Tooling up with estate sales #5-How to equip your hand-tool shop for pennies on the dollar

In this last installment, I talk about other treasures to enrich your life.

Bonus Tip #11: Look for other stuff too.
Once you’ve made two rounds in the tool-rich areas (garage, basement, outside shed), take a moment to just look around. Seek out items congruent with your hobbies and interests. Are you a gamer? Collector of tobacco tins? Want to spruce up your bar area with vintage liquor/beer signs, mugs and glasses? Estate sales are an economical way to do just that.

For instance, I enjoy a scotch and soda from time to time, so I look for good vintage decanters and pick them up for a fraction of their cost even on eBay.

P8 Chrystal Decanter for 5 bucks at estate sale

This fine crystal decanter would easily fetch $80 or more at an antique store, a sum that I would never have paid. But because it was sitting at an estate sale, and priced accordingly it now resides on my bar, forever filled with Johnny Walker Red. I’ve never gotten more pleasure out of a $5.00 purchase in my life. I love the quality of the glass and admire the sophistication of its design. Not to mention the feel of it in my hand as the golden elixir splashes into the tumbler below.


And that’s it. Ten-plus-one simple tips to help you frugally tool-up your shop with quality vintage hand tools. After a while, you’ll reach the threshold where you can build most of your projects with the tools you already own. And you’ll have gotten there at lower prices plus a whole lot of adventure.

© 2015, Brad Chittim, all rights reserved.

End of Estate Sale Series

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Tooling up with estate sales #4-How to equip your hand-tool shop for pennies on the dollar

Tip #10: Don’t leave before fishing out the good deals.
In my experience, my competitors usually go right to the tools. Remember the estate sale I showed up to only to be greeted by the guy with 10 handsaws in his box? That deflated me a little. But I resolved to continue looking around. Come to discover that the 10-saw man left the Jorgenson clamps and forstner bits untouched. At $4.00 each the clamps were a good deal. At the same price the 1” and 2” forstner bits, respectively, were a steal. My point is, that just because the hand planes, saws and chisels have been snatched up doesn’t mean that there aren’t other colossal deals in your midst.

Take hardware for example.

I’ve stocked up on wood screws at estate sales. Especially brass wood screws. Go to your nearest big-box store and price brass screws. Talk about outrageous. Not so at estate sales. Oh, and while you’re at the store, price cotter pins of all things. Two for $0.98 for many of them. But at an estate sale, I picked up a whole container, maybe 300 cotter pins of all sizes, for a whopping $1.00. For one, single, solitary, all-by-itself dollar, I covered my lifetime needs of cotter pins.

You know what else is great at estate sales for us woodworkers? Wood. You’d be amazed at the wood boards I’ve picked up for $0.50. I got a very nice mahogany board for $1.00. (That board has since become a beautiful box for a buddy’s wedding gift.) Given that most people don’t know mahogany from walnut from maple, you can pick up nice hardwood boards at cut-rate softwood prices.

And I’ve picked up nice plywood too. The older plywood is of better quality with fewer voids…and of course, you get them at pennies on the dollar. Sometimes, the price is even better—free. Several times I’ve heard, “Please, take all you’d like. We don’t want to have to haul it away.”

In addition to these items, do yourself a favor and sort through the bins you’ll often find on tables. There, you’ll find small gems for your tool kit.

For example, I found a near-mint Stanley No. 750 ¼” chisel for $2.00 in a box sitting on top of a workbench.


Sure it was missing its handle. But did I mention that the tool is near mint? And I know from experience that chisel handles can be found at estate sales for a buck or two.

Another great example is tweezers.

A quality pair of Swiss tweezers can set you back $20.00 new. But not at estate sales. No sirree. There, you can pick up all sizes and types for $0.50 to $1.00.

P10-Swiss Tweezers for a buck at estate sale

Don’t forget medical utensils either, things like scissors and such. There’s always a need for good surgical scissors and tweezers in a woodshop teaming with splinters and sharp stuff that cuts flesh. Bandages cover those wounds and gauze and tape needs to be cut with scissors.

P11-Medical instruments for pennies at estate sales

Then there’s sharpening stones. I picked up a concave stone for gouges at the princely sum of $3.00. The equivalent sharpening stone new from one of the catalog providers was $30.00. Hmmm.

The key takeaway here is that there are all sorts of fire-sale-priced accoutrements at estate sales other than planes, saws and chisels.

In the next installment, I’ll talk about Bonus Tip #11-Finding even more treasures.

© 2015, Brad Chittim, all rights reserved.

### End Part 4

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Tooling up with estate sales #3-How to equip your hand-tool shop for pennies on the dollar

Tip #7: Inspect each item.
I know that sounds silly. “Of course I’ll inspect it,” you’re thinking. Yeah well, in the heat of the moment, when you think you’ve found a gem, and your heart is pumping, the birds are singing and you are SO in LOVE with that tool, well, it’s easy to overlook that one detail that renders a tool useless. And the last thing you need is to spend money on a tool that is unserviceable. Not only is that money that could have gone to another good user, now you’ve got a heavy paper weight taking up space in your workshop.

So select the first tool out of your bag and carefully inspect it. Are all the parts there? Is anything broken? Is the rust manageable? Take a pair of dividers for example. I’ve found that many of them have lost their original locking nut over the years and owners have screwed in a bolt that doesn’t quite fit because their threads are not compatible with modern standards. For a plane, is the sole flat (you did bring your ruler didn’t you?) Are there any cracks? Is the tote in working order?

Remember that if an item has a missing or broken part, don’t just blow that off, saying to yourself “I can pick one of those up on eBay.” You sure can…in exchange for a whole lot of money. Alas, I’m speaking from personal experience on this issue.

Take this handsaw for instance.


She’s a beaut now and she cuts well too. But when I brought her home, I found that when I unwrapped her (I violated my own rule by not inspecting it!) that she was missing a saw nut.

The saw cost me $2.00—a fantastic bargain for a vintage, top-of-the-line Disston No. 12 user. But get this: the vintage saw nut I tracked down cost me $15.00. Now I know that what I should have done was buy another, it’s-wheezing-its-last-breath beater of a saw and salvaged the brass from that. But I wasn’t savvy about stuff like that at the time.

Still, the lesson holds. Vintage replacement parts are so expensive as to make the purchase of a jiggered tool hardly worthwhile in the overwhelming majority of cases. And if you can’t make a replacement plane tote or knob, be ready to spend $40.00 or more to buy a vintage or modern equivalent.

Tip #8: Stretch your budget by buying quality duplicates.
Whenever I see a good tool in great condition, I buy it even if I already have one. Then I clean it up and put it up on eBay. When you buy something for a few bucks it’s easy to triple your money or more. And that cash can be recycled into your tool-acquisition fund.

To keep from getting burned with this tactic, I would strongly suggest that you stick to tools/vintages/types that you know very well. At the very least, look it up on eBay before you buy something you’re not sure about. And remember, condition makes a huge difference on eBay. So don’t explain away scratches, dents and other imperfections when you’re weighing your should-I-buy-it-and-resell-it decision, because I swear by all that’s holy that your prospective buyers sure won’t.

Tip #9: Make friends with estate sale people.
When you tour the estate sale circuit you’ll bump into the same people over and over. I suggest you treat them fairly and don’t beat them up during your price negotiations. Better to make friends with them so that when you do have a really great tool, you can negotiate a great price to go with it. Now that you’re “friends” with the estate sale proprietors, they’re more likely to cut you some slack.

Secondly, by giving them your card and asking them to call you if they come across some good woodworking tools, you’d be amazed at what you could pick up before the sale even starts.

In the next installment, I’ll discuss tip #10, Don’t leave before fishing out the other good deals

©2015, Brad Chittim, all rights reserved.

##End Part 3

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Tooling up with estate sales #2-How to equip your hand-tool shop for pennies on the dollar

Tip #1: Optimize your time by scouting out good possibilities
I primarily go to estate sales listed on I also scour Craig’s List for tool-laden estate and garage sales. If you were to plot my estate sale finds on a map you would notice some commonalities. The good tools came from older, blue-collar neighborhoods. Picture in your mind the areas in your city where older woodworkers might have situated themselves.

Yes, there have been an estate sale or two located in well-to-do neighborhoods. But I’ve found the prices tend to match the surroundings and have only picked up a good late-model tool or two (clamps, tweezers, sharpening stones) at places like that.

Tip #2: Look for key words in the ad that say “woodworking tools” to you
After going to a few estate sales and coming up snake eyes, I started to pay closer attention to ads. When searching online I use keywords such as “woodworking…” or “vintage tools” or “Disston.” I also read the ads to get a feel for the type of work the person did. A machinist’s vintage tools will be very different from a woodworker’s workshop.

Sometimes an ad will give me a sniff that smells like “hand tools.” Now a sniff alone isn’t enough to dedicate two hours of to and fro driving, so I’ll follow up with the estate sale proprietors via email.

Here’s an exchange I had regarding one sale. “Your ad mentioned hand tools, what kinds of tools do you have?” Answer: “Some power hand tools, axes and a Stanley #60 miter box”

Now wait a minute. That miter box wasn’t in any of the pictures…nor any descriptions…but it is now in my garage.


Turned out that it was in phenomenal shape. Price? $15.00 for the saw and box. No shipping. Just me lugging the heavy, dusty thing a half-block to my car wearing a big smile.

Tip #3: Study pre-sale pictures to evaluate the opportunity
I rely heavily on pictures and have gotten adept at deciphering them. The panoply of tools can say “I was a woodworker,” or “I was a serious/tinkerer or occasional woodworker.”

Online pictures are typically bad, so consider copying and pasting them into PowerPoint so that you can enlarge and study them. What brand names do you see? Are the tools late-model examples? Recent Chinese junk? And of course, do you see any specific items that you want to pick up?

Recently I saw a picture of a tool cabinet in a man’s small shop. I saw planes (I’m pretty stocked up on those,) handsaws (I’m good there too,) chisels and, whoa! Chisels?! They looked vintage to be sure and there were five of them. They even could have been Stanley 750s. The reason I say “looked” and “could have been” is because by the time I got to the garage, moments after the estate sale opened, they had mysteriously disappeared. My gut tells me that a family member may have picked them up before the sale, or even someone working the sale. But my point is, that by zeroing in on what you want, you’ll increase the odds that you’ll be the one to buy it.

Tip #4: Go early or don’t go at all
This is absolutely critical. In this age where armies of retirees are combing estate sales to find stuff to put up for sale on EBay or in their antique mall booth, you simply must show up on the first day of an estate sale, preferably within the first half hour of it opening.

I showed up at one estate sale 25 minutes late. When I walked in, I saw people standing in line to buy a 5lb sledgehammer (on my want list) and a nice ax. After going directly to the garage, I saw another galoot with the only decent chisel in the lot firmly grasped in his hand.

When I left at 10:40, I was holding a Millers Falls 321 12″ brace, plus some other goodies. So if you showed up at 11:00 (one hour after opening) your selection would have been severely limited.

Remember the eBay/antique booth scavengers I mentioned above? I was at another estate sale, 15th in line to enter the home, and by the time I got to the garage, one guy had all 10—that’s T E N—of the sale’s handsaws already in his “to keep” box. So much for the pictures showing plenty of “inventory.”

Tip #5: Your estate sale “tool kit”
You need to tool up to go vintage tool hunting. Bring a sturdy bag (more on that later), a ruler, a magnifying glass or loop, a flashlight, handy wipes and of course cash. It doesn’t hurt to bring a friendly attitude either. Making nice with the estate sale staff will serve you well in your negotiations.

Tip # 6: Go to the garage first
When you get in, go immediately to where the tools are. Usually, that’s the garage. Now listen carefully. The moment you see specific tools that you want pick them all up and place them in your bag. Then keep looking around. Carefully look over the room, tables and shelves for any other items that interest you. As you find them, place them in your bag. And don’t forget to look above you. Sometimes woodworkers keep their wood supply up there. After you’ve scavenged the garage, go to secondary areas: sheds, basements (sometimes there’s workshops down there) and such.

Once you’re satisfied that you’ve got all the “possibles” secured, find a quiet place and sit down.

Next time we’ll cover Tips 7-Inspecting for success, 8-Stretching your tool-buying budget by picking up and selling quality duplicates, and 9-Making friends with estate sale purveyors.

© 2015, Brad Chittim, all rights reserved.

### End Part 2

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Tooling up with estate sales #1-How to equip your hand-tool shop for pennies on the dollar

When I first started in woodworking my biggest challenge was putting together a tool kit comprehensive enough to build something. And while the “minimum” tools necessary for a kit would depend to some extent on the types of things you’re building, there is a basic assemblage for most projects.

And while I’ve turned to eBay, Craig’s List, antique shops, garage sales and flea markets to buy good tools, I’ve had great financial success with estate sales.

Estate Sale Benefits
The biggest benefit to picking up tools at an estate sale is that you usually, not always, pay pennies on the dollar for items compared to other sources. Moreover, you can negotiate down prices if you buy multiple items. Frequently, I find good items with occasional gems, including wood.

Here’s a sampling of some nice finds on my estate sale hunts.

PS& W Compass Divider-$1.00 on a garage shop table.


Stanley #80 Cabinet Scraper-$3.00 buried under rusty braces in a vintage wood tool box.

P2-Stanley-No-80-cabinet scraper-estate-sale-find

Stanley Sweetheart 6” combination square-$2.00 sitting on a table in garage.


SB #18 HA block plane-$10.00 on a garage shelf.


Hand Brace-12″-Millers Falls No. 321-$10.00 on a garage table. 12” size gives great torque.



Another advantage to estate sales is that you can pick up a heavy item, like say a miter box and accompanying saw, locally for a good price. Oh sure. You can get them sometimes for a good price online too, but the shipping adds considerably to the total cost.

Still another benefit is that you can see what you’re buying before plopping down money for it. That goes a long way toward assessing a tool’s condition. It also puts the odds of avoiding broken, missing and jiggered parts greatly in your favor.

But my favorite part of estate sale rust shopping is the thrill of the hunt. There’s a serendipity element to it. Like the time when I picked up a Type 11 Stanley #5 corrugated jack plane for $8.00.


I didn’t see it in the pictures online. Nor did I see it in my first sweep of the tools. I was there to look over the handsaws—in poor condition and overpriced. That’s when the plane caught my eye. Hello my pretty…

That said, there are drawbacks to estate sales. You have to take what’s there and often, there will be nothing that interests you at all. In my area (Denver,) hand planes are scarce. And the ones I do come across are either:

late model planes I have no interest in

  1. off-name brands I have no interest in
  2. beaten and battered specimens that I have no interest in, or
  3. horribly overpriced whatevers that I have no interest in.

Consequently, all but one plane in my collection have come from eBay or the modern manufacturers.

Another thing you have to take into account is that your hunting will cost you both time and fuel.

So to help you make the most of your precious time and reduce the number of times you have to reach into the cookie jar for gas money, I’ve put together 10 Tips for Successful Estate Sale Tool Hunting. In the next installment, I’ll share Tips 1 through 6.

© 2015, Brad Chittim, all rights reserved.

### End Part 1

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An Ode to Panel Saws

Most of my projects trend towards the smaller side. Boxes and such. So using a full-sized saw (26” or so) to cut out their parts is overkill. Add to that the incongruous fit between my shorter arm reach and long handsaw tooth lines. I stand at five-foot six inches and my saw bench is customized to accommodate my stature. That means it’s shorter. So that when I use a full-sized handsaw, I smash the tip into the ground from time to time. I’d rather not do that to a 100 year old saw.

Enter the panel saw. The main differentiators between a handsaw and a panel saw is that the latter is shorter, usually in the range of 16-24” in length. An added bonus for me is that they tend to sport smaller handles. Ones that fit comfortably in my small hands.

As a result, panel saws are on my perpetual “short list” of tools to pick up. So when I came across this one at an estate sale I paid the $5.00 and took it home.

P1-Disston-D-8-8ppi-panel-saw-As-Found-at-Estate-SaleThe medallion dates the saw’s manufacture to between 1917-1940. It’s 22”, has 8 ppi, and a smaller handle which fits nicely in my hand. After my initial inspection, I cleaned it up.

P2-Disston-D-8-8ppi-panel-saw-after-rehab P4-Disston-D-8-8ppi-panel-saw-before-after-handle

Then sharpened it.


And put it to use


My hand/panel saw till contains two panel cross-cut saws, one 8 ppi for general use and one 11 ppi for fine cuts. Five dollars and a couple of hours of relaxing rehab and I’m ready to tackle the small-project crosscuts on my list.

© 2014, Brad Chittim, all rights reserved.

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The New Traditional Woodworker-Project #4-Winding Sticks

Lately, I’ve had my nickers in a twist. That’s English for having a hissy fit. And fit I had, when I resawed some quarter-sawn oak—lovely rays and all—only to “flatten” it. But not really, because it had some wicked twist. Crap. Guess I’m going to have to make some winding sticks. Oh yeah. And learn how to use them.

It’s not that I haven’t wanted to make a pair. But Jim Tolpin’s New Traditional Woodworker design calls for 5/4 stock, and I didn’t have any lying around. One night, while enjoying the warm embrace of a Paulaner Hefe-Weizen, I queried aloud, “Why not just use ¾ stock?”

“Well, because they’ll tip over,” came the reply. But, then again, the sticks’ pyramid cross-section mitigates this possibility. So after rummaging through my lumber stores I pulled out some ¾ maple and walnut. Then, I thumbed to page 107 of Tolpin’s book to bone up on the build process and techniques.

As for dimensions, I went with a short stick. Thirteen inches long is plenty of stickage for my winding. That’s because I flatten boards around 6” wide. The abbreviated length also means that the sticks fit neatly into one of the drawers under my workbench.


I enjoyed building a tool to be used on other projects. It was particularly fun to plane a pyramid cross-section.


And to laminate maple to walnut.


Then to add a center-dot detail in the form of a dowel.


Here are the finished sticks.

P05-Winding-Sticks-Finished-A P06-Winding-Sticks-Finished-B P07-Winding-Sticks-Finished-C P08-Winding-Sticks-Finished-D P09-Winding-Sticks-Finished-E P10-Winding-Sticks-Finished-F P11-Winding-Sticks-Finished-G

And now that they’re done, I can focus on fixing the twist in my boards rather than in my nickers.


© 2014, Brad Chittim, all rights reserved.

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