The idea of an association of tool collectors was first floated in 1982 when a meeting was held at The Stanley Works in Nunawading at the instigation of Bill Moss, the Manager of Educational Services at Stanley Tools. Further discussion and planning followed and the first formal meeting of the Hand Tool Preservation Association of Australia was held on the 29th of November 1983. Initial membership was 13. Present membership has just topped 400 - approximately 300 of whom are Victorians and the remaining 100 are from other states and territories or from overseas.
The aims of the Association are to encourage the preservation and documentation of hand tools, to increase knowledge of their use and of the trades and crafts that used them, and to share this knowledge and co-operate with other individuals and organisations with similar interests. Membership of the Association has always been very mixed. There are people from a variety of trades and crafts, whose predominate interest is the acquisition and use of quality tools and there are a wide variety of people from less practical backgrounds to whom the appeal of collecting tools has arisen from family connections, historical interest or simply an aesthetic appeal. A common story is the inheritance of a father's or grandfather's tool chest that triggered the interest.
From its earliest days a major activity of the HTPAA has been to co-operate with the National Trust to restore, catalogue and display the tools of The Thomas Caine Tool Collection, an extensive, superb collection left to the National Trust (Vic.) in 1968 by a Melbourne tradesman and collector. The HTPAA has also developed its own collections of tools with particular emphasis on Australian made tools and ephemera relating to tool manufacture and sale.
Over the years it has assembled a reference library of around 350 related texts and over 300 tool catalogues. As part of its close working relationship with the National Trust and in light of its avowed aim to increase knowledge about the manufacture and use of hand tools, the Association frequently mounts displays of tools from the Thomas Caine Tool Collection, from its own collections and from member's private collections. Members often demonstrate the use of these early tools and foot-powered woodworking machines. These displays have been set up in museums, community libraries and other public places. The organisation has also displayed and demonstrated at many Working With Wood Shows held in Melbourne.
The Association holds six General Meetings per year, usually addressed by an invited guest speaker with expertise in a particular related field. In recent years, subjects have included surveying instruments, early pedal machines, types of axes, the repair of clocks, Aboriginal tools, miniature carving and vintage aircraft restoration.
Three tool sales per year allow for members to acquire new additions to their collections, while others are able to sell off unwanted items. Approximately 50 heaped tables of tools, from rough $1 chisels to $2,000 Stanley #1 smoothers, ensure that everybody's needs are met. The Saturday evening of each sale is for members only, while the Sunday is open to the general public. Overall attendance at these regular sales averages several hundred. Since its inception in 1998, a Biennial Conference has ensured that the Association continues to undertake in depth research and the spread of knowledge about all aspects of tool use.