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    Hi all,

    Sorry for the click-baity title. I didn’t know how else to phrase it.

    Have any of you ever had any concerns about the possibility of lead chemicals being used in our vintage tools? I’m a fervent post-workshop hand washer, but from the metals we use to the finishes on the handles, I’m concerned (likely unnecessarily so) that I’m exposing myself and my family to lead poisoning. We’ll be welcoming a little one in a couple of weeks, so Father Mode is kicking in big time — hence this post.

    I’ve been loving my adventures with woodworking this past 16 months, but this is the only thing that’s been gnawing at me about this new turn in my life. I can’t seem to find any insight online about vintage tools specifically, but maybe I should take that as a good sign.

    Any insight or reassurances would be much appreciated. Thanks!


    Check the instructions for a painter’s lead test swab or contact the manufacturer for suitability. If suitable, you can just buy some swabs at the hardware store and test. Oh, actually 3M mentions metal on their web page:

    The swab should come with a number of true positives / controls. After you do a test, if it comes out negative, you then swab the control. It must come up positive, otherwise either the swab is bad or the test was not done right.

    This isn’t going to answer the question of how much risk is involved.


    I don’t believe there is lead in the alloys used for the blades or the cast tools themselves. Most infant lead poisoning come from ingestion of old paint flakes (pre 1970’s in the US). The primary danger will be in old finishes.

    Advice from one father to another: don’t stress out. If you are more relaxed they will be too. Enjoy every minute of fatherhood. It is absolutely magical.


    I’m old enough to think, “eh, who cares?” If I haven’t been poisoned by now, I’m not living life hard enough. 😛

    But yeah, I understand, kids and all. I agree with the others here, and think it’s probably not something you should worry about too much. Just take proper precautions, and don’t let the little kiddies gum the tools and lick the finish.

    Mike Walsh

    Lead oxides were primarily used as pigments in paint.

    Your most likely exposure would be in old paints by ingestion, hand to mouth, or inhalation of dust from sanded surfaces. The japanning on an old plane would be the likely culprit.

    Some steels contain lead for improved machineability (tapping), this is usually only in high strength steels in .15% to .35%. This type of steel is not typically used in hand tools. It is found in watch movements. Lead is less galvanically active than iron and not likely to leach onto sweaty hands before the iron is exhausted from the alloy. The more galvanically active metal will give up its ions first.

    I would be more concerned with restoring any brass or bronze tools which may contain significant amounts of lead.


    I have done some stained glass in my life using both lead solder and lead came. My teachers at the time (a married couple) had been life long professional glass workers and were concerned about possible lead levels prior to beginning a family. They both had their lead levels checked and were told that they were insignificant. Point is that for all the handling of lead and exposure solder fumes a full time stained glass worker would have and not to have any significant lead buildup indicates that the possibility of a woodworker accumulating any is minuscule.


    Thanks for following up, everybody. I’ll look into the swabs but will also just chill out (I figure by the time Baby Girl comes around, I’ll be too tired to have a choice!) You’ve all put a future father’s mind at ease.

    Thanks again.

    • This reply was modified 1 year, 5 months ago by MParch.
    • This reply was modified 1 year, 5 months ago by MParch.


    I’ve had a look at the United States Dept of Labour OHS ‘Substance data sheet for occupational exposure to lead’. It seems that ingestion of lead through airbourne dust is their main concern. I would post a link to it, but it also has a list of the effects of lead poisoning that would not reduce anxiety.

    Unlike some other chemicals lead is not absorbed through the skin. Its only ingestion of flakes and breathing dust to worry about. I believe the Romans also had a tough time as they inadvertedly drank lead tea because their water pipes where all made of lead.

    Considering the DoL info, I would not be too concerned about the paint/japanning on my own tools, just cautious with stripping paint or loose paint surfaces. Obviously, toys or cots/cribs finished with a lead paint are a bad idea, as everything ends up in a childs mouth. But I doubt that you would have the same problem with your tools.



    “Romans… inadvertently drank lead tea..”
    Not only the Romans, we in Britain had lead water piping for many years. Now we even have lead-free solder on plumbing for potable water.

    I’d be more concerned to keep your tools out of reach because of their sharp blades and points.

    A pot of EvapoRust, Superglue, or Methylated Spirits are more-likely hazards than old lead paint on old tools.

    I can fully identify with your concerns though. Been there. As anxious new parents, we realised just how dangerous everything in the modern home can be.

    I’d suggest fitting a Baby-Gate on the entrance to your workshop.

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