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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The Downfall of Sears

This morning I had some time to kill in between store visits, so I decided to stop in a local Sears to browse their tool department for a few minutes. I wasn’t expecting much since I knew that Sears had fallen on hard times in recent years, but what I encountered was just plain sad.

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I was so taken back by their tool department that I grabbed my cell phone and took some pictures of  their shelves. There was hardly any selection of any kind. I remember about twenty years ago, Sears was one of the main places to buy tools. They had a huge selection with competitive prices. I used to buy all my tools from Sears. From clamps to power tools, to automotive wrenches. In fact I still own a Craftsman bench top radial drill press that still works like a champ to this day.

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I was wondering if this was a store that was closing so, I looked around for clearance signs, but found none. The only reason I could think of why they don’t have any products on their shelves is because they may be on COD-only terms with the majority of their suppliers. I remember the company I used to work for a few years ago had the same problem. They couldn’t order any product from the manufacturers to resell it to their dealers and ended up going bankrupt within six months. It’s been so bad for Sears lately that they sold the Craftsman brand name to Stanley Black and Decker late last year to generate cash.

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This is what’s left of their machinery selection. A radial arm saw and a cheap looking band saw. There was one old lady working the entire department who looked like she was 82 years old. I remember back in the day, there would be at least three or four clerks around to help you out.

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When things get this bad, there’s no way I would even buy anything from them in the first place. There’s a good chance that if I did buy something from them and the product ended up breaking within the 30 days of my purchase, with my luck, the company’s doors would be closed leaving me high and dry. When was the last time you bought something from Sears? I can’t even remember the last time I did.

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Springfield Antique Show

Last Friday, my wife and I, went to Brimfield, Massachusetts for their antique show. This Friday we headed to Springfield, Ohio for their Extravaganza. Even though the amount of vendors attending is a third of who sets up at Brimfield (2000 vs 6000), I was hoping to find better deals as I usually don’t do too bad at the Extravaganza.

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There are a lot of professional dealers at Springfield, however the majority of them are concentrated in the center of the fairgrounds. As you venture out onto the outskirts of the show, that is where you’ll find people just setting up tables to sell some of their junk. These are the places where I find the best deals. It’s always nice to visit the tables with a bunch of tools from tool collectors, but that’s not typically where the deals are.

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On this table were a Stanley BedRock No 604 for $150 and a Stanley No 8 for $100. Not bad prices if you wanted to pay retail, but I’m always looking for a deal.

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Occasionally you’ll find good deals at these tables. Here were a couple of Stanley planes and a Keen Kutter No 5. The two No 5’s were $15 and the Stanley No 4 was only $21. I passed up on these planes as I wasn’t feeling it for some reason. I only had $40 left in my pocket and still wanted to walk around and see what else was available before I spent all my cash, so I walked away.

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I always love checking out old anvils even though I haven’t set up my blacksmith shop yet. The big boy anvil in the front was a mere $1000. Too rich for my blood.

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After we walked around the fairgrounds for six hours, I came home with a few nice tools. Two Stanley miter boxes, two Stanley No 3’s and two Hartford Clamp Co clamps. The clamps are the most interesting thing I bought as after I researched them, they were primarily used for gluing up thin panels. The bars ride on both sides of the panel so the wood won’t bow while being clamped. I’m going to clean them up and see how well they work.

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As far as deals, I believe I did better at Springfield than I did at Brimfield even though I spent a little bit more money. Now I need to go back to the bank and get some more cash for the Burlington Antique Show in Kentucky on Sunday.

Brimfield Antique Show

Last weekend, my wife and I drove to Massachusetts to go to the Brimfield Antique Show. We heard about Brimfield for years, but finally decided to take the plunge and drive out there to see it for ourselves. With 6000 dealers attending, we were excited to see the show.

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We drove to Connecticut the night before and woke up Friday morning at 5:00 am to drive up north to the show. We arrived into Brimfield around 7:30 am and the first thing we noticed was that it reminded us of a very large stop on the World’s Longest Yard Sale. Dealer tents were set up on both sides of the street which stretched down for nearly a mile. We came up to a gate where a few people were waiting until 8:00 am for it to open and noticed that there was a $5.00 entry fee to get inside. Given we had a half an hour wait, we walked across the street trying to see if any ther dealers were already open, but only a handful were.

About a half an hour later, we came back to the gate where a large group of people were now waiting. We thought to ourselves that this area must be the place to be, so we handed the attendants $5.00 and waited for the gates to open. As soon as they did, we saw people literally running in like it was a black Friday sale. Anita and I started laughing thinking what in the world could be inside the show area worth running for.

Once we got inside, we looked around to see what all the fuss was all about. There were plenty of dealers selling quality antiques, but they came with dealer prices. After about an hour of buying a few things inside, we went out to see what the other areas had to offer.

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The majority of tools that I saw were being sold by collectors, so there was little opportunity to snag a good deal. I was hoping that since I was on the east coast, I would see a lot of good deals on old Stanley planes, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case.

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I used to think that all the old tools were on the east coast since that is where Stanley plant was located, but I now think tool collectors have all the old tools, not the east coast. It’s just getting harder and harder to find them in the wild for a good price. Most of the planes on this table were $40-85 in price. Even the broken casting block plane was $30.00.

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It’s impossible to see the whole show in one day, but after spending seven hours all over Brimfield we saw 80-90% of it. Unfortunately, these are all the tools I came home with. An old razee smooth plane, a Stanley No 4, a Ohio Tool Co No 4, a Wards Master No 7,  a Sargent block plane, an egg beater drill, and a turn screw. Not terrible, but I’ve done better. Anita faired better than me as she ran out of money and had to borrow mine. It was still a lot of fun and is definitely worth it, if it is on your bucket list.

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Saving a Millers Falls No 9 Plane

Last month my wife and I were at an antique show in Columbus, Ohio when I passed by this Millers Falls No 9 plane. I looked at it and decided that the rust on the right side was too much to deal with, so I walked away. About ten minutes later, something told me to go back and examine the plane better to see if it was worth saving. I thought to myself if nothing else, it could be used for parts as the handles and frog were in good shape. I asked the dealer how much he wanted for it and he told me $10.00 so I handed him a ten-dollar bill and walked away.

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The first thing I do when restoring an old plane is to take everything completely apart spraying PB Blaster on the parts if necessary to break free the rust.

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Once apart, I soak the plane in a citric acid bath for a few hours. I use an old planter box as my tub and fill it half way up with water. Then I’ll scoop out about a cup of citric acid and spread it over the water. Sometimes you can buy citric acid at the grocery store in the spices section, but I buy mine by bulk on eBay. I buy about ten pounds worth for $30.00 which is much cheaper than the grocery store which is usually about $7.00 per pound.

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After a few hours, I take the parts out of the bath and use a wire brush to scrub the residue off the parts. The acid does a great job of removing the rust from the tool.

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I then polish all the parts with sanding sponges and apply my own homemade rust protection solution which contains, mineral oil, orange oil, and beeswax. I also steel wool the handles of the plane and apply a couple of coats of shellac to them.

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Once everything is cleaned and polished, I put the plane back together to see how it looks.

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If all the plane was to do is to sit on a shelf and collect dust, then I would be done. However, I want this plane to be used again, so I needed to focus on the blade. As you can see in the picture, the blade was roasted and desperately needed a new edge. Some people feel a blade that is in this bad of shape would automatically need to be replaced, but I like to see if I can get it to work again first.

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I took the blade over to my high-speed grinder and ground a new edge making sure not to overheat the blade making it lose its hardness.

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After the major grinding was done, I switched to my slow speed water-cooled grinder and worked on the edge some more. I also flattened the back of the blade on my grinder at the same time.

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After I was satisfied with the grinding process, I switched to my water stones to hone the edge. I sharpened the blade with a series of 800, 2000, and 5000 grit water stones.

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I set the cap iron about a 1/8″ from the edge of the blade and put it back in the plane. After adjusting the blade up and down, I was able to get the plane to cut off a nice thin shaving.

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I took one of the shavings and measured it with my calipers. The shavings produced were .002 of an inch thick.

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The shavings are nice, but the real proof is the way the plane leaves the wood with a nice sheen. No sandpaper needed. Not too shabby for a rusty $10 plane.

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Mid-West Tool Collectors Association

Last Saturday morning I drove up to Columbus to attend the Mid-West Tool Collectors Association’s annual meeting. I left my house at 7:00 and arrived around 9:00am. The schedule they sent me said the tool room would be open from 6:30 -12:30 so I figured I had plenty of time to browse around. Well sure enough, as soon as I walked in the door, some of the dealers were already packing up and heading home.

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I wasn’t expecting to buy a lot anyway. I went just to meet and greet some of the fellows in the organization. I ended up meeting a fellow named Don from Wisconsin who told me that he owns 1900 molding planes. I was shocked! This guy was my hero. He pulled out a binder about four inches thick where he drew the molding’s profile and maker of each plane he has ever bought on a piece of paper. He said he would be selling off his collection in a couple of years so I gave him my card.

I asked a couple of dealers how the turn out was. They told me that over 300 people came to the show which was a little bit more than when it was in Springfield, MO last time. I zoomed around the room as fast as I could so I wouldn’t miss anything. I was able to take a few pictures of the displays before everything was packed up. By 10:30 the room was nearly empty.

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There were plenty of planes for sale, however the prices the dealers were asking were high. Coming to these conventions are fun, but don’t expect to walk out with deals. These guys know what their tools are worth. The main fun is seeing all the rare planes that you’d never spot in the wild.

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I was able to find a couple of deals. I bought two eggbeater drills for $20.00 each and an Ohio Tool Co No 8 Corrugated Plane for $15.00. The plane was repainted and had a Stanley No 8 blade in it. I’ll eventually part it out and sell the parts on eBay once I remove all the over sprayed paint from the plane.

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In the back of the room there were several displays set up to demonstrate certain tools and the year they were made. This display was of Stanley fiber board planes and the different styles they came in. I have no idea what fiber board planes do, but I think they were used on the exterior siding of houses. I guess I should have read the display. I probably would have learned something.

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If you ever have a chance to attend one of these meetings, I strongly suggest you get there on Friday. Saturday is the day they pack up and head home. From what the dealers were telling me, everyone set up in the parking lot Thursday night and all the heavy selling was done the next day. I have to work, so Friday’s don’t work too well for me.

 

 

 

 

 

World’s Longest Yard Sale: US127 Corridor

My wife and I just returned from a five-day excursion on the The World’s Longest Yard Sale down US 127. The yard sale runs every year during the first weekend of August from Michigan down to Alabama. Last Wednesday, my wife Anita rented a Ford F-250 cargo van and we headed down to Chattanooga TN to spend the night. We picked up 127 around the Kentucky Tennessee border stopping at multiple yard sales running all the way to our hotel in Chattanooga. The next day we started heading up 127 back home.

Anita was looking for old furniture to fix up as well as things she could sell in her booth. I was looking for antique tools. We traveled over 1200 miles in five days traveling from Chattanooga, TN to Castine, OH and had an absolute blast. Nothing more fun than the thrill of the hunt. We ran into a little trouble at the top of Tennessee though. It was around 7:00 pm and we didn’t have a hotel booked. We drove all the way to Danville, KY hoping that a hotel on US 127 would have a room but they were all booked. We ended up driving all the way to Lexington, KY to find a room. The next day we got up and had a nice breakfast in neat little restaurant and headed back to Danville, KY to continue up US 127.

I picked up mostly a bunch of planes, some of them needing major cleaning, with a few miter boxes near the end of the trip. What’s amazing about my finds is that most of the planes I had bought had corrugated bottoms. I wasn’t specifically looking for corrugated planes but when I turned over a plane I was interested in, its bottom was corrugated. Twelve of the fifteen planes were that way. Amazing since corrugated planes are not as common as flat bottom planes in the market.

This is the shot of the bottoms of the planes with nearly all of them being corrugated. It’ll take a while but every one of these planes will be cleaned up and ready to be put back to use.

Near Danville, KY I ran into a guy selling a trailer full of cherry hardwood. I couldn’t buy the whole trailer but I did manage to pick up one of his slabs. This piece is 2″ x 16″ x 100″ and the offer was too good for me to pass up. Does anybody want to guess what I paid for this slab of cherry? Post a comment and I’ll let you know.

ToolCo Router Bits

A couple of months ago there was a thread on a woodworking forum I host called The Burl www.theburlforum.com where people were talking about which router bits were the best. I made the comment that I usually buy Whiteside router bits because they were of good quality and made in the USA.

I was told by a member of The Burl that there was another USA made router bit company around that makes bits under their name as well as private labels them for other companies called ToolCo. I had never heard of them but was intrigued so I searched them on the internet and found their website at www.toolcobits.com.

After visiting their website, I was impressed with the vast amount of bits they made and was eager to try them out but had no way of knowing where to buy them as it lacks a dealer locator.

Then miraculously, I was contacted by an employee of the company who asked If I would be interested in getting some. After exchanging a few emails he sent me a package of router bits.

At first glance I could tell these bits were bad ass. The majority of router bits I have in my shop are 1/4″ shank Chinese shit bits I bought as a set at Costco a few years ago. These ToolCo bits were 1/2″ shank and looked like they could kick some serious hardwood ass.

You can definitely see the quality difference between ToolCo and the crap bits. For one thing, there’s more metal to the body and the carbide is thicker. I’m sure the carbide itself is better grade of material but I don’t know much about metallurgy to even comment on that. All I know is that when I stuck them in my router they cut like butter.

Even the spiral up cut bit is wicked looking. I’ve never seen a bit with that many tight spirals up the shank. A few weeks after I got my bits, I attended The Woodworking Show in Columbus Ohio and went to the booth where they sell a lot of router bits. I looked for their spiral up cuts to compare to the ToolCo I have. I could tell the ones they sold at The Woodworking Shows were made for homeowners while these ToolCo bits are sold for Industrial use.

Obviously I haven’t had time to try out all the bits I got but, it’s like the old saying; you don’t have to eat the entire pie to know it taste good. All I know is the next time I’m in need of a new router bit, ToolCo is where I’ll look. I just hope they update their website so I can find a local dealer who stocks them.