In the era of automated mass production and machinery, there has been an increased interest in antique tools. Antique tools are handmade tools that require manual labor to operate. While some machine-related tools can be considered antique, it’s mostly the manual tools that count.
In this article, we will look at some of the most popular and valuable antique tools. We’ll also help you determine if your antique tools are worth money and give you tips on how to start collecting vintage tools.
If you want to start an antique tool collection, or you have some old tools that you want to get rid of, keep on reading!
Valuable Antique Tools Worth Money
There are a few different categories of antique tools, with some categories featuring several types of a single tool.
The axe is potentially the most well-known hand tool that has been around for ages. Most axes throughout history have shared a similar wooden handle and a head made from different metals. Antique axes include a wide variety of tools for various purposes. Some popular and valuable types of axes are:
- Broad Axes
- Splitting Axes
- Felling Axes (single bit or double bit)
Hammers have also been very ubiquitous tools for many centuries. Throughout the years, hammers have had lots of material changes both in the handle and the hammering head. This makes all those variations very unique and highly collectible. Some of the most collectible types of antique hammers include:
- Three-piece hammers with a removable handle for easier storage
- Hammers with special heads that integrated a second tool at the other end of the head
- Antique hammers with movable heads
Antique chisels are tools that consist of a handle (usually wooden) and a particularly-shaped curved blade. These tools were used to carve and shape hard materials by hand. Chisels were prevalent tools that saw heavy usage in different applications. Some of the most commonly used chisels are:
- Woodworking chisels
- Metalworking chisels (cold chisels and hot chisels)
- Chisels as lathe tools
- Masonry chisels
Saws are tools that utilize a tough blade with teeth to cut through materials like wood or metal. Several types of saws include straight blades and circular blades for different use cases. The most popular antique saws have straight blades that have not rusted. Some popular saw manufacturers are Simonds, Atkins, and Disston.
Planes are a unique and highly collectible type of antique hand tool. Carpenters and woodworkers primarily used it to stabilize chisels so they could use them on wooden boards. It was common for each carpenter to make his own planes out of rare woods with unique designs or his initials. A very popular brand for antique planes is Stanley.
6. Hand Drills
Hand drills were versatile hand tools that came in several sizes, shapes, and colors. This makes some of them particularly rare and collectible. Some unique and valuable hand drills to look for are:
- Hand drills stamped by the manufacturer, which helps with dating them
- Hand drills that had inlays made of ivory or precious metals
- Hand drills with hollow wooden handles for storing bits
Wrenches are a type of tool with a very specific purpose that has remained largely the same over the years. Nevertheless, there are certain styles of antique wrenches that are particularly rare and wanted by collectors. These are:
- Wrenches with multiple heads on one handle, which predated the adjustable wrench
- Wrenches with a unique cutout design on their handle
Clamps are a tool that’s still in use today and has not changed significantly. Many different types of clamps are rare and collectible. One of the most popular ones is a type of sewing clamp called a “sewing bird” that includes a pincushion on the top of the clamp.
9. Plumb Bobs
A plumb bob is a special tool that consists of a weighted object that hangs from a rope. Its use is to determine the vertical axis. The weighted objects used were shaped after fruit or vegetables like pears, turnips, or carrots. Some unique plumb bobs that are valuable are:
- Bobs made with exotic woods
- Bobs crafted out of ivory or precious metals
- Metal bobs with intricate details carved in them
Rules were essential tools for crafters since they were the only way to measure lengths accurately. They needed to be long enough but also easy to store. So, they folded them in unique patterns that make them highly collectible. Some popular rules include:
- Rulers that integrated other tools like levels or compasses
- The classic zig-zag ruler by Stanley that folded in 15 spots
Squares are a unique type of tool with a distinct purpose. Crafters use them to reference 90° angles and measure other common ones, such as 45° angles. Squares usually consist of the stock (or handle) and the blade. The blade is typically attached to the stock and can also be a ruler to help measure small lengths.
Levels and inclinometers help crafters determine the slope or inclination of a surface. While most levels utilize liquid-filled vials to determine the slope, antique inclinometers usually utilized pendulums or dials. A very popular inclinometer that is considered a work of art is the Rufus Porter inclinometer.
Braces are tools that carpenters use to drill holes, usually in wood. Although they seem similar to hand drills, there are slight differences between them. Braces have a U-shaped sweeping handle that produces more torque, thus allowing easier drilling of larger holes. Even though there isn’t much variety in their designs, antique braces are still popular among collectors.
Do Antique Tools Have Any Value?
There are a few factors that determine the value of old tools. These are:
In order to determine the value of your old tools, you first need to recognize what type of tool it is. As we mentioned above, different tools are more sought after than others, and different subtypes of tools can be prevalent among collectors
Just like all antique items, the condition of antique tools is critical. No matter how rare a tool is, if its condition is subpar, it will depreciate its value significantly. Naturally, tools that are over a century old will show signs of aging. However, this aging should not be excessive, unnatural, or impede the usability of the tool
You can also consider asking for professional restoration. This way, if you find an old tool you really want, but it’s in bad condition, you can restore it to its older days of glory.
Determining the manufacturer or brand of antique tools is particularly important because it will also help you determine their age. Look for symbols, letters, or numbers that can help you track down the manufacturer of your old tools.
You can also find more information about antique tools and their values on websites like the Directory of American Tool and Machinery Patents or the Early American Industries Association. These websites have a plethora of information on antique tools and their origins.
Where to Buy and Sell Antique Tools?
While you can buy or sell antique tools online using sites like eBay or Craigslist, your best bet is to choose in-person sales. This is because it can be difficult for sellers or buyers to determine the exact condition of tools from photos.
However, several online antique dealers, like Bob Kaune and Falcon-Wood, are very reputable. You can also use online websites as a reference to compare prices of sold antique tools.
If you choose to shop in person, you may find some old tools in antique or thrift stores. You can also visit local auctions or yard sales, where you might be able to find some hidden gems. You can find more information about upcoming tool auctions in the Fine Tool Journal.
Before you go out shopping for antique tools, make sure to do proper research on them. Make a list of all the tools you might want and look up as much information as you can about them. Also, consult a price guide to ensure that you don’t overpay for antique tools. There are several free as well as premium options that can help you determine each tool’s value.
While old handmade tools seem like a relic of the past, they are surprisingly popular today. People enjoy them for their simplicity and effectiveness. Plus, some of them are still in use today, although slightly altered.
If you find some old tools in a basement, they might be valuable. Use this guide to identify them and look up information regarding their value.
Also, if you’re an aspiring collector, make sure to do as much research as possible. Antique tools have been around for centuries, and it’s easy to mistake them for something else, thus losing money or getting scammed.
In any case, go out there and look for antique tools. You never know what hidden treasure you might find!