A Field Guide to Antique Hand Tools
February 3, 2012 4:30 PM   Subscribe

When it comes to hand tools, many woodworkers will tell you that they just don't make 'em like they used to. Unfortunately, making sense of the myriad versions and model numbers of antique hand tools can be a daunting task. Fortunately there's Patrick's Blood and Gore for Stanley hand planes, the Disstonian Institute for Disston saws, Old Tool Heaven for just about everything ever made by Millers Falls, and HyperKitten, which includes pages on Metal Routers, Stanley Bench Planes, and Harvey W. Peace saws.

For those with a keen eye for detail, there's also The Stanley Plane Features Timeline MegaChart.

This one is even more specialized: A Type Study of the Millers Falls No.2 Eggbeater Drill.

Once you've found an antique saw you'll want to know how to use and maintain it, and for that there's VintageSaws.com, particularly its library.

Bonus Link: The Museum of Woodworking Tools (previously) is less useful for identification but a great source of pictures and information about a diverse collection of antique tools.
posted by jedicus (16 comments total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
Very nice. Some of these are already in my favorites tab, but it looks like I have more browsing to do. Thanks!
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:45 PM on February 3, 2012

I'll supplement these excellent hand tool links with Vintage Machinery.
posted by bonobothegreat at 4:49 PM on February 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you're going to bring up Stanley surely you also have to throw out some links on Norris infill planes.

I've never really seen the attraction of restoring an old Stanley compared to a shiny new Lee Valley or Lie-Nielsen item but those old Norris infills are gorgeous.
posted by N-stoff at 4:58 PM on February 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

My mother's family is from the Erzgebirgskreis region of Germany, which is renowned for two things: tin and woodcarving.

Smoking men, nutcrackers, pyramids, and Schwibbogen; all of them handmade in exquisite, incredible detail. Pine trees made out of dowels, carved with chisels so the wood curls in just the right way.

And there are tools that have been in the families of these woodworkers for decades, treated as not just tools but relics, icons, heirlooms. I would think that a lot of these woodworkers in Seiffen (one of the towns in the region best known for such things) would turn their nose up at the idea of replacing the tools unless absolutely required. And some of the tools are just as much a work of art as what they are used to create.

So, yeah, the tools aren't what they used to be, but with stuff like this, there's a chance to find out what they used to be, how to keep them maintained, and see what we missed.
posted by mephron at 5:11 PM on February 3, 2012

Upon reading the title and first sentence I thought this thread was going to be about Lee Valley Tools, whose fantastic mail-order catalogue is itself a kind of field guide to fine tools.
posted by oulipian at 5:12 PM on February 3, 2012

There are also lots of great replicas available now, for example Disston and Peace clones from wenzloffandsons.com. I've had fantastic success with hyperkitten, he is a great guy. Tell him what you want and he will seek it out!
posted by mantid at 5:15 PM on February 3, 2012

Lee Valley is great, but they definitely don't make 'em like they used to, either, albeit in a very different way (e.g. their Veritas molded-spine saws made with "advanced material incorporating stainless-steel powder for weight, glass fiber for stiffness, and a polymer resin binder").
posted by jedicus at 5:16 PM on February 3, 2012

I've never really seen the attraction of restoring an old Stanley compared to a shiny new Lee Valley or Lie-Nielsen item...

I'll explain it to you for $300.

Lie-Nielsen is typically where you have to go for the stuff that collectors have sent into the stratosphere (I love my 112) but there comes a point where I just feel like I'm paying someone a lot of money I don't have to do the stuff that you ought to know how to do like true up the sole, adjust the frog and that sort of thing. (When I get another research job in a corporation that wants their lab results now Now NOW! I may feel differently.)

For example, I've been wanting a bench rabbet plane for a while, but just couldn't justify the cost of the Lie-Nielsen #10-1/4, as nice as I'm sure it is. So I went with an Anant A10 and, after a bit of cleanup, it did what it needs to do. I'm kind of annoyed that the sole isn't perfectly perpendicular to the sides, but if I ever decide it's enough of an issue that I need to lap it true, I can do that thing and.

Similarly, I've decided I'd really like a set of hollows and rounds, and as nice as the Oldstreet planes are, there's a part of me that thinks that the fun I have learning to make my own might be worth the $3500, only I get to keep the $3500 when I'm done. (Less the O2 steel.)

I was already reconditioning the milling machine.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 6:05 PM on February 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've been a woodworking teacher for a going on 20 years. One of my favorite tools is something that they (Stanley) literally don't make like they used to - or even distribute in the US, for that matter. the 03-105 hand drill (egg beater type) lasts FOREVER if well maintained and is a classic. Its also exactly the right size and weight for my K-8 students. I've been hoarding them via ebay for a while now. Simple and wonderful tools, really.
posted by blaneyphoto at 6:32 PM on February 3, 2012

> Kid Charlemagne, I completely understand grabbing that Anant rabbet plane compared to eating mac and cheese for a year so you can afford Lie-Nielsen. Done similar things myself. What I don't get is paying the premium prices for an old Bedrock, buying a replacement chipbreaker and iron and spending hours rehabilitating it when I could just buy the equivalent from Veritas for a smallish difference in price. I want to play with wood, not shop for tools.

Those Oldstreet planes...all I can think of is how much quatersawn oak I could buy for one of their plow planes.
posted by N-stoff at 7:10 PM on February 3, 2012

If you're in the Toronto area this April 1st, check out the Tools of the Trades Show and Sale.

Plan to go early if you want the best pickings. I showed up just as the doors opened last year and there was a long line of old farts ahead of me (and hardly any parking).
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:27 PM on February 3, 2012

Careful at Lee Valley. Of late I feel they have been pushing much more high priced filler than high quality tooling. It's always been some of that, they have to make a buck from the dilettantes to stay open, but eg the latest sale catalogue is almost an embarrassment.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:43 PM on February 3, 2012

OK, so you're talking about the stuff the collectors have driven into the stratosphere - we're in perfect agreement then.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 6:24 AM on February 4, 2012

Ooohhh... Favorited for future reference and/or tool porn surfing.
posted by Harald74 at 6:54 AM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Then there's Garrett-Wade. They used to be my preferred supplier of woodworking tools, but sometime since the 1980s, they have fallen by the wayside and turned into just another yuppie gadget supplier, albeit with a focus on tools.
posted by Blackanvil at 11:34 AM on February 6, 2012

I also just saw Jedicus' other awesome woodworking post.
posted by Harald74 at 5:37 AM on February 7, 2012

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