Tool Collecting: Tips from an Antiques Roadshow Expert

A veteran tool collector, dealer and expert, shares tips, knowledge and advice.

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  1. Lee Richmond

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    "Like any collectible, it’s smart to buy what you like or what you will actually use," notes Lee Richmond, a veteran Antiques Roadshow expert and founder of The Best Things Corporation, specializing in fine woodworking tools. Woodworkers choose tools for their quality, craftsmanship, and functionality. Collectors who never intend to use an antique tool are more interested in the history, aesthetics and condition.

    Antiques Roadshow

  2. J. Bradford Molding Plane

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    Before factories, individual cabinetmakers owned as many as 30-60 different wooden planes, most of them molding planes. This J. Bradford curved stair rail molding plane is a very rare example. "In 25 years, the number of American curved molders that I have seen is less than 10," says Lee. Priced at $365

    The Best Things

  3. Hockley Abbey Folding Rule

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    Collectibles include everything from squares and bevels to gauges and rules. Several books on rules published in the last decade have fueled added interest in this category. The folding rule shown here is a 12" boxwood design in tight, probably unused condition. "As good as they get," says Lee. Priced at $49

    The Best Things

  4. Buck Brothers Socket Gouges

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    The Buck Brothers began manufacturing at the Riverlin Works in Millbury, Massachusetts in 1864 and quickly developed a reputation for the finest quality edge tools. Most good gouge sets were in-cannel pattern maker's gouges. These Buck Brothers examples are not, and as such much are harder to find and more desirable. Priced at $395

    The Best Things

  5. Stanley Handyman Block Plane

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    Stanley planes are by far the most commonly collected (along with the company’s other tools). Founded in the 1850s as a manufacturer of rules and levels, the company made its fortune after buying the rights to the patent for an adjustable metal plane from Leonard Bailey. “It was the most successful iron plane design of all time, and Stanley went from an obscure little company to a big name in a relatively small amount of time,” Lee says. This handyman block plane is priced at $35

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  6. S.F. Copping Bullnose Planes

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    Tools of remarkable precision and quality, British metal planes like these were made in the early 1900s, a time when industrialization saw many handcrafts disappear. “These were kind of the last word in smoothing planes,” Lee says. “A good one would cost a week’s wages for workmen at the time." Priced at $1,995

    The Best Things

  7. Spear & Jackson Backsaw

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    Beautifully weathered handles and a patina finish on blades puts antique saws in a nostalgic cut above others. Collectible types include crosscut, rip, coping, and backsaw, like this example marked with a Leap Frog logo and "Patent Machine Ground No. 46." Priced at $85

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  8. H. Hogg Adze

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    Determining the value of a tool is generally based on its condition, its rarity, its current demand, and its history (provenance). Check a current antique tool price guide, or what online dealers are asking for tools, to get some clue as to fair market value. The Fine Tool Journal (www.finetoolj.com) publishes a useful grading system, as well. Shown here, an American blacksmith-made, two-handed adze.

    The Best Things

  9. Wilton Vice

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    Once you’ve purchased a vintage or antique tool, protect it. “Nothing should be done that is not reversible," Lee says. "For example, if it is dirty, clean it. But don’t refinish it." Shown here is a cast iron Juno model clamp-on vice with double guide rods. You can't buy this quality today, notes Lee. Priced at $65

    The Best Things

  10. Fulton Egg Beater Drill

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    It doesn't need to be a rare antique to have value. An ordinary egg beater drill like this one, in very clean condition, is not only a fun, vintage collectible, but still a very handy tool. It only needs to be lubricated before it's ready to go. Priced at $27

    The Best Things

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