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BEN The Build-It Blog

Filling Your Toolbox

08/19/2021 By Joe Samalin

My last post was about second-hand tools bought from the son of a cabinet-maker. It just so happened that a few weeks later I found myself in Lewisburg, PA, a small town in Pennsylvania which happens to have a plethora of antique shops. I grew up in a family that was always shopping in thrift stores, garage sales, and the like, and I enjoy spending time in such places even today, especially antique stores, and especially for tools.

Being from New York City, there are a lot of such stores upstate, even just an hour or two (or more) north of NYC. You can find many tools in such places, and there is a definite pattern I have noticed of what tools they tend to carry, and that pattern has surprisingly been confirmed here in Lewisburg as well. I am sure many of you have found similar patterns looking over old tools and tool collections, feel free to share your stories and insights below. I want to share a bit of what I have found here as a message to newer woodworkers that are looking to add needed tools to their metaphorical and literal toolboxes, because in addition to (of course!) shopping at Tools For Working Wood, vintage tools can also be a fun way to fill your toolbox.

All of the pictures for this blog come from a trip to the Roller Mills Marketplace - a towering 5 story structure that houses 100’s of individual stalls, with an endless variety of antique and vintage items for sale. Some stalls have lots of tools and some have one or two, with the latter sometimes offering better prices on what they have. Here is a sampling of the kind of tools you can most often find, as well as some of the fun mystery tools that I found as well.

Old saws



Hand saws
Hand saws


Timber saws available
Timber saws available


Let’s start with saws, a favorite of ours at TFWW. You can find a wide variety of hand saws out and about. Panel saws, coping and fret saws, electric saws, metal saws, and more. Some might be in close to original condition, but more of them are usually less so. If you are looking for a handsaw for cutting down stock or fine joinery, then you just need to make sure it is in good general condition, and is sharp enough to cut.

Bow saw for $35
Bow saw for $35

You will always find some mystery tools as well. Including this saw below - a “primitive saw” as it is labeled. Google is often your friend in shops like these - check what tools are, what they are for, if you can get accessories for them, and even what they might be worth and if the price is a good one.

A
A "primitive" saw


To get your saws into shape, you can sharpen your own fixed blade hand saws if you are so inclined, or pay a professional to do it for you. While you can occasionally find vintage saw files and vices out there, they tend to be harder to find. You can give looking for them a shot, but for tool accessories you need, it is often easier to look at shops like ours, for example our Gramercy Tools 14” Saw Vice and Corradi saw files. For coping saws, fret saws, jigsaws and other replaceable-blade saws, it is advised to check online to make sure blades for your soon-to-be vintage tool are available.

Hand Tools and Tool boxes
You can find a lot of individual tools and the boxes that hold them at antique shops. From large stationary chests to a variety of more portable tool boxes as well, and sometimes in pretty good condition. Poking through boxes and piles of tools can often uncover hidden treasures.

A small tool box overflowing with hand tools
A small tool box overflowing with hand tools


Hammers anyone? Easy and cost-effective way to pick up a variety of types of hammers
Hammers anyone? Easy and cost-effective way to pick up a variety of types of hammers, all of which carry some history.


Traditional carpenter’s chest with tools and two trays
Traditional carpenter’s chest with tools and two trays


This carpenter’s chest is indeed massive. Even without too many tools it was solidly built and very heavy. Not sure how practical it would be for your average woodworker, but a cool conversation piece at the very least.


While I am not sure of the original use/design
While I am not sure of the original use/design, this could be used for tools.


Planes


Ah yes, planes. You can find so many old wooden or metal planes out there, just take a look. It feels almost obligatory that any antique store in upstate NY or other rural areas have at least one for sale, if not dozens or hundreds. It makes sense given the ubiquity of the tool, the variety of shapes, sizes, and uses, and the fact that they are still useful today. For those starting out, picking up a vintage hand plane, restoring as needed, and possibly outfitting it with a new blade or other parts can be a fun and meaningful way to round out your toolbox. For specific plane questions, suggestions, pictures, histories, and more of any and all planes I refer to our beloved editor Joel. Don’t get him started on planes unless you are ready to learn it all!

Just a small sampling of what I found here.
Always check in the glass display cases
Always check in the glass display cases, you never know what is wedged in there hidden from sight.


Such as this nifty brass router plane!
Such as this nifty brass router plane!



Or cool combination planes like this one
Or cool combination planes like this one, complete with blades and instructions.


Filling Your Toolbox 12
 More variations on a theme
More variations on a theme


Unique Tools


In addition to the range of useful more common hand tools above, you can find a lot of unique and possibly one-off tools. As a still relative-to-other-employees-here newbie, I often find a few tools that I have never seen and could not tell you what they are.

I have been doing more green woodworking recently
I have been doing more green woodworking recently, and never knew I needed one of these. They go by a few different names but was labeled here a bark spud. It does what you think, helps to quickly and efficiently remove bark from tree branches and limbs.



Did not google this and not going to. No desire to know what a “flesh knife” is
Did not google this and not going to. No desire to know what a “flesh knife” is, or why this is labeled a “signed” flesh knife. Hoping it relates to butchers and not anything else!


Inspiration


One more thing you can find, inspiration! Whether looking at different types of tools, methods for tool storage/transportation, or even projects to make.

While I don’t know exactly what a butter paddle is for (I assume the making of butter?
While I don’t know exactly what a butter paddle is for (I assume the making of butter?
I like the lines and look of the paddle and bowls, and am incorporating them into my carving.)

 Freaking cool. I never knew that chip carving could produce something like this. I must explore more!
Freaking cool. I never knew that chip carving could produce something like this. I must explore more!


The Wild Card


And then there is the wild card. The thing you never saw coming. For me it was something I have never seen in an antique store complex. I went downstairs to see the shops there and walked right into this room.


Yeah. Wow. An entire room of extremely reasonably priced hardwood slabs
Yeah. Wow. An entire room of extremely reasonably priced hardwood slabs, from smaller pieces to massive ones. While some of them had small cracks or defects, they were all usable and again very well-priced. I picked up a number of them and will be using them in projects for future blogs!


Filling Your Toolbox 19
Filling Your Toolbox 20
But what did I buy you ask? Did I actually get any tools in Lewisburg?! Yup. I did. Got the following, a beautiful crosscut hand saw for a friend who loves this maker, and a large plane as a challenge to myself to restore and use. More about them later perhaps…

Timber saw against a full-sized Ashley Iles bench chisel for scale!
Timber saw against a full-sized Ashley Iles bench chisel for scale!


Filling Your Toolbox 22

So when you have a chance check out your local antique store (or garage sale!) and see what you can find, and tell us about it. Mystery tool stories are welcome as well.
Join the conversation
08/19/2021 Michael B Terry
Pretty sure the "big" saw is more accurately known as a "bone" saw, or not. Hard to tell the cutting length of the blade, so don't know which animals it would be used for. Here elk would be the largest one. My blade is 16"s long, with a new handle put on, 2 of the through bolts use a square drive, with the 3rd (maybe original) that has an infinity sign on its head.
08/19/2021 Joe Samalin
Michael - agreed and it is a bone saw. Hence the "great for butchering" on the label. It is funny how often you find tools where the person selling them doesn't know what it is either!

Joe S
08/20/2021 Wade Hutchison
Nice find. I drive by Roller Mills every day on the way to work. Have found tons of tools and "treasures" there, especially in the (somewhat scary) basement. I'm not sure, but the wood may from an excellent local sawmill, Alderfer Lumber (about 1/2 hour South of Lewisburg). Hope you enjoyed your trip to central PA!
08/24/2021 Joe
Wade - small world! A friend just started teaching at Bucknell U and so might be there on occasion. Will check out the lumberyard as well, thanks!
09/03/2021 Eric
Based on the dual handles I have to assume that "flesh knife" is used like a drawknife, but used to remove either skin (maybe for leather making?) from a carcass or to remove meat (for eating) from bone. "Signed" might mean it was owned by a particularly famous butcher, but it probably means that it is stamped with the name/logo of a known tool maker.
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