There are two different routes you can take for buying hand tools, which you choose depends on whether you are money rich or time rich. If you are money rich you can buy hand tools from reputable makers such as Veritas, Lie Neilsen, Clifton and Quangsheng. If you are time rich, or just like restoring old things, then good tools can be found on ebay and a car boots. But you need to be wary. So what should you look for?
Buying tools on ebay is more risky than buying offline as you are not likely to be able to handle and assess them. It takes careful study of the posted images and asking some pointed questions of the seller. Do not be afraid of interrogating the seller.Here’s what to look for for a selection of tools.
- Is it straight? Chisels must be completely flat at the end, if not they will not sharpen or cut properly. If you can handle it eye it along the length, or better still, check with straight edge both along and across the flat of the back. If it’s not flat it will require work to flatten it.
- Is there rust pitting, especially on the flat side? This is only important at the end of the chisel, the last 5 or so mm, beyond that the pitting will disappear as you sharpen over the years.
- Are they old? People say that the steel in old chisels is always better than those produced now. This is not strictly true but true enough to act as a guide. The quality of steel can be judged when dry grinding, the more red the sparks from the wheel generally indicates better quality steel ie steel that will hold an edge longer.
- How good are the handles? Are they split or crushed over on the end? Is there a good ferrule at the tool end of the handle? Do not necessarily shun plastic handled chisels. The older blue handled Stanley chisels and the green handled Marples chisels are good
- Generally a fairly good set of five older chisels, not necessarily matching should cost about £15 on ebay.
It is probably more important to ask questions about planes on ebay than chisels as there could be more hidden problems. If you are looking for cheap planes to fettle up I would recommend Stanley or my personal favourite Record.
- Is is complete or has it been cobbled together from bits and pieces? I was caught out with this recently on ebay, buying a very old Stanley five and a half plane and the blade and cap iron were for a five (ie 2″ wide instead of 2 3/8). When handling a plane you can often see when handles are not original, perhaps plastic on an vintage plane. Sometimes it may be a Stanley cap iron on a Record plane, this would not affect the performance but does indicate a cobbled plane.
- Are the handles OK? When a plane is dropped the handle is the most likely breakage. Check for cracks, current or repaired. Often the handle will be loose and unable to be tightened, this can be corrected by putting a washer below the brass screw at the top of the handle. Often plastic handles are cracked at the small screw hole at the base, this is because the holes in the handle don’t align with the holes in the plane base, possibly because it is not the right handle for the plane.
- The other possible breakage when a plane is dropped is the casting of the plane body. This may be at the wings that come up by the blade or a crack running from the mouth up the side of the plane these cracks can be difficult to spot but will effect the flatness of the plane sole.
- Is there rust pitting, in the body or the blade? Pitting in the body may not affect performance, it just doesn’t look nice. The sole will be rubbed on wet and dry to flatten it I little pitting remaining will not reduce efficiency. Pitting at the blade edge will make sharpening difficult.
- Is the blade flat? This is the same consideration as with chisels, only more so, as the surface to flatten is so much larger.
- How much blade is left? Old planes often have a blade with not much usable steel left. This will need replacing a new standard 2″ or 2 3/8″ blade costs about £12 -£14.
- I have been paying about £30 for 5 1/2 record and Stanley planes on ebay recently, although a recent student on my Fettling course made me jealous saying he had been paying £15 to £20 for his!
Here I am talking mainly about older tenon and panel saws. New saws are usually hardened so cannot be resharpened so are not much use as second hand tools. And again it is important to ask questions about the tools when buying on ebay.
- Is the blade straight? Possibly the most important question.
- Are there teeth missing, an unstraight saw can be straightened a little, but missing teeth would take a lot of work to deal with, so perhaps this question is more important!
- Are the handle rivets/scews complete? Often older saws have the brass screws that secure the handle to the blade missing, they can be hard to replace.
- Any rust pitting? Minor pitting is not too critical, a clean up with steel wool and a rub with candle wax can overcome it.
This is a quick run through some of the important things to look for when buying second hand tools. I’m sure the experienced ebayer or car booteer can come up with more. I would be interested to hear from them, please comment below.
If you like what you've read or know someone who would,
please help me spread the word by using the buttons below