It’s All a Pile of Junk

*** This post is courtesy of Tom Iovino of Tom’s Workbench ***

A few years ago, a colleague of mine at work stopped me in the hallway. She had just returned from an extended leave of absence due to the passing of her father. “Tom, I don’t know if you know this, but my dad was a woodworker.  We have his collection of tools, and I was wondering if you wanted to take a look at any of them for your workshop.”

What treasures would Tom find?

Wow.  I was floored.  That was quite an honor to be considered to receive something so precious from my coworker’s dad.  I told her I would come out and, even if I didn’t take anything, I would help give her an idea of what each of the tools was worth.  I drove to her condo that weekend and she led me to a storage shed for her unit.  As she cracked the door to the shed, I have to confess that my mind raced with the thought of being able to expand my meager tool collection and fill some needs in my shop.  The reality was quite different.  As we pulled tools out of the shed, they were caked with years of rust.  Insects had taken up residence in warped 1970s vintage plastic cases.  Wooden handles on tools were cracked, warped and, in some cases, completely falling off.

Tom was shocked at what he found, such a shame

“What happened?” was the question that raced to my mind – and reflexively slipped from my lips. My coworker said that her dad was slowing down in his old age, and the neighbors were afraid he might hurt himself working with the tools.  So, they took them to an old barn and just let them sit for about a decade. Apparently, the barn wasn’t as weather tight as they had expected. No one ever checked on them… decided to put them up for auction… or cared for or maintained them.  I told her that if there was something special from his shop (there was a well-worn square that was protected in a case), she should save it as a memento, and that the rest of the stuff was just too far gone to salvage.

A little Tool Care and Maintenance could have saved this collection from a trip to the junk yard

As I drove home feeling disappointed – at the tools and myself for being a jerk – my thoughts turned toward my own collection of tools.   How could I prevent my tools from ending up like those poor, rusty specimens?  That’s when I decided to throw myself into the maintenance mindset.  It doesn’t take hours of slavish devotion to keep your tools in tip-top condition.  Actually, I follow a pretty simple regimen to help keep my investment shiny new and working great.


Shop cleaning is such a turn off for many woodworkers.  I mean, wouldn’t you rather be in the shop creating beautiful pieces of work than scrubbing the teeth of your table saw gears with a toothbrush?  Yet, simply using proper dust collection, vacuuming dust from your tools and scraping off any dry glue beads from your clamps can keep them working like new for years.


Woodworking is mostly about making big pieces of wood into smaller ones, then – in many cases – figuring out how to attach them to other pieces to build a project.  None of these tools works well if they aren’t clean and sharp. Plane irons, router bits, chisels, table saw blades… they all deserve good treatment.  Not only will your work look cleaner, but sharp tools are safer and put less strain on power tool motors.


In Florida, I’m always battling humidity and I sharpen my tools with water-lubricated diamond stones. I always make sure my tools are dry before I store them, and I keep a rag dipped in furniture paste wax nearby to wipe them with to keep rust at bay.  There are lots of products out there to help you get rust off your tools or to put a barrier up to prevent it from forming in the first place.

I once read a comment by a woodworker as to what he hopes happens to his tools after he passes.  “I want my children to fight over them like ravenous jackals battling over a zebra carcass on the Serengeti.”  While I hope my two sons have better manners,  I hope one day they find the tools in my shop in good shape and ready to help them if they would like.

*** Specials thanks to Tom Iovino, a true Shop Monkey,  for this post.  He will be providing posts on a monthly basis for Eagle America, check back again soon. ***

  1. Daniel Pruitt
    May 7, 2011 at 8:20 am

    I also received a bunch of tools when my father, who was a professional carpenter, died. I was quite happy to get them. For one thing, they were well maintained (my dad died suddenly), and I treasured them for several years until someone broke into my shop and stole over $8000.00 worth of tools, including those I received from his estate. To this day, over 20 years later, I still think about and miss those tools. They are a precious heritage to pass on to one’s descendents.

  2. Kenny
    May 7, 2011 at 10:47 am

    I too have seen tools fall to the same fate. Some of my grandfather’s tools have started to see this same neglect. I live an hour from my grandmother, and my grandfather has been gone 15 years or more. I took care of the shop when I lived close, but for some time I have been 50+ miles away and don’t get down as much as I should. The shop had started leaking a few years ago, and the moisture took a toll on some things. I have saved and salvaged all but very few items. But it’s hard to return on a regular enough basis with enough time to maintain everything. Not to mention I am really the only woodworker in the family. I do go down and use his large planer and jointer to process wood, as well as the radial arm saw and table saw, and occasionally the 21″ bandsaw when I have some large re-sawing, as I still use the mill just down the road from her house a few times a year, as I know the owner and I get great deals on lumber.
    I have been begging my grandmother for some time now to let me take some of the tools to my shop, as I could really use them. But, she fears that someone may want to use something at some point and if I take them, they won’t be there. I have tried to explain that they won’t be useable if something doesn’t happen soon, but she is stubborn as an ox. My father has told me that when she comes home from California this year, we are going to have to explain to her that if she cares about her late husbands tools, then it’s time they find a new home with me and continue their journey in woodworking.
    I have taken some smaller things she won’t notice, such as his plane ans hand saws, draw knifes and spoke shaves, and I have restored them to gleaming beauty, looking as though they were just bought yesterday. I will do the same to everything else later this summer, as I refuse to watch my grandfather’s legacy turn into a pile of rust.


  3. Tom
    May 7, 2011 at 2:25 pm

    This story brings back memories of receiving my inheritance from my father upon his passing. I received all of his woodworking tools and machinery. He received a heart transplant but never regained the ability to create any of his wonderful pieces.

    Having moved to the South Padre Island area the fresh sea air quickly deteriated even the chrome finish on his Craftsman box end wrenches. Sears replaced them and could not believe their condition; a soft pliable and useless tool. Fortunately the painted power tools withstood the harsh environment and the cast iron tops were pitted, but still salvageable.

    Back then, the only way I knew to get rid of the rust and to save the tops was to use naval jelly or “belly button jelly” as my father used to call it. This was a lengthy process and did not completely do the job properly. Hours of rubbing and buffing out rubbing compound finally removed the remaining rust. I finished with repeated, multiple coats of paste wax.

    Some of the internal parts had to be replaced that were not painted along with new belts and a few of the broken parts that Dad never got around to fixing. Today’s ways of caring for tools as suggested in the three-step approach in this article sure would have been a lot simplier and had taken a lot less time. The many hours spent restoring trhe tools brought back the memories of the time Dad and I spent working in his shop in the basement of his house. My son knew his grandfather as a very young boy, but through using Grandpa’s old tools his memory lives on. My son has become a very skilled woodworker as I have passed on to him what my father taught me; enjoy something that you both love together and those memories will last forever.

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