In my book, there is one rule for buying vintage tools: Buy them from someone who will take them them back if the tool stinks.
That rule keeps me on my toes on eBay, at auctions, flea markets and at garage sales. If I can’t completely inspect, disassemble and use a tool before I buy it, I really want a money-back guarantee.
How can you tell in the store if a chisel is too soft to hold a good edge? How can you tell if all the moving parts of a plane and its sole will work together to do good work?
There are lots of really good sellers on the Internet who will take your money back, so don’t be afraid to ask about it. Here are my three favorites in the United States:
Brass City Records and Tools: Walt Quadrato runs a Connecticut storefront that sells records and tools. He manages to find tremendous tools as he haunts the markets of New England in the wee hours of the morning. And because he’s a woodworker, he knows what makes a tool a user and what makes a tool a plane-shaped doorstop.
Walt also is a prince of a guy and isn’t out to make a fast buck. I bought a Stanley Everlasting chisel from him years ago and have become a regular customer. If I ever need a tool, I just call Walt and ask if he’s got it. He usually does.
And if you have a scraper plane problem, then you already know Walt. He’s in the support group you attend every week.
SYDNAS SLOOT (aka Sanford Moss): Don’t let the unusual name fool you (it’s actually “Sandys Tools” spelled backward). Sanford sells tools part time, but he always digs up good users at fair prices, and he turns up some occasional collectible gems.
His site is also the single-best source of information on braces on the Internet. Sanford always ships things fast and is just great to deal with.
Olde River Hard Goods: If you like the really old stuff, you need to get to know Tony Seo. He digs up cool stuff (his passion seems to be the 18th-century stuff). And unless it’s a real collectible, Tony will restore the tools he finds back to usable condition (removing surface rust, tightening hammer handles and the like). Most of the stuff he sells is on eBay as a “Buy It Now” option.
Let’s just say that Tony was very happy to help me out with my hammer problem. And when I needed a real old-school holdfast to examine and use, Tony was the man.
As I said, there are lots of other great sellers on the Internet. This is by no means a comprehensive list , but these are the three guys who get most of my vintage tool dollars.