Popular Woodworking 2005-06 № 148, страница 61
Both Lie-Nielsen and Lee Valley use ductile iron for their plane bodies. This material is nearly unbreakable and stable. Here Lie-Nielsen shows off one of the castings that has been brutalized to show how it won't crack.
Lie-Nielsen enjoyed making things and considered becoming a boat builder; he recalls a visit to a yacht de signer during high school as a pivotal career moment. When Lie-Nielsen asked the designer for advice about boat building, the designer handed over a set of old plans for a boat.
"He said: 'Here, take these. Everything you need to learn is right there. You don't need to go to school,'" Lie-Nielsen says.
Lie-Nielsen went to Hamilton College and studied English and history. After school he ended up in New York City while his wife attended graduate school there. An ad for the Garrett Wade woodworking catalog in Wooden Boat magazine caught his eye, and he landed a job with the Manhattan mail-order company run by Garry Chinn. There he had a front-row seat as Stanley and Record discontinued their specialty planes and allowed the quality to slip on their bench and block planes. He heard customers complain.
There were some cottage tool-makers making a few of these desirable tools, but they were a drop in the bucket. One of these toolmak-ers, Ken Wisner, made a version of the Stanley No. 95 edge-trimming plane and sold them through Garrett Wade. Lie-Nielsen heard that Wisner was looking to get out of
the business. At the same time, Lie-Nielsen was looking to return to Maine. He worked out a deal with Wisner, bought a run-down farm in Maine and began making tools in the woodshed when he wasn't growing food, or tending the sheep and milk cows.
He developed the patterns for the skew block plane he now sells, and built a new shed on his property. A friend who ran an art foundry would cast the bronze, and Lie-Nielsen started investing in machines and tooling.
Customers and the woodworking press began to take notice. When David Sloan from Fine Woodworking magazine called Lie-Nielsen for the first time, he was picking blueberries on his land. Since then, it has been a story of almost-constant expansion.
Lie-Nielsen got divorced, sold the farm and moved the business into the building he now occupies - which was once an icehouse and later a factory that built one-man submarines. He struggled to find foundries that would handle his small volume and demands for quality. Until he found the right foundry, he cast the bronze tools himself. It was the same story with the blades for his tools.
As his volume increased, he found the right foundry and the right people in the steel and heat-
treating industry to provide him with cast bronze and ductile-iron tool bodies and quality irons.
The company has outgrown its building several times and construction seems constant. During this visit in early 2004, Lie-Nielsen is juggling his warehouse and new chisel-making operation and he's about to break ground on a 7,500-square-foot expansion. He's even had to acquire a factory in a nearby town for his saw-making, handle-making and his patternmaker. He now employs almost 70 people.
Lunch today is at his laptop with some fellow employees - the debate is pizza or hamburgers. The work is constant and every year seems to be a pivotal one. After building up his line of hard-to-find specialty planes, Lie-Nielsen then took a gamble by building bench and block planes, which competed directly with mass-produced Stanley and Record planes. Lie-Nielsen planes can cost five times as much as a new Stanley plane, but people
continue to buy them.
"There was some price-resistance at first," he says. "But we proved that quality sells. I price the tools so I can make money but people can afford them."
And some of his tools have changed the way people work wood. His low-angle jack plane launched a revolution in the hand-tool world and people began embracing larger tools that cut with the iron's bevel facing up. He now offers chisels that have raised the bar among Western tools, and he struggles to keep up with demand, despite dozens of competitors that make chisels. Next up is workbenches. And then?
"We want to offer as complete a kit as possible for the hand-tool woodworker," he says. "Future planes will obviously be more specialized now that we have the full range of bench planes: compass plane, spokeshaves, panel saws, veneer saws. My list is longer than it has ever been."
A Veritas employee checks the machining on a plane's frog. Most home woodworkers don't have the correct instruments to measure tolerances or the skills to correct them. If you think your premium plane isn't right, contact the manufacturer before fixing it yourself. You could make it worse.