Waste Not, Want Not

  • Downhome Magazine
  • Posted: May 11, 2016 11:15 AM

I must admit that when my wife Joanne and I acquired her family heritage property after the passing of her father, Elias Oldford of Musgravetown, Newfoundland back in 2001, I was overwhelmed by all the "stuff" cluttering up his workbench in the house and throughout his workshop (the shed).

Everywhere I looked there were containers of bent nails, nuts and bolts, pieces of pipe, old pots and pans (some worse for wear), wire and a myriad of just about anything you can imagine. But as I started the process of sorting, organizing and discarding the many things I could see little use for - I began finding countless homemade things. Suddenly, I realized Elias wasn’t a pack rat at all; he was an industrious beaver, holding onto everything until the day it may be just what he needed to make something useful.

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Through this process I gained a lot of respect for his ingenuity and the patience it must have taken to create such items with whatever he had on hand. I think his philosophy must have been, “If you can make it, don’t buy it.” 

For example, a need for a spatula saw Elias carving one from wood. (After all, how much different is a spatula from a dory paddle, other than size and shape?) How about a dip net? A wood handle was carved, copper pipe bent, fishnet attached and voila! A drum pump? Copper pipe, a T-joint and a leather piston plunger did the trick. 

A piece of leather was nailed on to increase the size of a shoe pattern, while a hand-carved handle attached to a piece of galvanized eaves trough became a dustpan. A reel for winding up wire or rope was made from plywood, and wood strips I’m sure came off Elias’ own table saw. He even rigged up an oil can by cutting out half the top of a soup can, soldering on a handle, and punching a hole in one side where a piece of copper tubing - cut at just the right angle - served as a spout. And the list of handmade items goes on and on.

The most amazing of Elias’ inventions, however, had to be his circuit tester. Made from a piece of carved wood, it was drilled out and grooved internally to accept a 12-volt automotive bulb. A wire attached to a nail and a spring made contact inside the wooden tube, and a screw ground to a needlepoint plus a spring clamp completed the wiring. If Elias were alive today, I’d just have to ask him how long it took to complete this project, and how many tries it took to get it right.


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Elias and Lizzie Oldford


The one piece of equipment I came across that was obviously purchased is one that I’m sure some folks today wouldn’t even recognize: a can sealer to crimp the lids on cans. Elias and his wife Lizzie canned their own fresh-caught rabbit, duck and moose. Sure it’s done with mason jars today - but the canner speaks to the work they did to ensure an adequate food supply to get them through the winter. No preservatives in them, I’m sure. 

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Perhaps taking a lesson from Elias’ wisdom, I used a case of new cans I found for sorting nails. And when my wife spotted those cans, in true family fashion, she requested, “Keep some for me; I can make candle holders out of them.”

A dory that Elias built (his second) still sits in the shop, taking up most of the space. It was almost finished when he left us. 

Anyone looking for a good boat? - Submitted by Bruce Manning of London, ON