A few months ago I bought half a dozen 3/8” I. Sorby mortise chisels via eBay for what was really very little money, I think around £3 each and they were in almost perfect, little-used condition. It was just one of those days I suppose when bidding didn’t happen and this has happened a couple of times specifically with I. Sorby 3/8” mortises chisels, probably some of the best made alongside Ward, Marples and a few others. Though made and sold in sets from 1/8” to 5/8” in 1/16” increments in the past, the most commonly used sizes were 3/8”, 5/16”, 1/4” and 1/2” in order of most-used sizes.
This past week I picked up three 3/16” Marples chisels in one collective group for £9 for the three in the same way, but they were obviously wrongly sized as the description said they were 3/8”. Probably no one would normally have wanted 3/16” chisels for mortising with but they are actually a practical size I know to be useful when making thin cabinet doors where a 1/4″ is a tad too much and 1/8″ a tad too small. The three had never been actually used at the bench before and still had the Marples lables on the traditional ash handles.
Anyway, over the last couple of weeks I picked up a range of about ten top notch moulding planes and another tiny I Sorby brace for my collection and to pass on to my grandkids, an older Stanley wheel brace (remember these were the first cordless drills but you have to turn the handles) and so on but I have a point in saying all of this so hang in there.
Listening to the radio today the talk was about the falling levels of footfall in shops after Christmas when people hunt for the less illusive bargains at the fifty-percent-off sales. Arguments went back and forth for the dilemma we face here in the UK is that if people don’t shop locally we will end up with only mega suppliers and online purchasing and there is indeed much truth in that.
In the UK the hardware store is just about gone and what is here are stores that sell cheaper, lower-grade import stock and it’s unlikely that that will change. You see you can’t walk into a shop and buy say a decent brass backed saw or a good plane well made in Sheffield by a reputable maker as in times past. It’s not that tools of quality aren’t still made, more that the high street hardware store is indeed one of those lost entities we once thought we would never lose. Of course the demise of woodworking as a craft hasn’t helped the cause and woodworking, furniture making, joinery and so on, as trades, no longer rely on hand tools but machines, be that battery driven or plug in the walls.
This week I also bought these two # Stanley bench planes. I actually paid the higher price of £14 for the rusted one and £13 for the other, but I did that on purpose. These two planes for me reflect the success of my work here on the blog over the past few years and also our making videos too. I think five or six years ago I could have bought these two planes for as little as 99 pence and rarely more than £5. These two planes cost me under £15 and generally here in the UK you will now pay between say £15 and £30 depending on age and condition. This to me shows that people are realising the true worth and value of these incredible tools. In my view, even if they were selling for £75, provided all the parts were there and not too worn away, they would be well worth the money. I have probably bought well over a 100 such planes in the past 12 months with no issues at all with any one of them that couldn’t be fixed in a matter of minutes.
Here in the UK of course we are more privileged than any other European country and indeed any country in the world when it comes to the availability of good tools secondhand Mostly that’s not because we are brilliant but because our history in providing top quality hand tools once spanned 300 years. The old tools keep recycling through as people like myself pass on and the next generation became computer literates and, as some say, saw sense in showering to go to work rather than showering when they arrived home.
I say all of this because being in Bicester Village in Oxfordshire last weekend with family, this Outlet Centre was wall to wall people with lines to get into many stores snaked around the streets for three and four hours with people looking to save £50 on any item they bought but would not dream of wearing in a years time. I am talking hundreds of thousands of people over a few 12 hour day spans of time. now of course I know eBay may not be the preferred way of buying secondhand tools, but for me and many others it has proven to be one of the most reliable resources in a world where woodworking hand tools have lost value and meaning. Even stores that could have a high street presence can no longer engage face to face with their customers as in times past because of cut pricing and time-is-money constraints. I think that they are wrong but perhaps I am. Without being able to offer direct service and face-to-face shopping, service business in the UK these days is an ever-diminishing trade thats been traded off. I’m very thankful for eBay as a resource for buying secondhand woodworking tools. It’s very surprising what turns up in any given day. This hand made 12” by 24” square made from boxwood with brass fitments came to my house for £18 including shipping. I put a tape to the increment markings and they were spot on every one even though each one was cut and stamped by hand. It was also dead square against my Rabone Chesterman square.
I am thankful also for those online retailers that have stayed the course and given much to their customers by making themselves as available as possible. They do a good job generally and are always helpful on the phone. Even buying a mortise chisel for £40 isn’t so much when you think it will span 100 years of use. Perhaps you’ll bear with me if I say it can get a little cost-prohibitive when you reach 65 though!!!