Thoughts from the Saw Shop: vintage tools, modern tools, and “made in China”


Vern Burke, SwiftWater Edge Tool Works

Skowhegan, ME

So, there I was a week or so ago, wandering through the back room of one of my favorite second hand shops, one of my regular stops, listening for vintage tools to call out to me to be rescued. I was looking over a handsaw when my attention was caught by a man just a bit down from me, muttering over what I thought was quite a nice old shovel. Not that I restore shovels, mind you, but this one had a great early handle and a blade that looked hardly worn at all, as if it was just tucked in the corner 70 years ago and forgotten about. The man was muttering over the handle rivets being a bit loose and some light cracking in the shaft of the handle.

Being the dedicated old tool guy I am, I spoke up and noted that all he needed was a 3lb or so hammer and something solid to strike against (I use my anvil) to tighten the rivets. I also remarked that the shaft cracks were just the result of the wood being left unfinished for so long and a nice treatment of boiled linseed oil would make that wood last another 70-80 years at least. Away he went to the register with a great shovel and a little piece of history.

This incident got me to thinking. We’ve not only forgotten the skilled craftsmanship aspect to tools (ie sharpening crosscut saws) but we’ve forgotten even the basics of maintaining our tools and this is one thing that has driven the rise of the cheap modern junk mostly imported from China. Where the old timers would have taken 5 minutes with hammer and anvil and tightened those loose handle rivets, people today are ready to throw away or not buy a great quality tool over it. Handle finish wears or deteriorates and is left that way until the wood disintegrates rather than spend 15-20 minutes a year treating it with linseed oil. What a waste, and you wonder why we’re shipping all of our money over to China.

I’ve always figured that every one of my restored, quality, vintage tools that goes out means dozens of “made in China” junk that don’t get purchased, but even looking after a Chinese made tool can mean at least a dozen more that don’t get purchased. Just simply looking after what you have for tools is a force multiplier in the fight against the tide of cheap crap tools.

You don’t have to buy my top quality vintage “made in USA” restored tools (although I wish you would 🙂 ), just take care of what you have already and get the maximum life out of it. Stop and think about it the next time you throw away any tool that could be brought back to life. Stop feeding the Chinese trade monster by wasting your tools and we’ll all be better off for it.

Visit me at any of the following locations:

B&G Treasures, 11 Depot St, Norridgewock, ME (Mondays)

Tractor Supply, Skowhegan, ME (Tuesday)

Somerset Woods turnout, Canaan Rd (Rt 2), Skowhegan,ME (Wednesday)

Arundel Flea Market, Rt 1 & Log Cabin Rd, Arundel, ME (Fridays)

Fryeburg Flea Market (Fryeburg Fairgrounds), Fryeburg, ME
(Sundays, Memorial Day thru end of September)

298 W Front St, Skowhegan, ME (all other days)

If you’re looking for a special tool, please drop me an
email and let me know and I’ll restore one just for you!

SwiftWater Edge Tool Works provides mobile sharpening services across Maine and mail in services around the world for handsaws, carbide blades, planer knives, hand planes, chain saws, knives, scissors, hair clippers, router bits, and almost any blade!

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