Some posts are easier to write than others. This is an easy one.
One of the best things about hand tools is that good ones have been made for a long time. There are beautiful, beautiful new tools available for very high prices – rosewood and brass infill planes, white bronze planes from manufactures like Lie-Nielsen. Most of which are out of reach for a hobbyist like me. But good, workable tools have been around forever, and were often designed to last for a lifetime’s work.
And that’s why I love eBay. I’ve found some remarkable deals, and some great old tools – and the process of restoring some has brought me to know them in wonderful and unexpected ways. Here’s a few – some restored, some still to be done.
One note: I am not an antique tool collector. I onlly pick up tools that I’m actually going to use. They’re beautiful things – but to me, the beauty is in the craft, not on the shelf.
Millers Falls “eggbeater” drill: These aren’t hard to find at all. Often less than $20. Mostly missing the knob on the side, but work fine without it. Cleaning up the layers of old varnish on the handle showed it to be a beautiful grade of rosewood. All the teeth are in perfect shape, and its action is smooth as velvet. Price on eBay: $16.
Wood River #5 plane: These are made by Woodcraft, and the reviews I’ve read have been mixed. Personally, I think it’s great. It handles well, is balanced well, is solid and accurate construction, and it works great. Yes, the lateral adjustment lever is flimsy. I can live with that… because it works exactly like I want it to. You can Google a couple of really negative reviews of these planes. Don’t believe them. Price on eBay: $35.
Stanley/Bailey #4 smoothing plane: There are scads of these around. Lots of them still in regular use, and there’s a reason for that. This one had been pretty well tuned, but I don’t like the refinishing on the handles – I’ll probably strip it off and polish them, and replace them if I still don’t like the way they feel. I honed the blade and put it to work immediately. Price on eBay: $50.
Stanley #40 scrub plane: It’s a rough, simple tool, for doing rough, simple work. It’s for removing large amounts of stock, in preparation for finer smoothing planes. Very few parts, simple mechanism. Still needs some cleaning, and I’ll probably sand and polish the handles. Some of the japanning could be in better shape, but it doesn’t affect the way it works. Price on eBay: $50.
Stanley #62 ruler: Boxwood, bound in brass. Usually around $20. The brass-bound ones (like this) stay perfectly accurate over time. This one has all its alignment pins intact, which is a little unusual. It cleaned up great, and is easy to read. Every time I use it, I wonder how many woodworkers handled it before me, and what they built. This one just feels good to my hands. Price on eBay: $16.
Japanese mortising chisels: No maker’s mark, no earthly idea about the quality of the steel. They work well, and were an inexpensive way to try out my first Japanese tools. They work fine, and are smaller and easier to handle for small mortises than my Narex mortising chisels (although for larger mortises, I’ll take the Narex chisels any day and twice on Sunday). Price on eBay: $9 for the pair.
Veritas Detail Chisels: Some days, the universe smiles on you. I’d been drooling over these at the Lee Valley website for about $200, trying to find a way to justify the expense. Then these turned up on eBay. One chisel had a small ding on one corner of the edge, which sharpened out in about three minutes. I’ve never used chisels for detail work that even come close to these. Price on eBay: $65.
None of this is to say that all eBay sellers are reputable – but I’ve been buying and selling things on eBay for about 15 years now, and I’ve gotten burned exactly once. Watch the seller’s reputation and return policies. Read the descriptions carefully, know what you’re looking for, and be patient. You can find some amazing tools at wonderful prices if you’re willing to invest a little steel wool, mineral spirits, elbow grease, and sharpening time. And if you’re not, why are you interested in hand tools in the first place?
This fall, my good friend Bill Baldwin is going to bring some old hand planes back to Dallas from the Lawson Boating Heritage Center on Chatauqua Lake. I’m going to clean them up and restore them to workable condition. There’s an old wooden jointer plane, a great #5 Stanley Bedrock, a coffin smoother with a cracked body that I probably can’t do anything about, and two great wood and metal transitional planes. My goal isn’t to make them museum pieces or collector’s items. Just to get them into working condition so they can be used in the shop there if they want to. They may never get used, but I’ll have fun doing it. And I’ll be wondering about the woodworkers who used them to feed their families, to make fine work, and treated them well enough that some have survived more than a century in usable condition.
More to come.