The Tool that Changed my Life

It was thirty years ago this summer. I was thirteen years old visiting my grand parent’s house on my Mom’s side in Detroit, Michigan when I walked into my Grandpa’s garage and spotted this little drill press on top of his cabinet.

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It’s was a little German-made drill press. It had no manufacturer’s name on it, so I have no idea who made it, but I thought it was the coolest tool I ever saw. I played with it for a few minutes, and my Grandpa seeing I took a liking to it, gave it to me. I was stoked.

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My Grandpa was never really a woodworker. He was a mechanic who restored old cars like Ford Model T’s and Maxwell’s, so he had no use for the press. I just started to work with wood in my parent’s basement, so I was glad to have it.

A few days later, my Mom, Grandparents, and I went to the flea market. While there, I started hunting for more cool tools. I found some old wrenches and a Ohio Tool Co wooden razee fore plane that I still use to this day. The only money I had was a few bucks I saved up from my allowance of cutting the grass, so I bought all my tools dirt cheap. Nevertheless, even though I didn’t realize it at the time, it was the start of my antique tool collecting.

As the months and years went by, I started buying more and more old tools. I’d buy planes, chisels, drills, saws and clean them up. As my tool collection grew, my woodworking skills developed right along with every tool I bought as I learned how to use it. I enjoyed the process of restoring old planes so much that I kept buying more of them and before I knew it, I had collected nearly 100 old tools by the time I was sixteen years old. I used to have white bookshelves in my parent’s basement filled with all my tools. My friends would come over, take a look, and asked what the hell was wrong with me.

At the height of my collecting I had over 600 tools. Then one day, I stared at all of it and decided that enough was enough. I took some of the tools I didn’t care much for and threw them on eBay. I watched the auctions end and realized that I enjoyed that process as well, so I threw more tools on eBay. Before I knew it, I was buying and selling tools on a regular basis.

Today, I’ve figured that I have bought, restored, and sold almost three thousand tools on eBay. It’s become a hobby within a hobby. Something that I would never have believed would have happened thirty years ago when my Grandpa gave me his little drill press.

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Another Tool Auction

If you follow my blog, then you know I have an addiction to going to tool auctions and buying a boatload of planes. Well, not much has changed over the years except this auction was online a couple of nights ago. Today I went to the house to pick up my winnings to see what I won in person. Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised with the quality of the tools I bought.

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When looking on the lots, the auctioneer was very vague with their descriptions. They just grouped about ten to fifteen tools together and listed them as “Stanley Metal Planes”. One of the lots was nine Stanley Bed Rock planes with only four pictures of the total lot. I took a chance that they were in good shape so I placed my bid until I outbid all the other bidders. When I picked them up, I noticed that six of the nine were corrugated which put a big smile on my face.

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The other planes I ended up winning were a couple of Stanley circular planes. Theses planes work really well and come in handy when properly tuned.

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They had this Stanley No 77 Dowel Making machine as a “drill”. These machines are sweet to use. I only wish I could afford the extra heads they came with as they usually sell for over $100 a piece on eBay.

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I also picked up this Stanley No 150 miter box with a Cincinnati Steel Saw Co back saw. I’ve owned one of these for twenty years and work great cutting small moldings.

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Here are a couple of Stanley No 112 scraper planes. Another tool that you’re glad you own when you need it.

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A couple of Stanley No 10 Rabbet planes. The one in the back has been welded as that is a common repair for these when they break in two.

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I ended winning six pre-lateral Stanley bench planes. One of them has the wrong lever cap and a couple others have the wrong style of tote, but all have the proper blades which is good as usually these are found with an improper blade.

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Most of these tools will eventually be restored and sold in my eBay store. http://stores.ebay.com/mvflaim. The pre-lateral planes are too collectible to be restored. Just a light cleaning will do. The tools in the bottom photo are the tools I’ve been working on the past few weeks and will be listed for sale soon.

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Sharpening a Pitted Plane Blade

I bought a Millers Falls No 7 Jointer Plane a few weeks ago that had a pitted blade in it. While most people would look at a blade like this and immediately think that it belongs in the trash, I decided to see if I could get it to work well enough to slice thin shavings off a piece of cherry.

The first thing I do when I sharpen any of my blades is to whip out my Tormek sharpening wheel. I’ve owned the Tormek for several years now and have never regretted the coin I paid for it. I set the machine up to grind a 25 degree angle on the blade and go to town.

A few minutes on the Tormek puts a real nice edge on the blade. The problem is the back of the blade is still pitted causing the blade to cut ridges in the work piece while using it in the plane.

I used the side of the wheel of the Tormek to try to flatten the back of the blade, but after a few minutes I wasn’t really getting anywhere. It did help, but it would have taken hours to remove all the pits.

I decided to give the old ruler trick a try made famous by David Charlesworth and remove only the metal at the front of the blade. I stick a thin ruler at the back of the blade and sharpen the backside of the front of the blade by moving it back and forth on a piece of 320 grit sandpaper. This in theory changes the cutting angle of the blade by a few degrees, but honestly, who cares? There is very little difference between a blade with a 25 degree angle and one with 24 or 23 degrees. It may make a difference with hard exotics, but I normally use poplar, cherry, maple and southern yellow pine. I’m too cheap to buy hard exotic wood.

As you can see if you look closely, the ruler trick worked. The very front edge of the back of the blade is clean of any pitting and will hold an edge better.

I then switched to my water stones and hone the edge created on my Tormek. I use a combination stone of 800/4000 grit and a final 12000 grit stone. I use water stones as opposed to oil stones simply because the Tormek is a water stone. Oil and water don’t mix.

Here is my final sharpening of the blade. Pretty good if you ask me.

Here’s the blade in action cutting cherry. After a few adjustments with my plane, I was able to produce nice clean shavings. The cherry underneath was glass smooth after it was planed with the blade.

How thin were my shavings? About .003″ thin. Not too shabby for a piece of crap blade that most people would have never even given a second chance and would have just thrown in the garbage.

User vs Collectible Stanley Planes

Sometimes I’ll see people ask the simple question on woodworking forums on whether or not an old plane they picked up at a garage sale is worth anything. While chances are it’s worth what they paid for it, every once in a while they found a real gem. The key is finding out what Type of Stanley plane you have.

About twenty years ago Roger K Smith wrote a Type Study on the different features of Stanley planes through the years.  It was originally printed in Patented Transitional and Metallic Planes in America Volume I and then later used in John Walter’s book Antique and Collectible Stanley Tools Guide to Identity and Value. Unfortunately both books are out of print and tough to acquire but fortunately for us, some people have uploaded the info to the internet. Below is one of the links. http://www.tooltrip.com/tooltrip9/stanley/stan-bpl/bailey-types.htm

This Type Study is considered to be the most accurate information to date on the manufacturing of Stanley planes, however it should be noted that Stanley Works never built planes based on these Type Studies. They simply build planes with whatever parts they had lying around. So it is quite possible to have a plane that fits all the criteria of a certain Type Study but may have a part or two with an earlier or later Type to it.

Below are two Stanley No 5 planes that to an untrained eye, may look quite similar to one another but are worlds apart as far as value. The plane on the left is a Type 2 which was made from 1869-1872. The one on the right is a Type 13 made from 1925-1928.

The easiest way to tell if your plane is collectible or not is to see if there is a lateral adjustment on the frog. Planes without this lever are known as Prelateral planes. There are four Type Studies that were Prelateral planes, Type 3 being the most rare. If you come into contact with a Type 3 plane, don’t do anything to it. It’s gold to tool collectors.

The second easiest way to see if you have a collectible Stanley plane is to see where the round hole on the plane’s blade is. If it’s on top like the blade on the left, it’s a Prelateral plane blade. Why Stanley changed the position of the hole from the top to the bottom, I have no idea. The hole is there to put the cap iron nut through the blade without having to fully remove it. Seems like a silly feature  to me but that’s just me. Every plane blade ever made has this feature so I’m obviously missing something.

Another feature that distinguishes really old Stanley planes from the users is the lever cap. If your lever cap is solid without any recesses, it’s rare. I guess metal was a precious commodity back then and every ounce counted. Do the solid lever caps work better? I doubt it. It’s just a lever cap.

The fourth feature that separates the collector from the user is the brass adjustment knob in the back of the frog. I guess Stanley was trying to save money anyway they could back in the 1870’s and putting a recess in the adjustment knob saved them $.001 in brass. But hey, $.001 was a lot of money back then.

A fifth major feature is the shape of the tote. It was still being made out of rosewood but the shape on later Stanley’s became more streamed line. Stanley probably heard complaints from customers about the totes being uncomfortable so they redesigned  the shape. But that’s my guess. It wasn’t cost savings because they didn’t switch to birch hardwood until the 1940’s.

Now it’s your call of you want to use one of these old planes in your shop on a day-to-day basis. All I know is I sold the Type 2 on eBay for $175.00 while the Type 13 commonly goes for $40.00. With the economy the way it is today, if I had an old collectible Stanley plane, I’d sell it and buy a later version with a little bit more bells and whistles for a quarter of the price and fill up my truck with a tank of gas and take my wife out for dinner with the remainder of the money.

Making crown molding with a complex molding plane

While in the process of building a Bourdonnais French style bookcase I needed to make some crown molding for the top.

I wasn’t about to go out and spend money on some pre-made crown molding. That would be the easy way out. I have a boat load of antique molding planes in my shop, so I decided to put one of those bad boys to use.

The first step in make making crown molding is to get the stock prepared. I ripped a couple of pieces of straight grained poplar 5/8″ x 2″ x 6′ long. It’s important to get wood with grain as straight as possible to avoid tear out caused by the plane’s blade.

I then chopped off a section of one of the boards to use as a test piece. Placing the piece in my sticking board, I began running my molding plane over the board to create the Roman ogee profile. After a few strokes, the shape was completed in about five minutes. By the way, my sticking board is similar to the one based off of Jim Toplin’s in the book “The New Traditional Woodworker” by Popular Woodworking Books.

The next step is to create the angles on the board so that is works as crown molding on the case. I took the board over to the table saw and set the blade to 30 degrees. Once I set the fence to the proper location, I ran the board through and then flipped the board over to rip off the same 30 degree angle off the other end of the board.

I then took the molding back to the bench to finalize the profile. I used a block plane and just knocked off the top corner. This corner should be 90 degree to the 30 degree angle cut on the table saw so that it will lay on the case properly. (It’s really helpful to have a small sample piece of crown molding laying around so that you can use all the angles on the molding as a template for your piece).

Once the profile has been completed, a light sanding with 120 grit sand paper helps clean up any chatter left by the molding plane. I use a styrofoam sanding sponge and some sticky sand paper to sand the profile.

After sanding the only thing left to do is attach it to the case. Always make more molding than you need. There may and will be parts of the molding where the plane falls out of line a little bit and the profile won’t match the rest of the board. You simply cuts those parts off and use the rest.

Making a Roubo Style Workbench Part 2 – revisited

Well after letting the wood acclimate and dry in my shop for about a month, I finally had the time to assemble the top. I took each board and planed them down to 1 1/4″ thick. Be prepared to have a boat load of shavings coming from your planer. I ended up filling four garbage cans with planer shavings. After surface planing, I straightened the boards the best I could with my transitional jointer. The boards were just too long for me try to joint them over my 6″ motorized jointer so I clamped each one to the bench and did it with a hand plane. It didn’t take that long at all and honestly I wasn’t looking for a perfectly straight edge anyway. I just wanted to get rid of the crook in the board so I could rip them to size on the tablesaw. After each board was ripped to 4 1/4″ wide, I laminated them into sections using five boards per section. The shorter part of the bench was laminated with seven boards.

After each section was dry, I ran them through the surface planer and planed them to 4″ thick. Then I glued two sections together. After that section dried, I glued the third. Then when that dried I glued the forth (you get the idea). I did my best to dry fit and line up the sections to minimize any hand planing once the top was formed. However, even after all the careful planning, I still ended up with an 1/8″ bow in my top. I’m not entirely sure why that was but if I had to guess, I say the bowing of my pipe clamps played a part. I’ve always heard of the limitations of pipe clamps and I think I found one of them. Clamping this massive behemith of a top was no easy task. I had to apply an extreme amount of pressure to get each section to bond tightly with one another. It was times like these where I wished I owned twice the amount of pipe clamps!

Once the top was glued together I grabbed my Stanley No 8C jointer and No 5C fore plane and went to town. I planed across and diagonal to the grain to level out the top as easily as possible. The 5C worked well to remove a lot of stock quickly. The No 8 was effective in leveling the high and low spots. Periodically I would check my progress with a straight edge (the side of my No 8 plane) and plane where necessary. I also used winding sticks to make sure the top did not twist from one end to the other. It took me an hour and forty five minutes to plane down the entire top but the funny thing was that I actually enjoyed all the planing.

Next I’ll make the legs and build the frame. I’ll keep you posted.

My Tool Cabinet is Ten Years Old

Ten years ago I finished up my tool cabinet that I built based off of Greg Radley’s tool cabinet in the Taunton Press’s book “The Toolbox Book”. Made out of red oak and walnut the cabinet stands 77″ high by 32″ wide and has served me well over the years but has repeatedly taken on a different look inside.

As you can see, when it was done in 2001, it stored a modest amount of tools. I had a few saws and chisels with a small amount of hand planes. The cabinet was complete but to me it was somewhat bare inside.

Fast forward ten years and you can see the transformation it has taken. A lot of the tools are still in the same place but a lot more have been added.

Today the cabinet stores a lot more hand planes. A symbol of my expanding woodworking knowledge. As my skills increased over the years, so too has my collection of specific hand tools. Today I understand the difference between using one type of plane versus another so my collection of old planes has grown. I’ve added scraper planes, rabbet block planes, infill smoothers, low angle bench planes, beading planes, specialized spokeshaves, microplane rasps, etc….

I usually update the tool cabinet about once a year pulling out tools I don’t use very much and hanging up tools that I will use more frequently. Removing old tools from the cabinet is no easy task as I am often left with the scars of where the old tools use to be. Cleaning out the cabinet you can see old holes where pegs once stood, ripped veneer where the block of wood holding up a tool tore of the face of the plywood and mis-tinted stain as I forgot what color stain I used to originally finish the oak.This is one of the reasons I used red oak for the carcass of the cabinet. Had I used a more expensive wood like cherry or mahogany, I would have been too apprehensive to change the design of the interior ruining perfectly good wood.

Today I use a lot of rare earth magnets to hold up tools and keep them in place. It’s far easier to drill a hole and super glue a magnet in it than to design some sort of holding system to hold up a tool. I wish I would have used rare earth magnets ten years ago when I designed the interior. It would have made it a lot easier to redesign the interior.

How the cabinet will look ten years from now is anyones guess. I will never call the cabinet complete. To me, this tool cabinet is like a website, it’s never done just updated with more usable content.

Citric Acid, the new Evapo-Rust

I’ve been cleaning old tools ever since I was a kid. I fell in love with the way they looked and wanted to make them look better by cleaning all the rust off of them. After all, when they were in use in someone’s shop, the blade was sharp, the parts moved freely and the tool didn’t have a speck of rust on them. It was only after they were left for dead did rust start appearing on the metal making them appear unusable. I knew early on that with a little love, these tools could come back to life.

In the beginning, cleaning the rust off the plane was attacking it with 220 grit sandpaper. With lots of elbow grease I got the job done. Then after a few years, I moved onto using a flap wheel on my drill press. Rust removal was faster but left a cloud of rusted dust in the air. Something I had a hunch was not too healthy to breathe. I tried electrolysis for a while but thought it was too cumbersome and time-consuming hooking each part to a positively charged metal rod and battery charger.

Then while reading internet woodworking forums, I ran across a member talking about Evapo-Rust. I was intrigued and had to give it a try. I bought a gallon of it, poured it into a container, dropped the parts in, and let them set overnight. The results were amazing! Nothing I had ever tried worked so well with so little effort. There was only one problem; the price. I bought a five gallon bucket form a company called Nebraska Hotrod for $65.00. It would last about five servings worth of tool cleaning, pouring about a gallons worth of it in a container at a time.

Then this spring I read about citric acid. I’ve heard it mentioned before but I was so in love with Evapo-Rust that I thought nothing would work better. But the economy was tight, my wallet was thin and I was open to the idea of using it. Plus I was curious to see how it would compare to my beloved Evapo-Rust. I looked in my local grocery store for it but came up empty. I was told that it could be found at health food stores but eBay was easier and I found it available there. I bought 15 lbs of it for about $42.00 and received it within a week.

I poured one cup of citric acid in about a gallons worth of water and dropped my parts in just like it was Evapo-Rust. I use a 30″ window planter box as my container as it’s long enough for #8 jointers. I waited overnight for the results and was pleasantly surprised! My parts turned out just as well as if they had been sitting in Evapo-Rust.

The true benefit of citric acid is the price.  A cup of citric acid weighs about one pound and a five gallon bucket of Evapo-Rust would last me five servings worth of tool cleaning. So when you do the math, A gallon of Evapo-Rust cost me about $13.00 ($65.00/5 gallons) while a pound of citric acid cost me a meer $2.80 ($42.00/15 lbs). Now that’s a price that I can live with.

Restoring a Stanley No 7 Jointer Plane

Every time I see an article in a woodworking magazine about restoring an old plane, it’s usually a Stanley No 4 smooth plane. While a smooth plane is probably one of the most important planes to own, it certainly shouldn’t be the only plane you have in your arsenal of tools. A jointer plane is extremely handy for jointing the edges of boards straight as well as leveling the tops of wide panels flat. In fact I probably use my jointer just as much as I use a smoother.  So I decided to write a blog and show how easy it is to refurbish an old jointer and put it back to use.

The first thing I do when cleaning a plane is take it completely apart. Remove every single bolt and screw you can and lay them on the bench so you won’t lose them. Don’t worry about not knowing where each screw will go as the guts of a plane are quite simple and easy to put back together.

Next you need to get yourself a product called Evap-O-Rust. I buy it in a five gallon bucket as I clean a lot of tools but a couple of gallons at your local auto parts store should do you just fine. Fill a container with the Evap-O-Rust and submerge the parts in so that they are completely covered in the solution. If you don’t have the part completely covered, you will end up with an oxidized line on the part where the air and the solution meet. It’s also important to make sure that the parts of the plane are not lying on top of one another in the solution. You want to make sure that the Evap-O-Rust has the ability to penetrate the entire part. Let the parts sit in the solution overnight.

Once the parts have soaked overnight, take them out and wash them under the tap to remove any residue from the part. You’ll notice that the parts will be completely clean from rust but will have a dull finish to them. I like to take them over to a flap wheel sander and buff them to a nice satin shine.

After buffing the parts, wipe them with an oil protector called Kramer’s Antique Improver. I have been using this stuff for twenty years and have never come across anything that works better or is simpler to use than Kramers. It simply brings the metal and wood back to life. After wiping all the parts with Kramers, put the majority of the plane back together.

Now that the plane is clean, you’ll need to make it work. The first thing to do is grab something that is perfectly flat and place soaking wet 220, 320, 400, and 600 grit wet and dry sandpaper on top of it. I use an old marble window sill but the top of your table saw will probably work just fine. You will need to flatten the bottom of the plane so that it will be able to cut crisp clean shaving off. Start with 220 grit and work it over until you have uniform scratches upon the entire body. You actually don’t need to have the entire bed perfectly flat. Only the front of the bed, the front and back of the mouth and the back of the bed need to be co-planer with each other. If you happen to have a hollow area between the back of the mouth and the back of the bed, it’s perfectly fine. Once you have uniform scratch marks with 220 grit paper, switch to 320, then 400 and so forth until you have a nice clean bed with the 600 grit paper.

   

Next and most importantly, you need to sharpen the blade. I own a Tormek sharpener so I use my Tormek to grind a 25 degree bevel on my irons. After I sharpen and flatten the back of the iron with the fine grit of stone I switch over to my 4000 grit water stone and continue to sharpen the burr off. I then finalize the edge with my 8000 water stone. Sharpening to this magnification gives me an edge that stays sharper than simply using my Tormek alone.

  

Now it’s time to see the results of your work. Take a piece a wood and start planing it. You will need to adjust the position of the frog and depth of the blade in order to achieve a clean cut. Since you’re using a jointer plane the tolerances of mouth opening isn’t as critical as it would be for a smoother. You’re not trying to achieve .002″ thick shavings with a jointer. A jointer is a medium cut plane that is used to clean up joints and panels so that other planes can finish the job. A shaving of .005 to .010″ should work just fine.

With about an hours worth of work, you can a have a perfectly usable plane and save hundreds of dollars as opposed to going out and buying a brand new plane off the shelf.

**** Word to the wise: If you’re a beginning woodworker and are considering spending a few hundred bucks on a 6″ motorized jointer, pick up one of these hand jointers for $30.00 and learn to use it. I no longer even use my 6″ motorized jointer anymore.

UPDATE 4/17/17 — Forget about buying a Stanley No 7 for $30.00. Prices have gone way up since I wrote this post in 2011. If you buy one on eBay, you’ll pay $100 or more. If you’re lucky, you may find one at a flea market or antique show for less, but don’t count on it.

Japanning a plane

Ah, is there any more controversial topic in antique tool collecting than whether or not a tool should be re-japanned? Well I really don’t care, because I’m not really a tool collector for tool collecting sake, I’m more of a woodworker who buys old tools to put them back to work. Plus I consider it an honor to bring an old tool from the graveyard of Grandpa’s garage into my shop. So the last thing I want is to have a perfectly usable tool with only 5 -10% japanning remaining on it. It simply looks like crap. So I’m going to show you how to properly re-japan a tool.

I bought an old No 7 off Ebay for about $30.00 a few weeks ago. While the plane was in good condition, most of the japanning had flaked off. I really didn’t want to keep the plane looking like that so I decided to japan it. The first I did was to take the bed and scrape away as much of the original paint as possible with dental picks. In order to have a nice finish with japan paint, you need to have the surface as clean as possible.

Next I take advantage of the summer months and place the bed and frog in the sun to bake for a few hours. Back in the day, old black japan paint was baked on in an oven to seal the surface. There’s no way I’m sticking tools in my wife’s oven so I let mother nature heat the tool up for me.

I buy Pontypool black japan asphaltum paint from a company called Liberty of the Hudson and use artist brushes to apply a very thin coat on the bed. Apply the paint as thin as possible and don’t try to use glue brushes as their bristles are too thick. If you do, you’ll have thick brush strokes all over the plane’s surface and it’ll look terrible. I apply four coats while the bed is in the sun, waiting about two hours between coats. The japan paint will go on really oily and it will look strange, but it levels out as it dries. It’s important not to apply the paint too thick. Four thin coats is much better than two thick ones.

If you plan on japanning a plane bed, japan the frog as well so that the colors match.

After the paint dries I let it sit for two weeks to cure. You have to make sure that the japanning is completely cured before you attempt to finalize it, otherwise you will rub off the paint. Once the paint is cured, I rub 0000 steel wool on the body to knock off the glossy sheen. I also rub off some of the paint from the high spots of the bed like the plane number and patent dates. It just makes the tool look more authentic. Then I use a product called Kramers Antique Improver and wipe it all over the plane to bring out a satin shine and protect it from rust.

  

You may ask, why not just use engine enamel spray paint? Well I have seen tools that have repainted but they never look like real japanning. Japanning gives you the texture of a thick coating that can not be duplicated by simply grabbing a can of Krylon and spraying it with several coats of spray paint.

When the plane is done it looks fantastic. So much so that some people may never be able to tell that the tools has been re-japanned. That’s where it gets hairy. If you re-japan a tool and plan on selling it, you need to disclose the fact that the tool has been enhanced, otherwise that’s a form of fraud. The value of an old tool often depends on how much of the original japanning remains and some tool collectors will pay big bucks for tools that are in mint condition. So bare in mind, it’s your tool, do with what you want with it, but if your knowingly misrepresent the conditions of the tools you sell, then you will be considered a fraud.