My trip to Leigh Industries, located just outside Vancouver, BC, was to get an up-close look at their new products. I took a cursory look at those in the story “Leigh Dovetail Jigs: New Design, Affordably Priced” and will examine the new jigs more fully in a future “Tool Test” article in Popular Woodworking magazine.
In addition, I was treated to a behind-the-scenes look at the company that’s known for dovetailing jigs.
Let’s begin at the Leigh building and with a bit of company history. It’s been 25 years since founder and CEO Ken Grisley, along with his wife Joan, opened the doors of Leigh Industries. Leigh’s web site has more history for those interested.
With 2003 came a new building, designed with space for a tenant , or room to grow. Ken hopes to expand into the additional space sometime in the future.
Enter the Leigh headquarters and you’re treated to furniture created by Jeff Greenup, using the Leigh jigs (shown above). The work represents the earliest dovetail jigs, to the patented Isoloc joints, and the FMT that produces mortise-and-tenon joints of all kinds. Some projects were built as the jig was developed or released to woodworkers. Inspiration is more than abundant and you realize the extensive joinery that is completed using their jigs.
The office area is the company home for Ken as well as his sons. Matt Grisley is the president and general manager, and Steve Grisley is the production and purchasing manager. The business wasn’t intended to be a family operation, said Matt. It just happened that way. After a few years in other endeavors, Matt came to work for the business with the caveat that if any antipathy developed, he’d move on. Ken had witnessed family squabbles between members of a family business while in England and wanted no part of that. But that hasn’t happened. Later, Steve joined the business and took over the duties that dovetailed nicely with his past job experience.
All totaled, there are 15 employees who keep the cogs turning at Leigh, as well as a few seasonal employees. (The slow season is summertime, when most woodworkers have too much going on to get into the shop.)
Move through the rear doors and you’re into the business end of Leigh. The light manufacturing, assembly, warehousing and shipping is completed in the back portion of the building.
Extruded aluminum for the jig bodies is brought in and cut to length before it receives light milling and is shipped out to receive a special finish. Recently, Leigh Industries brought in a Haas VF4 to do the milling in-house, but the machines primary job is making templates. Parts that were once contracted out are now closely watched to assure the quality that’s inherent in Leigh jigs.
Here, Steve is showing an FMT unit in production.
When the bodies and other parts return, the assembly of the jigs begins. At various stations, parts are attached to the base, fingers are added to the dovetail template, router bits are boxed and added to the kits, then the jigs themselves are slid into the boxes, ready for shipment.