Fred West Tool Auction

A Wayne Anderson miter plane commissioned by Fred West. Blackwood, damascus steel finish, marked and dated 2011, 11″

Fred West was a modern-day Medici when it came to hand tools – a true patron of the fine arts, and a driving force behind the hand-tool renaissance of the last two decades. If you were into hand tools before 2014 and attended any woodworking shows, you likely knew Fred – or at least heard him exclaiming over the inherent beauty of a fine tool, or talking about tools with his legion of friends. And if you were a maker of fine hand tools, well, you likely had Fred to thank for helping to keep you in business.

Fred loved using good tools – but he also loved supporting their makers and other users. He’d often buy multiples of new tools (and sometimes commission custom designs), then send them anonymously to woodworkers – mostly to those who couldn’t otherwise afford them – who he thought would appreciate working with them. His only request was that the tools be used.

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William Marples Ultimatum Framed Brace, ebony wood and brass, marked, Sheffield, England.

I have two things that remind me of Fred every time I pick them up: a Vesper Tools sliding bevel (which he insisted I accept despite my vehement protestations – I’m terrible at accepting kindnesses), and the Deborah Harkness book “Shadow of Night” – he sent me his copy as soon as he’d finished reading it. (I might have liked talking popular fiction with Fred even more than discussing tools!)

Fred was one of the most gregarious and relentlessly positive people I’ve ever had the good fortune to know. Even when struggling with multiple health problems, he’d travel to hand tool conferences and events to talk tools and support toolmakers, and to hang out with his many friends. I feel lucky to have counted myself among them.

Japanese chisel/nomi 15 piece set, wood handles, marked and labeled, some wear, original box.

But what I didn’t quite realize was the sheer number of tools (both old and new) that Fred acquired in his all-too-short lifetime as a tool user and collector. A few weeks ago, I spoke with Susan, Fred’s former wife and mother of his daughter Eleanor, who has helped to organize an auction of Fred’s large collection. The family, she said, has realized it is time to let some things go, and to honor Fred’s work of getting tools into the hands of those who will use them. I got a preview of the auction catalog as it was in progress, and while I knew Fred bought a lot of tools, well…it turns out I had no idea quite how vast and diverse his collection was. I’m pretty sure there’s something in the collection for just about everyone – as Fred would have wished.

You can see the catalog for Day 1, November 8, here, and place bids online until the morning of November 8. From Alderfer Auction: “Auction is open for pre-bidding until Tuesday, November 8th at 10:00 AM, at which time pre-bidding will cease and the auction will go live online only at the auction center. When the auction goes live, lots will be sold one at a time, in numerical order, by a live auctioneer who will be taking bids from multiple online bidding platforms, absentee and phone bids. During pre-bidding you are able to submit a max (maximum) bid. The bidding platform or our auction staff will bid on your behalf up to the maximum bid that you have entered. Once the auction goes live if you wish to increase your bid you will have to wait until that lot opens for bidding and enter any additional bids manually.”

For more on how the auction works, and to register to bid, visit the Alderfer Auction site.

The catalog for Day 2 will be posted late this week or early next. We’ll announce it here, but you might also want to keep at eye on the site. I got a look at just some of what will be in the second catalog; you won’t want to miss it.

For questions about the auction, please email [email protected].

Holtey No. 10 mitre plane, Zitan wood, 5″ sole, steel infill base, brass, some oxidation on brass, marked.


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