I get a lot of questions about where to find old hand tools. I myself find a lot at flea markets, yard sales and old tool shows that come through my East Coast town, but I’ve learned from my Hand Tool School members who are spread all over the globe that this is a local perk.
Sure, there’s eBay—but the current renaissance of hand tool woodworking means a lot of folks are trying to cash in on grandpa’s basement-rusted tools. The prices have skyrocketed well above what I would pay for something that will take a lot of work to restore. And chances are you will have to restore: For every good tool you find on eBay, there will be 20 that are missing parts (or worse, so beat-up that restoring them to working order isn’t worth it).
Let’s be clear, there are some eBay sellers that have great stuff, but you have to dig. Once you find them, establish a relationship with them outside of eBay, and it will pay dividends when you are looking for a specific tool.
Some folks enjoy restoring old tools and have the resources and tools to do it. But when I buy a vintage tool, I expect to have to grind and hone the iron, but that’s about it. I’m not a fan of flattening plane soles (unless it is a wooden plane) or really doing any metalwork. I want to get the tool to work quickly. So when the need arises, I turn to just a few tool dealers whom I trust for their encyclopedic knowledge of old tools and their knowledge of woodworking. These guys sell tools that can be put to work quickly and easily.