Thursday, March 14, 2013

Vintage Tools vs. New Tools

This question came up on one of the woodworking forums I frequent. Here is my response.

There are vintage tools of superb quality that surpass most of what is available today. There are new tools made today that far exceed the quality of virtually every other tool ever made. The question, to me anyway, is how much of this "quality" is actually needed to make furniture. Up to a certain quality point, the tool itself can hinder the execution of the work (this point is "lower" for a skilled tradesman who can make the most out of junk if forced to do so). 

Beyond this point, the quality of the tool adds very little to the actual execution of the work (perhaps speed and efficiency but, again, a skilled tradesman will be able to work quickly with just about anything of passable quality). After this, using the higher quality tool is purely for the enjoyment of the user. Not something typically associated with a professional, who must make each dollar spent on tooling count to the utmost. 

Take my planes, for example. I have a "complete" set of infills (I lack an infill miter and good rebate plane, but I'm in the market...), literally hundreds of vintage wooden planes, and a couple of LN planes. I could easily (and often do) work with nothing but the vintage wooden planes, even if they aren't of the same "high quality" that the other planes are. They work well enough to execute my designs. Anything beyond that is purely for my own gratification and doesn't actually effect my ability to do my work.

5 comments:

  1. You make a good argument about vintage tools and what quality of tool is needed to get the job done. I bought vintage tools because they were all that I could afford at the time, I continue to use them because I never had the need to replace them, and I enjoy using them.

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    1. Thanks! If what you have gets the job done, then you're all set!

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  2. Boy this post is a minefield, but I'll step in it. I think it depends on what you are doing and what the intended outcome is. I love old tools and making 18th century style tools and using them. I do however appreciate my table saw and if I had a spare $700 dollars lying around I would buy a Domino biscuit jointer. I tend to use my modern tools more for repairs on the house and my hand tools to make furniture and projects related to my love of the 18th century. In the later case it’s more about putting me in the mindset of the time and getting a product that not only looks correct for the period it constructed correctly for the period. I guess that’s why I love Peter Follansbee work so much. In the case of my house I just want to get it done so I can get back to my forge or my furniture building.

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    1. This is certainly not an attempt to start a war or to create a minefield. This was a response to some pointed forum posts regarding the relative quality of vintage vs. new hand tools. I never intended to discuss power tools; they never really appear on my radar.

      Like you, I use 18th century style tools to make 18th century style work. I do it because I work better with those tools and because the tools have an effect on the work, namely they make the work look "right".

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  3. I am someone who plowed head first into buying more premium new tools right out of the gate, and I don't regret it for a second! That said, I am finding as I am moving along, older tools are becoming more and more viable for me. I think that because I know know what a good tool is supposed to perform like, I can better judge old tools when I find them. I am still learning as I go though for sure!

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