The City Magazine Since 1975

Tool Man

July 2017
Tool Man
PHOTOGRAPHER: 

David Hoffman has collected thousands of antique tools while helping to save some of the Holy City’s most significant buildings

Thank goodness for 9 East Battery. Back in 1979, a job on that grand abode brought David Hoffman of Edgewood Builders to Charleston from New York, and the master craftsman has been preserving, restoring, and remodeling historic churches (like Central Baptist) and residences (including museum houses such as Drayton Hall) ever since. In the process, he’s amassed 10,000 antique tools—from giant pit saws to ornate plumb bobs. Read on for a peek into his storied career.

CM: You’ve been working in Charleston for 38 years. Any favorite clients?
DH:
People who are serious students of their own houses. One woman I work for has taken the initiative to do paint and metals research and to source wallpaper samples from museum collections. Now she’s even doing genealogical research about the builder’s family’s French connections.

CM: What are some surprises you’ve found inside houses?
DH:
A last will and testament nailed between the studs inside of a wall. A century-old stock portfolio detailing investments in a sea island tomato farm. Slave tags. Ticket stubs for steamboat rides squirreled away in the rafters.

CM: Why did you start collecting antique tools?
DH:
I stumbled upon some old wooden planes at a cabinet shop, and they intrigued me. I wanted to learn more about how things were made before electricity. Our historical buildings are not insignificant—the mouldings, plasterwork, brickwork, all were done by hand. It’s ingenious what our predecessors achieved without air tools or compound saws or lasers.

CM: Do you have future plans for your tool collection?
DH:
I always joke that my two daughters have my tool dealers on speed dial, and one day when I fall off a roof, the collection will go poof! Whoever ends up with the tools will face a steep learning curve, as I did. You have to figure out how to operate them, tune them, sharpen them.

CM: How do you spend weekends?
DH:
On projects at our 1840s house downtown and 1820s house near St. Stephen. We purchased both because they were “pure”—they came with all the original fixtures, mantels, doors, floors, and hardware.

Grew up: On a Hudson Valley farm
Lives: Downtown with wife (and business partner) Scottie, collie Zoe, and mutt Huck
Current projects of note: The Heyward and George Matthews houses on Church, Lawrence Edmondston House on Warren, and Edward Blake House on Legare
Favorite restoration job: The Joseph Manigault House’s cantilever staircase; “We stripped it down to its carcass to rebuild it, and it was one of the most impeccable pieces of casework I’ve ever seen.”

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