I was visiting family in Phoenix and decided to try my luck at finding vintage tools before our 5:00 o’clock gin and tonic. The foraging turned out to be much more fruitful than my East coast tool hunt last year.
Flea Market Finds
Flea markets, like baseball, have been very, very good to me in the past. After Googling flea markets, I found the Phoenix Park ‘n Swap at 3801 E. Washington Street. So Mom and I piled in the car and cruised on over.
The place was massive with hundreds of booths spread over a wide area. Drawing on past experience, I knew that my best bet to find vintage tools was at the back. So passing by the perfume, clothing and, oddly, toy gun booths, we found ourselves in the “low-margin-stuff” back area.
There were tools to be sure but most of them were beat up contractor type stuff. Screwdrivers (a few were vintage with wood handles but I don’t need an 18” screwdriver), ratchet sets, dry-wall accoutrements and so forth.
Walking past one booth I caught site of a box of files and moved in for a look. Rummaging through a multitude of file sizes…wait a minute…it can’t be. Looking closer at the small file in my hand, I confirmed that I was holding something I’d been searching months for. A file with “safe” edges (a flat versus filed edge surface). It quickly found its way into my “to keep” hand.
Then I found a two-ended curved rasp. Dad later said it looked like a masonry tool to him but I’ll be using it for curved surfaces and it may even double as a saw handle rasp. Maybe one of you can tell me what this is.
In another container, buried under a gaggle of plastic-handled screwdrivers was a pair of outside calipers. Hmmm. Everything appeared to be in order…the thumbscrew worked well, nothing was bent and the rust spots would come out. The tiny maker’s mark read, EC Simmons, Keen Kutter. The “to keep” bundle grew to three.
With the three pieces in hand I walked up to the booth owner and offered $3.00 for all three pieces…which he countered with $7.00…and I counter-countered with $5.00. Done.
At another booth I found some glue brushes for $0.15 a piece along with some needle files for $5.00, a dental pick for $0.50 (good for getting gunk and rust out of small places) and some dremel bits for $0.50 each—brass wire brush, steel wire brush and two buffing spindles.
Tack on two bags of unsalted roasted peanuts for Mom and I left with some cool stuff, peanutty breath and poorer by $20.00.
St. James Bay Tool Co.
I’ve finally gotten my #7 Stanley jointer in working order and I’m ready to take it to the next level of performance. With that in mind, I’ve been buying brand new, premium brand-name blades—and returning them.
You see, they’re too thick to fit the plane even after moving the frog further back than I would want to anyway. And since I don’t want to file the mouth of my century-old Type 11 to accommodate a thicker blade, I decided to buy a vintage iron for it. I also recently bought a Stanley #79 rabbet plane. I love it. But the depth adjuster came with a non-original screw versus a thumb screw to hold it in place.
The short of it was that I was hunting parts for both planes.
So while poking around the Internet I came across St. James Tool Co. Apparently they make and sell replacement parts for many Stanley planes. Better still, they were located but 12 miles away in Mesa, AZ. So I called Bob, one of the owners and after learning that he had the parts I was looking for, and, oh by the way he sells vintage tools, I resolved to drive over.
“Don’t forget your checkbook,” Dad said on the way out—a bit overstated I thought…at the time.
Here’s what greeted me.
You know the drill. Your visit to a vintage tool honey hole starts with getting what you originally went in there for only to turn into a slippery SWMBO ‘honey-what-did-you-buy-now?!’ slope.
In my case, Bob had a new-old-stock (NOS) Stanley #7 blade—which flew so fast into my to-keep hand that I nicked myself. He also had a vintage #7 chip breaker/blade set from what he thought was a type 2. “I think the steel in the type 2 is superior to the new one,” Bob said. Into the keep pile with thee! At home, my visit to a Stanley trademark page suggests both pieces date to the late 1880s.
Then he dug up a depth-adjustment thumb screw for my #78 (thus allowing me to adjust the depth by hand without the aid of a screwdriver). And while I was at it, I picked up a cap lever screw for one of my other Stanleys.
Then Bob started showing me around.
One shelf displayed a number of vintage marking gauges that he is winnowing out of his collection. A Stanley Sweetheart No. 65 caught my eye. Bob shared that rather than holding the pin vertically and drawing it across the stock, the proper way to use it was to cant the pin away from the drawing direction and pulled to mark it. It even has a convex surface to facilitate this operation. The gauge was in remarkable shape. Together with the story, it went into the to-keep pile.
What’s next? “I’m building out a set of user auger bits. Do you have any of those?” He sure did. I picked up two NOS (new old stock) bits: 5/16” and 8/16”, complete with their original wrapping. Also picked up a used 4/16”.
After poking through his saws, I found a 22” panel saw in 7ppi configuration. The Warranted Superior had a really nice handle, the saw plate was straight and while rusty it wasn’t too pitted. I’ve been looking for a 7ppi panel saw filed rip, for some time to use on stock in my vise. The price? $10.00. Oh boy. That to-keep pile was getting big.
After an hour and a half of sharing stories and picking tools it was time to go. But on a whim I asked Bob if he had any saw sets.
He had both the Stanley 42 and 42X—both new and in their original boxes with instructions. After handling them both I chose the 42X, feeling it was more refined and because I’d heard so many others rave about its performance. Price: $30.00. Not a steal but certainly a good deal considering the low-condition saw sets at higher prices that I’ve seen on Ebay recently.
I paid up, thanked Bob and told him I’d visit the next time I was in town. “Call first,” he said, referring to the irregular hours he keeps.
So if you:
a) need Stanley plane parts or
b) want to buy some vintage tools or
c) want to buy some spectacular infill plane kits (Bob makes them himself and the finished ones on display were beautiful)
…then visit St. James Tool Co. in person at 122 E. Main Street, Mesa, AZ (call 480-835-1477 to set a time that he’ll definitely be there)
Or visit them online at http://www.stjamesbaytoolco.com. Lots of vintage tools. Quality parts. Quality tools. Economical prices.
-- "People's lives are their own rewards or punishments."