As spring rolls around, driveways, garages and front lawns around the country fill with unwanted stuff for weekend yard sales. There can be some real gold mines—the trick is, knowing what to look for. So, how can you sort the junk from gems? Popular Mechanics’ recent article examines some of the great finds you can snag at garage sales and they have some sweet tips for shoppers!
Part 4 (of 4): Hand Tools
If I were in the market for old woodworking tools, this would be a particularly good time to find them. The recent economic downturn has really put the squeeze on prices for old hand tools. It’s not unusual to find high-quality planes out there for anywhere from $25 to $100. I’ve seen handsaws that still had plenty of life in them for as low as $5. Those are prices that I was paying back when I was buying my first woodworking tools in the late 1970s and early ‘80s.
Here are four rules to live by when scouting for old tools:
• Remember that hand tools lead a hard life.
Even a tool that was well cared for was probably used to provide somebody a living. In most cases, the tool’s better days are behind it and if you intend to use the thing, it’s likely that you’ve got some work ahead to restore it. Still, there’s probably some life left. A properly restored hand tool has many good years ahead of it.
• Always assume that the tool isn’t original.
A tool that’s been around for a hundred years or so has had multiple owners. It’s also very likely that one or more of those owners abused the tool, lost parts or altered the tool to suit his needs. If you want the thing to work properly, you’ll have to find an antique tool dealer who can supply you with replacement parts or an entire tool that can act as a donor. It’s either that or you’ll have to make convincing duplicate parts yourself. But you’re not a museum curator; you’re a guy rescuing a tool from the trash heap. Don’t be shy about stepping into history here. Be respectful about what the tool once was, but do what needs to be done to get it working.
• Realize that rust is no big deal.
Old tools, even good ones, are often rusty. Deal with it. Strip rust by whatever means is least invasive and thereafter apply a coat of protective wax or a light film of oil.
• Keep a cool head.
If there’s one thing that’s on your side when you negotiate for a tool, it’s not wanting it too badly. The more you want it, the more likely that you’ll overpay—only to regret it later. Take your time, give the tool a thorough look and do your best not to pay more than you think it’s worth.