Popular Woodworking 2005-06 № 148, страница 60

Popular Woodworking 2005-06 № 148, страница 60

Here you can see saw handles being prepared for finishing at Lie-Nielsen's satellite factory. Though produced by modern methods, the handles are decidedly inspired by 19th century designs.

And the plane exists in a virtual environment on the company's servers as well.

Lee and a tool designer show off the plane's features and demonstrate how they tweak a tool's design in the computer to improve its balance and look. The Veri-tas bullnose plane looks like what you'd expect when you hold a bullnose plane, to be sure. But its DNA is impossible to trace to one historical example. The tool looks modern, and it has features never before seen on a bullnose - such as set screws that tweak the blade left and right. And it feels different in the hand thanks to holes and finger depressions in the body.

"Function is first," Lee says. "We're trying not to design from plane numbers, No. 1 and No. 2 and so on. Plus, people have changed. We're a lot bigger. There have been changes in nutrition and lifestyle. Muscle development has changed. We do less physical work. Our grips have changed. We have fewer callouses."

During the last two decades, these two toolmakers - Lie-Nielsen and Lee Valley - have transformed the way that thousands of woodworkers flatten and shape wood. Both companies have devoted enormous energy to do something almost unheard of: Produce high-quality hand tools in

North America. While the planes cost more than many hand-held power tools, both brands have thousands of users who enthusiastically spread the word that well-made hand tools are worth the expense.

Both companies have succeeded while corporations, such as Stanley and Record, have abandoned efforts to make quality hand tools in the United States and England. In fact, demand is so strong that both Lee Valley Tools

and Lie-Nielsen Toolworks struggle at times to keep up with their customer's orders.

And while these two tool-making companies share many similar goals, the way they design their tools is different. For those woodworkers looking to purchase a premium plane, many agonize about which brand to get. They debate the differences in nauseating detail on the Internet. They call woodworking magazine editors for opinions. And ultimately, some end up buying hand planes from both companies.

The brands are indeed different - not only to look at but in use as well. And the differences can be traced to the passionate personalities behind each company.

The Self-taught Plane Maker

Thomas Lie-Nielsen doesn't have a traditional office. In a back room of his factory there's a large open space with worktables, a workbench that the company is developing for sale and sweeping views of the Maine landscape. The

"I don't do CAD. What works for me is to see things in real life. I can't sit at a computer, draw something up and be happy with it." — Thomas Lie-Nielsen

shelves on the back wall are filled with tools his company made, plus antiques that are being studied.

Lie-Nielsen shares this room with other long-time employees, and he sets up his laptop computer on a worktable to answer e-mail, phone calls and questions from employees. Today Lie-Nielsen examines a bit for a metal milling machine that's bored with tiny hole s to carry lubricant to the cutting edge. Lie-Nielsen and Joe Butler, vice president of the company, debate the merits of the tooling and Lie-Nielsen asks how much the bits cost. Butler tells him.

"And you think my tools are expensive ?" Lie-Nielsen says with a laugh.

Surprisingly, Lie-Nielsen isn't a formally trained machinist or engineer, but he probably would be welcomed into any factory. Since establishing Lie-Nielsen Toolworks in 1987 in a decrepit woodshed, Lie-Nielsen has become personally accomplished at casting bronze, heat-treating steel and machining tools.

He was born in 1954 as the son of a Maine boatbuilder and grew up surrounded by craftsmen who built wooden boats with hand tools. His father's business, Lee's Boatshop, also had a machine shop and would cast the lead keels for its boats on the beach.

Veritas No. 6 fore planes after the frogs have been machined. Unlike a traditional No. 6, the Veritas has its mouth located further back than the Stanley versions.

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Popular Woodworking June 2005

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