Temple Thorold on Quality in Tools

“Good tools are necessarily expensive, nevertheless our apprentices must use none but the best; for in the end they are the cheapest. Always remember the old and true saying, “A workman is known by his tools.”  A good workman may do a tolerable job with indifferent tools, but a beginner should never attempt to use any but first-class implements, or he will never become a first-class craftsman. If you use bad tools, and try to cast the blame of bad work on them, recollect that “A bad workman always complains of his tools.” A really clever mechanic cherishes his reputation far too highly to allow his tools to lapse into an inefficient condition; therefore, next to his character, the honest workman prides himself, and justly so, on the superior quality of his tools.”      -Temple Thorold, Out Workshop, 3.

Temple Thorold may not be a household name, but his book, Our Workshop: Being a Practical Guide to the Amateur in The Art of Carpentry and Joinery is the earliest (I think) woodworking manual written for or marketed to amateurs. Gary Roberts, publisher of Toolemera Press, who reprinted and sells this book, writes:  “Our Workshop is taken from Routledge’s Every Boy’s Annual where it was serialized, along with Thorold’s serial on wood turning. Only Our Workshop became a book. Both were serialized in 1866 and 1867.”  Keep in mind the earliest bookbinding manual I have found written for amateurs is Crane’s Bookbinding for Amateurs from 1885, over 20 years later.

Of course I have a vested interest in selling high quality tools, but Thorold makes several valid points.  Many getting into a craft fear they might not stick with it, so purchase cheap tools, thinking they might buy better ones later, once they are “good enough” for them.  Not only does this make learning the craft almost impossible, but cheap tools are almost worthless on the second-hand market. High quality ones maintain their value. Additionally, high quality tools are much more pleasureable to use: isn’t having fun a big reason why we choose a hobby in the first place?

2 thoughts on “Temple Thorold on Quality in Tools

  1. Kath Thomas

    Dear Jeff, nice post. Every Fathers’ Day I allocate a budget for the year to buy the tools I have been lusting after in memory of my father, who unfortunately is no longer with us, because that’s what he loved and that’s what I’d always buy him. I even remember what catalogue I used to use – Leitung. Now not in business either. But today, it would be Highland Woodworking instead. Thanks for the memories.

  2. Peter Verheyen

    TOTAL agreement on all counts. I always tell my students to buy the best tools they can barely afford at a minimum. This goes doubly for paring knives.

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