First, keep in mind when you need a soft scraper, your
fingernails are at hand. Working with safe natural products
allows you access to these invaluable tools. Don't cut them too
short or leave them too long. They are ideal for flecking away
spots of paint and dirt loosened by "Kramer's Antique
The next in importance is a good collection of soft clean
rags. Cotton or linen seem to work best, I like a medium weight
fabric. I tear them into roughly 8 X 12" pieces for use.
A selection of steel wool is important. Coarse (#1 or #0) is
reserved for the most difficult cleaning; heavy caking or
scaling. Medium (#00) is used for moderate cleaning. Fine (#000
or #0000) is most used for light scouring and smoothing. Be
careful when using steel wool when combined with "Kramer's
Antique Improver" it will quickly remove many varnish,
shellac and painted finishes. Bronze wool is even better, if you
can find it.
Next is a dental pick which can remove the tiniest bits of
matter from the most inaccessible places. The uses to which this
small tool can be put are endless, chose one of a shape that
seems suitable to you; mine has two tapered and bent wire ends.
Several toothbrushes of varying stiffness and bristle density
will be found most helpful.
A small shallow cup is useful as a working dispenser.
A putty knife is handy for getting into corners and cleaning
around edges. A medium stiff blade is easiest for me to control.
A small bench knife finds innumerable uses if kept very sharp.
My two favorites are a 1 1/2" sheepsfoot pattern blade on a
full tang handle with rosewood scales, handmade. Or a #90
Henckels twin brand chip carving knife. Don't forget a good
Stiff steel wire brushes and soft brass brushs oft find use in
the shop. Be sure of what you are doing before touching any piece
of wood with a metal bristle brush or any other metal tool.
A bench brush with long soft natural bristles is handy for
dusting off the work and keeping the shop neat.
Sash brushes with soft natural bristles are used to spread
"Kramer's Antique Improver" on large surfaces, chose
the size you need based on the area needing coverage. For most
furniture size antiques application with merely a rag or steel
wool is sufficient to quickly treat the piece. When
"Kramer's Antique Improver" is brushed on it is still
best to rub it in a little with a cloth, let stand and wipe off
the excess with a clean cloth, brushing is for very big or
intricately patterned pieces.
A rawhide mallet is the first hammer you should own and
pick-up. Good ones are available from a variety of sources; try
your local leather workers supply shop, sometimes called Tandy.
Buy the big one, you don't have to hit hard all the time but, the
extra weight is handy when you do.
A scratch awl is useful, as are many other tools for
particular situations. The above list will be your most often
used and unless you are doing repairs all you really need. The
following list is incomplete as the repair and restoration of
antiques can require the use of literally thousands of different
As a craftsperson acquires different tools they expand their
capability to do more different types of work. Some tools will
only do one job which cannot be done the same any other way.
Planes are good examples of this, a craftsperson can have a
collection of a few hundred different planes and still not have
the exact one to shoot the six inches of molding needed for
replacement on the front of a large piece.
A collection of pigmented shellac sticks and either a pallet
knife heated over an alcohol burner or an electric burn in knife
quickly fills holes and voids. Match color to wood with the same
method as described for staining new wood to match.
Scrap leather is handy for padding pliers, jaw vises and clamp
jaws. Buckskin makes an excellent buffer.
String, rubber bands, rope, thread, sand bags, weights, wire,
slivers of wood, bits of cloth, slips of good (acid-free) paper
all find use in binding a difficult glue joint or filling space
in a loose joint. Band clamps, C clamps, Bar clamps, Parallel jaw
clamps, Pipe clamps, Cam clamps, Spring clamps, Specialty clamps;
nobody owns too many clamps of enough sizes. You can do a lot
with only those mentioned in the first sentence of this
paragraph. The more you own the more work you can do.
A small chunk of beeswax and one of lye soap are useful for
lubricating drill bits and saw blades as well as using as a glue
resist on areas where seepage may damage the original finish.
Sweet oil is also useful for protecting metal from rust and
lubricating cutting tools, it is also the best oil to use on
Hide glue and a melting pot or a bottle of liguid hide glue
are needed for any glue repairs. A bridled glue brush is the best
applicator and a stick of willow kept in the pot will keep the
glue fresh. Several glue recipes are listed in this book.
Beyond this point (and even up to this point) in acquiring
tools I caution you to purchase tools slowly as the need arises.
If you buy many tools at the same time it may be years, if ever,
before you find a need for them; learn how to use them; or even
tune them up to be ready to use.
Tools seldom come ready to use, contrary to the advertising.
Chisels, plane blades, gouges, saws, and all cutting tools should
be honed to working sharpness before ever being touched to any
work. Plane soles, saw blades, rubbing surfaces and moving parts
are best lubricated before use. Many tools work better if
"run in" before beginning real work.
Buy what you need. Study and practice with the tool as you
sharpen, tune and lubricate it for use; and proceed slowly.
The below tools are basic to quality repair work and a great
deal of work can be done with nothing else.
The first saw a repairer should purchase is on of the small
dovetail saws on which the blade can be turned 180 degrees to the
handle. The blade is made perfectly flat on the bottom and can be
used to cut flush with a surface without marring it, the holding
mechanism is mounted entirely on the top side. The primary
caution is when you send the saw out for sharpening you must
remind the shop that you only want the teeth set to the top side
of the blade. The teeth on the bottom edge must not be set or it
will scar the surface when used flush.
A hacksaw is handy for cutting metals like rusted nuts and
bolts and trimming up replacement hardware to match original. A
selection of new blades ranging from 18 teeth per inch to 32
teeth per inch should be kept on hand. Avoid buying painted
blades as the paint wears off on the work and clogs files.
A coping saw with a broad selection of blades is useful for
small intricate cutting and fretwork.
If pierced work must be duplicated or fine inlay and marquetry
work is being repaired then a jewelers saw (much like a coping
saw) is handy. It has much finer blades available than the coping
saw and is more controllable. In any work other than jewelry it
is called a fret saw.
A bow saw is a traditional tool for making large cuts on a
curve, it is the hand saw replacement for a band saw.
A back saw or miter saw is used with a miter box to cut corner
miters in things like picture frames. It can also be used for
What are generally thought of as handsaws fall into two
catagories of crosscut saws and rip saws. They are used for
cutting wood to dimension. They are available in several sizes
and tooth patterns. Only antique repairers doing the most
extensive work or those building reproductions will find much use
Power saws of all types have little application in antique
repair and restoration.
KNIVES, CHISELS & GOUGES
These tools are useless and will do far more damage than good
unless really sharp. What is really sharp? The edge should feel
that it is trying to cut into you with the slightest touch, the
edge should clip the fine hairs from the back of your hand with
minimal effort when used both with and against the grain of the
hair. If your hand is not steady enough to sharpen these tools
properly, your hand is not steady enough to use these tools
One can own several hundred of these tools and still lack
several sizes and styles. Basically a set of 6 straight chisels
with blades from 1/4" to 1 1/2" a basic set of twelve
veiners, gouges and skews and as many knives of styles that you
find useful will suffice.
The best handles are made of boxwood and should have
reinforced ferrules and slam rings on the striking end. Pick a
style that suits you and your work. The important thing to
remember is if they are advertised as having some super hard
rockwell rated steel or are made of stainless steel they are not
worth owning. A super hard steel will hold an edge a little
longer than just good quality tool steel. The problem is they
won't hold the edge long enough to make up for the extra time and
effort required to re-sharpen them. A proper tool steel will take
an edge fast and easy so you never have to stop working long to
re-sharpen the tool. Of course if you are paid by the hour this
may be the reverse of what you want.
Plastic handle woodworking tools are an abomination!
The first plane bought by a restorer should be a small palm
plane for trimming small areas of repair. If large sections must
be cut to dimension no substitute can be found for a scrub plane.
A smoothing plane is used for evening up the work and removing
marks left by the scrub plane. A rabbit or rebate plane is used
to cut a channel or groove into the work for inletting sides,
dividers or shelves. A Joiners plane is a very long plane used
for truing up edges for precise gluing. A old-woman's-tooth or
hor-la-toot is the hand equivalent of a router and is sometimes
called a router plane, it is used for cutting out areas to an
even level for inletting other materials. Beyond these mentioned
there is an infinite variety of molding planes of every
description including the fine old universal planes which came
eqipped with as many as 100 blades of different shapes. Buy
planes only as your experience and need dictates. Scrapers are
available in a wide array of sizes, shapes and styles everyone
should own at least a handled glue scraper and others as skill
and need require.
A toothing plane is a very specialized tool which has the
blade mounted at a much steeper angle than normal, the blade edge
is toothed like a saw or a serrated edge. Its primary use is
preparing a evenly roughed surface for glueing on veneer, it is
also used to rough mating wood surfaces being joined. It is used
with the grain and across the grain to leave a fine split diamond
pattern on the surface. The roughing greatly improves the glue
bond. Unless much work is to be done of this type an extra glue
scraper can be filed with a triangular file to provide a toothed
edge, it can be drug across the surface to create the same
effect. Before the surface is roughed (or toothed) it must be
perfectly flat or square as required any voids must be filled the
toothing is very slight and will not cover up a poor job of
A good substitute for a scrub plane can be made from either an
extra blade for your smoothing plane or an extra smoothing plane.
Grind the plane blade to a curved edge with the same angle of
bevel as if a straight edge. To mark out a proper curve set a
pair of wing dividers to the full width of the blade, set the
point back a little from the cutting edge and center the
stationary point where it falls further back, trace out the arc
and scribe the line; then begin grinding. When properly ground
then sharpen with a rocking motion on a well oiled fine stone.
RASPS & FILES
A set of twelve coarse cut and twelve fine cut needle files
will be of immense value. A half round rasp of 8" and one of
12" will be similarly useful. Half round wood files of a
medium cut in similar sizes smooth the rasp work, and fine cut
half round files complete the basic set. Round, square,
triangular, flat, warding, and many other specialty files in all
the different cuts can grow to a selection of files that numbers
in the hundreds. Never store files so that one touches another or
they will all soon become dull and useless. If a file of the
proper shape and size is not at hand a good substitute can be
made by shaping a piece of scrap wood to the dimensions needed
and wrapping a piece of sandpaper around it.
WRENCHES, PLIERS & SCREWDRIVERS
These tools are required for taking things apart and
reassembling them. One cannot own too many screwdrivers of
different sizes as when working with antiques an infinite number
of screw slots will be encountered. If the screwdriver does not
fit the slot precisely the work will probably be damaged or the
screw will not be removed. Phillips screws are a recent
innovation in terms of antiques but, are frequently encountered
in hasty repairs. I have never found a good phillips head
screwdriver that stayed that way long.
Pliers are used for gripping but, should never be used in
place of a properly fitting wrench as the hardware will be
damaged. The locking jaw pliers of recent invention are a modern
wonder and very helpful additions to the tool kit.
Wrenches should be available in a full range of both american
standard and metric sizes, adjustable wrenches are helpful for
handmade nuts and bolts that don't conform to any standard.
The first drill should be a small electric hand drill with a
full set of bits made of high speed tool steel a center punch
should be included with the set along with a set of
"easy-outs" to remove screws that don't respond to any
A small hand drill will be found helpful for more controlled
drilling of small holes for mounting hardware as the power of an
electric is often too much for precise work in tight spaces.
A brace and set of bits is useful for drilling matching holes that needed to be plugged and re-drilled in the course of repair.
Brace & Bits
Small Hand drill & Bits
Bench vise with padded jaws
Warrington Pattern Hammer
Cross peen Hammer
Ball peen Hammer
Clamps of infinite number and variety.
Joint Steamer for disassembly
Pliers and Cutters
Nail Pullers and Removers
Hypodermic Syringe and Needles
Alcohol or Propane Torch.
The potential list is endless as your skills increase, your
work becomes more challenging, you learn more about the trade and
the need arises you will find a great many tools not on this list