When should Antique tools be restored?
In my experience this all depends on condition and what the intention of refurbishment is for. If you have an old tool there are two factors that need to be considered, firstly you need to identify the rarity and historical importance. Some antique tools are simply beyond the realms of use due to their scarcity & value or because their fragility that renders them beyond use.
Some antique tools need saving and some work may be required to make them whole again, no collector really likes battered up remnants of a tool and would value them accordingly. The purist collector will want a good tool in good condition with little or no restoration and any restoration which should be stated when selling the item.
Most antique tools will have been maintained by the owner throughout its working life, rarely will you find near mint unused antique tools, often these tools would have been sold via a used tool dealer in the past and cleaned up for sale. Re-patination will occur in time with use or handling so it’s really hard to establish those that have had no restoration.
Near mint antique and vintage tools do achieve premium prices over those that have been refurbished however many refurbished planes sold here are usually more accurate than those in their original state.
Restoring an antique tool?
I’d always ask the question of does it need to be restored? Making it shiny for the sake of it does not add anything to a tool however there may be a case when it’s needed to rectify defects or to replace any unoriginal parts. Ideally this should be undertaken with competence as poor restoration devalues any tool, especially if it renders it unusable. Good restoration takes time and as much originality as possible should be retained.
Norris planes, these should be retained as original as possible because these can be valuable however a poor one may require treatment. Post war Norris planes however offer the user more value than it does to a collector and thus why we would refurbish these for use if needed. Some Spiers, Mathieson and unnamed infill planes again would have more value to users so again this is where we would refurbish for use. Rare examples would be left alone if possible and only minor restoration work would be applied as a last resort.
Some old tools still have more user value than collector value.
Some styles and makes of tools are simply to good to retire, there manufacture and steel is superior and these same tools are poorly replicated today. They offer extremely good value to the best makers today and often are better tools but because of their lack of desirability to collectors these are what generally get restored for use.
Whatever your view on restoration it’s quite simply a personal choice, to my mind i’m more interested in a tools ability to function and how it has been looked after before considering its aesthetics. Regarding aesthetics some tools were made to be both functional and pretty for instance an ornate Mathieson level or a Preston spokeshave neither of which look half as desirable when they look grungy.
What about Patina?
As far as i’m concerned this has no place on a functioning user tool, dirty oily tools and clean hands working on clean materials is impractical. This highlights the fact the tool has seen little maintenance and although often usable these will not work quite like a crisp well maintained tool and will work less efficiently. I understand many people like patina but patina can easily be replicated and is therefore not a genuine way to identify originality so why get hung up on this factor?