Brace and bit

Last Friday evening after dinner my wife asked me to walk down to the Pinney house with her. Barely five feet tall, a petite Mrs. Pinney, along with her daughter and son-in-law, was busy sorting through household items to be put up for sale Saturday morning. Mr. Pinney, who had been a big man, passed away late last fall; he was 80-some years old. He left behind a shed of tools and paraphernalia—many items that Mrs. Pinney wouldn’t be able to take with her when she vacates the property later this spring.

The son-in-law was in the back yard, seeing if he could get the small cement mixer to run. The belt on the pulleys hummed along happily, turning the old spattered orange drum. In the garage there rested a walnut a gun cabinet, several old wooden surf-casting rods, and various yard implements such as rakes, hoes and spades.

The shed adjacent—the former site of the Pinney cigar factory—housed a workbench laden with all sorts of tools: a drill press with scores of different sized bits, hammers, jack planes, socket wrenches, screw drivers. A table saw stood in the middle of the floor next to a small jig saw with the original manuals describing their operation and upkeep. A chest of drawers opposite the workbench held old coffee cans full of various types and sizes of nails and screws. Next to this, on a shelf along the side wall, rested an old Coleman stove and lantern with sentinel cylinders of white gas. Centered before the rear wall stood an antique cast-iron stove, complete with removable top to access hotplates for cooking. Immediately behind the stove a short supply of split firewood lay stacked against the rear wall.

Mrs. Pinney told me how Mr. Pinney had got his hand caught in the table saw several years back. The blade mangled three fingers on his left hand. A Hartford hand surgeon put the fingers back together in two separate operations: the first lasted five hours, the second three. With the exception of some residual stiffness of the index finger, Mr. Pinney had nearly full use of the hand up until his death.

“Here is the grips he used to strengthen his hand after the accident,” Mrs. Pinney said, lifting the implement from a nail on the shelf.

“What’s this?” my wife said, picking up a bent metal bar from a bin near the table saw. “Some sort of crank?”

“No, it’s part of a tool,” Mrs. Pinney said.

“It’s called a brace and bit,” I explained. “It’s an old-fashioned hand drill. You insert the drill—they called it a bit—here, and then lean on the wooden knob as you turn the crank. It was part of any carpenter’s tool box.”

My wife bought a number of pieces of porch furniture: a small table with two wrought iron chairs and the wicker rocking chair that Mr. Pinney used to sit in with his ever-present cigar most summer evenings.

“How long were you married?” I asked Mrs. Pinney.

“Fifty-five years,” she said. “I was 17 on my wedding day. By the time I was 21, I had 3 babies. Now I’ve got 4 great-grandchildren, with another one on the way.”

Afterwards, on our way home, we stopped off at the cemetery. It took a while, but we located the Pinney family plot beneath the ancient maple near the arborvitae hedge. A granite stone bore the dates of Mr. Pinney’s father and mother. His mother was a Fahey, an Irish schoolmarm. We couldn’t find Mr. Pinney’s marker; sometimes it takes a while before it’s set in place.


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