Tools of the Trade

Tools of the Trades

William Rigler

Editor’s Note!! This article was written in 1997 and the information was considered current at that time. It is presented here “as it was” (certain contact information has been deleted) to help preserve information on how things began in MWTCA. Please check out our Useful Reference section for additional and more current information.

Tools are described as things that allowed man to perform work with less effort. As his tools got better, man’s thinking got better and the endless cycle is still the secret to man’s material progress. With few exceptions, the final product, and/or the maker rather than the tools used to produce the item were the most important.



Early tools were made out of bone, horn, stone and wood. The Bronze Age brought the first use of metal, and then the Iron Age brought the combination of wood and metal into the Machine Age. The collection of tools by private collectors did n ot happen until the early 1900’s, prior to that collections were made by museums, primarily because of their history, form and artistic quality

The first major effort to identify the tools of the trades was by Denis Diderot in 1749; his “Encyclopedia” contains detailed engraved plates of the tools used by each trade. These records were the only documentation of the use of tools and who made th em until the 1950’s. Today our private libraries are filled with books and pamphlets covering tools and their use.

If you find tools to be interesting and you think that you would be interested in collecting them, we strongly urge you to invest about $200 into four books and dues for one year in two organizations.



Dictionary of Woodworking Tools, R A Salaman

A Guide to the Makers of American Wooden Planes, Third Edition, Emil and Martyl Pollak.

British Plane Makers from 1700, Third Edition, W. L. Goodman revised by Jane and Mark Rees.

Antique and  Collectable Stanley Tools, A Guide to Identity and Value, John Walter

All of these and more are available from the Astragal Press, P. O. Box 239, Mendham, NJ 07945-0239.

Antique and  Collectable Stanley Tools, A Guide to Identity and Value

This is also available from the publisher, Tool Merchants, P. 0. Box 227, Marietta, OH 45750-0027.


Mid-West Tool Collectors Association:

Bill Rigler, Treasurer – (contact information deleted)  Dues are $20.00 per year. The organization publishes a quarterly journal (T he Gristmill) containing tool related articles as well as organization related information. Through its special publications program, it distributes and at least one free special publication per year; in the past, old trade catalogs and significant books have been reprinted for the membership. The M-WTCA membership is divided geographically into 18 regions whose goal is to have two area meetings a year, in addition, two national meetings are held annually. It has been said that you will see more tools for sale at a semiannual meeting than you could find in five years of hunting. Although the organization is tool oriented it has two special projects – Mt. Vernon, George Washington’s home, to which it has supplied both display and user tools for the restora tion of the properties, and Habitat for Humanities where user tools are supplied for use in building homes in South America.

Early American Industries Association:

Eldon W. Hall, Treasurer (contact information deleted)  A range of dues participation is available, although regular dues are $30.00 per year. The organization publishes a quarterly journal (The Chronicle of the EAIA) containing tool and trade related articles and a bimonthly bulletin (Shavings) containing information concerning the organization and its activities. It also sponsors one national meeting annually, and sells tool, trade and industry related books through a catalog. The EAIA is research oriented and has a large collection of reference books, called the Cooke collection, housed at the Mercer museum in Pennsylvania.

Tool Forms:

Tools were used by trades in the performance of their work but the many times the same tools were used by multiple trades so knowledge of the tools helps you in this classification: building, clockmaker, foundry, leather working (harness maker, cob bler) metal working, music instrument making, coach and wagon making and woodworking (carpenter, framer, joiner, furniture maker, sabot maker (wooden shoes) are examples of the trade groups.

Tools themselves are grouped by the work that they do. The following is not meant to be all-inclusive.

Saws are used in most trades. The first saws were used in the stone age where rough edged stones were used to cut wood.

Wood planes to smooth and cut designs go back to the Romans. Records indicate that this industry started to develop in 1700 and peaked about 1860 and was down to a few makers by 1945.

Metal planes to smooth and cut designs go back to Romans too, but the industry got started about 1830 and peaked about 1940 as electrical powered equipment took over production. Most of these early metal planes were patented.

Hole making devices such as braces, bow drills, pump drills and drill bits are some of the devices to make holes. Braces in the 1700 to 1850 were usually made of wood with fixed bits. 1838 was the start of patents being issued for metal braces and part icularly for devices that would hold the removable bits.

Measuring and marking devices include rules, logging calipers, squares, bevels, and marking gauges that were used by every trade.

Leveling devices include the use of plumb bobs for leveling and checking vertical lines. As the glass bubble became cheaper, levels as we know them came into existence. Many of the levels, starting about 1840, were patented for various types of improve ments

Hammers are universal in all trades. The early ones were hand wrought by blacksmiths. Improvements became patented and there is a wide range of patented hammers for the various trades.


Purchasing Considerations:

It has been said many times, “It is better to buy one good tool than a group of cheap tools.”

Rarity and conditions of the tool is the key to the price. Rarity can be type of tool, it can be coupled with the materials used or the maker. Condition is a subjective judgment call, but conditions like worm holes, dry rot, cracks, missing parts, stri pped threads are some of the negative things to look for in buying tools.

Tools in their original boxes are generally limited to manufactured metal planes, usually Stanley. Mint condition tools and boxes do bring premium prices.

With wood tools being made in the United States until 1925 common planes like hollows and rounds, rabbits, etc., are of more use to the person that uses these tools than the collector. They usually carry a manufacturers mark of Ohio Tool, Scioto Tool, Auburn Tool and Sandusky tool Co, however since Ohio Tool was in business from 1823 their earlier tools do have more value, as does the Ohio Tool and Sandusky center wheel plow planes made out of boxwood, rosewood and ebony.

It is impossible to price out all of the thousands of tools with the variances of makers/manufacture, rarity and condition. The following are some tools that sold at a recent (1997) auction and the prices realized.

Prices for common molding planes 20th Century $10 to $20

Sandusky #141 Center Wheel Plow Plane, Rosewood Six Ivory tips at auction $12,000.

Stanley Leveling stand #48 In the box at auction $500.

18th century American plow plane Made by CE. Chelor living in Wrentham Birch wood. Chelor a Black plane maker at auction $3,500.

Carpenter’s saw. E. C. Simmons, Past Mail Rare 8 pt. 20″. minor dings, and pitting at auction $110

Since the collectable tools have not been made for quite a while the total amount of tools that are available is static. That coupled with the fact that the number of people collecting tools has increased dramatically over the past twenty-five years the price of pristine, rare tools will continue to increase in value and common items will stay at about the same price.