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 setting that bends the staple inward. What is the other setting used for? — R. Wallace, El Cajon
According to the major desk stapler manufacturers, that little-used groove is for the mewling milquetoasts 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. Those sheaves are united for life. 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.
In the beginning was the seamstress’s common straight pin, a metal shaft with a point at one end and some kind of stopper at the other. Before the advent of the mechanical stapler, papers were often hooked together with these lowly devices. That mysterious alternative setting on today’s staplers is more or less a holdover from the straight-pin days. In fact, in the lingo of the desk-stapler professional, you’re “stapling” papers together if you use the common setting, but you’re “pinning” them if you use the looser, temporary setting. And that “base plate” is technically known as “the anvil.” Oddly enough, the little channels in the anvil have no names at all, 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 the grooves have remained pretty much unchanged since the dawn of staplerdom, I suppose there’s not much reason to refer to them at all. Except, of course, in correspondence with Matthew Alice.