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    

Lie-nielsen 3/8" Mortise ChiselFour Lie Nielsen Toolworks Standard Socket Chisel Handles Rosewood Or BubingaStanley No. 289 Skew Bladed Rabbet And Fillester PlaneVintage Gba Gransfors Bruk Single Bit Axe Head Sweden Woodsman Camping ToolLie-nielsen L-n 102 Low Angle Block Plane Very Rare A. Howland Ebony & Ivory Tiped Plow Plane Vintage 1869 Antique Wood Slick 3" Inch Chisel Framing Tool Timber Very Nice ConditionVintage Norlund Double Bit Saddle Cruiser Axe With Norlund Sheath HatchetCased 24" Stanley Antique Folding Rule Ruler Victorian Scale Architect EngineerStanley #87 Cabinet Makers Scraper Plane, Rare, Refurbished, Fine ConditionVintage Gab Small Forest Axe Gransfors Bruks Single Bit Axe Made In SwedenStanley No.60-1/2g Block Plane Used 99p Start No Reserve Large Lot Of Stanley & Other Wood Plane Parts Irons Frogs Bedrock Lever CapsLie Nielsen Premium Woodworking No. 7 €Antique "rare" International Harvester Company Brass Pad Lock (no Key)Lie Nielsen Chisel Roll Suede Leather Holds 7 Chisels2 Lie-nielsen Tool Works Standard Plane 102 & 103Veritas Bronze Edge Timming Block Plane, Mk Ii, Great Condition, In Wood BoxStanley No.92 Rebate Plane Hardly Used 99p Start No Reserve Antique Vtg Sargent No. 160 All Iron Scrub Plane Pat. Sept. 1914 W/ Cap & BladeBlacksmith Hammer Anvil Tool. Paragon 128 Pounds Made In Sweden AnvilLie Nielsen Tool Works Plane No-1Stanley 112 Scraper Plane Very Good Stanley BladeAntique Wood Moulding Plane Brass/steel Screw Arm Plow Andruss Newark Nj J E HLie Nielsen #4 Brass Smothing PlaneHand Forged 5 Pound Cergol Decorated Rounding HammerVintage In Box Stanley Router Plane 71p Open Throat Woodworking ToolAntique Stanley No. 7 Jointer Plane €Vintage Carpenter "genuine Norlund" Axe Or Hatchet HeadStanley No. 1 Smooth Plane. Good Parts Or Restore. Early Mark. Estate Find. NiceLot (6) 19thc Antique French Victorian Gold Gilt Floral Brass Curtain Tie BacksHenry Taylor Wood Carving Gouge Chisel Tool Lot Of 3 #8, 10 & 11 ExcellentLie Nielsen Premium Woodworking No. 4 €Stanley Plane 4-1/2, CollectibleVintage Stanley No 278 Rabbet And Filletster Plane Woodworking Tool 51Swiss Made ? Deer Logo Carving Chisel #7/50 Large Curved Gouge Wood CarvingVintage Shapleigh Hdw Keen Kutter 2 1/2 Lb Boys Peeling Double Bit Axe Tool Vintage Used No.112 Scraper Wood PlaneRodiers Patent Plane Rodier Plane Antique Plane Rodiers Patented Bench PlaneVintage True Temper Kelly Perfect 32 Double Bit Axe Head Nice OneVery Nice Stanley No.71-1/2 Router Plane---with 3 Blades16 Genuine Antique Vtg Old Skeleton Keys Lot Cabinet Barrel Lock Steampunk CraftAntique L.l. Davis 12" Inclinometer Level Cast Iron Filigree Pat. Sept 17 1867Vintage Collins Legitimus Single Bit 3.5 Lb Felling Axe Topper AxeVintage Black Raven Kelly Axe Mfg. Co. Single Bit Axe* Vtg Stanley No. 604 Bedrock Plane, Rosewood Knob & Tote, Used, VgcVintage Plumb Victory Axe { Destroyer 3 Lb 2 Oz. Head }14 Genuine Antique Vtg Old Skeleton Keys Lot Cabinet Barrel Lock Steampunk CraftStanley No. 48 Tongue And Groove Plane Japanned10 Stanley Cutters, Combination Plane Plane Plough IronsVintage Stanley No. 2 Plane Sw Usa Stanley Plane 9-3/4, Wood Handle, Collectible Carpenter ToolVintage Starrett No.439 24" Combination-protractor-level-square Carpenter Tool Vintage 2 1/2 Lb Collins Homestead Double Bit Cruiser Axe & Collins 27" HandleVintage Stanley Number 113 Circular Plane Carpenter Woodworking Tool Usa MadeBeautiful 3 Inch Greenlee Slick, Push Chisel, Ship Wrights ChiselVintage Antique Large Wood Woodworking Plane Planer Stanley Bailey No. 7 #7 ToolShley Ices Ltd England Wood Working Carving Gouge Tool #14 ChiselLee Valley Veritas Dividing RuleLot (6) 19thc Antique French Rococo Victorian Gold Gilt Brass Curtain Tie Backs