Friday, June 1, 2018

Orvil Heft's Tools

I didn't know Orvil Heft.  And it would be an amazing coincidence if any of you did.  Orvil grew up in Wisconsin and spent his adult life in Michigan, where he was a High School principal.  In his retirement, Orvil was a woodworker.  More specifically, he carved and painted birds.
Orvil and birds
I wonder how he got his start in woodworking.  Was he carving all his life or did he pick it up only in retirement?  What other woodworking exploits did he pursue?
Wall cabinet with Orvil's birds
Orvil has been gone for several years now.  His tools have been in the possession of his son-in-law, Jhea.  I stopped at Jhea's garage sale, having read he was selling a table saw.  I don't need a table saw, but figured sometimes where there is a table saw, there are other woodworking tools.  We got to talking about woodworking.  Jhea is quite handy, having done some house remodeling projects himself.  Orvil's tools were not on display, but Jhea took me to a cabinet in the back of the garage to see them.

After speaking with Jhea about my interest in hand tool woodworking, I think he sensed that I would take good care of these tools.  Through a huge act of generosity, I've become the new caretaker of many of Orvil's tools.

When I got home, I laid out the tools.
Workbench completely covered
Here are some details:
Drawknife (unknown maker) and two hand drills
Upper hand drill is a Craftsman No. 9-4230, lower is only stamped "Made in Germany")
The blade of the drawknife is unusual in that it is double beveled.  I'm no drawknife aficionado, but I thought one side was typically flat.  Maybe there is need of a double bevel in carving work.  The German hand drill was missing the side handle and I've made a new one for it.
An old John S. Fray 12" sweep brace and almost complete set of Irwin auger bits 
John S. Fray was in business from about 1870 to 1914 (or 1920?) when they were bought by Stanley.  The bits are mostly old Irwin bits, only missing #12 (3/4" diameter) and #16 (1").  I've cleaned and sharpened them.  There is also an expansive bit and a few other smaller bits, including a counter sink bit, 1/8" twist bit, a 3/16" gimlet bit and a few small auger-style bits with cylindrical shanks (1/4" not shown, 5/16", 3/8" and 1/2").
Odd 'n' ends - tiny Stubs hand vise, Luther clamp-on vise, beefy C-clamp and nice Stanley scraper
Bunch of round rasps and several files, some very fine
Also two Yankee-type screwdrivers, North Bros. No 30A left and Craftsman 195822 right
Stanley Surform cheese-grater-style rasps, No. 21-125, No. H 386 round rasp
I guess with carving birds you need a good assortment of rasps and files.  Many of the files were made in the USA by Heller or Nicholson, back when Nicholson knew how to make good files.  I love finding old files at garage sales - you can't get good ones anymore.

Layout tools: Disston 24" wooden level, Stanley #84 2-foot boxwood folding rule,
Unknown maker bevel gauge, Peck, Stow and Wilcox (PEXTO) 10" dividers,
Unknown maker calipers, Lufkin No. 543 50' tape measure
You can also see two coping saws, one by Maxson, the other unknown, and there were dozens of extra brades.
A very interesting unknown maker spokeshave that I'll post about separately
Some beautiful old chisels:
Greenlee (Rockford, IL) bevel-edged socket chisels:  1 1/2", 1", 7/8"
D.R. Barton (Rochester, NY) firmer socket chisels:  3/4", 5/8", 1/2", 3/8", 1/4"
Jaxon (Made in USA) bevel edge socket chisel:  1"
Stanley No. 750 bevel-edge socket chisel:  1/4" (no handle)
Greenlee and D.R. Barton were known to make very good chisels.  Several of these chisels need new handles.  I'm REALLY looking forward to using them.
Oil stones - some small and some large, some shaped, some rectangular
I've been thinking about trying oilstones for some of my sharpening.  I know little about use and care of them, but I'm looking forward to learning.  The largest is a Pike "Lily White" Washita stone in it's original wood box.  It's quite dished (about 3/16") and glued into the box.  Not sure if I should flatten it or use it only for curved blades.
Finally, there was this box ...
It contained several Japanese carving tools (lighter handles) and other
standard carving tools
The carving tools had blades of all shapes and were generally fairly small: V-cutters, U-cutters, skews, curved necks, small gouges, etc.  Though I haven't done any carving, some of these tools have already come in handy.

As the new caretaker of these tools, I'll think of Orvil when I use them, just as he might have thought of prior owners of the older tools in the kit when he used them.  I consider it an honor to be able to use them.  And I'll always be grateful for Jhea's generosity.  May the tools impart the wisdom of prior generations to my hands!


  1. What a wonderful story. Thank you for sharing. That power to find a good home for something our parents used that brought them joy often is stronger than the desire to make money from the transaction. In essence the items are priceless until the right owner comes along in an Excalibur sort of fashion.


    1. Thanks for the comment, Joe. I just hope I can do the tools justice. I'll certainly try my best.

  2. Nice lot of tools and a great story. Provenance when known is important in the tool's history.

    Did I spied with my little eye, a mouth adjustable spokeshave? Looks a lot like a Stanley and they were not always marked Stanley


    1. Thanks, Bob. And yes, you did spy just that. I'll post about it in a week or two, and would love to get some input about this interesting spokeshave.

  3. Google Stanley No 53 and 54 spokeshaves. Stearns had a similar copy but withsome ornementation on the mouth yoke.

  4. A small quirk when using such a spokeshave, you will notice that the angle of the sole changed a bit when adjusting the mouth. That mean that the angle of attack for the tool change a bit also.
    Does it have a number cast in the back (IE 53 or 534) if so it is a Stanley, if not maybe, maybe not. Hard to tell from that dark picture of yours


  5. Great work. I wish you continued success.