eBay Gives Us More Than Cheap Goods

An old Marples combination gauge in need of TLC beats a new one hands down once it’s been restored.

Buying tools on eBay has always proven greatly rewarding for me. I mean it’s rewarding in that I find tools I might not otherwise find without spending endless hours scouring shops, standing at auctions or advertising for old tools in newspapers. We also paid five times the prices we are paying today and we paid the price because we knew that they were worth every penny. In todays cheapened world of global economies, interexchanges of like products, where the advantaged take all the more advantage of the disadvantaged, the true cost of tools is less evident, but we will ultimately pay the real price and in the near future too I predict. What I speak of though I still think of as the good old days. It’s what happened in the late 70’s when I first started hunting and collecting my tools together from antique sources. In those days the cellars of homes of former cabinet makers and joiners were treasure troves for tool collectors and users and just about the only way of sourcing old tools of quality and worth. It was there we entered our personal discovery zones as we scoured catalogs by auction houses for identifying the unknowns, talked with trade history buffs and went to swap meets. Norris planes lay alongside Ebony Ultimatum braces and 16th and 17th century moulding planes by the dozen. Massive toolboxes with creaking lids were stuffed to the brim and history became interesting beyond measure as we dove in amongst the cobwebs and immersed ourselves in the smell of oil and rust and old wood shavings.


I usually don’t pay too much for tools these days, not because I am unwilling to pay more, but because they sell through a system that allows for high volume sales that, as a result, floods the market from its excess. The cellars full of tools slowly surfaced from suffocation and found their way to salesrooms and then onto the eBay auctions. I must credit that to eBay whether I like the system or not. eBay UK gives me what I need for two main reasons; one, I live in the richest antique tool-rich country per capita in the world, two, compared to the rest of the world, Britain is a quite tiny island with no borders to other countries or continents. Most goods travel within a 100 mile radius to any destination and mostly arrive a day after shipping. It’s a good all round service for us here.

Secondhand tools here are good value for money and especially is this so on eBay. When I search eBay I look for old tools with rare virtues I can’t find in new ones. I also like the rare finds hidden under wrong names. I mean tools with wooden handles like boxwood or rosewood. I look blades with laminated steel blades like old mortise chisels and plane irons that generally surpass modern maker’s tools for hardness and edge retention. I look at the makers name knowing the ones that did this and the ones that didn’t. So these are the good reasons to search on eBay. I bought this old Marples rosewood mortise gauge because it still exudes a quality more modern makers don’t match. Actually, this Am Tech combination gauge made in China is better than UK models and costs somewhere around £6-7. The brass threaded knurled knob on it makes a good replacement for the slotted screw head in my other antique combo gauges, which I don’t really like because their inconvenient except for the fact that they allow tighter access in tight spaces.


On the early marples version at top I filed off the old finish and removed any defects I didn’t like. Flat, 10” single-cut files work well for this. Every surface gets filed and sanded and then coated with two coats of shellac before light waxing.P1020051

P1020057I also cleaned out the threads of the pin adjuster and filed the inside faces of the slide groove. This smoothed the passage and gave free movement to the adjuster. A light sanding overall improved everything as far as feel goes and soon it began to feel like one of my own.


Inside the lock screw should be a small plate and this case it was missing so I made one from a piece of brass plate.


When the work was done it felt and looked better than the import. This is the difference between more modern plantation grown rosewood and old, virgin growth from the late 1800s. there is a fineness about the old models when compared to UK and Asian versions on the market today.

P1020069Here is how it looked after I was finished.

P1010822This Rabone square is one I bought that I resurfaced and squared to Starrett perfection levels of of accuracy. I like this series and I was missing the this size. Where would I have found it without eBay?

24 thoughts on “eBay Gives Us More Than Cheap Goods”

  1. I agree completely, Paul. Though there is the occasional exception found here in Wyoming, I’d say 90% of my tools are eBay purchases… The good old Marples or Ward chisels, Stanley, Woden and Record planes, R.Groves & Sons and Disston saws from 100+ years ago…. These things just cannot be found without the services of eBay and other internet auction sites. Sure, I’ve been disappointed a couple of times, but overall it’s been a great way to shop.

  2. Tony Zaffuto (@tz56)

    I scour antique shops, flea markets & MWTCA tool sales (common here in the states). Here, you can find “experienced” tools, well kept, that speak volumes of the jobs they did for their previous owners. A favorite 11pt. handsaw I picked up a couple of years ago was sharpened so much that the toe is a point and gives no indication at all of original length, but it still sings! Same goes for planes, chisels, squares, etc. I look past the name many times and “feel” the tool in my hand.

    I have my father’s tools (life long carpenter, died 10 years ago at 81), and of the tools, the ones that “speak” were the ones used, including a hardware brand handsaw and a #5 Bailey. At first it was because I thought it was because of his using them, then I realized he used them because they were “just right”.

    I don’t buy on Ebay anymore-did a decade or so ago. I prefer hunting for tools and handling them. Just because they’re well worn does not say if they’re going to be my tool, but many do. I now have two grandsons that before I know it, will be handling my tools (my son-in-laws won’t as it ain’t the cut of their jib), but the grandbabies will, as their mothers (my daughters) have been raised to be self-sufficient and already speak to their barely one year old sons about what they will do with “grandfather”.

    Nothing better than finding the 9″ try square for a couple of bucks that just screams “I still have decades to go”.

    Thanks Paul!


    1. Tony refers to the MWTCA. For those who do not know, this is the Midwest Tool Collectors Association. It’s a bunch of alter kockers like me who love to collect old hand tools. I joined specifically not as a collector, but to shop for tools to use. I picked up a wonderful wooden jointer plane for $40 at their last tool meet. It took me all of 20 minutes to tune it, and I use it every day. There are plenty of other deals, as well.

      1. MWTCA is one institution I would love to see happen here in the UK. I used to go to them two decades ago and demonstrated at them. We are toying the idea of hosting a woodworking show here in the UK and if we do a swap tool meet would very much be a part of it.

        1. A decent woodworking show in the UK would be a brilliant idea Paul. I went to the big Harrogate show last year and was very disappointed at how little there was on hand tools and hand woodworking. Please tell us more about your idea!

  3. I bought a similar gauge from ebay as well. Unfortunately, the pins have are completely worn and need replacing. When I attempted to unscrew the small brass bar, the screw head broke off. I can probably remove the broken screw by drilling it out. But, I am not sure how to replace the pins. Would you have any advice?

    1. I have heard of people using piano/musical wire to make the pins. If you can measure the diameter of the exisiting pins, or holes if the pins are missing, you should be able to find a comparable gauge of wire. When you cut it short it should not flex much, if any, at all. I bought some on Amazon to make some homemade gauges. I haven’t had the time to work on it yet so I can’t comment on how well it would work. Also I don’t know if they would need to be hardened. Maybe Mr. Sellers can provide some additional guidance or correct me if my information is incorrect?

    2. You can buy piano wire from model suppliers readily either from model shops or online via eBay. It’s perfect for this and I have used it for years now.

  4. Its a shame that we have to look to a 100 year old tool because there aren’t a lot of high quality tools being made today. We almost lost the quality Western saw completely in the past few decades. It’s not nostalgia, its mourning the loss of real quality and industry in the West.

    My great-grandfather was a cabinetmaker that crafted furniture in his workshop in the barn built around 1908 on my family’s ancestral farm we’ve owned since before the American Revolution. I had thought that my great Aunt had sold off all his tools 35 years ago after he passed, but I just found out this Thanksgiving that my father had a few tools from his workshop in his basement. His basement that got flooded last year. I just about cried. Century old or more moulding planes, wooden jointers, and some old Stanleys, and who knows what else.

    These old tools from before WWII are truly treasures being lost to time. Thankfully, people like Paul have helped to rekindle interest in hand work and these tools and they may yet be saved for future generations.

  5. Paul that mortice gauge turned out really nice, I enjoy refurbishing old tools myself and prefer vintage over newer ones. How did you clean the threads for the adjuster?

    I am glad you have good luck on E-bay and am very envious as for me not so much, but have had good success buying vintage tools from one of my Woodworking Forums S & S.


  6. Robert Haldeman

    I also love shopping on eBay and have the found some great older tools. I wish my wife was excited about it as I am. Every time a package comes to the door she asks WHAT NOW? I think I have become a tool junkie. I love the feel of a fine tool in your hand. Working with it and seeing how well it performs for you. When I hold these older tools in my hand I wonder how many people before me have had the pleasure of using it and what have they created with it? I would loved to know the stories behind them.

  7. I have required ten saws of various types on Ebay UK last year. And all they cost me was around £100. So if you have the time (as I have) the deals are still there. Some times I will buy a saw for the handle or for the brass stiffener to fit to steel backed saw to give it more weight. I am currently on the look out for a 22″ panel saw. These wonderful tools cost pennies, and I can’t thank of any other activity (at my age) which gives me more joy restoring and using them.

    Happy hunting.

    1. Sorry Joel, some you win and some you lose. I never lose because I know what i will not pay so if the price goes higher than my sniper bid I really don’t care because to me it’s gone beyond its worth. Dead simple.

      1. Paul,

        I do the same, Of course, my comment was a joke. I only bid on items sold in North America anyway. Yesterday I lost out on a Disston backsaw made for Hammacher Schlemmer 120 years ago. It went for $70, which was $20 more than my limit. So be it. I hope the new owner gets years of satisfaction from using it.

  8. Paul,

    I really can’t tell you how much I appreciate all the lengths you go through to share woodworking with the rest of us. I am very much a novice and just started “real” woodworking two years ago, quite by accident really. I would much rather reclaim an experienced tool than buy a new one because they just seem to feel better. However there seems to be a huge pricing range on ebay and was wondering if you had any advice on what brands I should keep an eye out for what they should be worth. For example I am currently looking for a mortice gauge and they range from $10 too over $100.00. I would appreciate any help or suggestions. Again, thank you for all of your efforts and sharing your craft.

    1. I can usually go to eBay and find a good combination gauge second hand by an older maker for between £7 and £15. I usually go for ones that have thumbscrew or knurled knobs for convenience rather than screwdrivers.

      1. Paul,

        Thank you, that helps a lot actually. I suppose I should have mentioned I am in the US but thankfully the conversion is done by Ebay. That will gives me great parameters. Any price guidelines for planes? I appreciate any input you have.

        Thank you again,


  9. Charles Kyler

    Paul, I am sitting here with a huge smile. Yesterday a package from eBay arrived and delivered me almost exactly the same marking gage. While reading your old post about #80 scarpers, I stumbled onto this post. My wife thinks it amazing that there is someone out there that thinks like I do. I’ll get my new find cleaned up in the next few days and it will surly feel like mine when I’m done.



  10. Is it safe to shellac over inlaid brass pieces and components? Even some removable pieces held in by screws seem delicate and I worry about stripping them.

    1. Perfectly safe. They aways have and it is possibly one if not the the safest of all finishes there is. All vintage hand tools took a coat of shellac after applying the brass pieces.

      1. Thanks for sharing all of your knowledge, it is helping me to affordably begin hand tool woodworking while gaining a complete understanding of each tool I acquire.

Comments are closed.

Privacy Notice

You must enter certain information to submit the form on this page. We take the handling of personal information seriously and appreciate your trust in us. Our Privacy Policy sets out important information about us and how we use and protect your personal data and it also explains your legal rights in respect of it. Please click here to read it before you provide any information on this form.