“Ham Hands” revisits the scene of the crime part 2

March 27, 2014

If you’re like I was when the hand tool bug bit, you looked at the premium hand planes and thought “…there’s no way I’m spending that much money for those!”

My…how times have changed!

Photo courtesy the Renaissance Woodworker "Putting Vintage Tools Back to Work"

Photo courtesy the Renaissance Woodworker’s “Putting Vintage Tools Back to Work”

And just like me you probably decided to do a little research on “vintage” planes, because you heard they’re a lot cheaper as long as you’re willing to put a little elbow grease into restoring them. Then once you finished indulging in all of those articles and posts you found on the topic you were probably even more confused than before!

I’d love to tell you this post will somehow answer all your questions about buying vintage tools, but the truth is I still have plenty myself. In a nutshell…I have some and I’ve attempted to restore them myself with varying degrees of success and absolute failures.

One thing is for sure on this topic, it can be a very slippery slope if you’re not careful!

So if you don’t mind me giving a little unsolicited advice, I’ll share a few things from my own experience and include links to some previous posts on my website and some outside resources you might find useful also.

Are you a user or a collector?
As tempting as it is to own one of every hand plane ever made, the truth is you probably only need maybe two or three at the most. Even then that may be one or two more than you end up using on a regular basis.

So unless your goal is to dive headfirst into a hand tool only shop, most woodworkers can easily get away with owning just a block plane and smoothing plane. If you plan on occasionally breaking down rough stock, for whatever reason, adding a Jack plane might be worth your time too…or not…

Resources like the website Patrick’s Blood and Gore or books such as The Handplane Book by Garret Hack might give you the impression your shop isn’t complete without an entire collection of every odd-ball and specialty plane ever made. But in reality, these will more than likely just sit on the shelf and collect more dust than they make.

So before you start bidding on anything unusual on eBay or stalking a specific booth at the antique store, ask yourself if it’s really something that you need or just something you want for bragging rights on a forum someplace.

So you inherited some tools huh?
Over the years I’ve received my fair share of emails describing how someone just inherited a family member’s hand plane(s) and it turns out they must not have made any attempts to ever take care of them over the years.

Frequently the emailer will then ask what needs to be done to make this tool(s) as beautiful as the day their loved one first brought it home.

So let’s talk a little about that first part. In some situations, the tool was originally a real workhorse of this individual’s workshop. They used it all the time and it has all the tell-tale signs of a life of hard but satisfying work. Eventually it was neglected and fell into disrepair because the owner simply stopped using it for a large number of reasons, perhaps something new came along (possibly with a cord) or they just stopped woodworking all together.

There’s also the very really possibility that this tool worked great until it was damaged and then never repaired or maybe it was simply a lemon right out of the box and your loved one just shrugged their shoulders after a few failed attempts to use it and set in on the shelf.

Whenever faced with an email asking about how to bring an old tool back to life, my first question is “do you plan to use this plane?”

Because if that’s the situation, then as far as I’m concerned all you have to do is get rid of the surface rust. Make sure the moving parts work, sharpen that blade and then get back in the shop and enjoy your inheritance!

This reply is often then followed up by at least a few more emails asking about how to do more with the plane than scraping off the surface rust. Frequently there’s questions about reapplying the original Japanning and restoring the tote and knobs.

Unfortunately for these emailers, my only suggestions are to consider purchasing spare parts from a few websites that deal in plane restoration or to do a Google search on home Japanning for DIYers.

I don’t want to sound mean about it, but quite honestly, my goal with a hand plane isn’t to show it off and take it down to wax and buff it, my goal is to use it. So if it looks like it’s seen better days…it probably has, but for right now it has some work to do to earn its keep in my woodshop.

If your goal is to get your vintage plane in tip-top shape for whatever reason, a resource I like to point people towards is a series of articles a listener posted on his own website years ago. I think you’ll find everything you need to know right over there at www.baconfatlabs.com “Refurbishing old hand planes pt 1”.

Two titles you may find useful on this topic are Buying & Restoring Hand Tools with Ron Herman (Digital Download) and The Great Hand Plane Revival by Rob Cosman (DVD).

I was at an antique store/flea market and bought a box full of planes. What are they and how much are they worth?

Again, not to sound mean, but I’m a hand plane user and not a hand plane collector. But fortunately in this day and age there are a lot of resources to help you figure these questions out. I mentioned Patrick’s Blood and Gore a few paragraphs ago, if you haven’t visited this website yet make it one of your next stops by CLICKING HERE.

Also, a really good book for helping you to identify the style of hand plane and maybe pique your interest in others is The Handplane Book by Garret Hack (I mentioned this previously also).

When it comes to pricing the value of a given hand plane it might be surprising but a lot of dealers and serious collectors will gauge the market value of items by looking for them on auction sites like eBay. Definitely check over there, just make sure you’re comparing apples to apples when it comes to quality and descriptions.

I know a few folks have recommended field guides that contain identifying information and price ranges for specific tools. These are usually updated each year and can be found online at Amazon.com or in bookstores.

Thankfully a few years ago a good friend of the show sent me some great information about what he described as his “Hand Plane Hunting Kit”. It was such great information I asked for permission to compile it together and share it with everyone.

If you’re interested, checkout the original post from June of 2008 “279 Wayne’s Hand Plane Hunting Kit”.

And finally, another question that typically accompanies emails about vintage tools is whether or not you should attempt to restore a plane you plan to turn around and sell. As a grandson of former antique “collectors” DO NOT do this! If the tool has value, the collector will want it “as-is”.

I hope there’s a little something in here that you find useful. Vintage tools are a great way to go when it comes to hand tools, but as I mentioned previously, it can be a slippery slope if you’re not careful.

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