As woodworkers, it is said that we now have more access to high-quality hand tools than we’ve had in nearly a century. With the advent of the internet, we now have something that was at one time unheard of: access to small makers who once dealt only regionally. High Quality full line makers include Veritas, Lie Nielsen, and Stanley to a lesser extent. Of course there are dozens of others: Clifton, Emmerich, Gramercy, and a growing list of smaller, “Boutique” makers. It is the smaller makers I would like to discuss, briefly.
For fear of angering somebody, I won’t list any of the smaller makers by name because in most cases the name of the company is also the name of the maker. While I don’t really own any tools from the small makers, I’m going to take it on good faith that they are all of high-quality. Nearly every time I’ve seen a review of one of the boutique tools it has been glowing. They generally cost more than the larger manufacturers tools, but they also promise to have been personally made and tuned by the company owner, with the added costs being considered “worth it”. Once again, I will not dispute that. My question doesn’t concern the boutique tools quality or value, but its practicality. Broadly speaking, is it to the greater benefit of woodworking as a hobby to purchase from the small maker, or the larger company?
In North America, a woodworking hobbyist can pick up the Lie Nielsen and Veritas tool catalogs and in a matter of a few weeks fill their entire tool kits from those two lines (that is if you are interested in hand tools and you have the money). The same can be said of the other makers I listed for the most part. When purchasing from a smaller maker, orders can take anywhere from 6 weeks to more than a year to fill, at least according to the inquiries I have made. I have no problem with lead times, and I understand the nature of a small manufacturer filling custom orders, in fact I understand that end of the business better probably than the average person. My point being, does manufacturing ability trump better quality?
Leaving money out of the equation, because a high quality hand tool from a large manufacturer is at times no less costly than purchasing from the small maker, is the success of the larger tool maker more important than the smaller maker in keeping the hobby of woodworking viable? I don’t know the answer, which is why I am asking. As hobbyists, we are often asked to support the smaller makers whenever possible; I can understand that philosophy. However, the potential problem is that we may not be able to depend on the smaller makers to fill our kits. The odd part about the situation is the more successful the smaller maker becomes, the less efficient his production will become. So, can high level woodworking tool production survive without larger manufacturers? Is the company/corporation more important than the individual in this instance?