H.G. “Skip” Brack never knew much about woodworking or the saws, planes, chisels and other tools of the trade. A house painter during college, his tool knowledge was confined to putty knives, scrapers and paintbrushes.
It wasn’t until Brack’s neighbor brought a large collection of tools to his newly opened Jonesport Wood Co. in West Jonesport — the eclectic shop featured driftwood sculpture, crafts, a few tools and antiques — that he realized the craftsmanship and rich history and stories behind the heirloom hatchets, hammers and other woodworking tools.
“That’s when I learned who Mr. Witherbee was and the Buck Brothers because we were selling their tools,” Brack said, referring to two well-known woodworking toolmakers. “The tools went flying out the door.”
Brack owns and operates the Jonesport Wood Co., which today encompasses the Hulls Cove Tool Barn in Bar Harbor, the Liberty Tool Co. and Davistown Museum in Liberty, Captain Tinkham’s Emporium in Searsport as well as an online store.
Brack first ventured to Maine from Northern California, where he taught English at the University of the Pacific, in 1970. At the time, he was visiting his brother, who owned Water Island off Jonesport, but wound up settling in the Washington County town.
After opening the Jonesport Wood Co., Brack became especially known for fine hand tools associated with the early industries and technologies in Maine and New England. His fine collection steadily expanded and led to the acquisition of a historic storefront in Liberty as well as the eventual establishment of Bar Harbor’s Hulls Cove Tool Barn to house the growing inventory. He also moved to Hulls Cove from Jonesport.
“I came from West Jonesport because I could get running water, so that was the big deal, getting plumbing,” Brack chuckled, recalling his 1983 move to Bar Harbor.
Throughout his life, Brack has been drawn to and delved into storied places and structures. Hulls Cove, for instance, is where French explorer Samuel de Champlain is said to have landed in 1604. The Hulls Cove Tool Barn overlooks that shoreline and abuts an entrance of Acadia National Park. Hulls Cove village, he notes, was a bustling Native American trading area until the late 1610s. His own home, dating from 1818, was built by Captain Edward Brewer who constructed more than 100 schooners on the property.
Brack says he still delights in combing old barns, workshops and other potential sources for fresh finds, whether it’s a Hargrave clamp from the Cincinnati Tool Co. or a Miller’s Falls baby mitre box originating from a Massachusetts village by that name.
Sitting in the Hulls Cove Tool Barn, Brack singled out a few of his treasures lining the shelves and hanging from the rafters. Among them is a wood-shaving device.
“This is a mass shave [cutter] made out of English cast steel,” Brack explained, examining the metal blade on which a barely visible name is scratched on top. “This was made 1785 to 1790… was the mark on that.”
Calling himself simply a “tool picker,” Brack stresses he is not a woodworker and his knowledge therefore is limited about the trade.
“People ask me how to do a dovetail, but I don’t know how to do dovetails,” he said, referring to a difficult method of joining two pieces of wood at a right angle. “I do tool picking.”
Brack sees his store as a work of art, similar to the driftwood sculptures he constructed many years ago when he first moved to Maine.
“It’s an interactive sculpture where you take some of the tools and make something else,” he said. “Most of my customers don’t think of my store as a sculpture, but here’s my best work of art, right here.”