In the hill country west of Belfast, Maine, lies the village of Liberty, where for the past 40 years H.G. "Skip" Brack has been selling vintage tools. His store, Liberty Tool Co., is in a three-story building that in earlier times served as a rooming house, general store, and dance hall. It now houses hand tools of every kind: wood planes, chisels, slicks, adzes, Yankee screwdrivers, saws, boring devices, anvils, hammers, wrenches, caulking irons, mallets, and much more. Visitors who come into the store hoping to repair, say, a 100-year-old tool are bound to come across the part they need in one of the countless drawers and bins. Edge tools – "hard to find, easy to sell" – are especially hot right now, Brack says.
Brack's business philosophy is all about celebrating the history, craft, and use of the hand tool. Thus, prices are set to put tools in the hands of people who will use them for work – not for interior decoration. Highly collectible pieces nest beside handyman specials; very few tools live in glass cases. Most can be handled, sighted for straightness, checked for wear. Want to know how that old Millers Falls 67 block plane compares with the Stanley 203? Go ahead, give it a try. How about that 1940 vintage Stanley 54 spoke shave with the adjustable throat? Take it out for a spin. Need a handle for that chisel (or a chisel for that handle)? Check the bins.
Liberty Tool's customers include cabinetmakers, post and beam framers, boatbuilders, machinists, blacksmiths, farmers, farriers, and the like. All of them come in looking for the tools of their trades, and the vast majority walk away satisfied. It's no surprise that, after four decades, the establishment has become a regional attraction. But the attention hasn't gone to Brack's head. "It's just a store for people who love to use tools," he says.
Greg Rossel is a boatbuilder and writer in Troy, Maine.