Een ouwe tang… (An old pair of pliers)

In Dutch the word “Tang” can mean pliers, but also be used as a slightly rude synonym for a grumpy old lady.

PTT Tang

Years ago I found this pair of pliers at a local flea market. They intrigued me, because I didn’t have the slightest notion of their original function. The shape suggested that it was used to clamp something together with force.

I took them along because I thought they could be used as a fret crimper. As with so many tools of Stewmac they are great, but expensive and you rarely need them.

The pliers lay for years in a box with rusty old tools under my workbench. From time to time I take something out to restore.

One of my friends is an electrician. When I looked in his van for a screwdriver there it was; a pair of the same pliers! “Hey, what’s this?” “Oh, that old thing, that’s a ‘PTT’-tang. They’re quite rare, but you hardly ever need them…” My friend answered.

At home I looked up the pliers. On closer inspection these little marks appeared.



The acronym “PTT” stands for the Dutch “Postal Telephone and Telegraph”-Service. An old public company, that got privatized in the nineties. Ever since the company was split up and sold over and over again. The name was changed a couple of times.

The Dutch government thought that through privatisation of public services – and by opening the market for other companies – the quality would go up and the prices would go down. Players on the free market would have to compete, and the consumer would have a choice between more and better products. Initially it did, but after a while the effect declined. The companies started to lower their prices, to win the favor of the consumer. To do so they started to cut costs on both the quality of their products, as on their workers. They hired managers to cut increase their efficiency, but even more to cut costs. Mailmen (usually a job for life) were fired and they hired cheaper young part-timers instead. To boil down the costs even more they increased the work pressure. The result is that instead of one, we now have three mailmen going from door to door. All barely making a living.

But back to the pliers…

This type of pliers was used by the telephone department of the PTT to crimp telephone wires together with little silver bushings. The wafer joint stands for a good connection. In America they used another type of connection. The so-called “Lineman Splice” or “Western Union joint”. This knot is still used by NASA today…

A piano connection…

The plot thickened when I started to clean the pliers. On the inside of both handles I found this inscription:


“FÜR – PIANO – DRAHT” (German: for piano wire). Was this type of pliers initially used to crimp piano wire together? Or had the makers simply used the handles of already available piano wire cutters and forgotten or neglected to remove the inscription?

There is no name of a manufacturer on them, but the handles and inscription looks the same as on a pair of old Knipex wire cutters I already had and read “FÜR – HARTEN – DRAHT” (for hard wire).

Does anybody know if these pliers were used for piano’s and what they were used for?

To do a great job…

I’ve put these pliers to work on the neck of this little sideproject: a short scale cookie tin banjo. Made from some leftovers and recycled materials. The frets were salvaged from an old low quality guitar that was too far gone to restore. Its fretwire didn’t have any barbs on the tang, instead they just hit the back with the side of a chisel to put some notches in. But that’s hardly enough to hold them in the slot.


This entry was posted in History, Projects, Think different, Tools, Uncategorized, Woodworking, Workshop and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Een ouwe tang… (An old pair of pliers)

  1. Hannes says:

    Ik zou je eens aanraden om hier te kijken. De nummers van op de foto staan telkens ook in de beschrijving van welke tool wat doet. Dit lijkt sterk op nummer 15194?

    PS: Enorm toffe blog die ik met veel plezier volg!


  2. gitdoc says:

    Very interesting story, and nicely written! It takes a fascination with these old tools to sleuth out their history as you have done! As for the “Fur-Piano-Draht” pliers, it is easy to assume that they would be used to grip the wire when stringing or servicing a piano. The wire is much thicker and very much more stiff than that of fretted instruments, which makes it difficult to control. Having a vice handle on a loose piano wire prior to cinching it around the tuning peg would be essential to the job. One of the saddest jobs I have undertaken was that of taking apart a derilict old piano, to salvage the materials. It yielded steel pins, ebony and ivory, felt cloth, steel, and some centuries old spruce, but the work was heartbreaking. The proud signatures of the craftsmen who had worked on its construction, I had a sense of their presence again. That’s bitter-sweet.


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