Vintage tools- refurbish, restore, repair... (what are right?)

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Forum topic by mafe posted 08-25-2010 02:49 AM 21109 views 0 times favorited 22 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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13354 posts in 4338 days

08-25-2010 02:49 AM

Topic tags/keywords: vintage refurbish restore repair question resource refurbishing

Vintage – refurbish, restore, repair…
Ok it might sound strange!

I would love to get some comments on this topic, since it’s a question that always comes back to me.

When is it a restore?

(Restoration can be as simple as light cleaning to remove disfiguring dirt or grime, such as on the surface of a painting, or it may include near complete rebuilding or replacement)

When is it a refurbish?

(To renew or to restore to a new condition and/or appearance)

When is it a repair?

(Fixing any sort of mechanical or electrical device should it become out of order or broken)

When is it a destruction?

(It may apply either as a measurable degree of damage up to and including a state beyond use or repair)

Antique, this is for me an object that has not been changed at all, but this is not the subject for this blog.
I think for any collector it will be obvious that the more original, the better.
(An antique (Latin: antiquus; old) is an old collectible item. It is collected or desirable because of its age (see definition), beauty, rarity, condition, utility, and/or other unique features. It is an object that represents a previous era in human society.)

Here some samples of my own restore (or whatever I might call it).

My definition of restore:
If the tool works, do not fix it!
But you can restore it;
Remove dirt, use water and soap, rust remover, wd40 or what needed. What I don’t want is that the tear and wear and patina disappear.
I have seen examples on the internet where they teach you how to take a hammer and make patina… NO! This is not patina, it’s destruction (for me).
I have seen examples where they spray with paint to make it look used… Destruction (for me).

So here is an example:

I bought these tree on E-bay.

The one on top: really bad wood, eaten by worms so it fell apart, and a really bad homemade design.
For me there was no doubt, this needed to be taken of, and a new made.
Dilemma! Do I need to make a new in the same design as the old, or is it ok to follow the design of the others?

The second: the picture does not tell the truth, since 1/4 of the handle was missing on the back.
For me no doubt again, new handle, but the same dilemma.

The third and fourth: both had old handles, dirty but with a wonderful patina, and a design of its time, even the old carpenter’s initials stamped into the handle.
For me the only right thing to do is to clean it up, and give it wax or oil, to keep as much as the patina, and the tear and wear as possible.

The irons: here comes a dilemma, should I clean them up, and use them as they are. Or should I polish them up to a perfect shine?
My choice will depend of the use, if it’s for occasional use, I’ll keep as much as possible, but if it’s for everyday use, I would do all to optimize them and then end up with a polish.
For the honing I will not make a compromise, I will make the most optimal hone for this tool.

Dirt: remove only to the extend needed, and always with the mildest possible means.
Tear and wear: clan but do not remove or add.
Broken: fix it as gentle as possible, change only if needed.
Paint stains or bad lacquer on iron or handle, remove, use sandpaper if needed.

So can I buy a new set of plastic handle chisels and make new wooden handles?
Yes of course, but then you have not made a restore, you have simply made then into your favorite chisels… But they are not ‘restored’ or original or vintage.

(Vintage is a generic term for pre-owned, second-hand or even like-new items from a previous era. The term has to do with age and does not take into account the condition of the item. The word vintage is copied from its use in wine terminology, where it only denotes age – not the condition or quality of the wine. Vintage is a more elegant-seeming euphemism for old or previously owned items. It can be a very subjective matter though, as much as “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”.)

Wauu, so this is why vintage are used so much!!!

Some samples:

What can be done to these?
Can I make a new bevel and make it into a firmer chisel and still stay vintage?
Can I change the handles to match eachother, and still stay vintage?

What can be done to this?
Can I remove the paint and paint it in a new color?
Can I change the blade for a better?
Can I make wooden handle and knob?

Yes all these terms change a lot, and have floating borders.
But for me a good restore are when I bring it back to use with as little as possible afford, and changes as little as possible of the original material, tear and wear, and patina.

What do you think?

Best thoughts,

-- MAD F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect.

22 replies so far

View aurora's profile


238 posts in 4501 days

#1 posted 08-25-2010 03:50 AM


great question that all of us that value old tools and antiques should ponder. per “Before you tackle a restoration project, take some time to inspect the piece of furniture (tool) for any identifying labels or marks that might help you research its origin. Look at the overall quality of the wood and craftsmanship, including any carving present. If it turns out to be an extremely valuable item, leave it alone. Any fixer-up tasks accomplished on a piece like that should be left to a professional who works with high-end antique furniture. A museum curator in your area can probably point you in the right direction to find someone who does this type of work locally.

If it turns out that the piece isn’t a rare antique, it’s still better to take the path of least resistance when possible. If that dirty dresser has held together pretty well over time, try just cleaning out the dirt-dobbers and giving it a good dusting. Even with furniture that isn’t of masterpiece caliber, most tried and true collectors value an original finish and a little patina (which basically translates into dirt and wear that build up over time) that actually makes an item look old, and you might decide to sell the piece some day. Sometimes a once over cleaning and a little glue to hold the joints together securely will do a world of good. When that’s still not enough, figure out just how much restoration to the finish and components will be necessary to make it presentable.”

these restoration guidelines apply to hand tools as well. i guess ultimately, it depends upon the intended function of the tool to its owner, ... is this a collectors edition tool or is it intended to be a daily user. collectors will purchase those tools of value as determined by supply and demand to other collectors. users will purchase tools that are functional and are affordable. concerned owners in each category will make their tool as presentable as possible based upon their personal values and that of “tool genre” that they belong to.

great question to a diverse audience. i’m sure this will get us all thinking.

View docholladay's profile


1287 posts in 4308 days

#2 posted 08-25-2010 04:18 AM

You know Mads, you pose some interesting questions. I would agree with most, if not all of what you say. I also hate to see an old tool treated badly in an effort to make it “look” like it has been repaired/restored when nothing more has been done than to slap some paint on it or something like that. I think that since that tool was originally designed constructed and intended for work and to accomplish a task, the best way to honor or respect the original intent is to make it useful again to accomplish work. Only in very rare cases where it is for the purpose of recording history or for research to learn should a tool be made into a museum piece. In most cases, I feel it should be, either repaired/restored to be able to accomplish it’s original purpose or (let’s add one more re-word to the equation) re-purposed for a different task so that new work can be accomplished. For example, I recently picked up an old Disston hand saw at a junk shop. The handle was solid. It had all but one of the brass screws. This saw was probably approximately a WWII vintage saw. However, the original user/s had used the saw and resharpened it so many times that it came almost to a point on the end and it was way too thin to be very useful as a saw any longer. One option would have been to clean it up and convert it into something to look at. Some people like to paint scenes on the blades of old saws like this as art. This, I don’t like. What I did was 1) I used the handle to repair another old saw that had a broken handle, but still had much life left in the blade. 2) I used the screws to put an old back saw back to usefullness that was missing some of it’s screws. 3) I cut up the blade and made card scrapers, blades for my cabinet scraper and a couple of pieces will be made into thin parting tools that can be used with my lathe. Small pieces still can be made into things like a scratch stock that could be used to scape and cut a bead along the edge of a board more effectively and with much less time, mess and effort than it would take to set up a router to make the same cut. This, in my way, is the best way to honor/respect this tool that some craftsman loved enough that it was used up until it really was of no use any longer – at least not for it’s original purpose. I could go on and espouse how this can be an analogy for our own lives, but I will save that sermon for another day.


-- Hey, woodworking ain't brain surgery. Just do something and keep trying till you get it. Doc

View mvflaim's profile


193 posts in 4340 days

#3 posted 08-25-2010 05:10 AM

You should restore your tools to good working order. Clean the rust off, make new handles, sharpen the blades, etc..

Don’t worry too much about the collectability value of old tools. 95% of the antique tools out there aren’t even worth what their brand new tool equivalents sell for. For instance, if you bought a Stanley No 8 Bench Plane at a yard sale for $20.00 and your buddy comes over and says “Don’t use that, it’s an antique collectable that’s worth $150!” Well big deal. If you were to buy a brand new Lie-Nielsen No 8 Bench Plane, it would set you back $475.00. Your $150.00 antique is still dirt cheap compared to a brand new Lie Nielsen. So the best thing to do is clean it up and use it and forget about what these old tools will be worth down the road because chances are, they won’t be worth much more than what they are today.

I’ve been collecting tools for nearly twenty years. I can remember about fifteen years ago a Stanley No 1 would sell at auction for about a $1000. Today a Stanley No 1 is still selling at auction for $1000. How is that an investment? You don’t even get your money back due to inflation and if you factor in the auctioneers cut, you end up losing your ass.

John Walter wrote a book back in the 1990’s called Stanley Tools Guide to Indentify and Value. In it, he lists all of the Stanley tools made and their value. The prices he has in that book are still relevant today and in some cases, are too high based on the current tool auctions, even though it’s been over fifteen years since that book was first published. Pathetic! There is no investment in antique tools. The only way you can make money is to buy a tool for a lot less than what it’s worth and sell it for a fair market price.

View canadianchips's profile


2632 posts in 4246 days

#4 posted 08-25-2010 05:44 AM

The above 3 comments pretty much cover it all.
I buy Old tools to use them.
I like the challenge of taking an old rusted piece and making it work the way it did when it was new. I generally do not try to make it look new, just make it WORK like when it was bought.
To ME the word PATINA really means one thing: “neglect”, Dirt and rust that accumalates from neglect !
If I kept track of the hours I put into “refurbish or restoring” an old item, I really would not get my value from them. SO, what value does one put on “enjoyment ?” I don’t collect these for a living like the “Antique people” , they want to make money, therefore they want PATINA. They want to Buy it low, don’t do anything to it, sell it high, as an “antique..”

-- "My mission in life - make everyone smile !"

View William's profile


9950 posts in 4091 days

#5 posted 08-25-2010 05:50 AM

While I am no where near knowledgeable enough on this subject to get too deep into the discussion, I do wish to offer one opinion. Above, in mvflaim’s post, in bold letters, is stated, “There is no investment in antique tools”. I have to disagree. While true, there is no money to be made in antique tools, there is an investment to be made. As pointed out if you’ll read, there is money to be saved in buying antique tools. Let’s just use the example already set forth of the Stanley No 8 plane that can be had for $20 at a yard sale that you can take home with a huge value of $150, while a modern equivelant might cost you $475. Now I don’t know if these numbers are accurate or not, but they do not surprise me after the pricing I have done many time when figuring out how much some of my refurbished tools were worth to me. However, if I were to buy that plane, and those numbers are right, then that given plane is worth $130 to me in value and worth $455 to me in savings. In case that is not understood, if the value is $150, nd I paid $20, that leaves me with $130 in value. The same premise can be used for the savings based on the numbers given.
I offer another investment though. I don’t think of investments purely in the terms of monetary gain when I’m talking about a hobby I thoroughly enjoy. In these circumstances, I also have the investment of knowing I now own a piece of history that if it was taken care of and is cleaned properly (in most cases) is now a better tool than can be bought today. I have “redone” a lot of tools and found that modern versions of the same tools can rarely compete in quality. I sometimes may have two tools of the same type, one modern and one “antique”, and the “antique” will be my tools of choice 99.9% of the time. By the way, I use the term “redone” because I wish not to get into the topic of whether it is rebuilt, reduced, recycled, whatever. However I decide to do it, I know what I’ve got, where it came from, and that it will most likely outlast my modern tools. That to me is surely an investment that I enjoy making.


View HorizontalMike's profile


7933 posts in 4163 days

#6 posted 08-25-2010 03:23 PM


mvflaim said:
”95% of the antique tools out there aren’t even worth what their brand new tool equivalents sell for.”

This is truly the Holy Grail of used/old hand tools. Even antique furniture falls under this as well. I chose to reclamp/glue my +160yr old dining table after determining that its ”antique” value was 1/5—1/10 that of a new replicated cherry drop-leaf table. If its worth less than the price of new USE IT.

Tools are passed down from one generation, to the second generation (whether related or not), to the third generation, to the fourth generation, etc. Where is it written that after 1, 2, 3, 4, etc. generations ANYTHING must now be preserved in a museum? Could you imagine if people were only allowed to buy NEW and all ”used” stuff were required to be appraised for its _”antique” value?

If you are a WW using the tool as it was designed, you are just ADDING to the tools history NOT subtracting from it.

-- HorizontalMike -- "Woodpeckers understand..."

View derosa's profile


1597 posts in 4085 days

#7 posted 08-25-2010 03:45 PM

I agree with the post above, tools are meant to be used, used more carefully to avoid damaging them but still used unless you have something better. It’s always good to clean them up and make them presentable but that’s true of all tools. If you have a chisel with busted handles just replace the handles, broken ones that are original won’t enhance the value any and it leaves the tool useless. After that if someone else wants it period correct they can come up with their own handle, make your handles to suit you and make it a part of the tool’s history. Chisels and things like it are so valuable I pick them up for .50-2.00 at the local pawn shops, goodwill stores and recycling centers, many of them 50-100 years old and decent brands. If you have something pristine then keep it that way, anything else, anything goes that makes it work.

-- A posse ad esse

View docholladay's profile


1287 posts in 4308 days

#8 posted 08-25-2010 06:58 PM

I will also add that, restoring, redoing, repurposing, repairing, etc, etc, of an old tool, will help you to be able to better use the tool. The reason is that, if you take the time to get the tool tuned up and really ready for quality work, then you will have a much better understanding of how this tool works. A couple of days ago, Mads posted a project where he, every creatively, used a coin to repair an old archimedes drill to working condition. In so doing, Mads now has a tool that he truly understands how it is designed and what makes it work. This also means that he will better understand what the tool can do, while also understanding what the tool should not be used for that could damage it. He also possibly learned some information and/or technique that he can then use to possibly create another tool or make a jig to solve a problem on a future project. To me that is the wonder of woodworking as well as most any of the “mechanical” skills. It is always a learning process. No one ever learns or masters “it all.” The other thing that I love about it, is things like this website where people with common interests at varying experience and skill levels can all participate and learn from one another. I truly appreciate the folks on this website that take the time to encourage people and to help them to learn and grow their skills. This is truly a very cool online experienc.

-- Hey, woodworking ain't brain surgery. Just do something and keep trying till you get it. Doc

View Div's profile


1653 posts in 4189 days

#9 posted 08-25-2010 10:08 PM

Nice post Mads! I think you know how I think. Good things said above, not much that I want to add. I also feel strongly about USING old tools. An old tool that has been polished up to just sit in a display case is a very unhappy tool. Just ask him, he has a purpose and wants to fulfill it!

-- Div @ the bottom end of Africa. "A woodworker's sharpest tool should be his mind."

View swirt's profile


6659 posts in 4221 days

#10 posted 08-25-2010 10:16 PM

Don’t go for shiny unless shiny is needed to do the job better. Example: Mirror finish on back of chisel improves its ability while the mirror finish on the top of the chisel (not the bevel) does nothing for its job. An old saw blade is usually worth making shiny as shiny means smooth and smooth means less friction in the cut. I suppose there is benefit for other tools being shiny too in that shiny (smooth) metal is less prone to rust than a more textured surface.

I like to try and not erase the history of a tool if I can. I see no reason to paint them back to their original colors. I guess where I go flaky on my standard is that I like handles that are smooth to the touch. So a badly dinged, dented, scratched handle may make me want to remedy that by smoothing, re-shaping, or replacing a handle.

If I had a set of old chisels with new handles, I probably would still call them vintage. The steel is what does the work and defines its performance and that is still original. Handles were made to be replaced, I don’t think they were meant to last a tool’s lifetime.

-- Galootish log blog,

View lwllms's profile


555 posts in 4531 days

#11 posted 08-26-2010 12:06 AM

Oh my, what is the maker’s mark on the bench gouge #1. #3 and #4 are also interesting. The body of #1 though, has an early look about it>

View mafe's profile


13354 posts in 4338 days

#12 posted 08-26-2010 01:12 AM

Hi guys,
It was just what I wanted to hear, plenty of comments, and that we agree.
Yes, old tools have to be used, otherwise they are no longer tools, and Swirt I so much agree, I would never make the front of a chisel into a mirror finish, perhaps the back, but I might be lazy, just to go for the lower part… Aurora: the father of the red lady, I think you made a wonderful job there, gave her a new life. Doc: I agree, and love your saw story. mvflaim: Agree, I do not expect my tools to be an investment, but I would still care for the vintage values of my 62 and no 2, so planes like these, I would be really careful not to do more than needed, both for the value, but also because I love the original touch. And yes because I got them way under market price from a seller in France, so in this way I can add value. Some of the other planes I have, I paid too much, but I wanted them. canadianchips: yes the more we use them the better. William: Agree, and most of all agree, that the money spend on vintage tools are spend for the heart, not for the money/use factor. HorizontalMike: Yes we just add, if we use it with care and respect. derosa: Not all chisels can be picked up for 1 dollar… But I agree in the idea. Doc: Yes I learned a lot, and the price was only one krone… No honestly you are right one. Div: We need to keep them tools happy, this might be a new motto. swirt: I answered you in the top. lwllms: olds beautiful English gauges, I’ll check the makers tomorrow for you (Sheffield). Yes I simply love those old handles, so all four will get this ‘octagon’ handle, I think I’ll use two kinds of wood, so they all four have each their sort, and then the same design. They will be sharpened, and the last part of the back will be flat and polished. Best thoughts, and thank you for all the wonderful comments,

-- MAD F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect.

View mafe's profile


13354 posts in 4338 days

#13 posted 08-26-2010 03:15 PM

lwllms: just here with some names: Tayler bros. Sheffield / Graves / W&C Wynn / ?arra? Sheffield
This was what I could see, do you have some source for this? It will be fun to know the makers.
Best thoughts,

-- MAD F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect.

View mafe's profile


13354 posts in 4338 days

#14 posted 08-26-2010 10:02 PM

So Here are the result of what I did to the gauges.
The two on top are the ones I gave new handles. I choose to hold the design, but to make them all four have each their kind of wood, I’m quite happy, and now I can easily take the right one.

They are shapened, and I lapped the back resonable flat.
(The top new handle and the bottom old handle.)

And this one I call ugly Betty… She was ugly when I got her, so I desided to let her stay that way…
But dressed her up in a new dress.

Best thoughts,

-- MAD F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect.

View Tony Strupulis's profile

Tony Strupulis

260 posts in 4372 days

#15 posted 08-26-2010 11:56 PM

Roy Underhill had a good quote on what to do with old tools – “remove the abuse, but save the use” Or something to that effect. The tools he had as an example were a bunch of English wooden planes. Being fans of lubricating their work with tallow, the planes were all black and built up with layers of oxidized goo. (Be careful with that grease box, Mads!) Roy wanted to clean the gunk off, but save the wear on the handles from the previous users of the tool.

I think you also need to take into account the condition of the tool as it comes to you. For instance that #4 plane you show in the post looks like it has been serving as a boat anchor for the last few years. I think at that point, it doesn’t really matter what you do to make it useable. There isn’t much “history” to preserve. Something like that I’d say go ahead and get out the wire wheel brush and the black paint.

I have a few tools that were passed down from my grandpa, who died before I was born. I cherrish those tools for the connection to my family’s past. I don’t have a problem with sharpening these tools, but I preserve the wear on the handles and stuff. Last week I was carving a piece of styrofoam insulation with my grandpa’s rasp and I said to my wife, “I’m not sure what Antons did with this rasp, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t this!”

-- Tony -

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