Do Old "Vintage" AKA "Antique" Tools Make You a Better Woodworker?

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Forum topic by HorizontalMike posted 10-16-2012 02:21 PM 4146 views 0 times favorited 125 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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7770 posts in 3033 days

10-16-2012 02:21 PM

Topic tags/keywords: antique old hand tools power tools better woodworker use user

OK, I know that this topic will probably ruffle some feathers, however I truly think that this question is one that WE ALL need to ask ourselves.

In topic after topic I see folks bragging/gloating and full of pride regarding some acquisition or ownership of an Old/Antique power tool or hand tool in their shop. The implication (often semi-verbalized) is often, IMO, that the mere ownership and/or use of said tool in one’s shop makes one a “better” woodworker.

That said, I am NOT talking about “collectors” and “restorers”, as that those are valid hobbies in and of themselves. I am talking about ”users”.

SO, just why is it that you own and use, for example(s):

  • Antique bandsaws with exposed blades and wheels?
  • Antique tablesaws with exposed belts and no easy ability to add a splitter/riving knife?
  • Antique hand planes with the original “Iron” when modern metallurgy advances make such a choice a poor choice?
  • Antique power tools for the sole sake that they were “Made In America”, even when better quality can be had, even though it comes from overseas?


My personal admissions:

  • I inherited two old antique hand planes and sharpened one original blade (22” Auburn Jack) that was not replaceable, replaced the iron on another with a modern steel version (and a modern scraper insert).
  • I purchased two antique hand planes off of eBay to restore, stripping and Japanning as part of the restoration process.
  • I purchased modern versions of a #4 smoother, a low-angle block plane, and a shoulder plane ALL for USE.
  • By and large the 22” wooden Jack sits unused, even though it cuts very well. My modern #4 smoother sits unused, not from poor performance but because of an overlap with my #418. I use the others when the need arises but NOT to replace a modern tool. The smaller block and shoulder planes get used regularly for obvious reasons.
  • Oh yeah, I also have modern TS, BS, Jointer, Lunchbox Planer, and DP

-- HorizontalMike -- "Woodpeckers understand..."

125 replies so far

View ClayandNancy's profile


520 posts in 3135 days

#1 posted 10-16-2012 02:31 PM

One of the reasons I got into woodworking is that I inherited tools from my Dad. He passed when I was 5. The band saw and drill press that I have are 75 years old both Delta. They work great. I also have a few planes that are just as old. Technology has come a long way on improving woodworking tools, bigger,faster, sharper, and also new types of tools. I love new stuff but sometimes you just can’t beat a vintage tool for performing the task at hand.

View carguy460's profile


807 posts in 2455 days

#2 posted 10-16-2012 02:36 PM

Interesting topic, Mike. I can only speak for myself (duh), but as a beginner to this woodworking thing, I went the “vintage” route mostly due to the cost of new tools. I couldn’t (still can’t really) see myself dropping $500 on a new LN plane when I didn’t know if I even would use it that much. Also, I have been learning that restoring these older tools has taught me loads about how they function, how they should be set, etc.

Final reasoning I suppose is that I’m the nostalgic type of guy…No good reason for it, really, but something draws me to the tools and techniques that our forefathers used.

Don’t get me wrong – If I had the money to blow, you bet I’d have a complete LN plane set and spankin new powermatic power tools…but I’m limited in my budget. And your final question – do these antique tools make me a better woodworker? Well, I never was any good to begin with, but I’d like to think that the restoration and set up process of these old beasts has taught me something about them that I will use to exploit the capability of the tool in the future…I dunno! Ask me again when I actually have a few successful projects under my belt, and my answer might change!

-- Jason K

View Gene Howe's profile

Gene Howe

10831 posts in 3548 days

#3 posted 10-16-2012 02:38 PM

Maybe not, but they are fun to restore and fun to use. Restoring some planes has made me more appreciative of the previous users and their skills. I like to think about them and their lives when they were using them.

-- Gene 'The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.' G. K. Chesterton

View racerglen's profile


3112 posts in 2900 days

#4 posted 10-16-2012 02:38 PM

Mike, I have a mix of tools as well, old and new, don’t think the old stuff makes a better woodworker as such.
But, there’s something to be said for rescuing an old one from the scrap/rust pile.
Lotta fun !..
My bandsaw, I don’t know how old it is, Dad bought it at auction in the ‘60’s, it’s been dropped, welded,before he got it
and more..Babbit bearings and the blade’s only covered on the operator side..but it was Dads and it’s half horse Hoover motor just keeps on keeping on.
Love it,(and I can’t aford a new bigger one ;-)
Everything I have is functional, no wall hangings (trailer queens)

-- Glen, B.C. Canada

View WoodGoddess's profile


100 posts in 2187 days

#5 posted 10-16-2012 02:39 PM

Very nice topic and thread. I look forward to the answers! If I need to mix the old in with the new during my journey into woodworking…I need to know it! lol

For example, I’ll start hitting all the garage sales and Craigslist. ;-)

View Dan's profile


3630 posts in 3000 days

#6 posted 10-16-2012 02:41 PM

Do old antique/vintage tools make you a better woodworker?

No. Practice, experience, and the right mind set make a good woodworker.

However, working on the old hand tools teaches you a lot about woodworking which will in return give you good experience. I suppose the same can be said with the old vintage power tools. The more you learn about the tools the better you get.. I have old tools and new tools and like both….

-- Dan - "Collector of Hand Planes"

View thebigvise's profile


191 posts in 3020 days

#7 posted 10-16-2012 02:52 PM

Great thread. In my own journey, I have spent most of the past year learning to use hand tools, especially chisels and planes. I have discovered a deep sense of satisfaction working with the wood in this more personal way, alone with my thoughts in the quiet of my shop. In a similar way, using an old tool provides a connection with the masters of the past who made wonderful things starting with a hand plane and a piece of rough cut lumber. At this point in my life, I use my power tools to go through the first few steps, then I break out the old technology tools for joinery and other fine work. No, I couldn’t support my family doing this, but I don’t need to either.

-- Paul, Clinton, NC

View shampeon's profile


1796 posts in 2303 days

#8 posted 10-16-2012 02:58 PM

I see just as many threads with people thinking that buying a new tool will solve their woodworking problems.

Anybody who thinks a tool, old or new, will eliminate the need for practice and method is fooling themselves.

-- ian | "You can't stop what's coming. It ain't all waiting on you. That's vanity."

View ShaneA's profile


7022 posts in 2718 days

#9 posted 10-16-2012 03:04 PM

Interesting, I do not think they make you a better woodworker. However, if the choice/scenario in aquiring a tool is lower cost vintage vs not having a new LN or Unisaw. Then I say that they do help. Plus, I wasn’t aware that the metal/build quality of vintage was “in fact” inferior, that seems subjective on some level. Interesting topic. I think it boils down to value, cost, and availability of vintage vs new. Or being able to have and use vintage when budget and price may make new out of reach.

View David Kirtley's profile

David Kirtley

1286 posts in 3117 days

#10 posted 10-16-2012 03:15 PM

Hey Mike, that’s not a fair question. Tool makers have been proactively over-hyping their goods for many years and preying on their customers by pushing new improvements that make little to no difference.

For example, the difference in a good Bailey pattern plane vs a Bedrock. Yes, the Bedrock planes are fine planes. Does it really make a difference? Not really. It’s just a piece of steel in a metal jig. They both work just fine. If you used the same iron in both planes and planed a piece of wood, you couldn’t tell one from the other. It is kind of like the audiophiles that claim to hear a difference in sound quality that the only one that can really hear is the dog and he’s not interested.

There are some different materials and construction techniques that have fallen by the wayside because of the cost of labor or supply of materials. Wrought iron for the body of laminated blades, hand scraped ways and beds of machines, and artistic embellishment on old machines are examples. Some are functional and some are aesthetic. Modern metallurgy and mass production have made some improvements but we have gotten really spoiled. The crappiest hand tools sold today would have been an amazing fortune not that many years ago.

Do they make us work any better? Go look in any museum and the answer is obviously no. They may make it a bit easier or faster is all. Maybe we don’t have to sharpen a tool as often. We can trust a square without having to test it and tune it up often. We can plane a board in seconds instead of hours by putting it through a machine.

One of my favorites is the saying, “It’s a poor workman who blames his tools.”

-- Woodworking shouldn't cost a fortune:

View AKSteve's profile


475 posts in 2423 days

#11 posted 10-16-2012 03:20 PM

I don’t know if it makes me a better wood worker, and I can’t speak about antique power tools because I don’t have any but my old planes, saws and chisels are a hoot to work with, better wood worker maybe? I know one thing it does make me feel better about the project I am creating, defects and all.

-- Steve - Wasilla, Alaska

View HorizontalMike's profile


7770 posts in 3033 days

#12 posted 10-16-2012 03:28 PM

Please understand that my intent here is to get everyone to look inside themselves in order to answer the questions above. It is not about justifying anything to others, as much of the “antique” noise on LJs would suggest. It sounds like you have thought through this and have thoroughly answered this to yourself within your own shop. Thanks for sharing. You make points that we all should be aware of, as well.

-- HorizontalMike -- "Woodpeckers understand..."

View Don W's profile

Don W

18938 posts in 2687 days

#13 posted 10-16-2012 03:28 PM

Do old antique/vintage tools make you a better woodworker?

Well, maybe.

If you go to LN, buy a nice new shiny plane, take it out of the box and use it, do you know why it works? Well, not from that experience.

Restoring old planes, especially the really difficult ones like the handymans, and the like, has taught me more than I ever would have learned from just using them, so it’s made me a better woodworker.

I think this philosophy transcends most occupations. A mechanic needs to troubleshoot and fix issues, not just drive a car. A good computer guy trouble shoots and fixes issues, not just builds computers. Tracking down and discovering and fixing makes you better at anything.

Great topic Mike.

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

View crank49's profile


4032 posts in 3090 days

#14 posted 10-16-2012 03:50 PM

A thought provoking question.
I like my old tools because most of the ones I have were my Dad’s, and every time I use one I reflect back to him teaching me how to use it.
But, a better woodworker? Not so sure it’s related to the tools or the training I had with the tools.
And some of that training never “took”.
I still can’t make a cut with any of my Distons that will compare to my 10” Delta miter saw.
Now that saw is no spring chicken either, bought it around 1996, and it is cast iron instead of aluminum, but it’s still a modern power tool making a job easier and more accurate than the best of antique tools could.
I love my old Stanley #60 yellow handle chisels. They don’t cut any better than my new Narex chisels and are way harder to sharpen. But, I just feel comfortable using those old chisels. They feel good in the hand.
Maybe if I owned a $100 chisel I would like it better, don’t know. Not likely to find out since the last four years has wiped out all my savings.
Going forward I have to be content with what I have.

View lumberjoe's profile


2899 posts in 2368 days

#15 posted 10-16-2012 03:53 PM

Sentimentality aside, my honest answer is no. There is however a distinct difference between old tools and old techniques. I do believe using traditional joinery over something like a festool domino makes you a better woodworker.


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