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On Loaning Out Hand Tools

Tuesday 28th March 2017

Yes, it’s a no-no

“Never lend your tools!” These emphatic words of wisdom came to me at 15 and though they still ring in my ears, on two occasions, coerced as a young teen by two bullying navvies, the tools came back minutes later covered in brick dust and damaged. Of course that is also how my mentors learned too. I was left in no doubt that you never loaned out your hand tools—ever! Of course it is just a little different when you have or are working alongside a skilled colleague who you trust. That goes without saying really, but it’s more now than then that I finally fully understand what loaning out tools really means. And before everyone jumps in here, I am not altogether convinced everyone can fully understand this without added ingredients that come along the way. The pen I wrote this with is a fountain pen and the message in its original form was written in cursive writing. I would never let someone use my writing pen, not even a close friend, and, in a time when all people wrote with ink pens, no one else would either. They become an extension of the author, personal, formed to his hand. This is unshared and everyone in the days before ballpoints came to pass know this. Hand tools for woodworking fall into the very same category. It’s not the same for routers powered by electricity or drill drivers with 2h volt batteries, but your chisels and planes, saws and such, this is a non-negotiable.

When I was an apprentice my mentor handed me some of his tools to work with straight away. These were a second set he kept for this reason. He knew a 15 year old would have no tools and would not know what to buy. The tools always felt like his and never mine. Little did I know then how much my tools would mean to me in the years to follow.

In some ways there are categories of people. There are those reverent towards craft and skill and those who just do not see a difference between a wheel wrench in the boot of a car and a fine plane. By fine I am not talking fancy plane but a finely cared for plane. A half a dozen times I have been asked by other men if I had a plane to lend them to ease a door and half a dozen times I’ve said no. The very fact that they asked showed that they just did not understand. They mostly said “Ok”. That they understood, but I knew they didn’t and that they were offended by my refusal. Easing the bottom of a door, taking off a shaving where a door still sticks, are common enough necessities. The planes I have can deal easily with such issues in my hands but it’s the assumptions that are wrong. The assumption is that everyone knows and understands planes and saws. After all, you just push and pull, push and pull. At the very crudest level of understanding there is some degree of truth in that. You’ve seen it done, what more can there be to it? Well there is a lot more to it when your tools put food on your table and clothe your children. When your work depends on the certainty of quality results there is no margin for error. A saw and a plane loaned out can never come back to you in the same condition. The borrower knows nothing of such things. You cannot loan out tools for a neighbours stilling door. Yes. you’ll lose his relationship to you, but that’s not the point.

Some of the misconceptions starting in the 60 – 80’s came to be during a sort of rebel era when school  boys were more, well, cocky. Tools ? around the benches and clunked into one another because there was no respect. Moving on into an era when school woodworking was dumped ( or dumbed down at best) and on the other hand young teenagers seemed always in need of an injection of affirmation to boost an already high level of self esteem.

And then of course there is the common disregard for working people using manual skills. If a common worker can use such a dumb piece of metal, surely an intellectual can.


  1. Mr. P. J. on 7 April 2017 at 6:31 pm

    I agree with you on both counts, Paul, namely never lending out either your tools or your fountain pens. I learned the hard way, as most have, when a neighbor borrowed a tool, damaged it, and then returned it without so much as saying “I’m sorry.” So now I don’t feel the slightest bit uneasy saying “No.” I also write with fountain pens, and the nibs break in beautifully based on the handwriting style, pressure and angle of writing of a single user. So no one writes with my fountain pens other than me. Besides, it’s 2017; pens are cheap. Everyone should have their own pen in their pocket! The more important question is not why I won’t let you use my pen, but rather why don’t you carry your own pen?

    • Marcus on 9 April 2017 at 12:32 pm

      Whenever someone asks me to lend him my pen meaning my fountain pen I hand over my ballpoint pen. Up to now no one dared to insist. 😉

  2. Andy in Germany on 7 April 2017 at 6:51 pm

    I noticed this in the carpentry where I did my apprenticeship. Hand toods were treated with little respect by people who were more used to working with machines.I wondered at the time if this was because machines are built with disposable parts, blades and bits are replaced, whereas on hand tools we sharpen and set them to how we want them, and they become a part of who we are in a way machines can’t.

    That said in working with young people I had a plane and Japanese saw that I loaned out to some who I truested when they’d become fed up with the broken blunt tools on offer, and they have always come back immaculate.

  3. Joystick on 7 April 2017 at 6:56 pm

    Many years ago when I was just out of my apprentiship I was still building my tool kit up (actually you never stop) and I had acquired a nice light 8 oz Stanley ball pain hammer. (Engineering trained apprentice). It was just right for the occasional tap or gentle persuasion that my work would require (machine tool repair in an aircraft factory). I had it for about a year and honestly it was as clean and unblemished as the day I had purchased it.
    Sharing my digs with another BAe worker who was a machine operator at the factory he asked if I had a hammer that he could borrow to “ease” a part on his motorbike which he was repairing in the evening after work. Two days later I asked for my hammer back and eventually when it was returned a week after I loaned it I thought he’d attempted to swap it for another hammer that was patently abused. You guessed it, it was no swap, my lovely mint hammer was transformed into a sorry sight. He had used the shaft as a lever and the wood was dented and dinged in countless places. The edge of the flat striking head had chips out of it where he had bashed the hell out of something and none too accurately by the look of it either, causing the case hardened edge to fracture in several places around the circumference. The whole lot was grimy from engine oil too. When I requested he replace the hammer for a new one he looked at me as if I had two heads and told me to “Foxtrot Oscar”.
    Lesson learned.
    I got given a joke sign for my workshop/shed a few years back. It simply says “My tools- Don’t move, Don’t touch, Don’t borrow, Don’t even look at them!” It’s very apt as few people around here on the Atlantic side of Ireland know the value of tools, they are seen just like your comparrison of the wheel wrench in the boot – to be used and abused. I don’t want to generalise, there are of course exceptions but I do dispair when I see the utter disregard so called tradesmen have for their own tools.

  4. Richard on 7 April 2017 at 7:52 pm

    I certainly do not have the same kind of attachment to my tools — mostly Veritas in terms of hand tools — as you do, or such concerns as affecting my livelihood, as woodworking is purely a hobby. Tools are just tools and sooner or later, I will part with them, all of them, for good.

    When someone tries to borrow a tool from me, I’d ask how they use it (i.e. what problem is to be tackled) and if they have used that particular tool before. I may be able to offer a better solution than a loaned tool.

    If in doubt, I would explain why I couldn’t loan any particular tool – for example, tool just freshly sharpened for an important job.

    I have not had any bad experience with lending people my tools — power or hand.

    • Zac on 8 April 2017 at 6:54 pm

      I concur with you, Richard. Many of us here are amateur woodworkers that do this because we love it, and draw our incomes from other sources. I’ll happily lend a plane, chisel or saw to a friend because I have it and they need it. True, they won’t often require my most finely tuned smoothing plane, in which case an old jack will do. Oftentimes friend won’t abuse the trust – but even in the odd case that they do, a line comes back to me about lending and not expecting in return.

  5. Dale Knebel on 8 April 2017 at 12:18 am

    Hi Paul,
    I completely agree! I’ve had enough bad experiences to never, ever loan tools. (or pens) My Father was a Farmer and in winter time, when I was quite young, he worked either framing new houses or doing finish carpentry on same. One crew he worked with had a fellow who would help himself to other men’s tools. No may I… nothing. This bothered my Dad no end. Telling this man ” Don’t touch! meant nothing. My Dad’s solution? He had a little Disston panel saw that the previous owner had put too much set on one side. Dad put this one and only saw in his till knowing it would be “borrowed”. Sure enough, it happened. The man was trying to cut stair stringers for basement stairs. Dad heard some rather loud words from the basement then the sound of a stringer being tossed to the side. after some time ( and no more stringer material on site) the man returned the saw to it’s place in the till and never said a word. He also never borrowed Dad’s tools again. For those who may not know, a saw with more set on one side than the other will cut in an arc not in a straight line.
    It’s sad that some people never seem to learn common courtesy .

  6. Jeremy on 8 April 2017 at 3:03 am

    You hear them say, “But I need it to do this!” They then hear my reply, “if you truly needed it; you would already own it.”

  7. Bruce Ladd on 8 April 2017 at 3:34 am

    One when I was young boy went to service station to air up my bike tire and saw a couple of signs in garage that have stuck with me: “don’t ask to borrow my tools and I won’t ask to borrow your wfe” and other “labor $50 an hour and $100 if you help” while I thought they were hilarious at my young age life has validated the sentiment in both signs. I love and respect my wife and my tools enough said. Love and respect the wisdom you share in your posts as much as your instructions in woodworking thanks for validating character matters. Finishing my workbench this weekend.

  8. Larry on 8 April 2017 at 9:27 am

    When I started out (60’s) the rule was don’t touch another man’s tools, period. Breach could find you ducking a hammer. It always got you into a serious row.

    That said, there were two or three mentors and mentees who were trusted to borrow, lend and even sharpen tools. If we went in the field we didn’t bother with duplicates and the tool kits got lighter. Never had a problem, and when the Mentors retired they offered me their tools at nominal cost because they knew the tools would be taken care of. I got some treasures that way.

    For the rest, the hammer they got to borrow was an Estwing solid steel number, the chisel was a solid steel item that just came off the grinder, ( no further work to it) ditto a motley assortment of saws, handplanes, etc.

    I never cared if they worked well. I figured they might not come back and it might encourage the borrower to purchase a better tool.

  9. Larry on 8 April 2017 at 9:31 am

    As to Paul’s comment on disrespect for the skills of a craftsman, we often got ” my husband would do it, but he’s busy at work now…

    To which my partner replied

    ” ma’am, you husband asked me to help open his cereal box this morning.”

  10. Tom Bittner on 8 April 2017 at 12:02 pm

    From Hamlet:

    Neither a borrower nor a lender be,
    For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
    And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.

    In other words you lose your tool and your friend!

  11. Andrew Wilkerson on 8 April 2017 at 12:07 pm

    I think everyone I know, have known or will know, including family NEEDS to read this. In fact I might just tweet this link from now on if anyone asks me to borrow my whatever. Thanks Paul!

  12. rebouchage on 8 April 2017 at 12:24 pm

    Hi everyone,
    I learned very early in my working career not to lend anyone anything, that applied to hand tools, machine tools, books, bike car etc. etc. Mr bitter experience taught me to say NO.
    Like some of the correspondents here have had tools returned in such a state that you didn’t want to use it again. I was just looking at some of the tools I still have from days of yore, looked after with loving care, and they are still the same even after years of use, sometimes heavy use.
    Sending all greetings for a happy day.

  13. gav on 8 April 2017 at 12:41 pm

    I have had a few experiences with tools being lent out and not being returned in the best of condition, fortunately more dirty/dusty than actually damaged. It is a hard thing to judge- one mans philosophy against another until it is seen in practice. The most revealing of attitudes was when I lent a large shifting spanner, some grips and a screwdriver to a fencer based on my dealings with his lead contractor whom was quite reasonable. When he had finished I had to ask for their return. It was met with ‘What do I want your stinking tools for?’ They had been left where they he had finished the work he was doing. They were not damaged and explaining to this fellow why I wanted them back was going to be waste of time. He didn’t have any there to start with. He hadn’t clocked it was probably going to rain. He didn’t know that they were bought new by myself when I did not make a lot of money and I bought the best quality I could afford, looked after them and that was why I was still generating an income from the same tools 22 years later. He din’t care that they were not his and insinuated that I accused him of being a thief. There was a lot more to it then this but suffice to say I became even more cautious after.

  14. Mike (Skeeball) Bronosky on 8 April 2017 at 2:21 pm

    If one Paul Sellers way to borrow a chisel or plane I’m sure it would come back in as good or even better than when he borrowed it.
    Other people, if you was to loan them a anvil, it would come ruined.
    Now if I was to loan Paul Sellers a horse and buggy, the horse would be ready for the dog food cannery and the buggy for fire wood.
    The same horse and buggy lent to a blacksmith might very well come back with new shoes on the horse and the loose rim on a wheel fixed.
    You need to pick and choose who you lend what to but never say never.

  15. R on 8 April 2017 at 5:50 pm

    Martial artists who use internal energy (chi or Qi) know this all too well. They won’t lend their training weapons to anyone else and it’s even considered impolite to step over someone else’s weapons. As people go up the ranks their energy becomes more refined and fluid and the weapon acquires a subtle, unique feel (we can transmit our own energy into the weapon – indeed, we can ‘feel’ the weapon down to the end. After years of practice and concentration you might be able to do this with your woodworking tools. To get the feel more strongly imagine light or electricity flowing out of your hands and into the tools and then into the wood. Combine this with breathing e.g. as you push forwards slowly breath out slowly). When someone else uses the weapon that ‘feel’ is disturbed.
    ‘Empaths’ react the same way when there are other people around them e.g. in a crowd. The energy of all the other people leaves them feeling unsettled and disturbed and they think that it’s something in them, rather than something they’ve picked up from the external environment. It takes empaths time to recover on their own after being around other people. You might be an empath.

  16. Wooden Thumbs on 8 April 2017 at 6:56 pm

    I learned the same way. Loaned a new neighbor a couple of chisels. I was lucky. One came back without the edge protector with which it left. Otherwise, no real damage. I don’t loan tools now.

  17. Johan Larsson on 8 April 2017 at 10:00 pm

    My dad runs a small workshop, and he actually buys and have tools and machinery around just for lending out, so he can keep the better and more expensive ones to use himself… He’s one of the nicest guys there is, but there have been tools and stuff for thousands and thousands of euros missing/stolen and damaged over the years, and he never charges anyone for anything. But it might be that he actually gains from it in the end, he has such a good reputation for being friendly and helpful, and there are so many people in the neighbourhood that are willing to help out whenever he needs it.

  18. Joe on 8 April 2017 at 10:43 pm

    Back in graduate school, I had a few tools I used in the lab I used to keep hidden. I didn’t at first and when someone borrowed them they came back ruined. After thta, I just hid some of them and let folks go buy their own. One colleague of mine got so fed up with it that he installed a lock on a drawer in the lab. Folks got upset with him that he wouldn’t share. However, he was productive than most because his tools/lab equipment worked and he had items clean and ready to use. I didn’t blame him at all.

    I have tools around the house that are specifically seconds for being lent to others. Most of them have been damaged in some way by previous borrowers and I don’t care as I never use them but rather have my own well maintained tools.

  19. Roger on 8 April 2017 at 11:13 pm

    I am a member of a busy Men’s Shed.
    When one is approached for a loan of a tool or requests some help – I go with the tool.
    This gives me the opportunity to demonstrate and explain its use as I see it; I do the job and return with my tool.
    No matter how boring the borrower may find this while at his bench, he may well have learned of its use, where I bought the tool and how to keep it sharp in readiness for the tool’s next task. (That is if the machinery nearby doesn’t blot out the conversation).

    • Michael Ballinger on 8 April 2017 at 11:41 pm

      Roger – I’m part of a men shed also. I found some gorgeous old Marples chisels in the shed in bad shape. Turned a new handle for one, and spent a few hours sharpening up 2 more to leave 3 in great shape. To my dismay the edges were all chipped the following week. Too many unskilled people using them without any guidance I’m afraid. That’s when I purchased my lending out set so I could get on with what I’m there to do. I’m in my 30’s so quite often the old boys don’t want to be shown how to do something by a young fella.

  20. Michael Ballinger on 8 April 2017 at 11:31 pm

    Like many here I have tools for lending and tools I won’t. It’s actually turned out very well for me as I’ll use the tools I lend out whenever there’s a job that might risk a damaged cutting edge. Like chiselling timber in a house where there could be nails or screws for example. Then i have my nice set of chisels that get used for all the ‘Paul Sellers’ type work. I put just as much time and effort into keeping both sets in good shape, just one I care about and the other cost €10 for 4 chisels. I won’t hand my number 4 Stanley to anyone now really because it took too long to master it and most I meet just don’t have the skill.

  21. S Goodwin on 9 April 2017 at 12:03 am

    Here’s my standard answer: “Sorry, my loaner tools have already been loaned out… and they haven’t come back yet.” Too bad it’s a true story.

  22. Phil Parsons on 9 April 2017 at 12:35 am

    Not just hand tools, I had an incident a few years ago when a neighbour I knew well asked to borrow a circular sander. That was the first and last time I will lend a tool, the base pad came back in shreds

  23. chris on 9 April 2017 at 2:21 am

    I couldn’t make enough money to buy a slice of bread with my woodworking tools but to buy a 150 year old saw , Plane , chisel and spend hours sometimes days to clean ,sharpen and tune it up just to have someone else kink the Blade or chip the mouth out.” I dont think so “,and if a friend doesn’t understand that then he/she was never a friend to start with.
    Maybe I’m just stingy. And that’s alright with me.
    In the construction business we bought our own Hammer, Tool Pouch, wonder bar and such but most all other tools and power tools were purchased by the company I worked for. If someone can damage a solid steel estwing Hammer then there a serious problem there. They need to go play somewhere

  24. Thomas Angle on 9 April 2017 at 3:35 pm

    My mother told me years ago to never loan money that you wanted back. I always used this advise with anything I loaned out.

  25. John Holden on 9 April 2017 at 6:09 pm

    Amen to that!

    I used to loan out my chainsaw. Every time it came back the chain was dull and needed a major sharpening, the air filter was clogged with sawdust and the concept of cleaning the tool after use was foreign to the borrower.

    I also don’t understand why working with your hands is not considered as intellectual as other endeavors. Without intellectuals working with their hands the world would be a sad place indeed. I with intellectual hands and minds were regarded with the same respect.

    • Mark Burns on 10 April 2017 at 12:02 am

      I’ve often had friends and colleagues want to borrow my chainsaw – a Husqvarna that I’ve has for over 30 years – and I always say “Yes, of course you can”. “But on one condition:- you borrow me with it!!”
      Two reasons for this: the obvious one relating to the condition in which it might be returned; and the second one being that I would be devastated if a friend injured themself with the powerful and super-sharp beast.

      I am an architect and I have the utmost respect (and envy – too late now, but I wish I’d trained as a cabinetmaker instead!!) for people who work with their hands: how else would things get built?.

      • Roger on 10 April 2017 at 7:12 am

        Mark – Slightly off topic.
        I am an architect also. I now have great pleasure in reverse perspective/photograph drafting (by hand) into 2D to end with plans to build furniture.
        Some time ago Paul tripped to France and blogged a furniture shop window with a display of chairs. I am now building those chairs.
        There have been a number of replies to Paul’s blogs over the years with which I would like to have further discussed the subject with the respondent and without cluttering Paul’s in box.
        Does Paul have this facility or how may we facilitate such a personal reply to the contributors?

  26. Richard on 9 April 2017 at 7:15 pm

    I was surprised to see many comments here that complain about the condition of the returned tools. Frankly, who in their right minds would expect to loan out a tool and get it back in prime or the same condition as it was? Unless you explicitly stated that as a condition of loaning, you should never think whoever borrowed your tool would care for your tool as much as you do. Yes, you should never loan anything if that bothers you.

    My neighbor borrowed a Festool ROS from me to sand down a board and I never expected him to return the tool with any reusable sandpaper. He returned the sander with a new pack of Granat papers, which was a nice surprise, to say the least.

    As for loaning money, yes, loan it only with the mentality that it would never come back to you. But then, if someone deserved to be loaned that money, losing the money you loaned out should be our least concern.

    I loaned some money only once in my life to a college buddy after we both had our career. He returned the money afterwards (and I never borrowed to ask what he needed it for; the loan was about half of my monthly salary). No one else has asked me for loans. After my marriage (35 years ago?), we needed a short-term bridge loan for a house but couldn’t get it from some immediate family. I experienced the bitter taste of getting turned down when you really needed that assistance.

    So, me loaning out a tool or two and getting worried about it? Life is too short for that!


    • Paul Sellers on 10 April 2017 at 7:43 am

      I actually think the concept of expecting tools to come back in lesser condition than loaned out in to be flawed. It’s as much to do with respect and integrity as anything. I might prefer to receive a chisel back duller rather than someone who does not know how to sharpen sharpen it.

  27. T on 10 April 2017 at 11:10 am

    Look at it as if a tool were money or a book. Lend it but don’t expect it back. Sometimes books come back years later. And if they don’t ever come back, they’re out there on their journey doing what they’re supposed to be doing.

    My lad is a college and emailed me the other day “Dad, can you lend me a couple of hundred quid.” Now is that a loan? Or is it an investment, and will I get it back in grandkids one day/

  28. S Richardson on 10 April 2017 at 11:48 am

    Never ever lend out your good tools, if they come back at all they’ll be buggered !! This is true even of other trades who would naturally look after their own tools. It seems to be a contempt for the tools of somebody who is not of “Our” trade. I once worked for a guy who used to insist that as he employed me he could borrow my tools, you should have heard the squeals when I used”his ” time to regrind a chisel he’d knocked the corner off !!

  29. Larry Lumley on 10 April 2017 at 7:52 pm

    Hi I agree with Paul, when I started my apprenticeship I was given three pieces of advice.
    The man that has never made a mistake has never made anything,
    Never loan out your tools,
    And any one caught sharpening your tools was worthy of a knee capping, old school.

  30. Gino Centofanti on 10 April 2017 at 11:53 pm

    I learnt as an apprentice radio tradesman to not loan out my tools unless I respected the person on how they used tools.
    All too often one of the sales people would ask me for a loan of a tool, and one time I loaned out my petite side cutters only to find out they were trying to cut a nail with it. They simply had no idea of what they were doing.
    I then started to ask what do you need the tool for? Which improved matters somewhat.
    Many years down track, with small exceptions I don’t loan out my hand tools. And never ever loan out my woodworking tools.
    My brother inlaw asked me once for a loan of a tool, and I think the expression on my face must have said it all when he said before I could talk “I know I know you’d rather loan me your wife than your tools”. (somewhat correct)
    I don’t get asked often but my usual reply is I’m more than happy to do the job for you but I don’t loan out tools.
    Sorry but some people have no clue. And that’s not taking nothing away from them being a good person.
    Then there are the people who never ever return them. And you have to constantly hound them for them.
    The same brother in-law asked me for a hole saw. I felt I should loan it to him. I had a very old and shitty nest of saws and gave him this as I really didn’t care about them. Nor ever expected to get them back (it was more of a science experiment to me) and guess what I never did get them back.
    Reminds me of the kid at school who asked for a loan of $10 I knew I’d never get it back so I gave it to him anyway just for that very reason, as I knew he would then avoid me for all time. (good way to get rid of bad company.)
    I digress.

  31. Ocelot on 14 April 2017 at 2:12 pm

    At the guts of the argument is the often unrecognised assumption that it is the tool which is responsible for the work and which can cure the present problem. Usually, neither is true. The assumption is often made by those who have little skill with the tools. As in so many craft areas, the tool is merely a convenient aid to the skilled hands of the worker, not a substitute for that skill. You could borrow the tool, but you cannot ‘borrow’ the required skill, so the answer ‘no’ is often entirely appropriate, IMO. What one is saying by ‘no’ is that it would be pointless to do so, since you will likely be unhappy with the results of your unskilled efforts, and damage the tool at the same time. It is a ‘no win’ for the lender, so – sorry, but no.

  32. Cory on 15 April 2017 at 1:25 am

    I know this all too well, the disrespect for the tool, the tool’s owner, and his skills. It is really one in the same as people asking for a raise who have not worked for it, or a welfare check that will be squandered. Although, there is nothing like helping someone who deeply needs it and appreciates it.

  33. Scott on 15 April 2017 at 2:36 pm

    I often go to auctions to look for fine or usable tools. I am mostly disgusted by the careless lack of care or attention to details manifested by most people regarding tools. They throw planes, shaves, and chisels in buckets with bolts and c-clamps. Socket chisels are mushroomed and split, chipped, or bent. Very few understand the work required to sharpening well or maintaining edges. I have found that one can tell quickly who respects or admires a tool and who is careless or clueless. I offer select tools to lend after assessing their efficacy in using them. I usually offer to do the work for them or with them. I try to educate them on steel or sharpening. That said I do not let anyone use my best prized and perfectly adjusted hand tools. I have average well maintained planes and restored abused tools that others can use without me having a panic attack. I have noticed that if you tell someone that it took you a half hour or more to sharpen a tool or that grinding an edge can cause heat to destroy the heat treatment that makes the tool work well they either get nervous or interested. If they look at you like you are nuts then do not lend them tools.

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