Tools: The Final Disposition

As our first response below reiterates, last week’s editorial raised the question of woodworkers’ plans for the final disposition of their tools. – Editor

“’Where do your Tools go when you die?’ This is such an important question. I have been pondering this for a long time. I do have three to five sons who are interested in woodshop. Three have a start of a very nice shop. We do things together as often as time permits (it seems we are all vey busy with our families these days). I have been contemplating giving to one of my grandsons. I’m not sure at this time.” – Keith Kellenberger

It seems that several Woodworker’s Journal Weekly readers have found schools in their area for tool donations. – Editor

“Interesting article. I inherited some of my dad’s tools, as well as my grandfather’s that he had received. But my dad had a lot of grinders, gem cutting tools and machines, which I didn’t do. So we found a local Gem and Rock Club and donated some to them. We gave some of his other tools to a local high school shop class.  When I wound down a collaboration of automakers and closed their offices, lab and shop, we had a lot of tools, toolboxes and electronics that we gave to a vocational school. I will selectively pass some of my tools to my son and son-in-law, and maybe some of the grandkids, but for the most part, I will have them donated to schools or clubs.  I may even post a note for starters to pick up for free!” – Scott J. McCormick

“Having reached the point in my aging youth that eyesight, reflexes, and energy told me my big project days were now memories, I contacted my local high school and found they had an industrial engineering curriculum (once called woodshop, auto shop, etc). I contacted the instructor and asked if he needed any equipment. He said Yes, Yes Yes. It turns out most of the ‘projects’ built by the students were only seen on the computer screen. About 50 years of woodworking tools, auto repair tools, a half ton of wood, including exotics, and another half ton of hardware are now in the hands of budding young ‘engineers.’
I kept a tabletop band saw and tabletop drill press as the only ‘big tools’ (they are the first shop tools I ever bought) and a pegboard wall of hand tools.  I haven’t had to buy anything yet, but if I do I’ll do it in a New York minute.” – A. W.

Others mentioned Habitat for Humanity, the organization or the stores. – Editor

“A few years ago, I helped the wife of a deceased woodworking friend find a good home for his tools. I found the local Habitat For Humanity organization needed and really appreciated them.” – Philip Jennings

“I acquired my initial set of tools when my grandfather passed away when I was a young teen many years ago. When my time comes, I intend to offer my shop to my two boys. If neither of them is interested or able to take everything, there are two avenues here in this area I can turn to. One is the Habitat for Humanity ReStore, where the tools can be donated. ReStore sells them and uses the money for their home building projects. There is also a tool store in this area that accepts tool donations and uses the proceeds to benefit the local senior citizens services group.” – Rick Bird

“I’ve been taking my old tools to the Habitat store.” – G. Williams

Or a community woodshop. – Editor

“Three years ago, my wife and I moved to a retirement community here in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. It has a woodworking shop available for residents to use. We repair furniture and other household things for residents, and make things for sale in the community’s gift shop. I donated some of my power tools that would update what was here and old or out-of-date (two lathes and lathe tools, a band saw and a sander, plus various accessories). They gave me a receipt for a tax deduction. Others, not needed here, were donated to Habitat for Humanity’s local chapter, or our church’s camp. I kept a few things that I had room to store, that might be used on a work trip to church camp, for example, or minor household repairs. I also kept my chainsaw for harvesting wood (I am a woodturner). When I pass on to that great woodworking shop in the sky, my wife and daughters can decide which they need for minor household repairs.” – James Yarbrough

“I live in Australia. Over here, when someone dies and friends and family already have their own tools, or have picked over what they wanted, then, when there is anything left, it is donated to the ‘Men’s Shed.’ Most towns here, specially small ones, have government-sponsored club-like ‘sheds.’ [They are] usually old houses with sheds build on; sometimes lucky enough to get a big metal building. They do all sorts of things aside from woodworking. A very worthwhile enterprise: low joining fees and invaluable support and so many people helping each other learn new things!

“I’m not a member since I am female, but there are several now that will accept females. My husband was a member. He passed away four months ago…. have to admit I’m not getting rid of many tools. I like woodworking myself.” – J. Vyner

“If the Shed or its members can’t use them, there is a local annual event in February run by the Traditional Tools Group at which we set up a stall and sell all those tools to raise funds for the Shed, which is a totally self-funded operation.” – Phillip Hirshbein

Several readers mentioned the benefits of woodworking clubs or guilds when facing this situation. – Editor

“Good question few have thought through. I’m fortunate to be part of a fairly large and active woodworking group, Diablo Woodworkers. Generally, when one of our members passes along, at the family’s request, a sale of all the tools, lumber and odds and ends are organized by the group (either for the benefit of the family, or occasionally for the benefit of the group if that’s what was requested), getting fair prices and handling the details for family (they’ve got enough to deal with). I’ve made it clear to my family they can have whatever they wish, all else should go to our local group for the benefit of the group. Notes in my will call out who to contact to handle this for them, and my desire to make it a donation to the group.” – Mark Taylor

“I’ve willed my tools to my woodworking club. They will probably be sold, and the proceeds will go into the club treasury, to be used for future programs.” – Barry Saltsberg

“Most of my tools are from the dead or infirm.  Sounds ghoulish, but tools are not changing much and certainly outlive their owners. Most non-contractual woodworkers start at retirement, leaving themselves 25 years of tool use. Then the tools must be recycled, most often by a widow: ‘What can I do with all that crap?’ That is why most woodworkers belong to clubs and local guilds. One of the guild’s uheralded functions is to provide the social contacts for recycling assistance for the widow or the estate. A member comes with price assessments and, later, local customers who usually own trucks.” – Dr. Gerald Holmquist

“I have willed my tools to my son, who comes over to my shop to use them anyway (unless he already borrowed them and has them at his house.) I have told him that he is to keep what he wants and sell the rest. We are both happy with that arrangement. One of the turning clubs I belong to provides a service to deceased members’ families. At the request of the family, we will help the family price the tools to get ready for a sale or auction. By doing this, we hope to ease the burden on the family and insure that they get somewhere near market value for the tools.” – Ross I. Hirst

Of course, there can be complicating factors – both practical and emotional. – Editor

“Interesting question to raise. In my area, there are plenty of scavengers advertising in the local papers that they buy old tools — typically they offer well below actual value, shim out anything that has collection value, and dump to the rest on antique-hunting tourists or eBay. I think many woodworkers would be glad to know their tools were being passed along to someone who  would use them while remembering their  history — preferably family, but not necessarily. Or even if they could find a good school shop to donate them to. But the vultures tend to make everyone fear they’re being taken advantage of.

“And there’s also the problem that the relatives may not be emotionally ready to give up Dad’s tools even if they’re slowly rusting away. Dealt with a case of that myself: one kid was delighted with the idea of my storing the tools in exchange for being able to use them, the other just couldn’t cope and will probably resist moving them until the workshed collapses.

“The only partial answers I see are you make your will explicit about the tools just as you would other valuables, or start to dispose of them as soon as you’re fairly sure you won’t use them again so there’s less left at the end. Both require actually planning for the end, which most of us (sigh) tend to resist. And the latter goes against the hobbyist’s mindset that tools are trophies and can’t be casually given up even when they just consume storage space.

“The best suggestion I’ve got is to cultivate a beginner — or a makerspace — whom you can feel good about ‘lending’ the tools to (you can always borrow them back….), then put a clause in your will saying anyone who has borrowed tools from you can keep them or something like that. Encourages pruning the collection, supports the next generation of woodworkers, but doesn’t feel quite as final or morbid.” – Joe Kesselman

“Woodturners never die. They just turn in their graves. Seriously, this problem has gone unaddressed. The deceased woodworker probably assumes that the surviving spouse will find an eager woodworker to pay full market value. That’s a rare case. There are not many community workshops, especially in retirement communities. That would be a good area to start. Unfortunately, our litigious society squelches a lot of good ideas. Thanks for raising the question. Maybe we should all be thinking about that now, while we still can be part of the decision-making process.”  – Michael A. Grinney

“This scenario I have seen play out in many arenas. Twice, I have been called by widows not knowing what to do with their deceased husbands’ guns in one case and leatherworking tools in another. It’s hard to watch them reluctantly let a reminder of a loved one pass on to other hands. I expect my son, who has taken up woodworking, will want my tools. The issue will be if he has room for the power tools. He and my daughter will split my guns. I expect either one could take the leatherworking tools. The mechanical tools I use to fix my motorcycles will most likely go to whomever takes the bikes, if I still have them. If not, my son is more mechanically inclined. I suspect, however, that much will be sold or given away to others. I have found that their generation (they are 28 and 32) do not like to accumulate ‘stuff’ as people of my generation did. It’s really up to them to sort it out” – .Lee Ohmart

For many, of course, family members are the planned recipients of tools — some of which were originally received from other family members. – Editor

“I have given careful consideration to that subject. I have acquired many tools that were my dad’s, and some were even my grandfather’s. They have a special place for me in my little retirement shop, and I care for them for sentimental reasons. I didn’t get the chance to do any work with my grandfather, but I did with my dad. He acquired my grandfather’s tools and also bought many of his own in his lifetime. Both men are gone now. I still use many of their tools and appreciate the quality of the steel in those old hand planes, saws, chisels, screwdrivers, pliers, etc.  I also appreciate the wear, dirt and stains on the handles of each one.
“I have also purchased many many tools in my lifetime.  My two boys have used my tools many times growing up, and I have taken care to explain the origin of most with family value. Both my sons, and my stepson, use their own tools from time to time around their homes, even though all have professional careers. That makes me smile. They all are interested in my tools, and I would prefer them dispersed to get the most use when my time comes. I talk with each one when they join me in the shop, and I have a feel for what they would like to have. I want them to hold those stained handles in their hands years from now and hopefully remember.” – T. Newman

“I have arranged with a grandchild to take some. Space being an issue with younger families, I still hope they will grow into room to take what I have.” – Bobby Freeman

“I have often wondered what my grandfather will do with his woodworking tools.
He has his father’s brace and bit set and hasn’t used them ever from what I can tell. My grandfather has already said come and get this old band saw, and I’m delighted but I don’t have room in my shop yet for it. I don’t know what he wants to do with his tools as they should go to his sons and not me.” – John Hutton

Or, there’s the Viking funeral option (he’s kidding!) … Editor

“Rather than a burning ship launched to drift out of site in a fjord with my sword by my side, I am stacking all those short pieces of hardwood that all of us have into the center of my shop floor, surrounded by all the old cans of oil stain, lacquer, and all other assorted finishes I have left over and torch it off (door shut) with my humble remains on top of that pile of wood! My guess the tools and everything else will be a fine ash in no time at all! LOL!

“Seriously, it is something you should think about, I am fortunate that my son, son-in-law, nephews and grandson all seem to enjoy woodworking or DIY projects. I have tools that were my dad’s or father-in-law’s that were given to me when they passed. They are some of my favorite tools to use and, without sounding too pagan, I feel their presence and skill when I use them. My greatest hope, which I have conveyed to my relatives, is that if they can’t use [my tools], give them to someone deserving that can use them!” – Chuck Hooper

Finally, this reader sums up his thoughts that planning is the more important aspect of this situation. – Editor

“This has to be one of the best, thought-provoking editorials ever, or it’s Halloween and you are trying to scare the … out of us.

Thanks! (And why can’t it be both?) We now continue with this reader’s letter… – Editor

“Although I have given this some thought, and jokingly told my sister that she will curse me with what I will leave her, I don’t have a good answer for this topic. Everyone’s situation is different and unique. My situation is, I’m still a bachelor, have a 1,200 square foot shop with lots of power and hand tools. My closest family is 1,100 miles away. I have great woodworking friends that are older than me and they would love to have my shop tools, but they have no place to put and or use them. So, this is what I have done: I have a notebook that lists names and phone numbers of my trusted woodworking friends, that will help. Lists of the shop tools, power tools, hand tools and what or where they are to go to. The unwanted shop tools will go to my local tool/equipment dealer to be sold through them. I have also listed several local auction houses to be contacted for the bulk of the power tools and hand tools. There is a list of the ‘specialty’ or collector tools that are to go to an auction house that specializes in those tools. Of course, I am always hoping that someone in the family will want and use the tools. Some of the tools that I hope will get passed down were my dad’s, uncle’s and grandpa’s tools that I still use. But, given the distances involved, I don’t hold much hope for this. I have tried to make this as painless as possible for my sister, or niece and nephew, when the time comes.

“The most important part of this conversation to remember, is to write down what you want to have happen to your stuff. All too often the small stuff (tools, etc.) is sold or given away to the ‘vultures,’ because the person(s) left to cleaning up your mess doesn’t have the knowledge or the time to deal with it. The scariest reality, is the fact that most people will never understand the value of your tools and possessions. Remember, a lot of people think that $600.00 bucks for a cell phone is a necessity. The same people will think you are crazy for spending $300.00 on a hand plane or you are insane for spending $150.00 for a replacement iron and chip breaker.

“So, the bottom line is: make a list of the tools you have and write down what your wishes are for them. Do a little research while you have the time and are able. Find out if an organization can and will take your tools. All too often, the person or organization you will or give your stuff to, ends up getting rid of it.
The last thing I want to do for eternity is to be rolling over in my grave, because my prized Lie Nielsen plane was sold for $10.00, or someone is sharpening my Veritas chisels on the grinder. Remember, life is too short, and you never know when you will be doing the dirt dance.” – Joe Mazanec

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  • oldcardinal

    I have a plaque in my shop stating “My biggest fear is that my wife sells all my tools, for what I said I paid for them !!!!!