Hand Tool Preservation
Association of Australia Inc

Antique & Collectable Hand Tool Market

The next Antique & Collectable Hand Tool Market will be held on Sunday 27th October 2024 9am to 12:30pm.

St. Anthony's Parish Hall
164 Neerim Rd, Corner Neerim & Grange Rds, Caulfield East, VIC 3145 (Melway Ref. 68 F4).
Ample street parking or public transport: Frankston train, 600m from Glenhuntly Station
or # 67 tram from University, 310m walk from Glenhuntly Rd.

Sellers are HTPAA members only and members of the public are welcome.
Entry is $5 per person.

COVID-19 rules as applicable at the time will apply.


What Is A Hand Tool? (Part 4)


This article by Ken Turner from "The Tool Chest" of December 1993 (Volume 5, No. 4) is a further follow up to his previous article and the articles by Doug Mclver and Watson Cutter regarding "What Is A Hand Tool?"

I am writing following the thoughts expressed on this subject by Doug McIver, myself and Watson Cutter in recent issues of The Tool Chest.

Doug McIver's suggested definition has now evolved through debate in The Tool Chest to read:

"A hand tool is any portable device which increases the user's capacity to do work without drawing energy from any external force."

This is much the same in meaning as the definition I put forward, and in which I introduced the criterion portable. However, I must admit that the definition as it now reads above from Watson Cutter's article is concise and more to the point than the wording I suggested in my article.

However, I do not go along with the exclusions listed in Watson Cutter's article. Why would one exclude for instance a hand-operated sewing machine, for it fits the definition in that it is portable and does not draw energy from an external force? Why exclude the spinning wheel and the bow lathe, for these devices are also portable and draw no energy from external forces? I note that Watson also lists foot-powered grindstones as an exclusion. Perhaps most foot-powered sandstones are not what could be termed portable, but certainly there are several portable treadle carborundum wheel grinders shown in the 1914 McPherson's catalogue. If Watson Cutter has chosen to exclude the above examples because they employ wheels and gears, then perhaps the use of the following categories would be appropriate:

(a) A hand tool (refer Category A on the chart) is any portable device which excludes gears, wheels and cams but which still Increases the user's capacity to do work without drawing energy from an external force.

(b) A hand tool (refer Category B on the chart) is a device which qualifies neither as a hand tool Category A nor as a machine (Category C), i.e. a portable device which includes gears, wheels and cams such as geared hand drills, angular borers and hand sewing machines which may or may not rely on external forces for their operation.

(c) A machine is a non-portable device which generally incorporates moving parts and usually relies on external forces for its operation.

Hand Tools Hand Tools Machines
DEVICEA: Basic Portable Without Moving PartsB: Readily Portable With Moving PartsC: Not readily Portable With Or Without Moving Parts
Angular drillX
Anvil: smallX
Anvil: largeX
Bit BraceX
Blow LampX
Bow LatheX
Electric Bench PlaneX
Electric Bench Circular SawX
Electric Hand Circular SawX
Electric Hand DrillX
Foot or Power BandsawX
Foot Power Portable GrinderX
Geared Hand DrillX
Great Wheel LatheX
Hand Cranked Bench GrinderX
Hand PlaneX
Hand Sewing MachineX
Jeweler's Rolling MillX
Jeweler's Electric Hand EngraverX
Large Pedal Coping or Scroll SawX
Large (Heavy) Hand or Foot
Powered Grinder
Mortise & Tenon MachineX
Pole LatheX
Pump DrillX
Small Treadle Fret SawX
Spinning WheelX
Treadle Sewing MachineX

Included under category B are those and similar tools which Watson Cutter mentions in his article as borderline devices, which they certainly are. It seems that no matter from which angle one views this matter there are grey areas. Looking at the tools listed under categories A and B, both have one thing in common: they are portable.

However, some rely on foot or hand power and some on electrical power. We should not overlook electric powered tools for some early models are already collectable. In any case we need to look to the future when early electric powered hand tools will certainly attract greater attention.

The main criterion suggested so far in the definition of a hand tool is that it draws no energy from any external force. I am now wondering whether this criterion might be inappropriate, and whether perhaps the definition of a hand tool, by combining categories A and B should instead read as follows:

A hand tool is any portable device which increases the user's capacity to do work.

This definition covers both A and B categories, these being the tools in which the HTPAA is primarily interested. The words "without drawing energy from any external force" have been excluded so that the definition now accommodates electric powered hand tools and several borderline tools. In other words the inclusion of the word "portable" and exclusion of any reference to power source reduces the grey areas (borderline tools), and results in a definition which al lows greater flexibility.

As a rough rule of thumb guide, tools which can be readily picked up and used are hand tools, no matter how they are powered. This is not exactly an academic approach to the subject, but you will find this quite an effective method of segregating hand tools.

Tools which are not readily portable are in the main machines, and these generally have moving parts. However, there are exceptions such as the heavy blacksmith's anvil and swage block. There are, of course, various degrees of portability. A machine on wheels can be termed portable, but here it means a tool which can be readily picked up without strain by no more than one pair of hands.

Whilst I do not altogether agree with the views of Doug Mc!ver and Watson Cutter on the matter of what constitutes a hand tool, far be it from me to state that these gentlemen are wrong. My views are only an opinion as are theirs. There are sure to be many other different views we have not yet seen expressed in The Tool Chest. It matters not, really, how we choose to classify a hand tool. However, it does surely make sense that we all agree the world over on an appropriate definition of a hand tool so that when communicating with collectors here or on the other side of the world, we are as it were speaking the same language. With the universal use of computers and fax machines, it has become a matter of convenience and efficiency to have an international understanding of tool and machine classification in general, similar to the understanding and system shared now by libraries throughout the world. Whether we collectively classify a tool as a hand tool or a machine doesn't really matter a tinker's cuss. What matters is that we communicate about tools and machines in the world with a minimum of misunderstanding.


In closing, I draw your attention to the fact that some of the devices included in these illustrations are not listed in the chart. Using the categories in my chart, how would you describe these items?

Bit Brace

Bench Drill

Horizontal Drill

Electric Drill

Bench Grinder

Treadle Fret Saw

Geared Hand Drill

Leg Vice

Bench Hack Saw

Floor Cramp

Rope Machine

Rolling Mill

Angular Borer

Hand Sewing Machine

Sandstone Grinder

Treadle Sewing Machine

Paint Mill

Saw Set Pliers

Portable Forge


Swage Block

Treadle Grinder

Treadle Scroll Saw

Illustration Sources

McEwan's 1912 catalogue
McPherson's 1912 Farm Tool catalogue
McPherson's 1930 Woodworker's catalogue
Montgomery Ward & Co 1895 catalogue
John Danks 1912 catalogue
Intercolonial Boring Co. (Brisbane) 1939 catalogue
Baird & Tatlock 1906 catalogue
Shire Publicatlons Old Sewing Machines, by Carol Head
The Tool Chest Vol 5. No 6 Page 21 December, 1993

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What Is A Hand Tool? (Part 3)


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Tuesday, 25 June 2024

Next Antique & Collectable Hand Tool Market

The next Antique & Collectable Hand Tool Market is on Sunday 27th October 2024 9.00 am to 12.30 pm at St. Anthony's Parish Hall, 164 Neerim Rd, Corner Neerim & Grange Rds, Caulfield East, Melway Ref. 68 F4. For more information see the Tool Market page.