Tool Stories


A Horse Trader by Joe West


A few years ago I asked my father, who lived in West Virginia (Jeff, a providence deep in the interior of the U.S. of A. characterized by hills and lots of scrap metal laying around, mostly cars and appliances) if he knew anyone who had any old woodworking tools. 

He said that there was a fellow who hung out at McDonalds who was always talking about old tools. I asked if we could go and see him next time that I was in town.  He said that he would set it up.

Later, I went to see my folks for Thanksgiving.  The day after the holiday my father and I went to see Bob the tool hunter.  No, we didn't call first.

That might be one way to do things but not the hillbilly way.  It turns out Bob lives in a little house about 50 yards from the railroad tracks a few miles from my parents. We knocked on the door and he invites us into his basement/workshop.  I took a look around and every available flat spot was covered with tools.  Some were on shelves some in cabinets with glass doors.

To this day the only time I've seen more tools in one place was at Bill Spicer's Tool auction in Road Island.  He had hundreds of planes, saws, chisels, etc.  After I could breath I asked where he got all the tools.  He said that he had been a tool hunter for 30 years.  He would go to auctions, antique stores, yard sales, anywhere that might have tools.  His tools were in very good shape. 

Turns out that he would soak rusty tools in vinegar over night to remove rust.  He reminded me of some of my relatives who seemed to think that there are two ways to be rich, to have lots of money or to have lots of stuff.  He fell into the later category.

I asked him if he would sell me a couple of planes.  He acted offended, like I wanted to take his favorite dog home.  Then he said if I sell you any of my tools I'll only be left with your money but you'll have my tools.  He would rather trade tools. I told him that I didn't have anything to trade.

He thinks for a minute and goes over to a corner of the basement and pulls out his toolbox reserved for non-Stanley tools and reluctantly pulls out 2 block planes that he would part with.  One was a Craftsman and the other a low angle Sargent.  He asked $35 for each plane.  I had no idea what they were worth since I was new to tool collecting.  So I paid him, we said our goodbyes and left. 

Later when I had more experience with tool collecting I realized that Bob was not only a tool hunter but quite a horse trader as well.

Joe West
Millbury MA
January 14, 2006

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