Hand tools...New, or used?

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Forum topic by JasonZahn posted 12-18-2014 05:03 PM 1702 views 1 time favorited 34 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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56 posts in 1251 days

12-18-2014 05:03 PM

Hand tool enthusiasts: I’m hoping to start purchasing some hand tools for the shop and want some advice on new vs used.

More specifically, as far as chisels, planes, spoke shaves, dovetail saws go, are there any that you’d definitely say should be bought new rather than used?

I’m trying to get the best bang for my buck in accumulating some well priced, but definitely
quality tools.


34 replies so far

View Richard H's profile

Richard H

489 posts in 1674 days

#1 posted 12-18-2014 05:19 PM

Your going to get a lot of opinions here as I don’t know if there is a one right answer to this question. I think it depends on a lot of factors such as:

1. If you are comfortable rehabbing used tools there are some good bargains out there. If you are not sure what a sharp saw is for instance buying a used one and trying to figure it out with no point of reference is tricky. That’s not to say you can’t buy a used saw that has been sharpened by a good source but it’s going to drive the price up some and limit your choices a bit more. Also there is a bit of a trick to buying used tools and getting a good find. It’s not hard but if you don’t know what to look for there are some flaws that just render these tools worthless and a waste of money if you are not careful.

2. Depending on where you live your availably to find tools locally is going to change. When I lived in N.C. antique tools where plentifully and easy to find everywhere from pawn shops and antique stores to garage sales and flea markets. And as a bonus there was a great specialized dealer just 20 minutes from me Ed Lebetkin who not only carried a lot of stock you could browse though but tons of knowledge you could pick his brain on. Now that I’m in Colorado there is nothing even close so I’m stuck with things like Ebay which is much harder to get good results and good prices from.

3. In some cases collectors and users start to collide when it comes to used tools. For example I wanted a Stanley early model low angle jack plane forever (I still do). However the price of the ones I found was so high because it’s a collector item that it just became cheaper and simpler to buy the Lie-Nielson model instead.

4. How much time are you willing to spend on the tools vs working wood? I have poured tons of hours into rehabbing used tools that I could have been spending building projects. I recently purchased a set of Lie-Nielson socket chisels and it took me less than a hour to get the whole set in sharp usable shape. I have a antique paring chisel I picked up a few months ago still sitting in my chisel roll waiting to be rehabbed that I know is going to take longer than that to flatten the back, fix the nicks in the blade and clean up the handle. It’s going to be a great tool when I’m done but it’s a lot more work to get there than new quality tools. Some people love rehabbing old tools as much as using them which is great but it has to be your thing.

View BinghamtonEd's profile


2298 posts in 2363 days

#2 posted 12-18-2014 05:21 PM

I bought all of my planes used at garage sales and antique stores. The cost difference versus purchasing new was pretty big when considered across the half dozen or so planes I purchased. They were all in need of some TLC but after cleaning, flattening, and sharpening, they were good to go.

I got a set of Irwin marples chisels a few years back for Christmas and have been happy with them. I can’t afford to drop a lot of cash on a high-end set right now. I also picked up a handful of really old Buck Bros and Butcher chisels/gouges, and they’ve been great.

I bought my dovetail, the Veritas 14tpi, new. For the price, it made sense for me, since I haven’t seen any used ones around here, and by the time I got to ordering online, shipping, and cleaning/sharpening…I just bought new. Ready to go right out of the box.

Whether you go new or used, buy the best quality you can afford, and keep them sharp. The best quality tool won’t be worth what you paid if you neglect to keep it tuned.

-- - The mightiest oak in the forest is just a little nut that held its ground.

View Planeman40's profile


1175 posts in 2754 days

#3 posted 12-18-2014 05:21 PM

You are definitely on the right track! I have been woodworking now for more than 50 years and I can tell you when it comes to un-motorized hand tools there haven’t been any significant changes in the last 60 years or so, some even much longer. Almost all of my hand tools are from pre-1970 with most being from the 1930s, ‘40s, and 50’s. I began with what was handed down from my father that he bought in the 1940s. My sources have been eBay, weekend yard sales, etc. I enjoy the “game”. The only thing you will need to learn – if you already don’t know – is how to sharpen blades to a razor edge (test by shaving the hair off your forearm). But you have to do that with new store-bought stuff too. Just look for quality in the old tools and stay away from cheap stuff!


-- Always remember: It is a mathematical certainty that half the people in this country are below average in intelligence!

View Tedstor's profile


1643 posts in 2626 days

#4 posted 12-18-2014 05:35 PM

IF you can find what you want/need on the used market, and the price is reasonable, then used is the way to go.
If money is no object and/or you can’t find what you need on the used market…..then new is the way to go.

More than likely, you’ll end up with a little bit of both.
My planes and handsaws are all used. My main chisel set was bought new.

View JayT's profile


5619 posts in 2205 days

#5 posted 12-18-2014 05:50 PM

Great points brought up by all above.

Most of my hand tools are vintage. In the beginning, biggest factor was cost. Now I have come to appreciate the aesthetic, as well. I just like the look of an old Stanley plane or vintage Disston saw more than a new Lie-Nielsen or Veritas. Nothing compares to the patina of years.

One point that has been touched on, but I will repeat, because of its importance. If you are going to go vintage, make sure you know what a well set-up tool should be before trying a restoration. It’s tough to know how a plane should function or a sharp saw should cut until you experience it. Whether that comes from using a high quality new tool or a vintage one that has been tuned by a knowing hand doesn’t matter.

I m trying to get the best bang for my buck in accumulating some well priced, but definitely
quality tools.

Overall, you will get the most bang for the buck buying vintage. There are more good quality planes, saws and chisels out there than people who know how to use them. That means a buyer’s market, overall. For instance, you can get a really good vintage smoothing plane for $40 any day, but a new one of similar quality will run $150-200. That said, there are some downfalls to buying vintage.

First is time. There is the time to find the tools and more time to refurbish them to usable condition. If you enjoy browsing flea markets, antique shops and other places to find the tools, then the time isn’t a big detriment. If you don’t, then the time is costly and you may be better off buying new or buying from a reputable dealer of vintage tools.

Another consideration is that when buying vintage, you have to know what you are looking for and at. Anyone that has purchased very many vintage tools has stories about making bad purchasing decisions. The more you know about the tools, the better decisions you can make. Unfortunately, many times the way you gain the knowledge is because of a bad purchasing decision. DAMHIK :-)

If/when you get into some of the more specialized tools, then all my points above no longer hold. Examples would include things like low angle planes, as Richard mentioned, scraper planes and edge trimming planes. In all those cases, a new LN or Veritas is about the same price as a vintage one.

Good luck and make sure to visit some of the threads dedicated to hand tools. There are threads for planes, chisels and saws that are frequented by very knowledgeable people that are always willing to help someone out.

-- In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock. Thomas Jefferson

View Joel_B's profile


342 posts in 1375 days

#6 posted 12-18-2014 07:03 PM

It depends. I was recently looking for a cabinet scraper plane. There are lots of old Stanley #80 for sale on Ebay. But I figured by the time time I buy it, pay for shipping, buy a new blade and restore it I might as well just buy the Veritas from Lee Valley which is a better plane and not that expensive. OTOH I did buy a Stanley #4 plane on Ebay, probably paid a little too much. Bought a Hock blade and chip breaker and it works really well and certainly cheaper than a new plane that works as well. One of my best buys was a PC690 made in USA router on Craigslist for $50.

-- Joel, Encinitas, CA

View TheFridge's profile


9444 posts in 1480 days

#7 posted 12-18-2014 08:03 PM

Used. I’m broke.

-- Shooting down the walls of heartache. Bang bang. I am. The warrior.

View jmartel's profile (online now)


7878 posts in 2144 days

#8 posted 12-18-2014 08:07 PM

Why not both?

-- The quality of one's woodworking is directly related to the amount of flannel worn.

View JasonZahn's profile


56 posts in 1251 days

#9 posted 12-18-2014 08:49 PM

Well, that shows how much of a beginner I am- I hadn’t factored in the cost of new plane blades etc and the time spent learning how to refurb the tool.

Prob a bit beyond me right now. Maybe a slow build-up of reasonably priced new stuff would be a safer bet for me. Thanks guys!

View MikeUT's profile


170 posts in 1353 days

#10 posted 12-18-2014 09:09 PM

I bought an old Stanley No. 4 at the estate sale of an old fine furniture maker. I’m not sure how long it had been since he used it but it didn’t have any rust and the blade was pretty sharp. I made one shaving and I was hooked. Like several people said above- its really good to know what a good tool is supposed to feel like, if my first No. 4 was rusted out like every single plane I’ve found since then I may not have become addicted. There is something about finding a neglected and forgotten piece of rusty metal and bringing it back to life. I started with a used plane because I didn’t want to drop serious coinage on a new plane but it has definitely become a passion. I enjoy restoring hand tools now just as much as I enjoy woodworking.

As long as your needs aren’t urgent a little bit of waiting will find you deals on good ‘antiques’ that become great tools with a little TLC. Who knows, it may even bite you and dominate your shop time like it does for me.

View jmartel's profile (online now)


7878 posts in 2144 days

#11 posted 12-18-2014 09:28 PM

Well, that shows how much of a beginner I am- I hadn t factored in the cost of new plane blades etc and the time spent learning how to refurb the tool.

Prob a bit beyond me right now. Maybe a slow build-up of reasonably priced new stuff would be a safer bet for me. Thanks guys!

- JasonZahn

You likely won’t NEED new blades for every old plane. Time only counts if you assign a $$ value to it. Since this is usually just a hobby, most people don’t. There is some value to be seen by buying new if you are really trying to get a project done by a certain timeframe and don’t have time to dedicate to restoring, however.

-- The quality of one's woodworking is directly related to the amount of flannel worn.

View Rob's profile


704 posts in 3064 days

#12 posted 12-18-2014 09:29 PM

You don’t have to be a hand tool enthusiast to appreciate hand tools.

If you’re just jumping into woodworking it doesn’t hurt to get some used or entry-level hand tools to beat up on, if you can get good deals on them. You’ll have to learn to sharpen eventually, and it’s really not as hard as everyone makes it sound with all their complex sharpening rituals.

I almost dropped a boatload of money on a Lie Nielsen or Lee Valley plane, then I found a set of 4 in a case at the pawn shop. They were all very clean, and in pretty good condition with hairline cracks around the mouth of one (I think it was a 4-1/2). I also bought two nice chisels at $60 a pop but have been hesitant to use them. Instead I’ve been using some current-generation Irwin Marples that were given to me, and they work great. One day I wasn’t as careful as usual and one of them rolled off my bench and chipped both corners on the concrete floor. I was glad it was that chisel and not one of my expensive ones.

For used tools, check the pawn shops, Craigslist, and Facebook BuySellTrade groups. You can look at antique stores too, but in my experience those ones are usually overpriced and are often so beat up and missing pieces that they look like they came from an archaeological dig.

-- Ask an expert or be the expert -

View JayT's profile


5619 posts in 2205 days

#13 posted 12-18-2014 09:37 PM

Out of the dozens of planes I’ve refurbed, only a couple have needed new irons because the old ones were too pitted to save. It’s just not generally a factor. If it is, there are plenty of vintage irons available on ebay and Home Depot carries some Buck Bros irons that, by all reports, work pretty well for a few dollars.

Didn’t meant to scare you with the time factor, just wanted to mention to take it into account. It’s really not difficult to learn to restore the old iron, just takes a bit of common sense and willingness to learn. The good part is that once you’ve learned to restore one plane, you can recoup the time by the $$$ savings on subsequent purchases.

I guarantee it’s not beyond you. If I can learn how to do it, then anyone is capable.

-- In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock. Thomas Jefferson

View OSU55's profile


1664 posts in 1983 days

#14 posted 12-18-2014 10:10 PM

Welcome and good luck! On this subject you will definitely get enough help and advice to make your head spin.

An observation from reading many similar threads – hand planes & spokeshaves are by far the most purchased used/vintage tools, with a gap to chisels, and then a big gap to saws. I don’t agree with him on everything, but Paul Sellers is about the only “guru” I pay much attention to. Read through his take on tool selection in his blog.

A section of my blog covers my opinion on first planes In short, get a Stanley Bailey #4 and figure out how to make it work. Other sections of the blog cover tuning and sharpening. I now find a low angle jack almost indispensable – perfect shooting board plane with 25° blade, excellent panel flattening plane, very good jointer plane, and other than length an excellent smoother with a 38-50° blade. The Veritas is the best value vs LN or vintage IMO.

I have a used #80 Stanley (not sure of the vintage) with the original blade that works great. The Veritas version is one of their tools I don’t like as well as the original – to me the handles are positioned wrong and I prefer how the #80 feels when working.

One of my favorite planes is the large Veritas scraping plane. It takes some practice but one figured out it’s hard to beat for smoothing unruly grain and stripping old finishes.

All of my chisels were new, lower range stuff. I don’t use them a lot like some do and couldn’t see paying a lot. Narex gets good reviews for a step above the box store brands.

All my saws were new or used newer models, and nothing name brand. I have been satisfied with the performance. I am definitely not a chisel or saw hand tool snob (I might have become one with hand planes :>).

View Woodknack's profile


11601 posts in 2374 days

#15 posted 12-18-2014 10:14 PM

Best bang for the buck will be often be vintage, but sometimes building it yourself. Marking knives, marking gauges, and hand planes are relatively easy to build, squares and bevel gauges aren’t far behind. You can even buy saw kits and make your own handle for about 1/3-1/2 the cost of a new high quality version. I’m trying to think of an example where buying new is best bang for the buck but nothing is coming to mind.

-- Rick M,

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