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]

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    

Union Tongue & Groove Plane #41, Quite Rare, Collectible - UserSandusky Plow Plane No. 119Sargent Vbm No29 (rare) Plane Vtg. Adjustable Dado & Plow Plane - Stanley No. 46? - Skewed - Woodworking ToolAntique Vintage 1903 Stanley No 148 Wood Working Plane Tool Come & Go 7/8" Nice!Vintage Stanley Bailey No. 5 Flat Bottom Plane. 3 Patent DatesStanley - # 4 Plane - S.w. Blade - 1923 To 1935 Era.Stanley Bailey No. 5 Wood Plane~nice Condition~smooth Bottom~all Original!Bridge City Tool Works Commemorative Ct-11 Low Angle Bench PlaneHay Budden Anvil Blacksmith Forge Forging Tools 260 Lbs Steel HammerBridge City Tool Works -- Ct 10 Low Angle Smoothing Plane -- Limited Ed.(2003)Stewart Spiers Plane O Ayr Vintage Smoothing Plane Hand Plane Wood Plane Lee Valley Tools Veritas Shooting Plane Rh Pm-v11 BladeSeagrave Fire Axe By Collins - Fire, Firefighting, Vintage, Restored95% Of Nickel!!! Stanley No.55 Sweetheart Plane With 54 Cutters!! Beautiful!!!Starrett 18" Machinist Level 4 Vials With BoxLie Nielsen No. 62 Low Angle Jack PlaneAntique Bronze Figural Lion Head Door KnobLie-nielsen No. 4 1/2 Smooth PlaneLie-nielsen 4 1/2 Bech Plane98% Of Nickel!!! Stanley No 55 Plane, Parts Wooden Storage Box & 52 Cutters Lie-nielsen Jack Plane No. 5 1/2Lie Nielsen Bronze Smooth Plane Ln4Lie Nielsen#3 Bench Plane Lie-nielsen No. 62 Low Angle Jack PlaneMathieson And Son Screw Arm Plow PlaneLie-nielsen No. 1 Bronze Wood Bench PlaneVintage Stanley #750 Chisel Set ~ 3 Pieces ~ 1", 3/4", 1/2" ~ In Original BoxVintage Brass Norris Of London Wood PlaneVintage Viking Style Axe Hatchet Tool Custom Engraving Carved Bear HandleVintage Stanley No.45 Combination Plow Plane,cutters,wood Box, Cam,Lee Valley Tools Veritas Large Shoulder Plane Pm-v11 BladeGreat Lakes Pine Era Double-ended Stamp Hammer Log Stamp Stamper Loggers LoggingVintage Dated 1823 Louis Xviii French Imperial Guard Sapper Sapeur Pioneer AxeLie-nielsen Toolworks Jack Rabbet Plane L-n 10 1/4Stanley No. 55 PlaneVintage Genuine Norlund Double Bit Saddle Cruiser Axe Sold As FoundVintage Norris Of London Wood PlaneStanley No. 2 Wood Plane Sh Sweetheart Logo Vintage Hand ToolRare Vintage Vgn Lock Virginian Railroad Railway Rr PadlockNorris London Infill Plane NiceStanley No 50 Combination Plane, With Full Set Of 16 Cutters In Original BoxVintage Bhend Mountain Climbers Ice Axe/ Pick W/ Leather Hand Strap Switzerland 8-inch Stratton Bros. Bb Rosewood Level, Exc., Original, Nr, Free Ship In UsaLie-nielson Toolworks, Large Scraping Plane L-n 112Lie Nielsen No. 60-1/2 Adjustable Mouth Block PlaneEarly Stanley Style Brass Smooth Plane Bronze Wood Plane Vintage Brass Plane Stanley No 2 Smooth Plane Type 11 1910-18 All Original And Tuned Ready To UseRare Antique Brass U.s. Customs, Nprr Lock, Padlock, Indicator, CounterAntique Stanley No. 2 Woodworking PlaneVintage True Temper Black Raven Ax Axe Nice ConditionStanley 65 Block Plane With Original BoxRare Old Early Iron Brass Carpenter Walker Door Rim Lock Latch Knobs Hardware Rare Antique Cast Iron U.s. Canteen Lock Padlock Civil War Story Figural Nice!American Combined Level & Grade Finder, Very GoodLiam Hoffman Dc Carving AxeAntique 31" L & I J White 1837 3" Timber Framing Slick Chisel Socket Log CabinAntique Embossed Plumb Autograph Single Bit Axe Tool Look No Reserve Auction Stanley Combination Plane 45 - 55 Cutters 42 Cutters One Box Made In Usa12-inch Stratton Bros. Bb Rosewood Level, Exc., Original, Nr, Price Lowered