Hello Fellow Sloyders,
The post below is an expanded version of a recent post I made for my friends at Popular Woodworking which can be found here. For the sake of continuity on the series related to Sloyd on this blog I am providing an extended look at this topic.
In honor of American Independence day this past week, why not do something that makes you a little more independent?
When I started out woodworking I’d watch television shows and read magazines pushing all kinds of fancy new tools and think ‘If only I had a shop full of those tools I could build anything’. I spent a long time saving my pennies, reading the reviews and trying out the latest tools. The models seemed to change with the seasons. New project? Time for a new bit or jig or gizmo. Realizing that earlier craftsmen didn’t have access to all of these modern wonders yet they produced far more intricate work, I went in search of the hand cut dovetail and the arts and mysteries of our ancient craft.
I quickly found that power equipment was not broadening my capabilities as much as it was like an anchor tethering me to a limited band of work and taking up valuable shop space. I also didn’t like wearing the requisite dust mask, hearing protection and safety glasses all the time — it was like a mini sensory deprivation chamber. When I asked master cabinetmaker Dan Faia (NBSS) what he does for dust protection in his own shop, his succinct reply was “I never coughed up a curl“. That pithy remark reflected the very different view traditional woodworkers have — without all the big machines, the dust and noise, you can focus on the work, invest in a smaller set of high quality tools that should last a lifetime and enjoy the process as much as the result.
If you are looking to downsize your powered shop, get into more traditional woodworking or just starting out the questions that often come up are —
What is a good minimum set of tools I need to get started? How much is this all going to cost me?
In researching the Sloyd tool cabinet shown above I found some old tool catalogs from Chandler and Barber of Boston (a primary supplier of Sloyd paraphernalia including the Larsson benches etc ) including one from 1900 complete with a listing of and pricing for all the tools in the cabinet. According to the Federal Reserve’s website $1 in 1900 that should be worth about $27 today. A straight monetary conversion doesn’t paint a complete picture since some tools that were common back then are a specialty today and vice versa so I also included a column showing what an equivalent quality tool would cost new today.
In 1900, just as it was when I was a student over 100 years later, the view is that it is better to buy a quality tool once that will last a lifetime than buy something of poor quality which will not serve you well in your work. Keep that in mind as you review the list — since the tools were not the cheapest back then and surely are not the cheapest today. But with this modest set of tools you can build an amazing array of projects just as many ‘Sloyders’ (Sloyd school students) have done before us.
|Tool||Original Price||Original Price in Today’s $||Today’s Price||Notes|
|2′ Folding Wood Rule||$0.15||$4.05||$24.00||Bi-fold Rule from Garret Wade|
|6″ Metal Blade Try Square||$0.25||$6.75||$13.65||Swanson Try Square On Amazon|
|Marking Gauge||$0.25||$6.75||$30.00||Robert Larson Marking Gauge on Amazon|
|Bevel Gauge||$0.25||$6.75||$22.50||Shinwa (Japanese) Lee Valley or Amazon|
|Pair Dividers, 5 inch||$0.30||$8.10||$49.50||Starrett 4″ or 6″ on Amazon|
|Screw Driver, 4 inch||$0.15||$4.05||$13.95||Marples, from Tools For Working Wood|
|13 oz. Claw Hammer||$0.42||$11.34||$9.97||Stanley 13 oz Hammer, Walmart|
|Block and Rabbet Plane||$1.00||$27.00||$175.00||Lie Nielsen Block Rabbet Plane|
|Bailey Jack Plane||$1.13||$30.51||$93.00||Stanley Bailey Jack, from Rockler|
|Cross-cut Saw, 20 inch||$1.37||$36.99||$96.00||Pax Handsaw, from Lee Valley|
|Splitting Saw (Rip), 20 inch||$1.37||$36.99||$96.00||Pax Handsaw, from Lee Valley|
|Keyhole Saw||$0.20||$5.40||$18.00||Japanese Keyhole Saw, from Lee Valley|
|Firmer Chisel, 1/4 inch||$0.25||$6.75||$28.95||Henry Taylor, from Traditional Woodworker|
|Firmer Chisel, 3/4 inch||$0.32||$8.64||$30.95||Henry Taylor, from Traditional Woodworker|
|Firmer Gouge, 3/8 inch||$0.29||$7.83||$40.95||Henry Taylor, from Traditional Woodworker|
|Firmer Gouge, 3/4 inch||$0.34||$9.18||$44.95||Henry Taylor, from Traditional Woodworker|
|Bit Brace||$0.50||$13.50||$69.50||French Bit Brace, from Lee Valley|
|Jennings Pattern Bits, 1/4,1/2,3/4in.||$0.78||$21.06||$54.00||Auger Bits, from Traditional Woodworker|
|2 Gimlet Bits||$0.20||$5.40||$16.00||7 Piece Set, from Garret Wade|
|Screwdriver Bit||$0.15||$4.05||$11.50||Driver Adapter Bit, from Lee Valley|
|Countersink||$0.20||$5.40||$19.50||Hand Countersink, from Lee Valley|
|Spoke Shave||$0.15||$4.05||$34.99||Stanley Spoke Shave, from Rockler|
|Brad Awl||$0.05||$1.35||$19.95||Brad Awl, from Lee Valley|
|Nail Set||$0.10||$2.70||$3.15||Stanley Nail Set, from Amazon|
|Half Round File||$0.34||$9.18||$9.97||Nicholson Half Round File, from Home Depot|
|Oil Stone||$0.50||$13.50||$18.99||Norton Combo Oil Stone, from Amazon|
|Oil Can||$0.10||$2.70||$7.11||Goldenrod Oil Can, from Amazon|
|Pair Combination Pliers||$0.50||$13.50||$8.60||Crescent H26N, from Amazon|
|Can Glue||$0.15||$4.05||$5.88||Titebond, from Amazon|
|Assorted Brads||$0.05||$1.35||$7.23||Crown Bolt brad and nail assortment, from Amazon|
|Assorted Screws||$0.10||$2.70||$8.10||Maxcraft woodscrew assortment, from Amazon|
If your wallet still cringes at the totals above, fear not, for the totals above are for all brand new tools. The one luxury we have in our modern day of hand tools falling out of favor is the large secondhand market where you might be able to scoop up some great tools — possibly even some of the actual tools that once inhabited these cabinets for the original price in today’s dollars or less.
So before you break out the barbeque, give some thought to how you can free yourself from a mountain of modern tools and invest in a modest set of traditional hand tools that will get you started on the path to more enjoyable woodworking.
P.S. Extended Content For Readers of My Blog:
Note, the table above is expanded to show what sources I pulled my current pricing data from — which may be controversial to some — but was a best effort to identify similar makes, brands, qualities and countries of origin to be the same as what was in the original cabinet. For items no longer made in the U.S.A. I tried to find the next closest replacement.
P.P.S Why did the relative price of new tools go up so much?
This is a topic we’ll explore more in a future post, but for all the armchair economists looking to convert see what a dollar was worth in the past, this site from the FED was interesting.