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]

Vintage Machinery

Vintage Machinery

This collective website, which started as an online discussion forum, also includes a large database of manufacture… [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]



Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Lie Nielsen Large Closed Throat Router Plane 1-71-ctVintage Norlund Tomahawk Axe Hatchet Head Only Estate Find Stanley 10 1/2 Rebate / Rabbet Hand Plane, Made In EnglandRare!! Vintage Stanley Bailey No. 4-1/2 Hand Wood Plane - Nice Shape!! Invest!Rare Black Raven Single Bit Axe Head Kelly Axe & Tool Works Charleston Bold LogoVintage Stanley No 113 Compass Plane Old Woodworking Tool Vintage Plane Vintage Wetterlings Swedish AxeLie Nielsen 271 Small Closed Throat Router Plane With Optional Depth StopVintage Stanley No.65 Low Angle Block PlaneCollection 54 Antique Vintage Woodcarving Chisel Carving Tools Gouges Old ToolsOld Used Vintage Stanley Woodworking Tools Fine No. 45 Combination PlaneStanley Bedrock No. 603 Plane, First Flat Top C. 1911 Only, Just Needs CleaningVintage 1 Lb Norlund Hatchet Axe Head Camping Throwing Target Woodsman Hunting Sargent No. 708c (3c) Auto-set Plane, V-b-m "very Best Made," C. 1916-1918 OnlyVintage Stanley No 71 Router Plane With Box & PaperVintage 24 3/4" Portland Ore 3" Timber Slick Socket Chisel Cabin Wood Work ShopVintage Miniature Axe Head HatchetC1919,"frank E. Best" Signed Best Universal Padlock,lock,orig. Control Key,rare!Antique Georgian Wooden Steel Buttohnole Button Hole Chisel C1800Lie-nielsen No.7 Jointer Plane,Lie Nielsen Iron Miter PlaneStanley No 45 Combination Type 17 1949 - 1960 Woodwork Plane Vintage /fr1499Vintage Norlund 6.25" Double Bit Saddle Cruiser Hatchet/axe 1lb. 4oz. HeadNorlund Trailblazer Axe Double Bit HeadLie-nielsen No. 4 Smooth PlaneLie-nielsen Large Shoulder PlaneVintage Stanley No. 71 Router Plane Type 7- Unused Condition Vintage Collins Hudson Bay Style Camp Axe W/ Original Black FinishAntique Vintage Cast Iron Well Pulley No. 10 Wheel Farm Barn Home Rope PullLot Of 7 Blacksmith Hammer Heads Anvil Forge Shop Tool Cross Ball PeenVintage/antique Stanley No 45 Combination Plane Woodworking Tool W/extrasRecord No 405 Combination Plane 8 Special Fluting Cutters Fit Stanley 45 Fr1499Vtg Sweetheart Stanley #45 Combination Plow Hand Plane Wood Tool Cutters In Box Stanley Bailey No.5 Jack Plane Vintage Old Hand Tools # Woodworking Carpentry Vintage Ec Simmons Keen Kutter Single Bit Boys Axe Head Camping Hiking Hunting Stanley No. 2 PlaneRare Hoffman Hardware Co. Collins Legitimus (arm & Hammer), Single Bit Axe HeadVintage Norlund Usa Tomahawk Style Hatchet HeadVintage 1930's Stanley No 92 Ivory Brass Folding Measuring Ruler Tool Or SewingNorlund 2 Lb Tomahawk Axe Very Nice Shape !!!!!!!!!!Vintage Antique Stanley Sweetheart No. 45 Plane 7 In 1 Very Rare In BoxVintage Stanley #71 Router PlaneLarge 3" Slick Beveled Timber Framing Chisel Antique Wood Working ToolsRare Holtzapffel & Co London Boxwood And Brass Folding Rule / Ruler Antique ToolRare Stanley Sweetheart 45e (export) Combination Plane Complete In Chestnut BoxVintage Small Norlund Axe HatchetNice Used Norlund Hudson Bay Hatchet, Axe Wood ToolVintage Stanley No 40 Scrub Plane, Sw UsaOld Vintage Plumb Victory Hatchet Head, Axe Wood Cutting ToolVintage Norlund Hudson Bay Axe Hatchet Hammer Polished Custom Jesse Reed Handle Router Plane, Stanley 71, VintageAntique Sargent 407 Vbm Wood Smooth Plane - Same Size As Stanley No 2 - VintageVintage Old Antique Solid Brass National Lock Co.padlock Lock No Key Very CoolVintage Vaughn Blacksmith Farrier Rounding Forming Hammer 2 1/2 Lb.Vintage Plumb Hatchet With Original Sheath And Handle Camp Axe Tool Free Ship! Vintage Gba Gransfors Bruk Double Bit Falling Axe Head Sweden Logging LoggerVintage Master Lock Co. Salesman's Sample Store Demo Cutaway, Key Padlock #9999 Norwegian Viking Axe - Öyo Norway - Sandviken Steel SwedenVintage Stanley Bailey No. 8 Wood Jointer Hand Plane 24" X 3"Very Nice Vintage Stanley 1" No.20 Everlast Chisel 4 Pats