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It was bloody torture.

Many woodworkers at some point find themselves enamored by the siren song of old tools. Old tools can be great. They have a history, they were often well made, they are often less costly than a new tool, and many of them simply look cool. Old tools can be an appealing choice to a woodworker looking to build up his/her tool set. In fact, quite a few woodworkers swear by old tools, and will not even bother going the new tool route; their logic being: they were well made, there’s still a lot of them to be found, and with some work they can be turned into a high quality tool that will last a life time. If you happen to be a woodworker who subscribes to the “old tool only” philosophy, and you’ve never attended a woodworking tool show, I would suggest that you stop reading right here.

Last Saturday, my wife, daughter, and father-in-law accompanied me to the Hearne Hardwoods open house in Oxford PA. There, you could not only browse through a world-class selection of hardwood lumber of every species imaginable, you could also get your hands on tools from Lie Nielsen, Matt Bickford, Daniel Schwank of Redrose Productions, and Blackburn tools among others. And after 30 minutes or so of using these tools, you will find yourself never wanting to purchase an old tool again.

I spoke to Matt Bickford briefly, and he mentioned something that I have also written about before: If you’ve never used a high quality and well tuned new tool, how in the world can you know how to restore an old tool? In my experience, the answer is: You Can’t.

Some of Matt Bickford's planes.

Some of Matt Bickford’s planes.

I enjoy old tools as much as anybody; I own several, and I even detailed my own restoration processes of some of those tools right here on this blog. And while I can’t say that I will never purchase an old tool again, last weekend may have just pushed me back to the dark side of new tools. And one more thing, the argument can no longer be made that new tools are not as aesthetically pleasing as the antiques, because they look as good, or in many cases better, than most old tools I’ve come across. I was particularly impressed with both Bickford’s and Dan Schwank’s planes. In fact, after a half dozen shavings with Dan Schwank;s panel raiser, I nearly plunked down the money right there to put one on order. (My daughter was much more impressed with his spill plane).

Just a smattering of the many Lie Nielsen tools on display

Just a smattering of the many Lie Nielsen tools on display

As far as the Lie Nielsen tools are concerned, most woodworkers are aware of how good they really are. For my part, I had my sights set on either a tenon saw or a low angle block plane, because those are both tools that I could use. I messed with the tenon saw for a while and it worked great, and even my unskilled ass was able to saw a pretty respectable tenon without a marking gauge or even a pencil. The tenon saw was absolutely beautiful, and obviously well made, but it was also larger than I am used to working with. I have a Spear and Jackson (old tool) small tenon saw that I’ve used for quite some time, and though it probably needs another sharpening (it was also the first saw I’ve ever sharpened) it does a nice job. So instead I went with the block plane, the main reason being the only working block plane I have is one I made from a kit from Hock Tools. The kit block is actually a great little tool, with it’s Hock iron (easy to get razor sharp), it serves as a handy trimming tool and well as a nice option for cleaning up localized rough spots, but it can’t trim end grain, and the iron isn’t wide enough for working on edges (for the most part). I’ve used the LN 60 1/2 before, so I already knew just how good it is, but I did give it a test run at the show, and even my daughter was able to make some “curlies” with it. So I placed the order for the plane as well as a cap nut screw driver. The screw driver came home with me, the plane arrived at my house 4 days later.

Sure is pretty

Sure is pretty

cap nut driver

cap nut driver

Last night I gave the block plane and some other tools a honing/polishing. The iron was very sharp out of the box, so it really only needed to be polished. There was a very slight hollow dead center of the bevel that I left as it was. I polished the back, which took around five minutes solid, so that it was “shiny” across the whole front. I gave the plane a test run and it worked brilliantly. I have a new theory on sharpening and honing which is to spend a minute or less on each honing of the bevel, but that will be for another post.

My daughter posing with some of the incredible millwork at Hearne Hardwoods.

My daughter posing with some of the incredible millwork at Hearne Hardwoods.

So my trip to the tool show was a success. I got out of there without dropping a fortune, got to meet some top notch tool makers, and got to play with some of the best woodworking tools in the world for a little while. It was fun, the brick oven pizza was awesome, and I know what I want to ask Santa for this coming Christmas. I just wish I had a little more time and a lot more money, because if I did you all would be looking many more new tool photos right around now.

More swag, and my wonderful opinions.

Last Saturday I attended a Lie Nielsen Hand Tool Event at Hearne Hardwoods in or around Oxford PA. I’ve been to several LN events already so I know the drill. The main reason I attended was the chance to look around at Hearne, but I did purchase a new plane, for the kids. The plane I purchased is a #48 tongue and groove plane. I purchased it in good faith, because I’ve only really used it one time. It is quite the specialty tool, and in reality the type of tool that I try to avoid owning. But I like the tongue and groove joint, I use a lot of 3/4″ stock, and I hate making tongue and grooves using a table saw. No matter how hard I tried, I could never get my saw to produce a truly nice fitting joint, at least not without a whole lot of work. I believe that the #48 will eliminate the unnecessary work involved and use all of my energy the correct way. I also purchased a new dust brush, as my old brush bit the dust, no pun intended. Though attending a hand tool event is not the magical experience it used to be, getting that Lie Nielsen box in the mail doesn’t suck, and I was truly excited to open it. Now, once my bedroom remodel is finished, hopefully this weekend, I’ll mess around with the plane and share my thoughts on it.

Something good is inside

Something good is inside

LN #48

LN #48

Swag!

Swag!

On another note, the latest issue of Popular Woodworking magazine arrived today. I haven’t had the chance to really check it out as of yet, but I did read the editorial, the End Grain section, and an article about Peter Follansbee. Before I go any further, I would like to point out that my knowledge of Peter Follansbee begins and ends with the three page article I just read, before that, I had seen his name in passing here or there on woodworking forums. According to the article, Peter is a period furniture maker specializing in making early American furniture, as in very early American, as in 17th century. His shop is at the Plimoth Plantation, which is a living history museum/settlement in New England. All of that sounds very cool, and I can certainly respect what he is doing, as well as his woodworking abilities. However, in the article, Mr. Follansbee laments “People just don’t make anything anymore. They have no concept whatsoever of how things are made or how long it takes!”. As I said earlier, I don’t know Mr. F from Adam. He could very well be the nicest, most patient person on planet Earth, but if I’m reading the article correctly, there seems to be some resentment or bitterness towards…something.

The statement “people just don’t make anything anymore…” is a very generalized statement. He is painting with a very broad brush, as a friend of mine would say. I make things, and I understand the building and manufacturing process, as well as the shipping and marketing process. Both my father and father-in-law have the same qualities as I. The guys I work with, all guys in an office, all have an understanding of the manufacturing process, and all have some sort of hobby where they work with their hands. We are an eclectic group. My boss, along with two of my co workers, each grew up on a farm. I grew up in Philadelphia, another guy grew up in Reading PA. Two of the guys grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs, one was an Army brat who went from California to Greece to the Far East. We all come from different backgrounds, and though none of us works in a living history museum, that doesn’t mean we are completely ignorant of the building and making process. As I was saying earlier, I attended a LN hand tool event last weekend. There were many hundreds of people there who all liked to make things. Seems to me that there are more than just a few people walking around who know a little bit about what it means to make something.

If I can offer my two cents, I would say that maybe many of the people that Peter Follansbee interacts with on a daily basis at his place of employment don’t do much building. That could be the very reason they are at a living history museum in the first place, to gain a little knowledge. It would also seem to me that Mr. Follansbee understands very little about how a modern economy actually operates. When he states: “It’s been interesting to see how far we’ve moved away from making things.” he forgets his history; he forgets the switch from an agrarian to an industrial society; he forgets the Civil War, the expansion west, the First and Second World War, the influx of immigrants from the mid 19th to the mid 20th century. He forgets the fact that the ‘artisan’ life style is not sustainable on grand scale in a global market. It appears that he is chalking up those changes to laziness or stupidity. Hypothetically, if the vision of a world of ‘artisans’ existed, it is quite likely that Peter Follansbee would not even be in business. Either the competition would have driven him off, or the lack of demand for his services.

I for one am glad that people like Peter Follansbee do what they do. It is a good thing to remember how things were done long ago; it is a good thing to remember the heritage of the United States of America. Nobody can deny the woodworking skills that Mr. Follansbee has; you need look no farther than his creations; I just could do without the scolding. I could very well be misinterpreting the article. As I said before, I do not know the man at all and he very well could be the nicest person in creation. But, going by some of his other statements which were written in the article, it seems to me that he, like many woodworkers of a certain group, has a superiority complex. Peter Follansbee may be a great woodworker, but that doesn’t automatically make him a great person, or more importantly, it doesn’t make his views and assessments of mankind accurate. The fact that the average person doesn’t really understand how furniture was made in the 17th century doesn’t automatically make them ignorant fools. I can draw up, with the help of a computer program, a 1200 amp, three phase electrical service with panelboards, individual metering, feed through lugs, and it’s disconnecting systems fairly quickly. I can provide approval drawings of the transformers, where they would be located, and their safety disconnects. I do that for a living. I could ask Peter Follansbee to work up a project such as this for me and he might not know what I was talking about. Should I automatically assume that nobody knows anything about electrical work anymore? The truth is that what Peter Follansbee does for a living is a very specialized field, just like electrical planning. The other truth is that what Peter Follansbee does was also a very specialized field back in the 17th century. Just like the visitors at his museum today, a common fellow of 1687 probably didn’t do much chair carving either; that fact doesn’t make them or him useless.

Before I go, I would again like to point out that this is not a personal attack of any kind. The world truly does need more people like Peter Follansbee, but it could do without the condescending attitudes and insults. I am trying to do my best to not jump to a conclusion because I read a three page article in a magazine. I would also ask that a professional woodworker not jump to conclusions and judge people and their abilities after a brief conversation he had with them at a museum; not only would I ask it, I would expect it. If the world really could benefit from woodworking of the 17th century, maybe it also could benefit from the era’s ideals and courtesies as well. And people call me vitriolic?

Lie Nielsen Hand Tool Event

Yesterday morning, my wife, my daughter, and my mother and father-in-law accompanied me to the Lie Nielsen Hand Tool Event held at Hearne Hardwoods in Oxford, PA. Every year Hearne hosts a LN event that I do my best to attend. Last year, due to some unfortunate circumstances (those mainly being my wife weaseling her way out of going to not just the Hearne show, but also one that just happened to be held at a woodworking school in my old neighborhood in Philly) I did not attend a hand tool event last year. This year, when the save-the-date card arrived in the mail, I made it a point to put it on the calendar.

I like the Lie Nielsen Hand Tool Events as much as anybody, but the real reason I went yesterday was to check out Hearne Hardwoods. Though getting to Hearne from my house is rather easy, I usually only go there once or twice a year. Hearne is hands down the best lumberyard I’ve ever been to. Not only is the drive there a nice and scenic one, the setting of the yard itself is just as nice, and their selection is as good as you are going to find, anywhere. That isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy looking at the tools, not only from LN but from others as well, and I did, in fact, purchase a LN #48 and dust brush. When you purchase LN tools at one of their events they waive the shipping and tax, so that alone saved me more than twenty dollars. I very nearly ordered a rasp, but backed out at the last minute. On another note, LN had two of their ‘new and improved’ workbenches on display, and they didn’t disappoint. Yet, there was also a Veritas bench present and I messed with it for a bit, and I have to say I really liked using that bench as well. I’m not sure why it was there because Veritas wasn’t present at the open house, though I’m not complaining as it was my first time ever seeing one up close. The bench had cast iron legs and a twin screw tail vice and seemed to be solid as a rock. Though the bench top was only half as thick as the Lie Nielsen, that didn’t seem to be an issue in the least. The LN bench was, in my opinion, a nicer looking bench, and another point for the LN was the high quality face vice that comes with. At that, the LN bench costs somewhere around $500 more than the Veritas. Having a chance to use both benches for a short time, if I were going to purchase one it would probably be the Lie Nielsen, but if for some reason I couldn’t, I would have no issue with the Veritas bench.

So I had a nice morning yesterday at the lumberyard. Because of the amount of people at the show, I was unable to go through the stacks of lumber to choose stock for the building of my table and my tool box, but that only gives me an excuse to take a trip back to Hearne in a few weeks when the weather is cooler and the leaves are changing. Other than a run in that my mother-in-law had with a nine year old Amish boy it was just about a perfect day. Hopefully in a few weeks I’ll be back at Hearne picking out lumber, and making a table that my wife doesn’t want.

I was only able to take a few photos yesterday. I once again had phone trouble…

Toy Land

Toy Land

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