Secondhand tools for you

Secondhand tools still prove best value for money.

Whereas you may prefer to buy new woodworking tools, secondhand tools are still the best way to go, especially if you know how to restore them for use, which is mostly elbow grease and sharpening skills. Last week at the Woodfest Show in St Asaph I found several clusters of tools from local dealers and makers at amazingly low prices. I also met some fellow lifestyle woodworkers as I always do. These were makers who chose work over job in the hope of finding a freedom to work at their vocational calling. I try thinking back to my early days as a young married with children and stepping off the conveyor belt. Best thing I ever did even though we went through lean times and periods of no income. But, no regrets there. My wife and I, well we were young idealists striving for a marriage of things that mattered to us—family, children, sharing life, working together every day, gardening, chickens working wood and mastering the essentials of life. It’s good to see people still searching for things that matter and marrying them. Anyway, I bought some tools and several of them I really liked the thought of using in my shop.

I bought a saw vise for sharpening saws. Now I have bought or used or made all types. Commercial Disstons, Spear and Jacksons and another I can’t remember the maker’s name of and all were made from cast metal of some kind, probably iron. Two things that always let them down was the vibration that amplified each file cut like a banshee cry and the flex under each thrust that seemed to exacerbate poor economy of movement. I saw this oak clamp lying unobserved under some tack and pulled it out. A £20 tag dangled before me and this started negotiations with the lady who I know and have dealt with for several years. Of course it “would be hard to take less for such a well-crafted piece of equipment,” she countered and I asked her what it was. “I’m not sure she replied and so I told her it must be hard to price something so rare as to not have a known purpose. Bit like the scouser walking his mixed breed mongrel through the doors of the dog show and answering the organisers question as to breed with, “Don’t know burit’s a good ‘un.” Of course the clamp’s function was obvious and I paid as much for the craftsmanship as I did for its functional value and its antiquity. With some minor repair and a retro-installation to the jaws, I was able to perfect it to my personal use. Sharpening the first saw in its jaws, it proves the best saw vise I have ever used bar none. I live the fast-thread thumbscrew and the opening hinged half that gives me easy installation of the saw of any kind, but most of all I love the solid feel I get with each file stroke. I also especially like the standing work height when it’s clamped in my bench vise. As New Legacy now offers a saw sharpening service in the UK, this vise will be a perfect addition.

In the tools I rooted through last weekend I passed my eye over a group of moulding planes left forlornly in a cardboard shoebox. They were inexpensive, £3 each, but had common profiles. Then I noticed two that had the same level of patina and I pulled them to find an elastic band holding them as a pair. I couldn’t believe my find. A matched pair of ½” tongue and groove planes made by I Sorby. Needless to say that for £12 I bought them. They were almost unused.

I also found the very nice old 12” brass-backed Garlick tenon saw with a couple of flawed horns to the handle you see in the vise above. The repairs were simple enough and I would have another great saw for my personal use.  The price was £8 so I can’t complain at that. I bought half a dozen mixed handsaws including some S&Js and Disstons in great shape for £6 on average and a load of bits and pieces including an Eclipse saw set.

Oh, I almost forgot these three spokeshaves that all had nice blades and stocks with closed throats. These spokeshaves were wonderful and as we start teaching children through the education classes for children with the National Trust this Autumn we will use these to show them how in Victorian times they used tools that have never been replaced.


  1. Paul,
    I always look in markets or the Bristol design shop, they are a great source of second hand tools; I speak as a man who has spent large amounts on machines which I never used. BTW the bench has cost me 28£ so far and that is top plus legs and rails. Lot less than the £500 you see for ready made things in beech!

    1. I hear good reports on Bristol Design from time to time and will be visiting them in August all being well. I know that they are knowledgeable and am told that they have fair prices. Great.
      Also thanks for the accounts on the bench costs. Keep it up.

  2. There’s a common saying over here on woodworking forums when someone scores a good deal….You Suck ;P

    I wish I could find finds like you get. Over here it’s very hard to find anything British made without an extra 0 thrown onto the price.

    1. Hello Patrick,
      I am afraid we here in Britain have taken our inheritance for granted for too long and I am glad other countries don’t. Instead of mocking the lack of history they should ship it to countries that appreciate it.

  3. People are already looking at making their own. Can’t imagine there being enough demand as a saleable piece though. I think it’s important to keep it around. It’s really solid and not complicated at all.

  4. I’m so jealous I live in Washington state and know of no place to buy good used hand tools at a swap meet like environment. I’ve been buying off of eBay and it’s kinda like rolling the dice. I bought and old stanley Bailey #7 I believe pre war no lateral adjustment and the delivery service busted the back corner off it.. So Sad.

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