How many tools do I really need? — Sloyd Tool List

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.

Sloyd Tool Cabinet

Sloyd Tool Cabinet & Tool Set — Makes a great gift for the Sloyder in your life

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.

Sloyd Tool Cabinet Ad -- From Chandler and Barber

Sloyd Tool Cabinet Ad — From Chandler and Barber (Photo Courtesy of John Pirie)

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
Total: $11.91 $321.57 $1081.84

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.

Fully Stocked Sloyd Tool Cabinet

Fully Stocked Sloyd Tool Cabinet

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.

-Bill

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.

About these ads
Categories: Popular Woodworking, Sloyd, Woodworking Techniques, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Post navigation

3 thoughts on “How many tools do I really need? — Sloyd Tool List

  1. Dave Ball

    I thought it was really interesting that only 2 of the tools (the most basic ones) where less than they ‘should be’.

    On the planes, could part of the price difference be metal vs wooden bodies? It looks like in the picture of the original cabinet that there is a metal block plane and a transitional jack plane.

    • Hi Dave,
      Yeah, I thought that was interesting as well. Several folks have sent me messages and info related to various factors contributing to why the prices fall they way they do. In the next week or so I hope to make a post on that and explore it a bit more. As for the planes, both the old and my re-filled model had a metal block plane. Today only Lee Valley and Lie-Nielsen make that style of rabbet block plane anymore, so if Stanley or similar in the mid tier still made that model it might have been a little less skewed on that particular item. From what I saw online the price of a Stanley Bailey Transitional Jack vs. a Stanley Bailey all metal jack when it came out several years later was not all that different in price so that item I think is pretty close. (In very late catalogs (1915+) they seemed to switch to all metal jack planes when listing out the tools collections. but I have not found any pictures of them in the tool cabinet — by that time I think things were winding down)
      Thanks for the note.
      Take care,
      -Bill

  2. Pingback: The Real Cost Of A Tool | Rainford Restorations

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com. The Adventure Journal Theme.

%d bloggers like this: