L.O. has a midcentury “Inside” micrometer set (680A) by the Lufkin Co. of Saginaw, Mich.
Although I know nothing of tools, I found the story of the micrometer fascinating and admired the precision of these unique instruments.
The value is not great, because these tool sets were plentiful for machinists of all kinds. But what is fascinating is the story of the Lufkin Co., which goes back to the mid-19th century and one inventor who had a great idea: to make measures for the growing expansion of the country into the West. And for that, the country needed lumber — and plenty of it. And lumber had to be measured accurately.
Who knew that the manifest destiny philosophy of the U.S. in the 19th century was fueled by a thing as simple as a measuring device as lowly as a stick or tape, measuring inches and feet? But that measuring tool was a game changer.
Thus, I want to tell you about the history of Lufkin and why measuring devices such as this micrometer changed the world.
You will note the original fruitwood box for the micrometer. These sets came in three types of boxes: a sliding cover, a hinged box and plain old cardboard. Other competitors of this type of tool tend to sell for more, such as Logan, Sheldon, Slocomb, Starrett and Southbound, not to mention the Swiss-made line Brown Sharpe.
The Lufkin Co. was founded in Cleveland Ohio in 1869 by Edward Taylor Lufkin, a veteran of the 16th Regiment Ohio Infantry of the Civil War. He was an inventor of measuring devices, and shortly after he began his company he moved the factory to Saginaw, which at that time was the center of the logging industry. Lumber would roll along the 26-mile stretch of the Saginaw River, and the Lufkin Rule measured most of it. In fact, Lufkin began as a tool maker for the logging industry as ET Lufkin Board and Log Rule Manufacturing Co.
Some of Lufkin’s inventions include the first steel measuring tape in the U.S, now seen at the National Museum of American History. Lufkin’s manager, Fred Buck, in 1919 invented the wooden folding rule.
And the company produced the retractable tape measure in the 1940s. In 1976, the company supplied the Olympics in Canada with measuring devices. The company still exists today as Crescent Lufkin, owned by Apex Tool Group, the largest manufacturer of hand tools.
Now let me see if I can tell those who do not know about tools (as I don’t) what an inside micrometer does. Those who do know, please email me with corrections!
This little kit was used to measure inside diameters. The primary unit in the box is the stick, which is in the tubular style, in which the rod is double ended. The rod can use an extension and can use the various caps you see there. The rod houses a micrometer rod and cap to allow the length between precisely positioned measuring faces, which are spherical. If the micrometer is clean and undamaged and not worn, a measurement can be read.
I learned that within a margin of error, a measurement can be accurate, but if outside that margin, the tool is readjusted, calibrated with a gauge ring. Therefore, these old micrometers are usually collector’s objects and not used for measurements.
What is important to machinists who use these tools is the fit, the finish, the feel of such a tool and the ease of reading the tool. If a cap has a wonky thread for the screw, this can cause problems as a nick can affect how the rod and caps FIT, and therefore the measurement is wrong. Once the rod is set relative to the cap, the rod and cap can be used to set the other rods. And that is as much as I could understand about this little boxed Lufkin set of inside micrometers, number 680 A.
I find them online for $10-25, which seems cheap to me for such history and such precision, but I also see that hobbyists say that Lufkin was a mid-market tool, not the top of the line.
There was a special Lufkin store in Van Nuys in the 1960s. This little set could well have been purchased there, as the owner was in the film and TV industry.
I am serious when I say, “Please offer corrections to my tool knowledge.” Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart’s “Ask the Gold Digger” column appears Mondays in the News-Press.
Written after her father’s COVID-19 diagnosis, Dr. Stewart’s book “My Darlin’ Quarantine: Intimate Connections Created in Chaos” is a humorous collection of five “what-if” short stories that end in personal triumphs over present-day constrictions. It’s available at Chaucer’s in Santa Barbara.