The inherited toolbox

Two of my favourite tools when working on period buildings: the brace offers a level of control that’s difficult to achieve with a power drill

Looking around the workshop, I can see that my tool collection falls into three categories: firstly, new tools I’ve invested in; secondly, those gifted to me as presents from family and friends; and thirdly, tools that I’ve inherited from other woodworkers. For me, inherited tools hold a special significance, coming as they do from another craftsperson who’s appreciated and cared for them throughout a working lifetime.

A trace of character

Over time, tools reflect a maker’s nature and personality. The certain way they were held in the hand; how they’ve been honed or stored will inevitably leave a trace, or unique character that can be read by a fellow woodworker. These old tools remind us that they were just a chapter in the story of a beloved hand plane, saw or chisel. With any luck when we’ve locked the workshop door for the last time, our cherished tool collection will be handed on to another maker and continue to be used in the wonderful age-old art of crafting in wood.



Ashley Iles drawknife – this tool’s old quality steel holds a keen edge long after honing

A chest of memories

Many, many years ago, when I was just 15 and living at home, a new family moved into the house across the street. Along with the usual white goods and furniture being delivered, I was fascinated to see the plum red hull of a half-built wooden sail boat. I soon learned that this was our new neighbour, John, and his son’s build project.


Assorted carving chisels in canvas roll – inherited from one of the most gifted woodcarvers I’ve known. When using these, I feel challenged to work to his standards

I spent my summer first helping them with it, then sailing in the beautiful teak wood boat. John was an incredibly skilled woodworker and a generous teacher, who started me on the path to eventually becoming a professional cabinetmaker.


Box of small carving chisels, the wooden handles of which carry the patina of years of skilled use

Some time ago, I received the sad news that John had passed away. His widow asked me to drop by to collect a few items that he’d left for me. There in the corner of a now empty workshop was a wooden chest, which contained the collection of familiar hand tools we’d used to build the boat all those years past. Each time I reach for one of John’s chisels, or his No.7 Bailey plane, I’m reminded of his friendship, and how, in time, another woodworker will hopefully be honing a keen edge on the blade of this very same tool, ready to start a new project.


Record bull-nose and No.10 plane, both of which have been so well cared for; I only needed to hone the blades to my own preferences