The Opportunity Cost, Don’t be a Hoarder & July 9

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The most amazing and inspiring photos of woodworking shops feature a wall (or many walls) of tools neatly arranged and ready for use. Eugene Landon’s shop in Fine Woodworking is one. Patrick Edwards is another. And Ron Herman is a third – one I’ve witnessed in person.

Like anyone who builds, I feel an odd ache when I see these photos. I want to grab every tool in every nook and put it to use. I want to see what they can do. I imagine that I could build almost anything if I had all those tools. And they were all sharp and tuned, with arrow-straight soles and tight-fitting wedges. Shavings would fly….

The truth, however, is different.

During the last 20 years I’ve seen a lot of “tool walls” and picked through them. Wooden planes are a trick to maintain. I own about a dozen of them and I fuss over them constantly to keep them working.

So when I step up to a wall containing 300 tools, I’m not surprised to find them lacking. The wedges don’t fit. The irons need work. The soles are bendy. Yes, they could be fixed with love. But by the time you fixed plane No. 300, then plane No. 1 would be out of truth.

This isn’t just a problem with people who own wooden-bodied planes.

When I meet a woodworker who owns a lot of metal planes, they tend to have lots of Nos. 4, 5 and 6 bench planes (who needs three No. 6s?). And about 63 block planes. Many of these tools simply followed the owner home. They didn’t intend to own a stable of 20 bench planes; it just happened.

The truth is this: It’s easier to acquire tools than it is to get rid of them.

Even if you try to reduce the number of tools you own, people dump them at your door. I know this problem well. Sometimes I think I run the Schwarz Home for Wayward Saws. (Or perhaps saws have intercourse and reproduce like rabbits.)

So every year or so I make a pile of tools that have somehow accumulated in my house and make an effort to get rid of them. I’ll give them away if I can. Or I’ll sell them.

I say all this for two reasons.

No. 1: You don’t need four smoothing planes or six A2 gazintas. And holding onto excess tools robs other beginning woodworkers from using them. You are – in a small way – hurting the craft. Sell them or give them away. Today.

No. 2: In that spirit, Lost Art Press is holding a tool sale at its headquarters during the next open house on Saturday, July 9. We’ll have hand tools (and some power tools) from myself, John Hoffman, Megan Fitzpatrick and Popular Woodworking. All will be cash and carry and priced to move.

Details and lists of tools to come. Mark your calendar.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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27 Responses to The Opportunity Cost, Don’t be a Hoarder & July 9

  1. knewconcepts says:

    Hi Chris…I can’t be there, but would you please put my name on the Jones scroll saw and set it aside? I’ll see you at WIA.

  2. I’ve had the lingering feeling that my two no 6’s meant I qualified for a diagnosis of borderline plane hoarding disorder. Time for some therapy.

  3. disneytodd says:

    I cry when I see that many tools when I have been hunting for a number 5 and number 8 for over 2 years. I just have a dream of only having what I can use and take care of no more no less to be able to have and use the tools I need is happiness for me. For now I have decided that the idea of a post beam drill press is a long term goal as well as my hand planes that would be useful to have and use however challenging from a wheelchair but it’s my happiness and joy to use them and bring new life to the tools. It’s good to dream. And bring new life into somthing that was forgotten and rustty.

    • colsdave says:

      Ebay currently (and usually) has several of each in various vintages, conditions and prices. If you prefer not to go that route (I’ve done ok with tools there so far), Patrick Leach of Superior Works has a good rep. He has a monthly email link/list to current offerings (sign up here http://www.supertool.com/oldtools.htm & back lists for reference here http://www.supertool.com/forsale/ ) and you can email him with what you are looking for.

    • toolnut says:

      Adding to colsdave’s suggestion, Joshua Clark at hyperkitten.com might be able to help you out with your search. Good luck.

    • I see no 5’s all the time, they are extremely common. You could head to some auctions and get them cheap.

      • disneytodd says:

        That’s my problem is there is no auctions that I have found in the LA area and if I do stumble upon somthing they want more than a new lee valley and the rust is free of course. Thanks for the tips on Patrick’s list I have been watching that and Jim bode which I prefer over eBay. Hopefully I can get my number 5 before Christmas. I would not know what to do with more than one of the same tool. I would feel like the dog that caught the car no clue what to do once I had it.

  4. tpier says:

    July 9th is pretty soon, but if I ship today I think UPS could have a bunch of my tools at your place in time. What is your seller’s fee?

  5. Josh Freitas says:

    I’ve had the problem of people finding out I like old tools and then dumping them on me… most of them are not worth keeping, and I usually already have the ones that are decent. So much crap to get rid of.

  6. David says:

    Well, of course woodworking tools are going to breed like rabbets…

    I’ll get my coat.

  7. nateharold says:

    Is that a Lee valley skew rabbet front knob in there. Or maybe 20 of them?

  8. waltamb says:

    Eggsactly…
    Doing a purge is healthy and It feels good to get floors space, wall space or even just a little shelf space back. I personally find an empty room very calming.
    I’m personally down to +/- a doz old Stanley and I’ve reached the point where I’m not sure if I should put together tool kits for the Grands or not.
    I can’t force my passion on them and in the meantime, there are beginners who could use fully functional clean tools now.
    Remember too to haul out the trash. Worn & broken and useless, old glue and finishes and old hardware that will never be used.
    Right now I have to part with 500 pounds of jars filled with 50+ year old screw and misc.
    Hate to toss them in the scrap bin but… nobody here even knows what some of it is.
    Lastly, also thin out your wood piles, make things with scraps just to use them up or give it to someone else.

    • jkvernier says:

      Donate your old hardware to your local Habitat for Humanity Restore, or some other salvage operation. That stuff’s too valuable to scrap, and in my experience it finds new homes pretty fast.

  9. “(Or perhaps saws have intercourse and reproduce like rabbits.)”

    Well, I know firearms do that… and saws are also made of fine steel and wood in roughly similar proportions, so it stands to reason that they would exhibit the same behavior.

    The real problem starts once you have enough that you have to keep them in a cabinet. They get bored in there and just do what comes naturally…

    Or so we tell our wives, eh?

  10. waltamb says:

    Thanks Chris… now you got me really thinking… What about the 100’s of books and PeriodicalsI have read and collected over 45 years of woodworking? EH ???
    I had thought one day I could pass this onto someone who could learn from it like I did.
    But I have nobody locally to pass it on to.
    Selling would raise some cash, Donating to a library would be nice till they sell them.
    Opening my own woodworking school would allow people to use them as reference materials. But who would travel to learn woodworking from some old guy in the backwoods of PA?
    So maybe, I’ll re-read some, glance through others and send them off to someone like Tom Fidgen or some other New school doing great things.
    The money is spent, some have moved with me 5x others are stacked one atop another after they have been read.
    They are added to the clutter.
    Man… I have to do some more purging.

  11. Could you move your headquarters to Phoenix Az by the 9th? Or just set aside a spare eggbeater hand drill in serviceable condition. I keep seeking one out locally but only end up finding them in non working order.

    • tsstahl says:

      One of those funny regional things. On the East coast they are like Legos and roller skates in a kids room. In the Midwest they are as common as 8 track tapes at a flea market. Out West, the jackalopes have stolen all of them.

  12. karlfife says:

    I agree about the old stuff. Keep it busy in someone’s hands. Old tools as decoration drives up used prices, and makes the craft less accessible.

    However, if you feel like decorating your shop with an excess of elegant tools, personally I think you should feel NO shame in doing so with any/all of the high quality NEW tools if you can afford them (Jeske, James, Hamilton, Vesper, Kell, Even Starrett, Lie-Nielsen, Veritas etc.). If it makes you happy, buy three extras for the office. Keep those toolmakers busy! Years from now, when you pass on, your beloved tools will be given away, or sold off (driving down prices, increasing supply) likely landing the tools in some eager student’s hands. It’s all good.

    But I totally agree about the old stuff. Also don’t push children out of the way to get more candy for yourself at Piñata parties. That’s another dick move.

  13. Lee Blanton says:

    Having recently started buying some good woodworking tools for the first time, I already feel some sort of shame about owning nice tools that have never been used. Thankfully, though, I’m starting to get that monkey off my back. I think I would be completely embarrassed to own a vast collection of tools for no other reason than just to have them. I remember reading someone’s blog about a really nice carving knife they bought from a much sought after Japanese blacksmith, and them solemnly proclaiming it would never be used. Ugh. I’m sure that’s why that smith spent a lifetime learning his craft: to make the equivalent of a forged steel beenie baby for someone to giddily put on their shelf.

  14. Of all the many things you have done Mr. Schwartz it is your shop that I envy most. I dream of having a branch of Lost Arts Press here in England where I could hold regular open days, do some teaching and make wooden objects. I thoroughly approve the way you have restored your store and how you use it. I hope I get to visit it before too long.

  15. kaisaerpren says:

    I started out in the time when Stanley had stopped making good planes and just about the only chisels available were Sears Craftsman. So in order to find good (or better) tools I had to search junk shops and antique stores and yard sales. The yard sales were especially bad because you’d find a box with tools just dumped and banged up in it, and sometimes the seller would want a couple of bucks, and sometimes they wanted the moon. either way you sometimes end up feeling like you have to rescue those poor unloved tools. (I will take him home and I will name him George) Then how do you get rid of the extras you eventually end up with? Ebay? you get 100 watchers and no bids. it’s like they all wait for someone else to make the first bid. Etsy? doesn’t work, I have sent a crate of tools to Martin J. Donnelly Antique Tools, and they sold. But not for much.
    I have gotten many very good tools from searching in all of those places, my favorite spokeshaves are all old, one has an ebony handle. You don’t (or at least didn’t) find tools made that well, made new today. So the search continues. I just have to resist spending all of my money rescuing tools I don’t need.

  16. olgrampa says:

    How practical would it be to have an online “lost tool shelter”? The hoarder would post tools and be willing to give them up gratis. The neophyte woodworker would be responsible for postage….

  17. miathet says:

    I was talking to another MWTCA member who like me goes to look for user tools as yet another member was cleaning out their collection. The observation we both made was that so often in the huge collections the tools haven’t been oiled or maintained in many to many years. This leads to a lot of solid tools being nothing more than rust or far too much work for a beginner. These are perhaps the saddest sales and becoming more often in our area.

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