Collecting Tools

As part of my apprenticeship, and over the years since, I have collected a number of specialized traditional boatbuilding tools. Some I bought as a kid when many of the last commercial wooden boat builders where I lived were dying off. I was surprised at how often the children of these skilled artisans sold off “dad’s old tools” to the local junk shop. In truth, many of these tools were pretty well used up, but since many of them were no longer made or available commercially, I would often buy them anyway to use as a pattern for a new tool that I made myself.

Traditional tools

             My first priority in tool buying was; buy tools that you can use to make other tools. The second priority was to buy tools that were broken, and therefore inexpensive, and use them for parts. The first category of tools tended too be expensive, but since they spawned other tools or repaired other tools, it was easy to justify buying them. The second category of tools tended to be extremely cheap, and provided me with high quality parts for pennies.
             Timing, as they say, is everything. I was very fortunate in that the master I was apprenticed to as a teenager really turned me on to the efficiency and simplicity of well-made hand tools.  I was further lucky in that, at the time, Americans had fallen totally and irrevocably in love with power tools. A common attitude was that if it was not a power tool then it had no value. One of my best purchases was a complete treadle lathe that a friend drew my attention to for $2.  I have made a lot of cool stuff with that lathe, and have taught some local kids how to use it, and they have made some neat stuff too. To my mind, that was two dollars extremely well spent.
             The last couple of times that I was in my favorite used tool haunts, I noticed a significant raise in prices (that is on those items that had prices).There were also several “collectors” in the store looking for something specific and who were willing to pay to find what they were looking for. I did not see anything that I wanted while I was in these used tool emporiums, but I was still grateful that I have already bought most of the hand tools that I need and use.
             Collecting anything can be addictive. I try not to collect tools that will just sit on a shelf, and never get used, but it is hard, because there is always that perfect tool that has not been used for years sitting in a toolbox, nearly forgotten until that one tricky job comes along for which it was designed. It is with a delight akin to Christmas morning in childhood to realize, I have the exact right tool for this…somewhere. I will admit that I am not as far gone as the father of a friend who, when introduced to the Lee Valley Tool catalog, went through the whole thing in silence. When he got to the end, he looked up and said, “Yup; got everything in there”.


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