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Dear M.A.:

Why do staplers have two settings on the base plate for the direction in which the staple bends? Everyone (I know of) uses the settings that bends the staple inward. What is the other setting used for?

-- R.W., El Cajon

According to stapler makers, that little-used groove is for the sniveling hordes who lack the decisiveness of your circle of friends. When your pals hook together a wad of papers, they mean business. They use the channel that double-bends the staple and clenches the points toward the middle and back into the wad itself. The other setting, the one that splays the staple points outward, is for temporarily attaching papers that are intended to be separated again. The attachment is looser, and it's easier to remove the staple without chewing up the corners of the pages.

Before the advent of mechanical staplers, papers were often hooked together with a seamstress's ordinary straight pin-- a thin metal shaft, sharpened at one end and with some sort of stopper at the other. That mysterious alternate setting on a mechanical stapler is a holdover from the straight-pin days. In fact, in the insider lingo of the desk-stapler professional, you're stapling papers if you use the common setting, but you're pinning them if you use the temporary setting. The base plate is called the anvil. Strangely enough, the little grooves in the anvil themselves don't have names, as far as I can discover. Are professional design engineers reduced to referring to them as the little staple-bender-groove thingies? Hard to imagine. But since they've remained unchanged since the dawn of staplerdom, there's probably not much reason to refer to them at all, except in correspondence to Matthew Alice.

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