If you’re new to timber framing, you probably don’t have the specialized tools to turn trees into a frame. Most carpenters have drill bits, but not a 2″ t-auger. Most carpenters have small bench chisels for finish carpentry, but not a mortising chisel or 3″ slick. The tools you need for timber framing are not the same tools found in the toolbox of today’s modern carpenter.
So where do you buy timber framing tools? Some of the tools you’ll need can be hard to find. Your local hardware store won’t carry hardly any of the tools you’ll need to cut a timber frame. You really only have 2 options; you can try to find old used tools at garage sales, antique stores, auctions, etc., or you can buy new tools online. This article covers both options.
Buying Used Timber Framing Tools
Vintage tools have a lot of advantages; they’re usually way cheaper than buying new, they’re usually made of higher quality steel, they’re easier to find locally so you can handle them before buying (a big advantage). The drawbacks to buying vintage is that you need to learn to find the good ones and you’ll spend a lot more time restoring them to working condition.
The hand tools used in timber framing haven’t changed for hundreds of years. In fact, some of the tools in my toolbox are over 100 years old. With care they’ll be cutting timber frame buildings 100 years from now. Don’t be afraid to buy old tools, they still work.
The heyday of quality hand tool manufacturing was prior to World War II. The building trades changed after the war. It was the age of mass manufacturing and everything was made faster and cheaper. Saws, planes, and chisels replaced by cheap motorized power tools. The hand tool manufacturers scaled back their line and made them cheaper by using inferior quality components. Try to find tools made before 1950.
Vintage second-hand tools can be excellent, or they can be used pieces of junk. The trick is to find the good ones and leave the bad ones for someone else. With used tools, as with anything else you buy used, it’s buyer beware. Sometimes tools are sold because they’re broken, they’ve been ruined by a careless owner, or they’re bent ever so slightly, or… you get the idea. Understand the tool you are buying. Learn to spot good brands, good manufacturing years, and good deals. As a beginner, you’ll make mistakes buying something you thought was good, but turned out to be junk after you spent hours restoring it. That’s OK because you learned a great deal about restoring that kind of tool. Maybe next time you’ll know exactly what to look for because you know what you don’t like. Making mistakes is how we learn and grow as a craftsman. After enough trial and error you’ll find hand tools that just feel right in your hands and you wouldn’t trade for a new one.
Here is where I look online for vintage tools:
This website is the best website for finding estate sales, antique auctions, police auctions… just about any type of auction. The site allows you to search for keywords and limit your search results to a radius around your zip code.
CraigsList is an classified ads website. You can use CraigsList to find local garage sales or estate sales. I’ve also found tools by posting wanted ads (i.e. “Broadaxe Wanted”). There are 3rd party software tools to search Craigslist and notify you by email once someone lists something you’re looking for, so as soon as that vintage broadaxe is listed you can be the first to call on it.
Buying Timber Framing Tools Online
New tools have their advantages, you don’t have to spend time sharpening and restoring them. They also have disadvantages, new tools are much more expensive than used ones, and buying tools on the Internet means you can’t pick them up and get a feel for them before you buy.
Buying timber framing tools online is easy. Buying quality ones that you know you’ll like is difficult. If you search online for timber framing tools you’ll likely find a lot of junk. Tools that are mass manufactured by big brands tend to be, shall we say, sub-par. Quality tools are made in small batches, they’re not mass produced. The list of companies below are a good start for anyone looking to find quality tools.
This company is one of the largest woodworking tool companies in the US.
Frog Tool Co. http://www.frogwoodtools.com/
This company carries a wide selection of timber framing tools. Saws, chisels, planes, axes, adzes, Lignum Vitae mallets, measuring and marking tools, etc.
Magard Ventures http://www.logbuildingtools.ca/
A company out of British Columbia, Canada that specializes in log building and timber framing tools.
Lie-Lielsen Toolworks http://www.lie-nielsen.com/
A woodworking company in Maine that specializes in quality hand tools.
Barr Specialty Tools http://www.barrtools.com
Hand forged chisels, adzes, draw knives, slicks, etc.
Crosscut Saw Co. http://www.crosscutsaw.com/
One-man and two-man saws, saw sharpening and maintenance, adz, slick, froe, log handling tools, etc.
Gransfors Bruks http://www.gransfors.se/
Hand forged log builidng tools from Sweden. They’re known for their axes; felling, broad, carpenter’s… but they also make log dogs, scribes, froes, and drawknifes. High quality and high price.
Timber Tools http://www.timbertools.com/
Everything you’ll need for timber framing and log building. This company carries a lot of specialized power equipment like chain mortisers, jigs, and CNC machines.
Timberwolf Tools http://www.timberwolftools.com/
This company carries a lot of power tools like beam saws, chain mortisers, plainers, drill stands, etc. They have some nice video demos of their products on their website.
This company carries some a lot of outdoor equipment for logging. They also have some timber framing tools.
Peavey Manufacturing Co. http://peaveymfg.com/
This company was founded by Joseph Peavey, the guy that invented the peavey. They’ve been making tools since 1857 and they’re based out of Eddington Maine. They also carry a wide range of logging tools like barking spuds, cant hooks, drawshaves, fros, and log carriers.
This company makes excellent logging tools. We’re talking heavy duty American made peaveys, cant hooks, hookeroons, and log carriers; tools you’ll need if you’re harvesting your own timber.
Highland Woodworking http://www.highlandwoodworking.com/
This company carries a ton of hand tools including a wide selection of Gransfors Bruks axes.