the context in which we are at the time. Not so with the woodworker/craftsman of 100 or 150 years ago. A tool that may have cost us a 30 bucks and couple hours of work, cost that craftsman a couple days salary and was very likely a big part of their personal livelihood. It's conceivable that this particular plane is keeping this fellow employed in an era when people in the "prosperous" USA still starved to death in the streets.
Most of us might spend several hours a week in the shop puttering around, having a good time. These poor fellows were there 10 or 12 hours a day, 6 days a week. Some, probably most were factory workers with a tiny little unsecured space for storage of tools. I'm envisioning too that in an organized factory, personal tools may have had to have been stored uniformly on a "hook" wall in some remote corner of the room. Now, to facilitate that, 20 other guys have drilled a hole in the bottom back end of their Bailey No 5 to make it easy to hang on that hook. Why wouldn't you?
Now "ol Joe" down the line came to work "schnockered" ast week and dropped his plane which busted it in half. So, he needed to find another one and didn't have the two days wages it took to buy a new one (likely because he was a functional drunk) so he happened to find yours abandoned on your unsecured storage hook. No 5 Bailey planes all pretty much look alike so "who's going to know?" Joe's problem is solved but now you have one. Hence, "MSN" is now emblazoned on the side of my brand new Bailey No 5 that cost me 2 days pay. Yep, there were in fact thieves and people of few scruples in 1905 too.
Now to MSN and to Joe those modifications made practical sense. They were not tool collectors. They were tool users. Their tools were not adornments or hobby accoutrements that got used once a week. Feeding your family or paying the rent seem a lot more important than owning every No 2 size plane ever produced. (my vice) For the vast majority of the folks living during the last few decades of the 19th and early 20th Centuries, when most of these planes were relatively new, survival meant working every day with the tools you needed. A hang hole or scratched marks to prove ownership were indeed part of that survival ritual, so keep that in mind as you turn away in horror at the ugly disfigured, hang holed Bailey No 5 that spent its first decades of life helping provide subsistence to some poor family.
It's easy for us to sit here today and complain about something that happened 100 or more years ago. Something that "seemed like a good idea at the time" but makes our skin crawl today. It was a different time. People were different in the way they acted, in how they viewed their lives and how they provided for their families. Imagine relying on your automobile for your job and having someone steal it. Now what do you do? We can complain about hang holes, owner applied markings or other modifications that those craftsmen (and women) made. But keep it in perspective. MSN didn't drill that hang-hole in his Bailey just to piss off the collector in 2019 he did it because it was a small part of his survival ritual.
I wonder if someone in 2119 will be sitting at their computer (or whatever they have then) on the "Facebook" of the future, laughing at and passing judgement on my actions of today without any regard for my situation and how important they are for my very survival.