When should a tool be restored? This is a question a lot of people ask when they buy a vintage tool. The answer is partially dependent on the type of tool – is it a tool to collect and showcase in a cabinet, or use. Is it rare?
Is the tool a collectible or a user?
When it comes to tools, at one end of the spectrum there are the usable tools, and at the other end, the collectibles. From the collectors perspective, there are the blue-chip tools that are usually in near mint condition – these can be expensive and usually require very little restoration. Next are the superior tools – these are well maintained tools with only trace corrosion, minimal wear, no damage or defects. The metal may be darkened, and the wood dirty, but the tools have character, and only need a light cleaning. The third level of tool are the collectable-users. These tools show signs of use, and generally have areas of corrosion. They usually need extensive cleaning, de-rusting, restoration of finishes (e.g. Japanning), and replacement of missing parts. The final category are the salvageable-users. These tools usually need extensive restoration, and may have little finish left, considerable corrosion, or parts broken and/or missing. The tools beyond this category, the so-called “unsalvageables” really should only be used for parts.
This is similar to the three levels of tools Kerry Pierce cites in his book “Hand Planes in the Modern Shop“: (i) Tools that should not be used at all, (ii) Tools that may be gently used, and (iii) Tools that may be used. The first category includes the “collectibles” – rare planes which have a significant historical and/or financial value. The second category are as Pierce puts it “not sufficiently rare to be revered“. These tools are often quite common, and can be more rigorously restored. The last category includes tools which are very common and have practically no financial and/or historical value. These are tools which will be actively used, restored and modified with little issue.
If you buy a rare plane like the Sargent No. 1506½ Lady Bug “Bull-nose filletster rabbet” plane, (which often sells for upwards of $1000) chances are you bought it for its collective value. It’s a beautiful piece, but there are better shoulder planes out there for practical use. If you buy a plane like this, don’t restore it – its value is based on its current condition, and restoring it may impact its value. Collectable pieces don’t have to look new, shiny, or have new paint – unless you want them to. If a tool comes in its original box – then it may be even more collectible. It’s similar to those Star Wars figures from the 1970s – unopened they are worth a mint – but the same figure with the box discarded has practically no value. Tools that cost a small fortune, and are in prime condition don’t need restoration. The exception to the rule is finding a rare vintage plane in a corroded (but salvageable) state (with a value of say $500), and buying it for $100. Buy it, and restore it – I can’t believe it won’t go up in value.
What makes a tool rare?
There should be some simple means of determining how rare a tool is, but this isn’t usually the case. A rare tool could be one which was only produced for a short period of time, has an ornate finish, or was made by a company which only existed for a few years (e.g. in the mid to late 19th century). Tools from the earlier half of the 19th century may be rarer, i.e. wooden planes manufactured before the emergence of metal planes. Rare tools need a gentle dusting and nothing else. Sometimes rare planes were manufactured quite recently. A nice example is the Record No. 0100½ model makers block plane – a strange little block plane (3½” in length) with a convex sole in both length and width. It was produced from 1938 to 1943. Similarly, planes like the Spiers Ayr 5″ iron block plane and 6½” adjustable block plane are rare because they were only made in small quantities (and are valued between $2-3K).
Another example of a rare plane? Planes manufactured by the Buckeye Saw Vise Co. from 1907-1912 (value $300-500), or the ornate Challenge Iron planes manufactured by Tower & Lyon around 1885 (value $700-1000).
P.S. Darrell Chapnick makes replicas of the Sargent 1505½ and 1507½ in bronze for anyone interested. They look pretty cool.