In 1965 I bought many hand tools, perhaps one per month, where each of the more productive tools like saws and planes might cost me up to and over a full week’s wage for me to put together a cluster of working tools. My saws and planes took me 46 hours of work to pay for each one, marking gauges a quarter of that. I was paid £3.50 pence for 46 hours as an apprentice. Little did I know then that these tools would faithfully serve me for almost six decades. Using them daily, mostly for ten-hour days, throughout 56 ensuing years has made me realise just how incredible my basic western tools really are. I have sharpened the same saws, planes and chisels throughout my work life. In recent years, rather than see them completely wear down to the knuckle, so to speak, I have placed them into my preservation tool chest to be used only if and when I want to. Having used these tools to earn my living and raise my family, relying on them to put food on the table and clothes to wear, pay a mortgage, bills, etc, they owe me nothing. You likely will not hear such a thing from anyone you know, so I am saying it here. These tools have interchanged with additional tools along the way including more recent types. Not one of them has been replaced by anything better. Where can you buy them now? eBay! And for a very small fraction of the price they cost me. Certainly not a week’s wage per piece.
Yesterday I pensioned off my bench vise, a Woden I found secondhand on eBay that was already fully restored. My old vise was showing signs of wear and as with my other tools I did not want to see it breakdown altogether. `i will install it in another, less used workbench. The new-to-me new one will take a little breaking in. It is quite stiff as it is a little-used one and everything is still quite tight. This is a celebration for me. Paying £130 with shipping for so fine a quality vise is a small price to pay. I doubt that there is a maker worldwide that matches such quality anymore. Sadly things have deteriorated in our exporting manufacture to other continents so that we can have cheap good and cleaner local air. A vise I once bought from an importer from Asia made a comparable vise. It was top-notch. But, well, the USA wanted it cheaper so the exporting manufacturer went back to the design and created a slightly lesser version within the brief for less cost. The new version rattled in the ways and the threads skipped when winding. Still, it was, well, OK. But guess what, the chain store of woodworking retail wanted it cheaper again so the maker went back to the drawing board and cheapened production all the more. Was this so that the franchise supplier stores could pass on the savings? Oh, that wasn’t the plan at all. No, no, no! The price stayed the same throughout the decade. We cannot blame the exporters for cutting prices and quality. It’s the importers who know nothing about craft, art and the art of making anything but money!