For the past couple of years, I've been going to garage sales and flea markets trying to find old axes, shovels, planes, and other tools that I can restore to working use again, and I've found very little.
Am I going to the wrong places? It seems as though anything useful ends up at an antiques store at the same price as a quality new tool would cost.
It's a bit frustrating. Any tips?
"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects."
I have an antique tool dealer that I use for hard to find tools. It is fallacy to think you are going to find good antique tools at bargain prices, if you do you are oh so lucky.
I go to estate sales, antique stores who have told me they have tools in stock, antique malls, flea markets, antique shows, I talk to hardware store employees about antique tools and find out if they know anyone that sells them.
I even stop at farms and ask about the possibility of them having anything I am looking for that they would be willing to part with.
Estate sales are where I have picked up some very nice items that I wanted for my work shop.
Around here it is even possible to go hiking and occasionally you come across a dilapidated barn, then you just need to find out who to get permission from to go through the building (I usually peek to see if there might be anything left in it).
You can find places all over the country where collectors of "stuff" have tons of things and usually they will have some old, hard to find tools. Then you get to haggle about the price (if they are willing to sell).
The TV show "Pickers" is a good model to use for finding those ancient, good quality tools we all should want to keep in use.
I have found that some folks are only willing to part with "great grandpa's tools" to someone who plans to put them to use instead of wanting them just for collecting. I've gotten several only because I buy them to put them to the use they were intended for.
First, what kind of condition are you looking for? Ready to use after purchase or somewhere between scrap metal and a little bit of time fixing it up? Often times, you will need to do some cleaning, sharpening or refitting it with a handle. And even then, if it can't be restored, you might be able to use the materials to make your own tools to save money.
Second, what kind of area are you searching in? For example, you might not find as much if you went to a thrift store in NYC as you would if you went to a more rural area where those kinds of tools where traditionally used in the trades more often.
Everyone should stop being so naive and close minded and just start experimenting to make a better world.
Yard sales have been good places for me, particularly yard sales in Maine. Flea market dealers know the value of what they have and will wait for a buyer. Yard sale people want to sell it today. Spring time garage clean outs!
A lot of the "luck" is looking for what is in your area historically......aka don't look for logging tools in the desert....
When I was in FL I couldn't find anything, now here in western PA a hardwood logging and carpentry Mecca they are everywhere for cheap....
Another option to plugging into supply outside your area is online sales areas, but then some risk is in not seeing before buying.
There is a list online that I pine after occasionally I'll find the link.......supercool.com.
This guy is a antique tool dealer, and you can buy tools from perfect to needing work and very unique or rare tools and the quality can't be beat. But you have to jump if you like something because they get bought fast
Another tip is knowing exactly what you are looking for, I got my dads no.5 1/2 corrugated sole stanley plane that he got from his dad. Made around 1880-1910
I wanted the set....that would include the no.8 jointer and the no. 4 1/2 smooth plane but wanted the corrugated bottom on all three, a decent 8 corrugated is a task took me a year to find a rust ball that was good.....then the 4 1/2 took another year and a half.
Found the no.8c on eBay and payed for it, found the no.4 1/2c in an Amish fellows shed that he sells landscaping rock out of, he asked for $20 and I gave him $50 at $50 it was still a steal, he is my best friends dad and I wouldn't underpay that much...
Turns out it was cracked so I had to grind and fill in with brass. Turned out good and square so no trouble, had to make the knobs and totes for the 5 1/2 and
the 4 1/2 out of cocobolo, that turned out nice too!
Oh on super tool.com it is set up as an emailed list, so you sign up for the email and once a month or so you get an email with pictures and lists and prices, every time I get one my mouth starts watering!
If you want to PM me I can send you the last one to check it out, that goes for anyone....
The trick with yard sales and flea markets is to go first thing in the morning. Here in NH the antique dealers are up bright and early to find a deal. I go with a friend of mine who is a dealer an we are out the door by 7am. Waiting till 9 or 10 am you won't find much. Also try and find a flea market that deals in vintage stuff. I have bought a few Starrett tools this way and all sorts of other goodies.
This thread has been around for a while, but the subject's worth commenting on...
David Galloway wrote:For the past couple of years, I've been going to garage sales and flea markets trying to find old axes, shovels, planes, and other tools that I can restore to working use again, and I've found very little.
If by “old tools” you mean antique or ‘not made anymore, hence kinda rare’ then that is a tricky subject, as knowledge about rarity has become pretty widespread, so people selling them are generally trying to get quite a bit for them.
But if you mean just tools that have been used by someone in the past and may need to be cleaned up or refurbished to be perfectly usable again… well, I can say this is a topic that has shown up on most of the homesteading and country-living forums I’ve participated in.
In general, I’ve had a lot of success finding “old” tools of this second sort at some of the yard sales in the fairly prosperous sections of cities - either by consulting classified ads or by just driving around in those neighbourhoods and looking for signs on a Saturday and/or Sunday. Estate sales can be great, if you can get there ahead of the bulk buyers who will sweep away sizeable loads of stuff before browsers get a chance to bid on individual items.
I’ve also found tools at bargain prices in some of the larger pawn shops and second-hand stores. The bigger pawn shops, for instance, do a volume business, so their prices on good used tools can often be modest. But I was talking the with owner of a smaller pawn/second-hand shop in a small town (here in Canada) and he told me that he was bringing in pallet-loads of confiscated stolen and abandoned goods auctioned by police stations in the province (you might say “state”) to the east of us! Miscellaneous items, accumulated by thieves, that were never claimed by their rightful original owners.
Yes, you need to have an eye for what's useful in the way of tools, and for what you either need personally or for what would be worth repairing and passing along. I’m open to coming across a lot of different things, and I don’t expect to find, used, just the specific thing I'd like to get at the moment. The timing rarely works that way! But I've found some amazing bargains and freebies.
A couple weeks ago I came across an old blacksmithing “post vise” that a woman wanted to get off her property. Her husband had recently died, and for something like 35 years he’d had this vise lying around on the ground outside, abandoned and forgotten. I wish I had taken a “before” picture of what it looked like when I carted it home. It was covered with thick orangish-brown rust, and naturally the “screw-thread shaft” (as it’s called) was seized and the jaws couldn’t be moved. The picture shows the result of my using a couple of different wire brushes on an angle grinder, plus some judiciously aimed penetrating solvent. Possibly 90 minutes of total effort on my part. It now works.
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Estate sales tend to be some of the best places, as they often just want the stuff gone. Sometimes the seller will have a decent idea of the value, but more often they really don't know the value. Even when they know the value, they often still drop the prices to decent deals to just get it gone. Estate sales are also usually open to a bit of haggling, if you can negotiate well, you can get some amazing deals. I would say avoid the estate auctions for the most part. While you can get some deals, you often have to buy a lot of junk to get the few good things as they like to package as much stuff together as they can.
Of course something to consider is the area your in. If your not in an area with a lot of old farms or more rural living your going to have a lot less estate sales with those old tools. You might need to look further away to find estate sales more rural where these items are commonly found and travel to hit several in one trip.
Antique stores and flea markets tend to be hit or miss. Meaning, a lot of them know the value of items so hard to get good deals there. The internet has made it hard for us to find deals with these folks since they have an easier time looking up prices for things than the old days when they had to call around to find out.
Garage and yard sales, again if your not in the right area hard to find the deals. But if your in a rural area or can travel to one then you start seeing the deals and find more of the type of things you want offered.
Big thing with finding the old tools is patience and persistance. If your not desperate and able to walk away with nothing, making regular visits to sales as they pop up, then you can get some good stuff. But if you need it now, your likely not going to find it without a lot of luck.
"Where will you drive your own picket stake? Where will you choose to make your stand? Give me a threshold, a specific point at which you will finally stop running, at which you will finally fight back." (Derrick Jensen)