Saw shop tech: misidentifying vintage saws and other antique tools.

Vern Burke, SwiftWater Edge Tool Works


So, you’re wandering around your local flea market, antiques emporium, or vintage tool seller’s shop looking and you’ve found just the right tool you’re looking for, except something doesn’t look quite right. How can you be sure you’re REALLY getting the classic saw or other tool you’re really looking for?

I see a LOT of misidentified vintage tools in my travels buying things to restore for the shop. General antiques people who don’t specialize in tools and actual old tool dealers both do it, although for different reasons. I just had a conversation with a craigslist seller over a supposed 1800s “hand forged ice saw” he was selling. What he posted a picture of was clearly a mid 1900s hay knife (used for cutting compressed hay bales). I’ve had these in my inventory periodically in exactly the same form (sometimes in the original labeled boxes they shipped in) and I have yet to ever see one not machine manufactured. This is actually one of the more common and obvious misidentifications.

Since vintage saws and other tools may have forms very different from modern tools and may have been out of production for longer than many of us have been alive, how do you avoid getting something that isn’t what it’s supposed to be? Here are a few tips.

1. If you’re looking for a particular type of vintage tool, do a little research first! Google can be your friend for the basics in short order.

2. Ask an expert. I spend a fair bit of my time when I’m out on the road educating people who come by my table about the vintage tools. I know the old tools inside and out so my customers don’t have to and I have no interest in misleading customers because a burned customer would never trust me again. I also take great pride in knowing everything there is to know about my inventory before it goes on the table.

3. Pick a reputable vendor or tool dealer. Beware of flea market vendors that only have old tools as a small part of their business unless you’re sure of exactly what you’re doing.

4. Avoid “franken-tools” made up of many mismatched parts (hand planes are particularly bad for this). If it doesn’t look right, pass it up.

5. Avoid anyone who uses the current antiques buzzword “primitive”.

So, why do vendors misidentify vintage tools? In many cases, it’s simple ignorance. Casual sellers are a lot more likely to do this because they don’t know and won’t take the time to learn.

Unscrupulous tool dealers tend to purposefully misidentify for gain. Ice saws and hay knives are both sellable however a real ice saw will bring 5x or more in price.

Educate yourself, work with a reputable vintage tool dealer who knows his stuff, and avoid getting suckered.

Visit us at the following locations:

Former Champion Glass, Topsham, Maine (Rt 201 north from Topsham toward Bowdoin, covering the Topsham, Brunswick, Maine areas) on Tuesdays.

Arundel Flea Market, Arundel, Maine (corner of Rt 1 and Log Cabin Road) on Fridays.

298 W Front St, Skowhegan, Maine the rest of the days.


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