A Trip to Liberty Tool Company

The thermometer read 1F when I started the car before dawn, and the wind had been rattling the house all night. These minor details didn’t matter one bit, however, as today was the annual Grand Re-Opening of the Liberty Tool Company in Liberty, Maine. Tool pilgrims from all over flock to this place for its reliably well-stocked supply of hand tools, from the common to the esoteric. And every year, after a long winter’s slumber and limited hours, the store re-opens with all-new inventory of picked and reasonably-priced antique goodies. Incredibly, neither Joshua nor I had ever ventured down for this event, but today would change that. Each of us roused our respective eldest boys out of bed (this is a rite-of-passage, after all) and we rendezvoused at a central location to make the drive together just as the sky was getting brighter.

We arrived over an hour before opening, and there were already cars and trucks lining both sides of the road. The system is very simple – there is a clipboard on the door. Arrive early. Write your name down. You get a number. At 8 o’clock, everyone enters in the order that they’ve signed up. However, we were there to document the event, so all we had to do was track down proprietor Skip Brack (who is featured in M&T Issue Two) to let us in. The power of “press credentials”, right?

We strolled the eerily quiet store for a few minutes, nearly overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of… well, just about everything. Hewing axes, cooper’s adzes, dividers, scythes, anvils, auger bits, swords (the boys practically begged to bring home a sword apiece), ceremonial spears (wait, maybe a sword AND a spear!) – you name it, and it could probably be found tucked back in some shelf or drawer. I had my eye on an old French pattern axe, but it wouldn’t have been fair game to grab something before the rightful first customers came through. Gotta play by the rules.

The boys and I moved back to a warm corner, near the big woodstove, where we’d set up a display of Mortise & Tenon Magazine Issues One and Two. Joshua had been busy taking video and photos of the gathering crowd outside. Suddenly, it was time! The doors opened, and in an orderly but very rapid manner the place was packed. Carhartts and wool flannel everywhere, beards and game faces. These folks were on a mission. I was surprised by just how quiet everyone was – the sound of shuffling boots and clinking tools and inaudible mutterings as an item was handled, evaluated, and either tucked into a bag or placed back for the next customer. Men and women began lugging armloads through the aisles. The excitement was thick, and smiles were big. We heard that some folks make the trip from states away to be there for this event – that doesn’t surprise me a bit.

We headed out after many in the initial crowd had made their purchases. It was still hard to move around in there, though! My French axe was gone, no doubt to a happy home, and the shelves were looking just a bit less overloaded. Despite the bitter cold, another Liberty Tool reopening came off as a success – and hopefully, many of those tools that found new owners will be receiving a good honing and tune-up this weekend!

~Mike Updegraff


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