Home of Lie-Nielsen Toolworks I was scheduled to pick up my new Lie-Nielsen workbench on Monday, October 6th. (See The Tool Worth Waiting For for background.) I had waited for this moment for nearly twelve months; Lie-Nielsen has a large backorder on this popular bench which I learned when I ordered it in the fall of 2007. The combination of my excitement, the beautiful October colors and a desire to visit the Lie-Nielsen facility suggested I pick it up in person. I invited Willow along so that we could spend a weekend in Maine – sort of a short vacation.

The Chisel Group, in the background are the milling machines used to manufacture chisels.We departed early on Sunday morning, October 5th, from Lancaster, MA after spending and evening with our grandchildren – and their parents too. We guessed it would take about five hours driving time but were pleasantly surprised when it took only three and a half. I had two requirements for the trip. First, I didn’t want to miss the Patriot’s football game which began at 4 pm, and secondly, I wanted to spend most of Monday touring Lie-Nielsen and ogling their tools. Willow also had two goals. First she wanted to stay in a quaint B&B – she abhors motels and hotels – and she needed to participate in a board meeting conference call Monday morning.

Drill presses used by the Shoulder Plane Group in the making of shoulder planes.So we set out to find a B&B with cable TV that received the Patriots game. This didn’t take long because there are numerous old houses which offer B&B services. We were particularly lucky to find the Weskeag Inn, located on Route 73 in South Thomaston, situated on the edge of the Weskeag estuary near the reversing falls in South Thomaston village and not far from Lie-Nielsen Toolworks Inc. The Inn was built in the 1830’s and is filled with antiques, many of which are furniture pieces that I admired and thoroughly examined for construction.

A member of the Shoulder Plane Group making sure the machine is grinding the side of the shoulder plane properly.We had a quick lunch in the combination general store/post office next door and read the local papers with particular interest in the local political races. With our famine quelled we retired to the Inn’s living room to watch the Patriots beat the San Francisco Forty Niners 30-21. Watching that game must have burned a lot of energy because immediately thereafter we had dinner at Amalfi’s.

A member of the Bronze Group lapping the sole of a bronze plane by hand on a belt sander. All LN planes are held to a .001 inch tolerance for flatness.The couple that runs the Inn are our contemporaries and over a delicious breakfast the following morning they regaled us with the Inn’s history including stories of how he acquired it, its disrepair and repairs and their meeting – and discovering they were high school classmates. The stories were interesting and humorous, so much so that I almost forgot we were supposed to be at Lie-Nielsen’s.

One of the best Bronze Polishers in the world polishing bronze caps for LN's Low Angle Block.Lie-Nielsen Toolworks Inc. was founded by Thomas Lie-Nielsen in 1981. The company manufactures and sells high quality hand tools for woodworking at a premium price. It currently employs about 90 people. Corporate headquarters, shown in the first picture above left, resides in Warren, ME. This building houses a showroom and corporate offices including sales and marketing. Manufacturing is in a building about 200 feet away where nearly all Lie-Nielsen’s tools are made. Lie-Nielson workbenches are made in a separate facility in Waldoboro, ME – about 10 miles from corporate headquarters.

A member of the Bench Plane Group grinding a lever cap for a No. 5 Jack Plane.We pulled into the parking lot and Willow sat in the truck where she was able to acquire good reception for her conference call while I went inside for a tour of the facilities. To this point most of my communications with Lie-Nielsen had been through Andrew Dix in the Sales Department and Darren Gilbert of the Workbench Group. After announcing myself I was introduced to Matt Blazek, also of the Sales Department, who took me on a guided tour of the manufacturing floor – safety glasses required. The pictures you see here were taken by me while on that tour. Hold your mouse over a picture to read a description or click the picture for an enlargement.

Bar-stock used to make various plane parts, such as the screws for the tote, lever caps and other miscellaneous parts.After the tour I went to the showroom to fondle and try out some of the new tool additions such as the progressive pitch dovetail saw. There is an old bench in the showroom for just this purpose. Lie-Nielsen’s entire line, including the workbench, is available in the showroom for the customer to examine and try. I fell in love with the progressive pitch dovetail saw and vowed to get one to accompany the Lie-Nielsen Independence Saw I currently use.

The Blade Group is where all LN’s blades are ground flat and honed.Willow joined me in the showroom. While I was looking at tools I noticed her talking to Andrew and filling out some papers. When I inquired what she was doing she said “I am giving you a $400 gift certificate for your birthday”. I knew I invited her on this trip for some specific reason, but wasn’t sure why until that very moment. Willow insisted I spend it right away. She said “I know you have a list in your head, so just pick the next item on the list”. I did. I got the Iron Miter Plane which coincidentally will partner quite nicely with the bench I was about to pick up.

Part of LN’s heat treating system. These ovens are used to heat treat blades. They are subsequently removed and dropped into a cryo-bath.While we were converting the newly gifted gift certificate to a purchase Thomas Lie-Nielsen walked in. I had met and talked to Tom on a number of occasions at woodworking shows but this was an opportunity to introduce Willow to him. We talked for a while. I was curious about the practical use of floats and Tom demonstrated their use to me. I told him I was there to pick up my much anticipated bench. He told the story of their surprise when they started offering custom benches and receiving a response which quickly swamped their ability to fill orders. They are catching up now, but still have a backlog of nearly 200 benches. We discussed the benefits of tools made in America and Tom indicated that he is thinking of making his own line of vises to some day replace the high quality German vises now used on his benches. You can always make improvements he said.

All LN's blades are tested on the Hardness Machine and must fall between 60 and 62 on the Rockwell Hardness Scale.Famine hit again and Willow and I made for Moody’s Diner in Waldoboro, ME. I didn’t realize the history of Moody’s until I began writing this post. Moody’s is a family owned restaurant and motel which is apparently 75+ years old. It has its own cookbook called “What’s Cooking At Moody’s Diner: 75 Years Of Reminiscences” by Nancy Moody Genthner, the daughter of the founders Bertha and “P.B.” Moody. I ordered a favorite meal of mine – liver and bacon with mashed potatoes and gravy. It was delicious. The liver was tender, the bacon crisp and the vegetables cooked just right. Even the coffee seemed exceptional.

Final assembly. Each plane is assembled by hand with careful attention paid to 100% perfect assembly.Finally we arrived at the Waldoboro shop to pick up my bench. Darren greeted us and gave Willow and me a shop tour. I recognized much of the equipment; Bridgeports, Jets and numerous dust collectors. Workbenches in various stages of build were throughout the shop, as well as large blanks and other raw material used in their manufacture. The glued up bench tops are purchased from and American supplier and customized for Lie-Nielsen. There, up against a wall, under an old factory paned window, sat my bench. I actually felt a chill when I was told it was mine, my anticipation so long and great.

A group of No. 4 ½ Irons and Scrub Planes ready to be packaged and shipped.Darren supplied some cardboard for the bottom of my truck to protect the bench. The trestle was disassembled and placed on the bottom, more cardboard, and then three guys loaded the top. I brought along a plastic tarp, purchased just that morning, which we strapped to the bench and truck. Rain was forecast for the trip home.

An old bench in the showroom available for customers to try out LN products.The following morning I was back at my shop with the bench in the back of my pickup. I was alone, no one around. The bench weighs 250-300 lbs. I wanted it set up and usable – now! I tried to contact my usual list of likely helpers with no luck. I committed myself to do it alone. My shop was designed with a garage door and a floor raised in loading dock fashion. With the help of an assembly bench with wheels I was able to set up the trestle and move the top in place. To place the top on the trestle I had to turn it over because it was loaded on the truck topside down. It wasn’t easy, I was careful, and it required a lot of awkward hefting. But I managed.

Dovetail saws displayed in the showroom.After approximately six weeks of use I couldn’t be more pleased. This bench is heavy, stable and flat. The vises are smooth and precise. The bench came with two sets of dogs; one metal and the other wood. They work great.

LN's family of planes and accessories on display in the showroom.I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t find a few things I would do differently if I were to make a reproduction of this bench. First, I would probably add a few more coats of finish. It came with two coats of a 50/50 mixture of boiled linseed oil and turpentine. However, I have noticed that pencil and crayon marks that I make on milled pieces are wearing off on the bench. Maybe a few more coats would at least keep them from wearing into the top. Second, when the tail vise is fully closed there is a gap. This is apparently traditional as I have noticed when researching benches. However, looking at the bench it appears the gap width is arbitrary. I would choose a gap of 3/8″ instead of the nearly 1″ it now has. This is because most drawer sides, backs and even some fronts are 1/2″ thick and this 3/8″ gap would make it easier to cut dovetails using the tail vise. These are minor issues that can be easily remedied by the user. The bottom line – this is a top notch bench, well worth the $2,500 sticker price.

My bench on the LN shop floor, ready to come home.With a career in electrical engineering behind me and an avocation of cabinetmaker I am ill prepared to fully understand the metallurgy, machinery and mechanical engineering that go into the manufacture of quality hand tools. However, I have been around hand tools all my life; my father and brothers were all craftsman in the carpentry, plumbing and electrical trades (I come from a family of twelve siblings). As a child and teenager I used numerous pre-war Stanley tools and planes as well as many other quality brands. I was always taught to purchase a quality tool; tool purchases are not a time to be frugal, for good ones will last generations. With that background and my own woodworking experience I consider myself qualified to discern quality as I use such tools. Lie-Nielsen tools are second to none in design, fit-and-finish, quality and results. That, combined with the fact that they are American made is why I use almost exclusively their products.

Nearly comleted hand tool cabinet next to LN bench.The bench is home in its corner of my shop next to the tool cabinet that holds my hand tools, mostly Lie-Nielsen. You will notice that my tool cabinet has some space for planned future purchases, but space is not planned for a complete family. I doubt I will ever have all the planes, chisels, floats etc in the Lie-Nielsen collection. I am not a collector. I am a user who generally purchases a tool only when it is needed or will improve some facet of my work. I try not to fool myself into thinking I need a tool only to see it take up space in my shop but serve no useful purpose. But when I do purchase a tool I am particular about the brand. Lie-Nielsen has proved to meet or exceed my expectations.

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