Updates on the Tool Market, or, What the $!%# is Up With the Prices of Old Tools?

This is a topic I’ve thought about quite a bit over the past year.

For background, I’ve been involved with buying and selling tools for over 20 years. Over that time I’ve seen different types of tools rise and fall in popularity. I remember early on big wide crown molding planes were popular, while at the same time handsaws were often relegated to the “$5 each” piles at swap meets. Back then British molding planes got almost no attention at all. Anvils were fairly cheap (I bought my Peter Ross for less than $2/lb and that was considered expensive!). Over the last 20 years we’ve seen significant changes in the tool market.

Collectible tools are always popular. Collectors want the best or the rarest tools. I’m not going to talk about collectible tools here. Almost all of my interest in vintage tools is related to working tools or “user tools”. User tools are the vast majority of the what’s out there.. User tools are what has been driving the market. The price of user tools has risen slowly and steadily over the past 10 years or so, mainly due to the influx of new woodworkers who want hand tools for their shops. Thanks to the Internet people are finding communities of like-minded folks to share their hobbies with and learn from. This has makes it easier for new people to get involved. This is much welcome, and not a surpise to anyone reading this blog.

What happened over the past year was a surprise. The pandemic changed everything. People were home and looking for things to do with their newly found free time. This resulted in a huge increase in the interest in woodworking, and almost every other hobby. I experienced this phenomenon here at home myself. Last spring it was almost impossible to find a new bike for the kids, a chess set, roller hockey skates, baking yeast, plant seeds, etc. The demand skyrocketed and the supply chains couldn’t keep up.

So, what happened with vintage tools? Simple supply and demand economics meant that the prices went up, some drastically. The most obvious example is the price of vintage hand planes. I see decent Stanley planes selling for more than twice what they were just two years ago. Decent handsaws, (especially backsaws), are both very hard to find and much more expensive. Basic, essential tools like layout tools, chisels, auger bits, and are likewise selling for much more than previously. This is compounded by the fact that the few modern makers out there, like Lie-Nielsen and Veritas, have been out of stock of these tools and continue to have long back-order times.

So.. what does this mean for me, as a tool dealer, and you, my loyal and much-appreciated customers?

From my perspective I believe I need to re-think how I price some of my tools. I always try to sell tools at a price I would pay if I needed that tool. I think my internal tool price-guide is still stuck where it was 10 years ago. Take that ubiquitous Stanley plane for example: Lately I’ve been shocked when I see a nice Stanley no. 4 or 5 plane sell for $100. At first I thought it might be a blip in the market, or an overzealous pair of auction bidders. I’ve seen it enough now to understand that’s probably the new norm. I realize I need to adjust my price expectations. If I can pay more for tools I will have more tools available for sale. This isn’t about profit-My profit margin on Stanley planes, whether I buy them outright or sell them on commission, is very small. That’s fine with me. I make money through scale and efficiency, not mark-up.

What does that mean for you? I think you’ll see somewhat higher prices for some tools- especially planes and saws. I think molding planes, most edge tools, and other tools will stay pretty stable with maybe a modest increase for the best of them.

Whether this will be a long-term trend or just a passing phase I’m not sure. More than a year on and it’s still very hard to find a bicycle for sale. Will the surge in demand result in a glut of used bikes in a year or two? Will there be a similar glut of woodworking tools on the market? We’ll have to wait and see. For now this is the new normal.

Overall I’m very optimistic. As a woodworker and tool collector I love seeing so many new people getting involved in woodworking. A new generation of people interested in woodworking means that the tools I have in my shop will have value should I get hit by the proverbial bus at some point in the future.

That’s my take. I’d love to hear what you think.

Josh

Getting Back to the Blog

Hi everyone. Thanks for reading this.

I need to find a better way to communicate with all of you.

The email list grew too big and unwieldy. Twitter requires too much attention and real-time responses. Instagram is okay, but I don’t have a cool shop, interesting projects, or a ruggedly handsome face to snap photos of every day. I’ve been away from Facebook for a long time now.

I think the blog is a good idea. Granted, it’s old school tech, but old school tech is back in style. Podcasts are booming once again, which kinda gave me the idea. The blog doesn’t require me to sit on my phone and reply in real time. I can write stuff when I have time. We can also have a conversation in the comments. I dig it. Maybe you will too.

So, I’m going to start writing stuff here once in a while. I’ll update the homepage when I post something new. I’m not a great writer, so be forewarned.

To start with, a quick update from HKToolCo headquarters. Spring is here and there is hope in the air. I’ve had my first vaccination last week, my second is scheduled in early May. My wife, who works in healthcare, has been fully vaccinated for a while. Getting the vaccine was a huge relief. My kids (who are now in 3rd, 5th, and 9th grades) are all still healthy and happy, thankfully. I’m very much looking forward to us all being vaccinated and able to return to normal again.

Like many of you, I used the time at home this past year to get a lot of projects finished that have been lingering on my to-do list for quite some time. I replaced all of the aging base and casing moldings in our house. That took the better part of three months and made me glad I’m not a professional trim carpenter. We also repainted just about every room in our house.. again, glad I’m not a pro painter. We got a lot of long overdue work done outside including building a pond and reclaiming the better part of an acre of land that was overgrown with invasive plants. The kids got into all sort of new activities including roller hockey and mountain biking. I somehow bought four new bikes in the past year which was a challenge considering the bike shortage. Lots of gardening was done including building a new garden in an area of woodland that was stripped of trees back in the 2018 tornado. It sounds like a lot when I write it all down, but it was a lot of fun.

The tool business has been incredible. That’s all I’ll say about it for now.

Keep an eye out for the next post, the working title of which is “Updates on the Tool Market, or, What the $!%# is Up With the Prices of Old Tools?”

-Josh