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Thread: Rebuilding Old Tools for Profit?

  1. #1

    Rebuilding Old Tools for Profit?

    There are a lot of questions on these old tool sub-forum regarding old hand planes, braces and hand tools. Most of the questions are what they are worth, if they are worth keeping and if they can be fixed.

    The truth is, just about anything can be fixed, or improved, and some of these old tools have some deep sentimental value. How many times have you heard the statement..."this used to be my Grandfather's old plane..."

    I had this idea a long time ago,and even presented it to Tom Nielsen and Joe Butler when I worked at Lie Nielsen. I wrote up a pretty lengthy proposal on having them start a division of Lie Nilsen where they took in old planes and rebuilt them.I thought with their reputation for quality, people would be more apt to send them an old plane and not worry about it being destroyed by an overzealous machinist. They were not interested in doing that for various reasons, and I understand, but I wonder...

    Should I get into this?

    I am not trying to advertise here, but I like making tools (do it all the time at work), and I love old tools. I have no intentions of quitting my job, or making a million dollars a year fixing old tools, but it would be cool to help old tools stay in peoples' toolboxes and keep "grand dad's handplane in use." I just don't know what the demand would be, or if people were willing to put good money into an old tool? There is a surprising amount of time that goes into fixing these old tools, and time is always money.

    The one bad habit I picked up at my current job is building tools and boat parts that are perfect, done right the first time,and will last for generations...but also take a long time to make. Even with detailed billing, I think you would get a lot of shock at how much time rebuilding least to do it right.

    What do you guys it worth looking into?
    I have no intention of traveling from birth to the grave in a manicured and well preserved body; but rather I will skid in sideways, totally beat up, completely worn out, utterly exhausted and jump off my tractor and loudly yell, "Wow, this is what it took to feed a nation!"

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Oct 2006
    The Heart of Dixie
    You ever spend time over on WoodNet? Specifically the HandTools section? There are several "dealers" over there that I suspect make a decent second income dealing with old tools. I think it is RareBear that does what your talking about. I have seen some of his restored planes and they do honestly look new or maybe even better than new. I just hunted up his site and seems he had given up on it as a business. But his quality was amazing. Personally I prefer on a hand plane to leave the patina intact, flatten and polish the sole and do what ever it needs to make it work perfect but still look it's age. Many wants theirs looking new too.

    I think once you build up a reputation you can get the business. Make money at it?? That depends. A perfectionist like yourself can turn out the finest product in the word and either
    A) end up making $2 an hour for their time
    B)Make a decent hourly rate and be priced so high no will pay what you need.

    The first thing that comes to mind is can you comprise? Make them look good and not HAVE to make them perfect? Can you lower your standard of perfection to one that is acceptable and profitable? It's all about cutting corners and/or speeding up the process and that is hard to do for a perfectionist.

    Being in the NE where hand tools are MUCH more common than down here where my ancestors were mostly poor dirt farmers. I would think you could even buy a few planes and hand tools, clean them up, repair them and then sell them to get your name out. WoodNet is a great place for that too. I have bought several handtools from 3 of the guys there because of their reputations. And never been burned yet. One even ships the tools "Old Tools Terms" You get it, inspect it and then pay him or return it! How many people do that these days?? Needless to say, he is my go-to guy when I need something.
    God grant me the senility to forget the people I never liked anyway,
    the good fortune to run into the ones I do,
    and the eyesight to tell the difference.

    Kudzu Craft Lightweight Skin on frame Kayaks.
    Custom built boats and Kits

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    Floydada, Tx
    If you have a few extra hours a week to have a go at it then, yes. The worst thing that happens is you end up haveing to give up on it. If someone new around here satred up a machine repair shop and had tons of experince and really into details I would give them a try. It might be like refinishing, where someone is willing to pay twice the cost to have it rehabed just to keep it around.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Sep 2007
    St. Louis, MO
    Perhaps one way to do this would be to develop an a-la-carte' price guide for tool work.
    If someone wants their plane repaired to a functional level but isn't concerned with a lot of the aesthetic concerns, they could select repairing / refinishing a cracked wood tote for a fixed price, a dip in the electrolysis tank, hard waxing and light oil on internal parts for another fixed price, tightening of the depth adjustment mechanism, blade treatement (regrind, flattening, and honing), and proper fitting of the chip breaker.

    Then, if someone wants their old plane tricked out like your favorite Stanley #140, it's a selection of other options at other fixed prices - final tally at the bottom.

    If someone wants their plane to look essentially the same but be "performance enhanced", there's a price for hand lapping the frog to the sole, a price for flattening the sole, fitting an A2 or high carbon cutting iron, maybe a new chip breaker, etc.
    Then, you can appeal to a variety of interests, letting the "consumer" select the options that best suite their, intentions, needs and budget.

    Line items may include:
    New hardwood tote (fruitwood standard - add't charge for exotic species)
    repair exist. cracked tote
    lapping sole (per inch of plane length)
    hand scrape high spots flat on sole
    square shoulders to sole (for shooting)
    hand lap frog to sole casting
    braze / weld cracks - grind smooth & polish
    plug weld or fill holes
    polish brass hardware
    strip castings
    epoxy coat castings
    re-japan castings
    wedge-shim frog at 50 degree angle
    tighten lateral adjustment
    tighten depth adjustment
    flatten face of frog
    tune chip breaker for tight fit
    flatten bottom of tote for snug fit
    Then there could be an "other" category for unique requests - "fit enclosed chamfer block to sole casting" or "powder coat metalic purple with silver pinstripes and lightning bolts - chrome plate lever cap"

    I have thought that if i got into tool revamping, i'd go with this approach.

    Many of these tasks only take a couple of minutes, if that - others involve some time and effort. You'd have to personally be OK with a variety of approaches to old tools. A purist or idealist may run into frustration. Of course, you could "reserve the right to refuse service to anyone" or be "too backlogged to accept any new projects at this time"

    In my business, the key to enjoying the work is to make the most of the relationships that are involved in getting the work done. Each plane (or other tool) would involve a direct relationship with the owner or end user. How cool is that?! You'd have to keep close track of each project and its client correspondence - i think you could manage your email easily enough to take care of that.

    I just spent sunday afternoon tweaking a friend's Buck Bros. jack plane. What a piece of junk - poor castings, low quality materials, terrible fit & finish. But i hand scraped the sole flat, put an old Stanley cutting iron in it that i had laying around, reground it, flattened the back and honed the edge, flattened the top of the frog to keep the blade from rocking back and forth on it, tightened up the depth adjustment, tightened and straightened out the lateral adjustment, flattened the bottom of the tote so that it seated firmly, ground the leading edge of the chip breaker to seat well across the cutting iron, and oiled it all up.
    The end result is a cheap plane with a workable cutting iron that will perform OK for rough or even moderate work. It won't ever be a precision tool, but might help him along with a project or two - maybe even allow him to further his skills a bit. You can't make a silk purse from a sow's ear, but that's not what he needed. It only took a couple of hours to do the work, but instead of a frustrating chatterbox, he's got a plane that will take full width long curly shavings from fir, pine, poplar, or other easily workable woods. I would never recommend anyone pay to have a cheap plane tweaked, but it was as useful a project as when i lovingly restored my own Keen Kutter bedrock jack plane.

    Paul Hubbman

  5. #5
    That was a very good reply Paul (and every one else for that matter too) and for the last few days I have been pondering over some of your replies. I guess the hardest thing I must decide is if I should try my hand at old tool restorations (which I have little experience) or stick with new tool creations...or a do a little of both.

    I am not sure which would provide for a better customer base. I can see a lot of people sending in old planes and stuff that they care for deeply since its "been in the family", and yet at the same time I can see some people really wanting a special one-off type tools?

    Just wanted you to know that I have not ignored this thread, just thinking a lot about old and new tools.
    I have no intention of traveling from birth to the grave in a manicured and well preserved body; but rather I will skid in sideways, totally beat up, completely worn out, utterly exhausted and jump off my tractor and loudly yell, "Wow, this is what it took to feed a nation!"

  6. #6
    Alan DuBoff is offline Former Member (by the member's request)
    Join Date
    Nov 2006
    Last edited by Alan DuBoff; 02-27-2008 at 08:15 AM.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    Floydada, Tx
    When it come to starting a new type of work I will cast out several lines at once. These will all be things I am intrested in. Then I see which one gets the most intrest. From there I will decide which one has the most possiblity.

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