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07/29/2021 By Joe Samalin

Find someone who has the same color blue in their eyes as this classic Sears toolbox. They are a keeper! Dreamy!
Find someone who has the same color blue in their eyes as this classic Sears toolbox. They are a keeper! Dreamy!

We were recently contacted by someone looking to sell their father’s tools. He had been a cabinet maker for over 30 years, and had passed recently, and the son wanted to know if we buy used tools. While TFWW doesn’t, I do! I grabbed a good friend and we went to New Jersey after work last Friday.

He had a sprawling shop on the ground floor of his family’s 2 story house, and even though it was jammed packed to the ceiling with tools, hardware, wood, and more, you could tell there was an absolute order to it all. This was a well-worked-in shop and every square inch of space was used intentionally. As we walked around the shop (and a garage down the block which held an overflow of hand tools) with his son, I really felt this cabinet-makers presence in how intentional everything was. How tools were stored, labels on tools with key information for use, what was where and why.

And what struck me more than anything was how the tools seemed to be taken care of, which maybe had something to do with all the “don’t touch the tools” signs all around the shop. Not that they were all shiny and perfect, but that they were well used and in great condition to continue to use.

And to be clear, no judgement here from me - Joel might feel differently, as might you dear reader. We see customers who protect and mother their tools incessantly to those who use them hard and beat them up regularly, and everything in-between. (Does anyone name their tools? I have always wondered that.) But this guy had hand and power tools from decades ago that I could pick up and use today with zero problem. He had everything that he needed to do his job (cabinets) and very little else. Real intentionality.

Some examples that we picked up (just the tiny tip of a giant iceberg of what we bought, to be transparent):

Well used combination squares
Well used combination squares, including the Stanley on the bottom which I had not seen before, rounded edge with angle notches and a screw gauge built in.

As a cabinet-maker he must have had many occasions to use pipe and plumbing tools
As a cabinet-maker he must have had many occasions to use pipe and plumbing tools,such as these.

While the massive Forstner bit on the right has seen some better days
While the massive Forstner bit on the right has seen some better days, it and the older style bit on the left are still perfectly usable.

He had a large collection of hand saws
He had a large collection of hand saws, panel saws, joinery saws, and more. Some hadn’t been used for a while apparently, but they were all pretty freaking sharp.

We found router bits - a lot of them - in small plastic boxes soaking in oil. Old bits
We found router bits - a lot of them - in small plastic boxes soaking in oil. Old bits, but in pristine condition, and ready to use.

A lot of older
A lot of older, simple tools that had seen a lot of use, but still in really good shape. Including…

...these two chisels. These chisels stuck with me. Taped up
...these two chisels. These chisels stuck with me. Taped up, split, nailed, and a big plastic button inserted on the bottom of the shorter one. He used the hell out of these and kept them going. No idea how long the blades started at. I love these chisels, and would rather have them than a new one 6 days of the week.

One of the tools we didn’t take were a number of Yankee push screwdrivers - one because we sell them at our shop on occasion, but mainly because they were the one tool that his son remembered him using most, and that his father had let him use as a child. He wanted to hold on to those, as was only right.

So take a second, and take a look at where you work and with what. What does your shop say? What do your tools tell you about you?

Join the conversation
07/29/2021 Greg Smith
This was very readable. Thought provoking and clearly respectful of your subject. Thanks for this post!
07/29/2021 Paul Brown
What a wonderful experience, I just recently went to a man's house who had offered his recently passed father [1.5 Yeats] his father was a machinist, weldor,boilermaker for many large power companies in NYC. He was asking $100 for the two cardboard boxes.....told me as an architect, he had no use for all the measuring tools. Well, I did not barter, I just pulled the 100 dollars from my pocket and handed to him and told him how much I wold be able to use the tools. I feel a connection to the man, many of the tools had been cleaned up and the rust had been removed with I suppose a brass power burs, some were like brand new. I is so nice to see quality tools that have been taken care, I work with monkeys and finally broke down and bought them their own combo squares and rules......I was tired of them just throwing mine on a steel table like it was a 5 dollar tool, they just could not understand why I thought my Starrett tools could not be treated like their plastic HomeDepot wishes from Florida, Paul, an old tool fanatic.....I think
07/29/2021 John Higgins
I can shop is full, but pretty much everything gets used...I've bought deceased woodworker' tools before, and there's a special thing to it. I'm sure that you'll put what you purchased to good use.
07/30/2021 Stan Peters
Nice post. Really enjoyed reading it. Thanks.
07/31/2021 Paul Bailey
Nice story. I have a tool box of my Uncle Gerard's and Uncle Ralph's tools - they used them in the carpentry trade over sixty years ago. I don't use them, though; I treasure them because of the fond memories they bring of when I used to "help" them build stuff when I was a boy.
07/31/2021 Bob Leistner
Good post and I can relate since my shop is packed as well with old tools. I often look at a set of initials wishing the PO could see his tools being used and cared for,so long into the future.
08/19/2021 Joe
Thanks all for reading and commenting, didn't think I was alone on feeling the feels with older woodworkers' tools!

Work safe all!
Comments are closed.
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the blog's author and guests and in no way reflect the views of Tools for Working Wood.
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