That introverted approach – common among collectors – all changed when Sindelar met Roger Phillips, a long-time collector in La Jolla, Calif. Phillips also came up in the trades – his woodworking enterprise had a reputation for outfitting the interiors of banks, corporate offices and casinos. Phillips had been collecting since 1945, and when Sindelar saw his collection, he says he could think only one thing: “Wow. I want this.”
With Phillips’s guidance, Sindelar kicked his collection into high gear. He went from buying $100 tools to $10,000 tools. He sold his collection of Stanley tools and began buying one-of-a-kind tools in Europe.
“It’s an obsession,” he says. “I need to get into an AA program.”
When other tool collectors go to Europe, they have secret spots to hunt for old tools that they share with no one. But when Sindelar told Phillips he was going to Europe, Phillips handed him a list of all his favorite haunts.
“Roger is just so open about everything,” Sindelar says. “It really changed my life.”
He also took a cue from Phillips when he decided to get involved with other tool collectors and open his collection for inspection. In the process, Sindelar has also developed a reputation as a collector who likes unusual tools with an artistic flair. Fellow collectors pull him aside during auctions and say, “Hey, I’ve got something you have to see.”
And as a result, Sindelar’s collection has evolved into something that is filled with some of the most recognizable vintage tools that have appear
ed in recent books on tool collecting, plus newly made tools, such as a fleet of plow planes made by Jim Leamy, and infill planes made by Bill Carter and Wayne Anderson.
A lot of vintage tools have tall tales behind them – antique collecting is like that – but Sindelar says that he stays focused more on the form of the tool than its particular provenance or the myth behind it.
He shows off a tool chest that is covered in handplanes that look like nothing else that has ever been manufactured. The planes are ornate: brass sides, steel soles, shapely totes and knobs. The level of detail on some of them is outrageous for a working tool.
So where did they come from? The story, Sindelar says, is that they are from Germany. He buys them from a guy who gets them from another guy. And that guy says they came out of a school for blacksmiths and silversmiths. When the students left the school, they would leave one of these example tools behind, where it would be displayed on the wall.
Does Sindelar believe the story? He shrugs. “Tool collectors have a lot of stories,” he says. “I like the planes.” They are attractive tools and have odd labels: A. Stohr & Son, Schuhstopsel, Hildesheim, Durchmesser.
Not all the tools are so mysterious. There’s a shapely French marking hatchet in a leather sheath. The sawyer’s initials are cast into the poll of the hatchet so he could mark the felled tree as his own. There’s a Phillips Plow Plane, patented in 1867, with an ornate cast iron frame. There’s an English stairsaw with a depth stop that works like a depth stop on a fillister or dado plane. There’s even a Stanley jointer plane that’s painted gold. “That’s a private joke I have with another collector,” Sindelar says.
A Place for the Past and Future
And now Sindelar wants to show it all to the public. He envisions a museum that will also have a woodworking school. His initial plan was to build it near Williamsburg, Va., to take advantage of the history-seeking tourists there. Since then, he also started considering the Harrisburg, Pa., area. And since his plans for his museum have gotten out, he’s been contacted by officials in North Carolina who think the museum, the school and the state’s furniture-making history would be a good combination.
Sindelar says he thinks the museum would be a winner because it would appeal to people beyond tool collectors. Many tool museums and collections tend to focus on manufactured tools. Tools that have been patented are hot items these days. Old Stanley tools have always been a popular item for collectors.
But Sindelar’s collection is all about the artistic form of the tool. He’s more interested in buying something that will take your breath away rather than a collection of all the patented tools from 19th-century Connecticut. And that’s why he thinks the museum would succeed.
Sindelar regularly escorts people through his collection and even opens his doors to the public on occasion to benefit a charity. When he shows people around, they are overwhelmed by the tools, no matter if they are woodworkers, collectors, young or old.
“I’ve especially been amazed at how women, in particular, like the tools,” he says. “And it’s because they’re all one-of-a-kind. “They’re …” and Sindelar pauses as he looks for the right word, “just pretty.” PWTo contact John Sindelar to provide ideas or donations for the museum:
Sindelar Fine Woodworking
69953 Section St.
Edwardsburg, MI 49112
If you’re interested in collecting tools, you might want to check out “Warman’s® Tools Field Guide, Values and Identification.” It’s written by Clarence Blanchard, the editor of the Fine Tool Journal and the owner of Brown Auction Services (and he’s a good friend of mine). The 512-page book has more than 250 photos and 1,000 listings of tools that will help you assess their rarity and determine a fair price. The book covers tools from the 18th to the 20th century. The softcover book is $12.99 and is available directly from the publisher.