Examples where old or antique tools work better than their modern counterparts

I just finished building a rec room in the basement. There were countless instances when I had to drill a pilot hole (a.k.a. “thread hole”) for a wood screw. In most of those cases, I did not want the hole to go all the way through the wood. So I marked the required depth on the drill bit with a piece of masking tape. This told me when to stop.

The biggest problem was controlling the drill. I had to be very careful not to push too hard, else the drill bit would go all the way through the wood. :frowning: This happened quite a few times, unfortunately.

So I found an easy solution: do not use a power drill to drill thread holes for wood screws! Instead, use an old-fashion had drill like this.

A hand drill is very light, and the rotational speed is slow enough to allow precise control of drill bit depth. :cool: Very simple, very eloquent.

After I started using the hand drill, I never accidently drilled all the way through the wood.

Old Stanley planes are frequently better then their modern counterparts. Same goes for good Japanese chisels.

Yes and no. A vintage Stanley is better than a modern Stanley, but it’s not better than a modern Lie-Nielsen. It’s probably fair to say that mid-range tools were probably better generations ago, but that high-end manufacturers today make tools that are as good as any ever made. You’ll pay dearly, of course. Where I think 19th-century tools are superior is in ergonomics, particularly for handsaws and certain planes. But I think 20th-century steel is better and more consistent because of advances in metallurgy. I like my 19th- and early 20th-century planes and saws, in other words, but for chisels, I’m happy with my turn-of-the-millennium Swedish chisels with plastic handles.

When I get my own place with a yard to maintain, I plan to get an old-fashioned push-powered mower. Getting a little exercise is a small price to pay for never having to worry about refilling the gas or keeping the engine running or keeping the extension cord out of the way of getting run over. Plus, of course, they’re significantly cheaper.

Make a bet with you. You’ll replace that push mower after about three lawn mowings.

I come from the era before power mowers, and those push thingys were bloody hard work. Dad would never buy a power mower for some years after they came out - why would he, I was providing the push. Well, in 1952 the Army called, and I went off to Korea. When returning home after some eighteen months, I found that Dad had bought not one, but two of the newfangled power mowers.

Another thing. If your push mower is the slightest bit out of adjustment, it will look like you mowed the yard with a hacksaw. And trying to fix the adjustment often results in a reel that is so tight against the cutting blade that no amount of push will make it turn.

Hated the horrible things. Designed by Satan himself.

I have had mine for two seasons and cannot agree more. The only reason I have not replaced it before is that I am stubborn as hell. Common sense is beating stubbornness this spring.

I can only assume you’ve never used one. :wink:

current reel mowers are quite a bit better than the ones that existed half a century ago even when new.


Had a push mower for years. If you keep it in shape, it’s great. If you abuse it, you’ll regret it. The only reason I got a power mower was because my boss was moving, and he dumped a bunch of tools on me.

I have those hand-powered eggbeater-style drills at school for my preschoolers to use. They can be hard to find – the Home Depot guy seemed to think it was a strange thing to ask for. So my example of where old tools work better is when the user is a small child. Another one is tape players. The four year olds can learn to operate the tape player to listen to books on tape. I can copy the tapes ahead of time for when they get accidentally destroyed. Not only would they scratch up CDs, but I think it’s good for young kids to use mechanical things where they can see how the moving parts work rather than push some magical button and get a result (or not).

Fishing. I think the current rod/reel designs have been used for ~50-100 years, and bamboo poles could predate written history. Crustacean traps are probably very, very old too.

I know a lot of people still use VCR’s to tape shows.

Push mowers. I had to use one when I was a kid (early-'70s). The power mower dad bought from Sears was much better. However, I did buy a reel mower several years ago. I’ve used it once. It pushes quite well, and is not tiring at all. Only, I tend to be a little (OK, a lot) lax about yard work. The reel mower just knocks over the dandelion stalks, instead of cutting them. If I could drag me arse out to mow the lawn once a week during the Spring and Summer, the reel mower would be fine. But with my procrastination, the power mower is better. (Or else call Filipe to bring his crew out and let them do the work while I telecommute.)

I’m going to also say, for me, sewing by hand with a needle and thread rather than using a machine. I’m sure if I had to make all my own clothes I would think differently, but when I sew it is a hobby, for my own amusement. I’d rather sew by hand in the living room while chatting with my family than sit in a room alone operating a noisy machine. And I much prefer the “warmth” of hand stitching to the machine’s identical stitches.

Just because someone uses something doesn’t mean it’s better than modern equipment.

I had a hard time with it when I was about ten, but even then, I was able to do it. For a grown man, I can’t see any reason it wouldn’t be just fine.

The push mower is probably also preferred by nests of baby rabbits, fast-running puppies, and birds with injured wings.

I have had my push mower for nearly ten years now - I don’t have a lot of grass, I need the exercise, it is not terribly noisy or smelly and I don’t need to worry about petrol or sparkplugs. When it stops working i can fix it. I love my push mower but then again I don’t have to mow a large area.

Had one with first house. Could not afford to buy one. Large front yard. If I ever missed a week it was really hard work the following week and the front looked all chopped up.

When we moved I got a used power mower and never misssed the push mower.

The materials have changed though. Fiberglass replaced bamboo and now graphite is the king for fishing rods. Graphite is leagues better than bamboo or even fiberglass.

Reels are a lot better too. The gearing on the reels is a lot smoother and provides more torque. Reels are also lighter and stronger.

There are two new types of fishing lines on the market too. Spectra, a braided fishing line, is 40% thinner than monofilament. Fluorocarbon fishing lines have the same light refraction index as water and are harder to see underwater than monofilimant.

I don’t think there’s a case where an older tool is better than a modern one strictly based on the time of manufacturing. But not all changes in design are beneficial for general use either. If it was good design back then, it’s still being made, or an improved version is. I’m sure you can find an inferior modern version of many tools. It may be harder to find the old inferior tools because they would have been thrown away, but I’m sure they existed.

My gear drill broke a while back, and I still miss it. It was much easier to mount tiny bits and put a quick hole in a circuit board than it is now with a dremel tool. But I have no problem drilling holes in wood with an electric drill, it just takes some practice.

Og says new pointy stick not good like old club Og’s dad used.