All of my tools have a story, and here is just one: by TERRY McINTURFF

Mister Niles, I love you sir. A story.
All of my tools have a story, and here is just one ... that I was thinking about today.

Back in the early 1990's I was hired by Hamer Guitars and so had a regular paycheck and benefits (unusual for a guitar maker). Because of this, I was able to start obtaining more tools for my own mini-shop/garage shop in order to build my own things, take on guitar restorations for extra $$, and the like. I have always and will always have a shop...

One basic tool I needed was a "jointer". A jointer will create a flat-square-straight surface on blocks of wood; a good thing, and an essential tool for the guitar maker. And so, I perused the classifieds (this being pre-internet).

I found an ad for the tool in the pic: an older Delta 8" jointer. I was excited because I knew that the older Delta tools were the best that brand ever made: made 100% in the USA, great motors and build-quality. I had no interest in a new one, I wanted a REAL one. A REAL Delta.

I phoned the number and made an appointment with the man, for a couple days later/Saturday morning. It was about a 45 minute drive from my home in Marengo Illinois.

I arrived at the appointed time, a sunny day, and was greeted by a man in his 70's; he was in a wheelchair in the driveway, right in front of a two-car garage with the garage door open. From the instant that my eyes met his, it was clear to me that this was an extraordinary person..but of what sort I was yet to know. There was power in this man of the sort that told me there's something to learn, and that I was subordinate.
His name was Mr. Niles.

Glancing beyond him into the garage I saw a neatly set-up woodworking shop with tools and...especially..several impressive Grandfather Clocks in the making. There were indications that the shop was being disassembled. In addition, there were pictures and signs on the walls that explained to any-and-all that Mr. Niles was a Marine.

There was a professional and military conduct to this man, I picked-up on that immediately. From the confines of his wheelchair, Mr. Niles broadcast LEADERSHIP. The real thing. You don't need working legs for that. Duh...
From the start, it was plain that I was being interviewed; was this Terry fella worthy of the Delta jointer?

We went over to the Delta jointer. Mr. Niles explained that he had bought the tool in the 1970's from the original owner, and had "used it to build many of these" gesturing towards the several exquisite Grandfather Clock housings made of curly maple, walnut, and mahogany.

When I pulled-out around $1000-worth of Starrett squares and straightedges from my bag..in order to check the quality of the tool...that broke the ice. This longhaired skinny dude was serious! His vibe shifted a little.

"I had to shim the far corner of the outfield table to make it square!" said he. And lo-and-behold there was a strip of aluminum cut from a Coors beer can stuck into the corner of the dovetail joint that bonds that part to the base of the machine. My precision tools showed me that it was the perfect modification (it remains there to this day). Everything measured straight-and-square.

Mr. Niles watched me closely as I checked the quality of the machine. Satisfied that it met my requirements I spun on my heels and said "I'll buy it!".

Mr. Niles said "I didn't want just anybody to buy these tools. You see, I was wounded in Korea and in Vietnam and as the years went by, well, I couldn't walk anymore. And so, I'm stuck in this shit (pounded the wheelchair armrest). But I can still use every one of these tools, so show me that you can use this shit too."

"Show me that you can take that (motioning towards a 3 foot piece of pine 2x4 scrap) and make it straight and square, and don't fuck around. Move it!"
And so I did, a bit pissed-off.

TCM isn't about to be spoken-to that way, (I kick-ass too) but let me tell you that Mr. Niles exuded authority in a way that was "my way or the highway" and you just KNEW that his way was the right way.
"Have I passed the test" said I, "are you gonna sell me this jointer?".

The impressively powerful and REAL leadership vibe sagged..maybe 4%...

"Yes", he said in a slightly quieter voice. "You see, woodworking is my passion", (gesturing towards the gorgeous Grand Father clocks) "but now my daughter is moving me to Florida, to a goddam old folk's home, and I can't take any of this with me."

I said "Mr. Niles, your Delta has found a good home with me. I promise! I swear! I can tell that I could learn a lot from you (for real). Is it for-sure that you are going to Florida? When? Can I help you move? I want to learn from you, sir! What can I do to help?"

Mr. Niles said "It's a done deal, I am outta here, but thanks. You've shown me that you can use the tool so it's $500".

I gave him the $500 bucks. I combined that with a handshake and a hug. He was ok with the hug (surprisingly). I was so proud of having a connection with a person that REALLY FELT was a hero. I am sure-as-hell that Mr. Niles was one-hell of a USA Marine. One hell of a Marine.

Mr. Niles, I have used the Delta to make around 4000 guitars.

I have maintained it, kept it in good working condition.

Mr. Niles, thank you for selling me the Delta. I can say this too: I love you, many thanks for your service to the USA.

I love you, Mr. Niles.
Luthier and Musician Terry McInturff