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custard

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Why are we seeing so many great quality hand tools becoming available now when the number of professional hand tool users is at an all time low?

Has there been such a massive increase in hobbyist woodworkers since say the 1970's, or are those hobbyist woodworkers so much richer, or is something else driving the quality hand tool explosion?
 

Evergreen

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I suspect it's the general growth of the hobbyist market in the last 20 years, as you suggest.

Ever since the 2008 recession, domestic spending has been squeezed but many people are still able to enjoy hobbies, despite their cost. In fact, perhaps those hobbies become even more important as daily life seems to get a bit bleaker?
 

marcros

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The 70's started the drive for cheaper tools. If you look on another thread, a number of people are having a challenge to re-handle a chisel from about this time. The steel was still pretty good at that point, but plastics were becoming the norm for handles. Fast forward a few years, and the once great names had stripped the quality further.

Also, the amount of average household income has substantially increased since the 70's. Although house prices and other expenses have increased, both husband and wife tend to work full time. Back in the 70's, women (particularly) working part time, or as housewives was common.
 

RogerP

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The manufactures are exploiting the market with tools which, quite apart from their functionality, have been made to look pretty with shiny bits of brass, wood and steel specifically to attract the magpie in us. :) I imagine many tools are bought to look at and for bragging rights as much as to actually use. :)
 

clk230

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the internet has propably been a big reason aswell , its still a niche market but what would have been a small local or country specific maker can now sell world wide this goes for the smaller retailers aswell ,i would imagine WH would be struggling for business if it wasn't for the internet not just in sales but also in the awareness .
 

matthewwh

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I believe t'internet is indeed the big catalyst of change that has sparked it all off.

There is also the matter of feedback to consider - the internet has made it possible for us to get much clearer, more accurate feedback from customers, which we pass on to manufacturers, and 90% of them say 'sure, we can fix that in a heartbeat', and if they don't we find someone who will. The free flow of information has popped the ill-concieved bubble of 'make it cheaper and they'll buy more' and replaced it with 'make it right and they'll buy ours instead' - proper competition.

The whole concept of global resources comes into it as well. There is only so much steel, copper, brass etc to go around, so locking up precious tool steel in blades that haven't been hardened correctly is now as socially acceptable as a fart in a lift.

I just wish that the rest of society would catch up, the toolmaking industry, farmers markets and Steve Jobs have figured it out - if the rest of them did we would all be so much better off!
 

jimi43

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What you say Matthew makes perfect sense!

Your view was also beautifully put my friend!

When your business gets too big...get someone in to manage it and enter politics! I would vote for you! :mrgreen:

Jim
 

Pekka Huhta

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I think what Matthew says is very true, but there's just so much more in Internet than just the aspect of quality control.

If I think of it, I was not so much interested in tools themselves, but in everything you could make with the tools. And one thing leads to another: the learning curve for most woodworkers in current times is the same with small variations.

In scenario 1 you start with small, dirty and rusty tools from the local flea market. You learn, you clean them up and go on getting better quality used tools. You end up putting pictures of your renovated tools in the net so that the newbies could drool all over themselves and start dreaming about their own little finds from the junkyard. After a while you end up building tools, and as you build them for yourself, they are pretty and shiny and brilliant quality. Some people might try to copy you, but those who don't trust their skills will try to find factory-made tools that would be just as beautiful.

In scenario 2 you start with small factory made tools if you don't trust your skills in renovating them or just want to focus on woodwork. Many people who start this way jump to the scenario 1, but all in all the key is that you build, you collect better and better tools. And while you share your WIP photos, you tend to put the nicest tools in the picture (we all do that, don't we?). In the end it does not matter what kind of woodwork you present in the net, the tool is always there as well, and the followers are queuing at the toolshop door...


What makes woodwork so special then? I think that the popularity of woodworking leans on the fact it's so very easy to make a set of step-by-step WIP photos, make a short description and give people new ideas in the net. For example fishing is just as equipment-intensive hobby, but it makes no sense to take a dozen pictures of "this is me standing on the seaside with a stick in my hand" :)

Just a few ideas.

Pekka
 

woodbloke

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matthewwh":3ehn32xz said:
I believe t'internet is indeed the big catalyst of change that has sparked it all off.
T'interweb though, has only been around for roughly a decade (in any meaningful way) or so. LN I guess, started the ball rolling in the late 70's (if memory serves) but quite why the quality tools thing has taken off is a bit of a mystery to me at least...certainly in the last fifteen years or so, there's been an exponential rise in the availability of good tools and without a doubt, that's been aided and abetted by t'interweb. But before that? - Rob
 

heimlaga

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No way. In Finland it gets harder and harder to find decent tools. When the old ones wear out there is nothing to replace them.

Here in Finland we have a situation where a couple of wholesalers are controlling the market. This means in practise that nobody is importing nor making any decent tools. There is a demand but no small hardware stores can stand against three huge chains defending their monopoly. If you have a hardware store you are obliged to buy what your wholesaler sells and you are not allowed to deal with any other products.
 

Sawyer

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This is an interesting question. Whatever the answer, it's great to be able to obtain decent quality new tools again. Those of us that use them are the winners here.

Does anybody think that that the availability of top quality tools has in turn raised the general standard of woodwork being produced nowadays?
 

woodbloke

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Sawyer":gvx4am7p said:
Does anybody think that that the availability of top quality tools has in turn raised the general standard of woodwork being produced nowadays?
It's also a coincidence that Parnham House with Makepiece got going at the same time (during the 70's) and the undoubted spin-off in terms of new professional talent setting up in business and making top end stuff may also have contributed to the increasing availability of really good tools. Whether that's actually the case is difficult to say for certain, but my guess is that there's a link somewhere - Rob
 

Doug B

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Perhaps things have just gone full circle.

Decades ago you could buy good, well designed tools, the sixtes came, the throw away society began & quality in many things dropped as price & availability became more important, now the tools of decades ago are being copied & remade with modern technology & slight improvements but basically the same tools my grandfather knew.
 

Paul Chapman

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Well, in my view, the suits who were running businesses in the 1960s and 1970s didn't do their market research properly (that's if they did any market research at all). If you walked around woodworking shows at that time and spoke to the tool manufacturers they were all quoting the company line, which was that everyone was using power tools and nobody wanted hand tools. If you replied that you wanted to use decent hand tools they just shrugged their shoulders. How wrong they were.......

Cheers :wink:

Paul
 

Jacob

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Paul Chapman":icpr9ayv said:
... If you walked around woodworking shows at that time and spoke to the tool manufacturers they were all quoting the company line, which was that everyone was using power tools and nobody wanted hand tools. I....
It was true though. Hand tool use plummeted with the availability of power tools and will never recover to the same extent until electricity is no longer available. Demand reduced even more due to the resultant glut of top quality old tools available at little cost, which is still with us.
So there would be no market for new ones were it not for greatly increased wealth and increased time available for leisure activities.
Enter the gear freak! They are a feature of a lot of leisure activities - sport, music, outdoors. Gear is the thing - new golf clubs, better hi-fi, gortex/satnav for hill walkers and sailors, carbon fibre bikes, brass nobby planes etc etc. you name it it's all around us.
Come to think the new woodwork gear hasn't had much effect on woodwork quality, unlike some of the gear in other areas (modern outdoor gear is miraculous!). But woodwork tends to be aspirational rather than productive. A bit like music - a better banjo would be nice but wouldn't improve my playing much, if at all, unfortunately.
 

kirkpoore1

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The Internet makes it a lot easier for novices to find stuff. When I bought my first handplane back in the mid 80's, all that was available was a no-name POS in vaguely handplane shaped form. I was too ignorant to look for used stuff. Now, good handplane makers can be found easily, and they can supply enough product to be able to support a decent manufacturing effort, plus the R&D needed to bring out new tools.

It didn't hurt that some of the 60's counter-culture ideals soaked in and promoted small scale authenticity over large scale selling out.

Kirk
 

Vann

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kirkpoore1":f1hejk45 said:
The Internet makes it a lot easier for novices to find stuff.
And to find out stuff. When I begain to re-establish an interest in handtools in the mid-2000s I got a price from the local hardware store (yes we've still got a little unique, old-fashioned one in Petone) for a Record 05. After all, Record are a well-made British product. Thanks to sites such as this, I found out that Record planes are no longer quality made, nor British made.

Of course I've since spent several times that money on old planes to rehab, but also bought a few new ones - that I just would never have heard of without the internet.

Two favourites are my Veritas LAJ and my Clifton No.3. But favourite planes is another thread... :D

Cheers, Vann.
 

TobyB

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Vann is right - before the internet made it easy, I didn't know that the tools in my local shops and sheds weren't that good ... so I thought I couldn't use a plane because it was a cheap Stanley one from a shed. Then I learned about sharpening, proper steel, quality tools ... and found I could plane wonderfully with my big Clifton, and my little Stanley works OK now it has a flat sole, a replacement blade and cap iron. And I enjoyed it, made more stuff, learnt more (and, yes, bought more!). I might have found that out if I bought and read a lot of books, magazines, etc ... but that might have been a lot of investment so I'd have to be very keen and committed. Now it's a lot easier. It's a similar principle for the makers of the tools ... smaller manufacturers were collapsing as they were loosing their outlets to the chaiwanese stuff filling the sheds ... now they have outlets to get their kit recognised and sold ... and that means they can develop/add new stuff to their lines ... and so on ...
 

markturner

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Definitely the internet has been a major factor. It makes tracking down and buying these things so easy.

Jacob, the gear freak point - can only speak for myself, but I would much rather use, hold and generally enjoy something made beautifully of the finest materials in preference to a bit of mass produced nonsense. I have top quality chisels for my bench work and some cheap Narex ones for site work, and while they both do the same job, I know which lifts my heart more when I go to the drawer to pick it up. Does that make me a gear freak? Probably, I have tools that i have paid a lot of money for that I seldom use, but I like having them, collecting them and looking at them. And the time will come when I do use them.

How does the saying go? "Have nothing in your home which you know not to be useful or believe to be beautiful" - well that pretty much covers quality tools for me.

Cheers, Mark
 
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