I’ve just returned from the national meeting of the Mid-West Tool Collectors Association a bit road-weary, a bit hung over and completely overwhelmed by what a cool experience the whole thing was. If you like vintage tools or if you need vintage tools for your shop, you definitely should belong to this very fine organization.
The tool trading floor is a bit dazzling for the first-timer. There are dozens of dealers (all members) who are selling stuff that you rarely see in Midwestern flea markets and that you pay too much for on eBay. Are there bargains? Well, that depends on your perspective. I found the prices to be less than what I’d find on eBay, but more than what I’d find at a garage sale. The best way to put it is that these dealers know what they have, but they also know what a fair price is.
Mostly, the selection is overwhelming. I’ve been looking for about six months for a certain size of a Maydole hammer. I’ve had no luck on eBay. At this meet, I found four examples to choose from. I got the best one for $10. I also bought a Lancashire-pattern hacksaw I’ve been coveting for a couple years. The British tool dealers generally sell them for $100 plus shipping. I got mine for $35. So I’m quite happy.
The other highlights of the meeting are the seminars on tools and techniques. Fred Thompson of the Chicago School of Violin Making gave an interesting lecture on how violins are made and dispelled some mythology that clouds the field of custom violin making. Pete Taran, the owner of Vintage Saws, gave a sometimes-hilarious speech exploring some of the significant patents on handsaws. You can download the visuals of this lecture in pdf format from his site here. And Don McConnell of Clark and Williams delivered a completely eye-opening lecture on the history of steel and the only explanation of the system of carving tool sweeps that has ever made sense to me. And, I might add, Don displayed the company’s new plow plane, which looks like a million bucks.
I tried to do my part, too. I brought the Roubo bench, which somehow survived the 700-mile trip from Cincinnati to St. Charles, Ill., strapped to my Toyota Tacoma. I gave little talks about the workholding techniques offered by the bench, drawboring and surfacing lumber with hand planes. I was treated very kindly, though I don’t think they believed me when I started spouting off my theories on scrub planes.
And then there was the hospitality suite, where there was too much free spirits, cheese and chips. And just enough discussion of tools and techniques.
I’ve never been a person who joins organizations and gets involved (woodworkers are generally loners in my opinion). But after this M-WTCA meeting, I’m a true believer.