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    

Stanley Bailey No.7 Jointer PlaneStanley Bailey No.8 Jointer Plane - Double Patent DatesLie Nielsen Block PlaneFlockton Tompkin Sheffield Antique Victorian 12" Folding Ruler Rule In CaseLie Nielsen 4 1/2 Smoothing Plane - Rosewood Knob And HandleLie Nielsen Bevel Edge Chisel Set, 9 Chisels C/w Leather Roll Usa Fine ConditionLie-nielsen No. 4 Bronze Bench PlaneLie Nielsen 1 #1 Bench Plane Lie-nielsen Toolworks - Rosewood Knob And Handle Vintage Stanley # 71 Router Plane ; Nice ConditionVintage Stanley Bailey No. 7 Jointer Plane, Corrugated Sole, Beautiful~rare~stanley No.97 Cabinet Makers' Edge Plane Vee Logo ~no Bin~ NrAntique Brass Oliver Tractor Farming Pancake Lock Padlock With KeyLie Nielsen Low Angle Adjustable Mouth Block Plane L-n60-1/2Vintage Record No. 071 Router Plane In Box, Made In Sheffield EnglandNice!!! H.gerstner & Sons O-82 Oak Wood Machinists 13 Drawer Tool Chest With KeyAntique Authentic Benjamin Franklin Brass Furniture Drawer Pull Knob6 Piece Stanley No. 750 Chisel Chisels Set !!!!!!!!!Vintage Stanley Adjustable "bailey" Jointer Wood Plane No 7 W/3 Patent Dates Vintage Stanley No 55 Combination Plane Sweetheart/cutters Booklet Original Box Antique Infill Smoothing Plane Old Woodworking Plane Old ToolSwedish Axe - Gransfors Bruks Ab - GrÄnsfors BergsjÖ - SwedenVintage Stanley #7 Jointer Plane Old Wood Working Tool Pre 1900 Nice Low KnobLie Nielsen No 4 PlaneStanley No 71 Hand Router Plane, Vgc, Two Cutters.Vintage Genuine Norlund Axe Hudson Bay Style Tomahawk Camp HachettVintage Hults Bruks Axe - Hultafors 2 1/4 Lb 1.0 Axe Head - Made In SwedenStanley Bailey No.5 1/2 Jack Plane - Double Patent DatesLie Nielsen L-n 7 (no. 7) Jointer PlaneVeritas Tools Small Plow Plane, Right Hand; 1/4" Wide Blade IncludedBeautiful Lie Nielsen Open Throat Router PlaneVintage Old Stanley Bailey Plane No 608 Bedrock As Is Damage Corr. Big 1910 PatLarge Lie Nielsen Shoulder/rabbet Plane LargeVintage Original Norlund Hudson Bay Tomahawk Camp Hatchet Axe W/original SheathStanley No.g7-c 22" Jointer Plane, Gage Self-setting, C.1930 Nice-great UserHnt Gordon Smoothing PlaneAntique Infill Panel Plane Old Woodworking Tool Antique PlaneAntique 1896 Stanley Router Plane No. 71 Woodworking Wood Knobs Tool Shop RareStanley 9 3/4 Block Plane Rosewood Rear Knob Early 20th Century'stanley No9 Cabinet Maker's Block Plane With 'hot Dog!Stanley No. # 2 Sweetheart Plane - Factory Japanning - Made In UsaAshley Iles,made In England Wood Carving Chisel Set 24 Unused Vintage NosStanley No.45 Sweetheart Combination Plow Plane With Cutter Type 14 Vintage 1922Lie Nielsen L-n 97 1/2 Small Chisel PlaneVintage Restored Stanley Bailey No. 7 Jointer PlaneVintage Genuine Norlund Camper Axe HeadLie Nielsen Edge PlaneVintage Leather Workers Blacksmith Lot Hammer Vise & Letter Punch ChiselsKeen Kutter Simmons Hdw K-5 Corrugated Jack Plane C.1910 ~ Stanley Bedrock 605cStanley Plane 45 Cutters, 21 Pieces, Good, CollectibleAntique Padlock Tube Tubular Key Sliding Lock 1.5 X 3/4" Arched Shape RelistStanley Bailey No.5 1/4c Jack Plane - With (sw) IronVintage Plumb Tomahawk Axe Head Camping Hunting Woodsman Sportsman Tool Lie Nielsen Medium Shoulder Plane In Original Box Lie-nielsen Scrub Plane, No 40 1/26" Low Angle Block Plane - Stanley 60 1/2Antique Hunt Douglas Axe Mfg 12" Bit Broad Hewing Axe Head Log Cabin Beam Tool Vintage Plumb Broad Axe Head Beam Hewing Window Door Frame Cabin Tool Carpentry~ Unknown Stanley ? Patent Bailey Split Frame Jointer Plane ~ Pfeil Woodcarving Tool Set Swiss Made Chisel GougeRare Wooden Bridle Plough Plane By Hields, Nottingham.