Wood is a pretty phenomenal material. It’s been on earth longer than us humans have and is one of very few things that really do grow on trees. If you look around right now, chances are your environment is full of wood-based products. But its prolific presence in no way decreases its value.
Apart from allowing us the ability to knock on wood whenever superstition strikes, wood has been fundamental to the development of human civilisation. In the grand history of woodworking, 100 years is not a long time. But, to the modern woodworker, the tools of last century have great value.
As collector’s items, beautiful old planes, anvils, saws, carving tools and callipers can create an inspiring atmosphere in your workshop. Better yet, they can be restored and put back to use
in your trade. This allows you to keep a connection with the past while still being able to apply modern techniques. Modern woodworking machinery can be used for speed and mass-production and then old-school tools and techniques can be applied to add personality to your work.
Where to look for antique woodworking tools
You’ve got a lot of options when it comes to antique tool shopping:
- Online marketplaces and tool exchanges;
- Op shops;
- Antique shops;
- Consignment shops;
- Garage sales.
How to spot an old tool
There are so many antique wood planes in the world, correct identification can be a difficult task. Due to their age and occupation as tools, they’ve often long-since lost their maker’s mark. It’s worth getting an idea of the tools and brands you want and familiarising yourself with key features that will help you identify them.
Online resources (like this beginner’s guide to antique tool collecting) are a great way to familiarise yourself with the features of any old antique tools you’re looking for. If you’re going to a thrift shop or antique auction, it’s worth bringing a smart phone or tablet so you can get online on the spot. This will also be useful for figuring out if you’ve found a bargain or a rip-off. Even rare tools are worth a lot less if they’re in poor condition.
If you know you’re going tool shopping, make sure you also bring a carpenter’s square with you. Getting accurate measurements of the tool will help you in correctly identifying it.
Stanley is a brand to keep an eye out for as their tools are highly collectible and, therefore, valuable. Other standout brands for collectors include Belknap, Sears Craftsman, Disston Saws, Keen Kutter, Walker Turner, Delta, Miller Falls, L. Bailey and Seneca Falls.
Basic antique woodworking kit
If you’re looking at working with your vintage finds, the following tools are must haves in your arsenal:
- A Caliper (or Compass) set
- Marking Gauge
- Folding Rule
- Marking Knife
- Combination Square, Sliding Bevel Square Try Square
- Rip and Cross Cut panel saws
- Dovetail, Carcass and Tenon Back Saws
- Miter Box & Miter Saw
- Coping Saw
- Chisel Set (including a Mortise Chisel)
- Wooden Mallet
While it is quite a shopping list, you don’t have to go vintage for all of these tools. However, the complete set will allow you to do a range of old-school woodworking projects.