Bring Old Tools Back To Life
January 25, 2017

It's 5 a.m. on a Saturday morning. A green Stanley thermos is being filled with hot coffee and woodworker, Todd Nebel, is getting ready to hop onto his Harley Davidson in search of flea markets and garage sales, looking for old tools to rescue.

"What keeps me going is the thrill of the flea market hunt," Nebel says. He thoroughly enjoys finding a tool he does not own, a tool that may need a bit of TLC. Seeing past the rust, the broken handle, the dullness of the blade, he can visualize the quality tool that it was originally intended to be. As Nebel inspects the neglected tool, he is looking forward to the satisfaction that will come when it is restored and put back into daily use.

A self taught woodworker from Pennsylvania, Nebel's interest in woodworking has naturally required the acquisition of various hand tools. "I used to think the only way to have a perfectly performing tool was to buy one from today's high quality name maker. For the average woodworker, a hand plane or panel saw from say, 1916, can be restored and used just as well or better, and last for another lifetime of use." Nebel's skills in the restoration of hand tools have come from reading articles in woodworking magazines, tips on social media sites, and as he puts it, "a lot of practice."

Nebel likes to define his work in bringing old tools back to life as "tool rescuing". "To me a rescue is finding a tool that is complete, with no damage, and make it clean and function better than the day it was new." The value that Nebel finds in saving these old tools encompasses several areas. Not only is he preserving tool history, he is preserving the handiwork of blacksmiths and machinists of days past. "It provides a sense of satisfaction and a bond to our past. It's economical and green. It puts more tools into the hands of people."

While considering the rescue or restoration of a hand tool, Nebel suggests acquiring documentation or images of the tool that is to be restored. "It is important to know how it looked and the parts that came with it. Today's woodworking magazines are a great resource for in-depth articles on all kinds of tools." Extensive tool histories and restoration tutorials can be found on blogs, YouTube channels, Instagram pages and tool websites. For those interested in direct, one-on-one training, Nebel advises finding a school, club or guild that offers classes on the subject. Once a base of knowledge about the original tool has been established, one will need cleaning supplies and sharpening supplies. Examples of these might include grocery store items like "Scrubbing Bubbles" cleaner, adhesive sandpaper, or water stones. Nebel points out, "Not all tools will be cleaned the same way, and they will be found in various stages of neglect. They will require their own technique, supplies, appliances and tools. Sharpening a plane iron is different than sharpening a hand saw."

To keep your hand tools looking and operating their best, Nebel offers these tips:

1) Keep your tools safe with proper storage. "Many tools I rescue have paint spatter on them or have been nicked and chipped by other tools or objects. Rust is also destructive and an obvious result of improper storage."

2) Keep your tools clean. "The oils from our hands will tarnish metal and stain wood. Saw dust and wood shaving dust will also tarnish metal and lead to rusting. After significant use, it is a good idea to remove dust and apply a light coat of oil to the tool."

3) Keep your tools sharp. "A sharp edge will provide the best result. In contrast, persistent use of a dull edge will lead to damage, damage to the piece you are working on, and damage to the tool. You will become frustrated, tired and make mistakes. For example, the extra force required to use the tool will result in saw plates becoming kinked and wooden plane handles cracking."

Todd Nebel shares his flea market finds, woodworking projects and tool rescuing tips on his Instagram page,

By Jennifer Bower

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