Collecting Antique Wrenches: Getting Started

Set goals, do your homework, and have fun are keys when collecting antique wrenches

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Don Lux says to start collecting antique wrenches, the beginner should set goals for which wrenches he or she wants. "I pick up only the stuff that has identification marks on it, because if you can't identify it, it's just taking up room." He hastens to add that he doesn't turn down antique wrenches that don't have identification marks on them, but they aren't a high priority.

Get Proper Information. Don says he used to think he had a couple of good books on wrenches until last Father's Day, when his wife and son gave him "The History of Old-Time Farm Implement Companies and the Wrenches They Used," by Pembrook Thom Rathbone. "That's a good book," he says. "It also has a price guide that tells what the wrenches have been bringing at auction. And it shows what the common people are paying for them." That could be an average of $7 or $8 per wrench, though many go for over a hundred dollars each.

Find Others Interested in Wrenches; attend antique shows to find people displaying wrenches; start (or join) a wrench club.

Learn to Clean Them. "Ninety-five percent of everything you buy has been laying around, and the paint has fallen off. Some have been in the ground, some laying in the corner of a machine shed for 40 years, and they're all rusty."

Lots of people think WD-40 would make a good cleaner, but Don says that isn't so. "I use an artificial spray, put the wrench aside for 15 minutes, and it just eats the rust away. You get a handful of rust in your hands."

Don uses P.B. Rust Buster penetrating catalyst to remove rust; his clear coat is Krylon Crystal Clear Acrylic Coating.

After removing the rust, he uses a moto-tool with a 3/4-inch wire brush to clean the wrench. But different wrenches are made of different metals, and each metal will react differently to a wire brush. "You get some cast iron where the wire brush will just eat the letters right away. Then again, some of them will just end up sticking out real good, with no harm come to them."

You can't tell how difficult a wrench will be to clean by its age or its look. "A few years ago, I bought a wrench out of the toolbox of an old Super C Farmall, and I think the farmer must never have cleaned out his toolbox under the seat. In the bottom of the dirt and everything was an IH wrench, and I thought, 'Boy, this is going to be a rusty one.' When they pulled it out of the box, I bought it for 75 cents, and that one cleaned up probably best of any wrench I've ever cleaned up."

Figure Out a Safe Way To Store Them. "I wrap mine up in soft blue cloth and put them in plastic toolboxes to keep them safe."

Have Fun. Often collectors begin taking their pursuit of pieces for their collection so seriously that the original reason they started the hobby is lost: it loses its luster, and is no longer fun. Instead, keep collecting as an option, as a choice, and as something that is fun to do. FC