You can’t really call yourself a “saw guy” or “gal” I suppose without either reading something written by or coming across a reference to Mike Stemple’s collection. Mike would say he’s a relative newcomer and his collection is mostly junk compared to the other Big Dogs, but in reality he’s been happily plugging along refining and honing what he collects. For collectors like Mike, it’s not about the number of saws, it’s about the history. Like music, you get hooked on a band and want to hear or, in this case, collect all they’re offering. Keep in mind that condition is important to reselling, but if your goal is research, then even cut down examples allow you to see changes over a maker’s life. It’s this same depth that makes him an expert on many of the really early makes from Philly and New York. His collection and research on makers like Cortland Wood, Johnson & Conaway, and Josiah Bakewell, to name a few, has helped the rest of us (myself included) date and understand the saws we find and collect. Although Mike jokes about the lack of condition of some saws, when I think about the totality along with the history, his collection is really something impressive.
But here’s the thing…if the story ended there I wouldn’t be writing this blog post nor have taken the trip to his house. The icing on the cake (don’t tell Mike I said this) is that he’s a hell of a nice guy, a larger than life character that continually gives back to the saw world.
Sharp witted, always quick with a cheeky jab, he’s a perfect fit for the expression, “I’d rather be tried by 12 then carried by 6.” But that’s to be expected from a long time OSU fan living over enemy lines. I think it’s that wit that first made me laugh when reading an article that talked about Mike being the sheriff of saws on eBay. After that a friend forwarded me a link to some online pictures of his collection and I thought, I’ve got to meet this guy. Later I found the other side of the coin, his great willingness to answer questions, as a dedicated member of Mid-West Tool Collectors Association and also his local club, Ohio Tool Collectors Association. He writes for their newsletter “Ohio Tool Box” and I continually reference a dog-eared article on dating early saws he wrote for it and M-WTCA. It’s from researching a saw that I first started emailing with Mike and later formulated plans to go visit.
So you’re saying wow, you’re really pumping a lot sunshine up this guy’s hind-side. Think, as stated, Mike’s got a lot of saws and extracting them is something very few (who left the property) can say. So between you and me consider this butter.
Ok, so back to Mike and “The Amazing House of Saws.” He sent some dates of events in the area and I cross-referenced them with days I could get away. I wanted to make the big M-WTCA show but the date was too close to MJD auction. As fate would have it, his local Ohio tool club was hosting the Area C M-WTCA meet and the planets aligned for a go.
The trip out to Ohio from North Jersey is mostly uneventful and long. You travel 80 from about its starting point through the hills of Pennsylvania to where it connects to the Ohio turnpike. My plan was to head out Friday after work, drive till I was tired. Once underway, I ended up pulling over 100 miles short of Mike’s house. One noteworthy thing was the difference in gas between PA and OH. I paid $3.55 in PA and $2.92 in OH within 25 miles of the state line. Mind you, this was a week before the election and Ohio was a swing state. Discuss amongst yourselves.
Waking up Saturday morning I wasn’t presented with a welcome to the buckeye state. The temperature had dropped 20º overnight and a light rain was falling. Happily it quickly cleared while I made coffee, then got on the road to Mike’s. The 100 miles passed quickly. Now remember Mike and I had never spoken, but the minute I pulled in the driveway Mike walked out with a friendly greeting, soon followed by his highly tool-lenient wife and COO of saw budget, Sherri.
Like me, Mike has the gift of gab and we share a real love for saws and history behind them. We quickly launched into a lengthy discussion that, although jumped in different tangents as I asked questions, continued day and night till I left on Sunday due to Sandy.
Let me start by saying that Mike’s collection is so vast it’s really hard to nail down a way to go through it. With two saw guys in their element it’s extremely easy to get distracted. Mike strategically placed (read: tucked one behind the other, handle showing so as not to draw attention by the COO of budgeting) a number of his higher end saws in the house and we started off with them. The list of makers reads like the who’s who of early American makers from New York and Philadelphia, many of which are one of a kind or one of very few examples.
After an hour or so going through the highlights of the 100 or so extremely rare and/or unusual saws in the house, it was time to move outside to his shop. I’m sad to write I really didn’t take many pictures of the vast collection of double eagles and other rarities from Sing Sing prison. Mike is one of the leading historians on saws made at Sing Sing and the tale is ready made for TV. Thinking I would setup my tripod later in the day or Monday we held off on taking things down. As my luck would have it, I ended up heading home early due to impending storm Sandy. This just necessitates a future trip and I’m already making plans for it next year. As stated earlier, Mike’s tight handed with his collection and I’ve got my eye on a nice Woodrough & McParlin and this will give me time to work on him but keep that on the DL.
Once the tour inside was finished we headed outside. I started with a quick tour of the van. Mike owned a bread loaf model when he was stationed overseas and agreed there’s nothing like them on 4 wheels. The progression from smaller campers to the land yachts with pop-out sides is so big that Americans’ vacations are spent inside them rather than enjoying the area they raced to, but don’t get me started.
Mike gave me a quick tour of the homestead and nice orchard shop side with a few peach, apple and pear trees. The pear tree was still quite full and I snacked on a few as well as picked some for the trip home. Nothing quite like freshly picked foods.
Back on track after a quick tour of the property, let’s get into the shop. Back in my neck of the woods, space is hard to come by and I make do with a converted single car garage. Mike’s shop however is about 8 times that with saws nicely displayed on sheets of plywood fastened to the walls.
Although 90% of it is US makers he does have some really nice UK panel and backsaws. From there we moved to one of my favorite makers, Harvey Peace followed by an extensive collection of all types of key-hole and table saws. This led into the remains, still over 75 of Disston. A few years back Mike sold off many of his D-8’s to Pete Taran for his site. We paused here while Mike went over some of the many highlights of his collection including multiple examples of early double eagles and some really nice and rare No 9, 10 and 14, as well as some hard to find thumb hole models, like D100 Acme 120.
Once done oohing and aahing over the Disston’s, we moved on to the many examples from Monhagen Saw Works, aka Wheeler, Madden & Bakewell, or Clemson, Madden & Clemson, or a few other combos of names, as the company went through a lot of hands and, as Mike’s research has brought to light, a number of significant patents. The highlight for me was seeing all three examples of the Joseph Holden patent handle. Next was a large collection of hardware and secondary makers like Simonds, Atkins, and Bishop to name a few. Who doesn’t enjoy checking out an interesting etching and I find hardware store saws had some of the best.
At around this point Mark Eastlick, a collector from western PA who fancies wooden planes from the same area and vice president of M-WTCA, joined us. Mark was also staying with Mike for the meet the following day. Mark’s been collecting for a good many years; although saws aren’t his first love, he brought some nice examples as well as a selection of tools for the tailgate at the show.
After introductions were finished the adults talked while I ran around and dug through the various piles and trashcans. Mike has saws stored just about everywhere along with the many other things he collects, like vices, axes, plumbs, saw vises, and calipers. At some point I grabbed a ladder so I could get a little closer to many on the walls. I continued to investigate and yell out questions while wine was poured; the conversation eventually steered inside and continued through dinner.
At this point Sherri and Mark were both done with the saw talk and it was decided a movie might distant Mike and me. It worked right up till the end and we started up again as Mike outlined the crossing paths from WMC. That continued to around 11pm which was good as we had an early start the following morning. Footnote to Mike, you really need to outline a tree of makes.
The morning came quickly; after an impassioned plea for coffee we hit the road for the meet. Sporting his OSU colors, Mike gathered up his saws for his display and off we went. Deer in their parts are always an issue, so with eyes peeled we made good time and arrived early to help set up tables and get things in order.
Mike brought his award winning display including a commemorative saw made by Taylor Brothers that was put out in 1884. It’s made to highlight the awards they won at eight world fairs between 1851 and 1882 and uses the famous Willow china pattern etched on it, easily one of the most elaborate etchings made. This also illustrates Mike’s abilities to research; along with the display Mike had some history and the plates the etching was based on. Roy Ebersole, aka the combo saw guy, brought an impressive collection of them for all to see. As a footnote, I’m working out a trifecta next summer and hopefully will see Roy, Carl Bilderback, and Mike, then take in the MWTCA tool meet.
With tables down and displays from the local members set up, it was time to meet and greet while eyeing up dealers’ tools hidden under the tables till the official start. Mike said turnout was low but I was impressed with over a dozen or so dealers set up, even a few faces I recognized. Once dealers got the ok, I deferred to Mike on any of the split nut saws but did pick up a nice 26” P26 and 12” No4 backsaw.
Once everyone had time to shop and mill about it was time for a short awards presentation followed by a nice lunch. Lars Larson as I found out was one of the legends in MWTCA and was presented with the Distinguished Service Award. Lars is one of the original research gurus and published the definitive book on spoke shaves. He’s also helped many others with their books and is listed in the credits of several of the landmark tool books.
Afterwards Dave Jeffers, long time Mid-West member and host of the meet, invited everyone back to see what I’d call one of the premier tool collections in the US. Really, words can’t describe the size of it, containing absolutely top shelf stuff from ebony center wheel plough planes to every type of tool there ever was. He started way back with draw knives which he easily had over 200 and then moved to plow and metal planes. His super rare Disston model #14, which has a walnut handle and chip carved triple eagle stamped blade, is by far the best 14 I’ve ever seen. The 14 was never in the Disston catalogues or advertised so it’s hard to say how many are out there but the number is very low. David was also more than happy to allow pictures and handling of any of them, which was nice as one of the best parts of hand tools is the feeling in hand. When you get right down to it, that’s what differentiates the best tools. What large collection would be without a Panther head saw and Dave’s didn’t disappoint. As time goes on I’ve had the luxury of seeing quite a few, and like most of the tools in his collection it’s about perfect.
My interests being in saws I really can’t do justice in listing all the highlights; I’ll just include a few pictures and say, thank you to Dave for collecting and sharing; it was impressive to take in.
By this time it was getting later in the day and coverage of Storm Sandy even in OH was ramping up. With that in mind I decided to cut the visit short and head home Sunday rather than Monday, the day Sandy was predicted to hit the homeland.
Once back at Mike’s I settled up on a few nice users from the collection allowing him to make room for new additions, which I’m sure has already taken place by the time this is posted. Sherri, aka the better half, put together some food for the trip and I headed out for the long trip home.
The return trip turned out to be quite a slog but uneventful. The wind picked for most of the drive and route 80 through PA, aka “the route of perpetual construction,” was quite backed up due accidents and construction despite the late hours on a Sunday night. I for one would rather pay a fee like the OH or NJ turnpike than deal with a 5 to 10 year reconstruction plan that gains and loses funding each year yielding very little results. Luckily I don’t often travel through the State College northern tier region of PA. But the few times a year I do, I’m dumbstruck sitting in a backup in such a remote area of the state due to road closers that haven’t seen a worker in months. That said, citizens’ band to the rescue, cuz when you’ll traveling the “Big Slab” at night remember to put the “ears on.” In this case it helped me avoid a 2 hour back up in the middle of no-wheresville. I linked up with a convoy that jumped off the exit before and we traveled the back roads till past it. All and all as previously stated, it was a slog, getting me home at 3am Monday morning that luckily turned out I had off. This allowed me to get some wash done and a little shopping before losing power for the next week. Hindsight, maybe I should had done another load and bought some extra batteries.
wishes everyone a happy Thanksgiving!