The history of tools and hardware tells the story of two conflicting impulses. The first was the urge—or, more likely, the necessity—to handcraft one’s home and furnishings. The second was the desire to take advantage of the opportunities available to entrepreneurs in the 19th century, when the Industrial Revolution enabled the mass-production of the tools that would give the rest of us the means to do-it-ourselves.

Hand tools, be they vintage or new, can be organized into a number of categories. First there are the striking tools, such as hammers and axes and hatchets. Cutting tools include chisels and knives by companies such as Keen Kutter—saws are really in a class by themselves. And then there are the planes, which continue to be produced in dizzying numbers and sizes to achieve specialized results. Other categories include boring tools, which include hand-operated drills such as braces.

The manufacture of hand tools and hardware in the United States essentially began in 1843, when Frederick T. Stanley founded the door-hardware company in New Britain, Connecticut, that bore his name. In 1857, Henry Stanley, Frederick's cousin, launched the Stanley Rule and Level Company, which acquired Leonard Bailey & Co. in 1878. Bailey held numerous patents on such mainstay woodworking tools as planes, which Stanley Rule and Level augmented with mitre boxes, hand drills, hammers, and, of course, its own lines of wood and iron levels. By 1920, the two Stanley firms had merged.

Today, despite the plethora of new-tool choices available to serious woodworkers and do-it-yourselfers alike, many people return to vintage and antique tools. In addition to being perfectly functional—a well maintained hand tool can last for decades—some of these tools are like small sculptures. When artfully arranged in a garage or workshop, or lovingly stored in a companion vintage tool box, these pieces can continue their work for decades to come.

Increasingly, home-improvement buffs, architects, and interior designers are turning to vintage hardware to give new spaces an aura of authenticity. As with antique tools, vintage hardware is often as good, if not better, than new pieces, which are typically made of thinner metals and weaker alloys. A cast-iron door knocker or brass door knob creates visual interest at a home’s entrance, while vintage drawer pulls and hinges keep new cabinetry from looking too new.

Of course, if some of these cherished workhorses from the past have outlived their usefulness, that doesn’t mean they have nothing else to contribute to a home’s feeling of distinctiveness. For example, an ornamental weathervane that once toughed it out during storms on a chimney top probably deserves a second life as a decorative object in a den or on the patio, while wood-and-iron pulleys, wooden rulers, and tough-looking locks make terrific conversation pieces.


Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

A Millers Falls Home Page

A Millers Falls Home Page

Randy Roeder has carved out a niche for himself with his fine website devoted to the history of the Millers Falls C… [read review or visit site]

Alloy Artifacts

Alloy Artifacts

A tool collectors’ dream, this site is a deep repository of photos and info on 20th century hand tools and the co… [read review or visit site]

Old Woodworking Machines

Old Woodworking Machines

This collective website, which started as an online discussion forum, now also includes a large database of manufac… [read review or visit site]

Drainspotting

Drainspotting

Josh and Cam Larios have created this site enabling people to upload and 'tag' photos of historic or artistic manho… [read review or visit site]



Most watched eBay auctions    

Vintage Stanley 10 1/2 Carriage Maker's Rabbet Plane, Sweetheart Stanley PlaneRecord No 311 Steel Shoulder Plane, VgcEarly Vintage Gransfors Bruks €Antique 20 Inch Infill Jointer Plane Woodworking Plane Edward Preston Brass Cap Record No 042 Steel Shoulder Plane, Vgc, 8 " Sole, 3/4" Wide2 1/4 Pound Gransfors Bruks Gab Sweden Axe Made In Sweden Stamped Both SidesRecord No 010 Cabinetmaker's Rebate / Bench Plane, No 10, Vgc,Lie-nielsen 60 1/2 Adjustable Block PlaneAntique~stanley Combination Plane No. 45~woodworking Hand Tool~excellent~Antique Woodworking Tool Stanley No 112 Scraper Plane Vintage Gransfors Bruks Gab 3 1/2 Lb Single Bit Axe Head Sweden Firewood LoggerBeautiful High Polished Norlund Double Bit Cruisers Axe 2-1/2 Lb. W/handle Vtg.Stanley No.42 Miller Patent Gun Metal Plow Plane Type 3 Vintage 1875Lie Nielsen No7 Jointing PlaneVintage 1948 Sager Chemical Axe Double Bit Puget Sound Axe Head Logging LoggerAntique Spiers Ayr Dovetailed Infill Plane For Restoration Winter ProjectVintage Gransfors Bruks Gba Made In Sweden Single Bit Axe Head Heirloom Lie-nielsen No.102 Bronze Low Angle Block Plane Antique Edward I. Farmer Carnelian & Sterling Silver Quail Bell Push New YorkModern Chrome Plated Stanley No 71 Hand Router Plane, 3 Blades, VgcOld Gransfors Bruks Gba Made In Sweden 2.5 Lbs Double Bit Blade Axe Head Tool AxAntique Stanley No 4 1/2 Wide Bodied Smoothing Plane 1888 - 1892Small Antique Chariot Plane Old Woodworking Tool Moulson Brothers Cutter OldAntique Mathieson Glasgow Scottish Infill Rosewood Steel Plane Norris StyleRecord No 07 Ss Jointer Plane, Rosewood Handles, No 7, VgcObsolete Corbin Padlock / 1892 Patent Date / Unusual Lock / Locksmith / Two KeysTiny Miniature Padlock Victorian Ornate Key Working Lock Charm Jewellery BoxNorlund Vintage Tomohawk Axe Hatchet 25 3/4" With Handle 3 7/8" Wide BladeStanley No.45 Combination Plow Plane Type1 Vintage 1885Vintage Genuine Norlund Camper Embossed Ax Axe W/ Original Handle HatchetRecord No 04 Ss Stay Set Smoothing Plane Rosewood Handles Old Woodworking Plane Vintage Genuine Norlund Cruiser Axe Head - Primitive Logging Tool Record No 06 Fore Plane, No 6 , Excellent ConditionVintage Usfs True Temper Flint Edge Kelly Works Double Bit Falling Axe Head Antique Cast Iron Hay Trolley Farm Tool Barn Pulley Unloader Hay Pulley.Veritas Small Plow Plane & AccessoriesVintage Genuine Norlund Double Bit Cruiser Camp Axe HeadEstate Find Stanley 55 Combination Plane Tool Near Complete Cutters Irons Boxes1946 Sager 12" Double Bit Falling Axe Vintage Logging Tool Antique Floral Embossed Flowers Diamond Sole Woodworking Carpenter's PlaneVery Rare Large Georgian 18th Century Bramah Patent Padlock Stanley Miller's Patent Plow Plane Boxed Cutter Set Vintage 1875Rare Vintage Stanley No. 1 #1 Sweetheart Sw Smooth Hand PlaneStanley 55 Universal Plane W/ 54 Boxed CuttersStanley Bedrock 605 1/4 Junior Jack Plane Very GoodStanley #606 C Bed Rock Fore Plane, Type 6 C1918-1921, Flat Top Sides Sw LogoVintage Embossed Barco Fss Forest Service Pulaski Axe Head Firefighter Tool UsaOutstanding Stanley Bedrock Type 6 No 605 1/2 Jack PlaneRare Vintage 1930 Sager Chemical Axe Single Bit AxeVintage Stanley No 1 Plane #1 With Sweetheart Blade Collection, Christmas, UseAntique A. Mathieson No.5a Plow Plane-glasgow & Edinburgh-very Fine ConditionVintage Norlund Tomahawk Hatchet Axe Head Collector Log Truck Seat Throwing ToolVintage Single Bit Axe / Stamped " Genuine Norland " / Old Logging Tool Small Plough Plane By Record With 3 Cutters Exc. Cond, No 043Vintage Plumb Double Bit Cruiser Axe With Original HandleVintage Collins Pulaski Axe Head Cz Crown Zellerback Logging Sawmill ForestryVintage 1948 Sager Chemical Axe Double Bit Axe Head 4 2 Logging Logger ToolStanley No.85 PlaneVintage Wpa 1937 Sager Chemical Axe Double Bit Puget Sound Axe Head CollectorStanley No 80 Scraper Plane