Although an antique tool might be said to be one that is more than a hundred years old, the term is often used to describe any old tool of quality that might be deemed collectable.
The use of tools is one of the primary means by which humans are distinguished from other animals. Tools are the parents of all other antiques. Most man-made objects were made and great effort goes into the creation of newer and better tools to solve the production problems of today. The study of antique tools provides a glimpse of human development and cultural preferences history.
The creation of a tool often makes possible the creation of more advanced tools. Advanced tools made possible the manufacture of internal-combustion engines, automobiles, and computers. Among those who like to collect, some may do so as part of a rigorous study program - they want to catalog all types of a specific tool, for example. Some collectors may wish to preserve some of the past for future generations, others fall under the spell of the beauty of some antique tools.
Categories of tools range from the broad - planes, rules, braces, hammers, etc. to the specific - planes made by the Gage Company of Vineland, New Jersey, for example. People who are new to the hobby should know that there are many good modern reference books that will guide you in your search, as well as many reprints of the catalogs in which these tools were originally offered. Often tools will exhibit differences contrasting the different locations of their makers, or different features contrasting different time periods.
The following are some ways people collect tools:
- Tools of a specific company or maker - for example, L. Bailey Victor tools, Seneca Falls Tool Company tools, Miller's Falls tools, Disston Saws, Chelor planes, etc.
- Tools of a specific type - hammers, braces, axes, saws, patented planes, transitional planes, treadle-powered machines, etc.
- Tools of a specific period - tools from 1850 to 1900, post-World War II era tools, etc.
- Tools from a specific place - Scottish tools, tools from Massachusetts makers, etc.
- Tools of a specific occupation - cooper's tools, machinist tools, watchmaker's tools, garden tools.
- A combination of one or more of the above categories — for example, one each of a specific type of Stanley tool, i.e. all Stanley saws, all Stanley marking gauges, all Stanley planes, etc.
- A "type study" of one specific model, for example, a type study of Stanley #6 jointer planes or Norris A5 smooth planes.
- Tools that show how a specific idea progressed over time, for example tools tracing the development of the plane's adjusting mechanisms, or tools showing how an early patent was bought out and developed by another company.
- Tool advertising and catalogs.
List of manufacturers
- Holtzapffel, English producer of lathes as well as edge and boring tools, London
- Alexander Mathieson & Sons, Scottish manufacturer of edge tools, Glasgow
- T. Norris & Son, English maker of fine planes, London
- Edward Preston & Sons, English maker of wooden and iron woodworking tools, Birmingham, 1825 to 1932
- Stanley, American producer of tools
- Stewart Spiers, Scottish maker of fine planes, Ayr
List of tool collectors
- Antique Woodworking Tools (book)
- Adamson, John, "Vintage tools: gathering ideas for a collection", Furniture & Cabinetmaking, issue 257, May 2017, ISSN 1365-4292 pp. 58–61
- Boucard, Daniel (2006), Dictionnaire des outils. Paris: Jean-Cyrille Godefoy Éditions ISBN 978-2-86553-269-8 OCLC 918707628
- Cartier, Claudine, Antique tools and instruments from the Nessi Collection, Milan 5 Continents, 2004 ISBN 9788874391240 OCLC 845721396
- Dunbar, Michael (1979), Antique Woodworking Tools: A Guide to the Purchase, Restoration and Use of Old Tools for Today's Shop. London: Stobart & Son ISBN 0-85442-014-2 OCLC 16477599
- Gaynor, James M. & Hagedorn, Nancy L. (1993), Tools: Working Wood in Eighteenth-Century America. Williamsburg: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation ISBN 978-0-87935-098-7 OCLC 228668641
- Goodman, W. L. (1978, first edn 1964), The History of Woodworking Tools. London: G. Bell and Sons Ltd OCLC 890490803
- Goodman, W. L. (third edn 1993 revised by J & M Rees), British Planemakers from 1700. Needham Market: Roy Arnold OCLC 608019749
- Greene-Plumb, Jonathan (2012), Early European Decorated Tools - from the woodworking and allied trades. Ammanford: Stobart-Davies ISBN 978-0-85442-117-6 OCLC 714722111
- Heine, Günther (1990). Das Werkzeug des Schreiners und Drechslers. Hanover: Verlag Th. Schäfer ISBN 3-88746-228-9 OCLC 456747003
- Nagyszalanczy, Sandor (1998), The Art of Fine Tools. Newtown, CT: Taunton Press ISBN 1-56158-263-8 OCLC 780759102
- Russell, David R. with photography by James Austin and foreword by David Linley (2010). Antique Woodworking Tools: Their Craftsmanship from the Earliest Times to the Twentieth Century Cambridge: John Adamson ISBN 978-1-898565-05-5 OCLC 727125586
- Salaman, R.A. (1996). Dictionary of Leather-working Tools, c. 1700–1950, and the Tools of Allied Trades Mendham, NJ: Astragal Press ISBN 978-1-879335-72-1
- Salaman, R.A. (1997 ed. revised by Philip Walker) Dictionary of Woodworking Tools c. 1700–1970 and Tools of Allied Trades. Mendham: Astragal Press ISBN 978-1-879335-79-0
- Sloane, Eric (1974 ed.). A Museum of Early American Tools. New York: Ballantine Books (1974 ed.) ISBN 978-0-345-23571-8 OCLC 220806767
- Deutsches Werkzeugmuseum, Remscheid
- DeWitt Wallace Museum, Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia
- Eric Sloane Museum & Kent Iron Furnace, Kent, Connecticut
- Hawley Collection, Kelham Island Museum, Sheffield
- Mercer Museum, Doylestown, Pennsylvania
- Maison de l’Outil et de la Pensée Ouvrière, Troyes, France
- Museum voor de Oudere Technieken, Grimbergen, Belgium
- Takenaka Carpentry Tools Museum, Kobe, Japan
- Brown Tool Auctions, Watervliet, MI 49098, USA
- David Stanley Auctions, Osgathorpe, Leicestershire, LE12 9SR, England
- Tennants Auctioneers, Leyburn, North Yorkshire, DL8 5SG, England. A department specializes in scientific instruments, cameras and tools
- Tony Murland's antique tool auction house, Rendlesham, Suffolk, IP12 2TZ, England. Catalogues emphasize artistic aspects of tools
- The Swiss tool collector Luigi Nessi (d. 2009) gave up his career as architect and urban planner to devote himself to collecting and documenting tools from the Renaissance to the nineteenth century. A major auction of items from his collection was held by Koller in Zurich in 2012. See article by John G. Wells in the Chronicle, EAIA, vol. 65, issue 4, December 2012, pp. 160–2. See Further reading above for details of the book about his collection.