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    

1907-09~stanley No. 62~antique Woodworking Plane~adjustable Throat~low Profile~Superb Vintage~"union " 8 Drawer Oak Engineers/toolmakers Tool Cabinet Inc KeyRecord No 071 Hand Router Plane, 71Butt Chisel Woodworking Stanley 750 Set 9 Pc 2" To 1/8th Estate FoundNear Complete Stanley Tools 55 Combination Plane 4 Cutter Boxes TowerExcellent Record No 05 Ss Jack Plane, No 5Vintage Gba Gransfors Bruks 4.75 Lb Double Bit Ax Axe Head Made In Sweden GabLie Nielsen Number 9 PlaneVeritas Edge Trimming Plane Mint Condition R.h. Version Low Start No ReserveVery Rare Stanley 444 Dovetail Tongue & Groove Plane Stanley No 9 1/2 Screw Adjusted Block Plane, Adjustable MouthAntique Leonard Bailey Stanley # 1 Smooth Plane Tool Rosewood Handle As FoundStanley-montgomery Wards Plane 45, Cutters, Box, Collectible ToolRecord No 04 Smoothing Plane, No 4 ,Stanley No 80 Scraper PlaneVintage Boxed Stanley 50s Combination Plane Unused Complete With CuttersLarge 1 1/2" Wide Bevel Edged Chisel, By Marples, VgcRecord No 04 1/2 Wide Bodied Smoothing Plane, Rosewood Handles, 4 1/2Primus Plane E. C. EmmerichRare Antique Rabone Ironmongers Boxwood/brass Folding Ruler With Sliding CaliperVtg Nurland Saddle Cruiser Double Sided AxeVintage Stanley No. 71 Router Plane In Original Box, C.1950 Near Mint!Primus Plane E. C. EmmerichStanley No 5 1/2 Wide Bodied Jack Plane, Excellent ConditionStanley Bailey No. 4 1/2 Wide Bottom Wood Plane - Old Wood Worker Tool -usa MadeWood Body Stanley Transitional Smoothing Plane No 135Beautiful Vintage Genuine Norlund Double Bit Axe & 26 1/2" Handle Log Truck SeatBeautiful 3 1/2 Vintage Collins Double Bit Axe Head Logging Logger Woodsman Vintage Antique Gransfors Bruks GrAuthentic Norlund Hudson Bay Cruisers Hatchet Tomahawk Pattern Hand Axe Camping Plane E. C. Emmerich-woodjoyStanley No 50 Plough And Beading Plane, Complete With Boxed Set Of 17 Cutters, ,Stanley 604c Bedrock PlaneStanley No. 71-1/2 Router PlaneStanley No. 92 Cabinet Maker's Plane England. Stanley Bedrock 605 1/4 Junior Jack Plane Very GoodStanley No. 71 Router PlaneStanley No. 71 Router Plane With Box - Made In England Neat Old Hibbard Spencer Bartlett Ovb Hardware Gladiator Padlock 1899Stanley Bailey No.7c Jointer Plane - With Tripple DateAntique Sandusky Tool Company Vintage Wood Working Plane ToolVintage Stanley Bailey Bedrock #605 1/2c Bench Plane ExcellentVintage Stanley No 2 Plane - Great ConditionVintage Blacksmith/anvil Sawyer "dog Head" Saw Maker Hammer. 1 1/2 IbStanley No. 7 Jointer Plane -nice- **no Reserve**Antique Stanley Bailey No 4 Bench Plane Rosewood Short Knob Early Tote Nice NrVintage Porter H70 Hay Trolley With Drop Pulley Industrial Light CarrierVintage Stanley No. 2 Smooth Wood Plane, VgcAntique Story Canteen Padlock No Key Civil War 1800's Us Brass - Iron Very Rare*Vintage Genuine Norlund Hatchet Axe Tomahawk Head 1.2 PoundsPrimus Plane E. C. Emmerich-ulmiaStanley No.8 Jointer Plane, 24", Type 11 C.1910-1918 Nice UserStanley Bedrock 605 PlaneSteel Bullnose Plane, 1 1/8" Wide,Lie Nielsen #51 Shoot Board Plane With Original Wood BoxVintage Boxed Stanley 50 Combination Plane Unused Complete With CuttersPrimus Plane E. C. Emmerich-ulmiaSalesman Sample Made By Eagle Lock Co.padlock U S Internal Revenue W/key Nr SafeYale Bicentric Lock /ohio State University / Padlock / 2-plug Lock / Hardware Vintage Stanley Spokeshave Lot - 51 52 53 151 - Sweetheart, V, Rule & Level Logo