Chris Schwarz's Blog

Yuppie Tools: A True Accounting

In a bar outside
Philadelphia, Thomas Lie-Nielsen, John Economaki and I are having a
drink and talking about the people who are getting rich selling tools.

I’m on my second beer and running on four hours of sleep. I fumble and drop the veil of fairness and impartiality.

“You
know who is getting rich? The (bleep) who is selling the cheesy drill
bit sets at Home Depot,” I said. “I think there is an inverse
relationship between wealth and tools. Those who make the most expensive
tools are the poorest. Those who make the cheapest tools make the most
money.”

Lie-Nielsen only raised an eyebrow and smiled a little bit. Economaki said something hilarious, which is what he always does.

Despite the fact that my comment was fueled by fatigue and a malted beverage, it’s true.

People
ask me if I’ve ever been to Lie-Nielsen’s mansion in Maine. “He must be
crazy rich, what with what he charges for tools,” is a typical comment.
The assumption is that Karl Holtey, Wayne Anderson and Konrad Sauer
live like kings. After all, they charge thousands for tools that have
raw material costs of less than $300.

Here’s the truth: No one
gets rich making high-quality tools. After being in the shops and homes
and on the road with toolmakers, I can tell you that they are in the
same economic bracket as journalists, woodworkers and public defenders.

So
what’s my point? I think it’s laughable when anonymous readers try to
give me a digital wedgie for my coverage of so-called “yuppie” tools
from Lie-Nielsen, Bridge City and the like. These tools are not
expensive by any measure. Come on – $55 for a chisel that is built to
last several lifetimes? That’s expensive?

I’ll tell you what I
think is expensive: $1,000 laptops that I have to replace every two
years to run the software necessary for publishing. (Those are the same
disposable laptops that are used for criticizing $50 chisels.)

So
yesterday I decided to do an honest accounting of what it takes to
refurbish a typical vintage tool. I chose a high-quality Douglass chisel
that I purchased on eBay on April 20 for $23.98, delivered to my door.
To get a Lie-Nielsen chisel delivered to my door it would be $61.

It
takes about 15 minutes for me to set up a Lie-Nielsen chisel and make
it ready for work. That includes work on three waterstones. I really
like the Lie-Nielsen socket chisels – I think they are well-balanced,
have good steel and look good, too.

This Douglass chisel is
exquisite. Its turned handle is beautiful. The tool has perfect balance.
The steel is hard and polishes up quickly. But like most vintage
chisels, it has problems. The unbeveled face of the tool needs work. I
started out working it on some #80-grit cubic zirconia sandpaper, but
after an hour, I decided to resort to more extreme measures.

I
put a new sheet of #80-grit paper on the Veritas Mark II sandpaper
sharpening system and dressed the face on that. Usually I don’t
recommend grinding the face on a powered system, but this is a wide
chisel, and I’ve become fairly good at managing the tool on the spinning
disc.

Even so, it took me two more hours of grinding and
quenching before I got the face semi-usable. There is still one
1/8″-wide corner of the edge that is warped. I finally gave up on that
corner and called it done when the #80-grit paper stopped cutting
effectively on the Veritas Mark II. I might get another couple tools out
of this disc, but I need to order a new disc now. That thing is toast.
That’s another $7.80 (plus shipping).

After grinding it on the
Mark II, I had to grind the face flat on a piece of granite with belt
sander paper. I used up one belt dressing this chisel. A two-pack of
these belts costs $10.50 at Home Depot, so that’s another $5.25 and
about 30 minutes of work. Then it was on to the stones, where it took
about 15 minutes to polish the face and the bevel.

So all told,
the Douglass chisel cost me $37.03 for the tool and materials necessary
to make it act like a tool. Plus at least 3-1/2 hours of my time. A
Lie-Nielsen chisel costs $61 and 15 minutes of time.

The final
accounting is, as always, what your time is worth. Would I give Thomas
Lie-Nielsen an extra $23.97 to get those 3-1/2 hours of my life back?
You bet. Your answer might be different, and that’s fine by me. Spend
your money as you wish.

But please think twice the next time you
are at a big box store and pleased at how cheaply you can buy a set of
sub-par Forstners. You are not the winner in that transaction.

— Christopher Schwarz

Want to Fix up Old Tools? You Need an Education First
• Go to RexMill.com to learn how to refurbish planes.

• Bob Smalser disagrees with my point of view. Find out how he refurbishes $4 chisels at WKFineTools.com.

• Get an education on Stanley planes at Patrick Leach’s Blood & Gore site.

• Or spend your money on my book “Handplane Essentials,” and read reviews of new tools, get some advice on sharpening them and lots of advice on using them (which is the point, no?)

53 thoughts on “Yuppie Tools: A True Accounting

  1. Paul

    Your opening line to this story sounds like a joke: Three woodworkers were sitting in a bar….. What was the name of the bar, the dovetail joint, the bridle joint, and on and on ad nauseum. Paul

  2. Paul

    It might have been said already in the comments, but the people who complain about the high price of quality tools are the same people who drop nearly $1000 a year for the latest and greatest cell phone, with two year contract, and all of the goofy applications to go with it that probably are never used anyway. Just don’t use it to make phone calls, that option doesn’t work. Go figure. Paul

  3. Jeff

    I have never disputed that the price charged by LN, or Bridge City, or LV are too high for the products that they manufacture. These are indeed high quality products. To question the cost of these products is also not to suggest that poor quality versions from distant lands are the recommended alternative. Thankfully, these are not the only two choices.

    My concern is for the person who is just becoming interested in woodworking and intuitively believes that a hand tool approach will be quieter, cleaner, safer…and less costly than buying machinery. He will be sorely disappointed if he spends much time on the various hand tool fora. I am regularly impressed and inspired when I see the remarkable craftsmanship (actual furniture projects) that I see being accomplished in poorer nations with what we would consider to be extremely limited and simple tools.

  4. Ed Minch

    Chris:

    Lie Nelson only makes chisels up to 1", but it appears that the Douglass you worked on is about 1-1/2". If the Douglass had been perhaps 3/4", the cost to purchase would have been much lower – and even would have been common in the $2 garage sale realm – would have taken less time to prepare, and could not possibly have used up entire sheets of sandpaper. A 3/4" chisel rarely takes me 30 minutes to prepare and doesn’t completely use up any materials. Maybe I live on "old tool heaven" on the East Coast, but these tools are common enough that I have a couple of each size prepared for different tasks.

    My point is that most of us are on a budget, preparing tools is part of the fun, and, has been said earlier a couple of times, there is a connection to the past.

    Thanks for the thoughts.

    Ed Minch

  5. Steven

    Kirk, thanks for the comments but the problems were not solved by LN. Two years have gone by since then, but I did give them another chance and bought a number 4 plane, guess what? it had a fault too, the adjuster would unscrew the bolt when used a few times so I had to rough up the thread a little to make it sticky enough to hold. It went the way of the shoulder plane and was sold. So as I said paying big prices does not mean great tools, quality control at LN does seem to be lacking in my experience and I don’t buy any of their products now.

  6. wilburpan.myopenid.com

    Point of interest: that extra $23.97 for 3-1/2 hours of rehabbing the chisel works out to $6.85 per hour. The current federal minimum wage rate is $7.25 per hour.

  7. Kirk

    The first L-N tool that I purchased has only led to more L-N tools due to the quality (and service) that I have received. I hope that Steven is able to get the issues resolved with his L-N tools.

  8. Chris C

    On some of the economic theory that has come up in this thread:

    1. The reason we buy so much Chinese made junk must be because
    we love it so much. So, when it comes to who we should blame if
    we aren’t happy about that fact, I’ll tell you where you can
    find him: when you are shaving in the morning, look up. There
    he is.

    1a. Not all Chinese goods are junk. I’m convinced that they churn out a lot of junk because that’s what we ask for. Just a theory.

    2. If #1 is so, why is it so? Imagine the horror of industrialists to find out that so many people want high quality tools and other wares. Things that last a long time perhaps don’t guarantee perpetual money making streams that make industrialists happy. Though permanent, high quality wares frequently do make people happy.

    Perhaps there is a conflict of the needs of systemic things with the needs of the human spirit.

    So how do you get a populace that loves enduring and high quality things to suppress that natural tendency and constantly buy junk and/or the next wiz bang novelty that won’t satiate them for more than an hour? I don’t think most people would
    accept the answer to this question.

  9. Steven

    As I said above I did contact them and the response was "fettling" is required to all blades they make, but fettling this was not. Many more minutes than 15 to flatten / polish the back of my one 🙁 The other problem with the shoulder plane could not be resolved as I bought in the USA and live in the UK.

  10. Christopher Schwarz

    Steven,

    I haven’t had the same experience as you. You can always return tools to Lie-Nielsen. And they will always make things right. Send them an e-mail. They’ll help you.

    Every manufacturer is going to have some products that aren’t right. The real test is how they handle that problem.

  11. Steven

    Perhaps I’ve been unlucky but the LN tools I’ve bought have not been such good quality as is being made out on this thread. I sold the large shoulder plane I got as the mouth did not have an even gap and I found it was too big to be comfortable. The Low angle jack I also got needed lots of work to the back of the blade to get it flat. I bought these items in the US ( I’m from the UK ) so was not able to return them. LN said, when contacted, the blades do need "fettling" but if we are to believe you Chris this does not happen ! I have had much better results from the Veritas brand and believe that the products they produce are superior in quality to that of LN and they tend to get my money now for any planes I purchase ! I also bought a complete set of 12 Buck Bros Chisels very cheaply from the dealer who sold me the LN items, I have no idea if they are the low brand type you mean but they have been excellent, easy to sharpen, hold an edge well and were very cheap. So perhaps a little too much generalisation from you on this occasion based on my experiences?

  12. wapitiscat

    I remember a quote from someone along the lines of "cater to the masses, dine with the classes; cater to the classes, dine with the masses. Seems appropriate to this dilemma.

    Todd

  13. Chris Vesper

    Preaching to the converted is stating the obvious. The true genius will work out how to get the message out to those that need to be told things like this. I am not a genius.

    Well done Chris, this article is nearly as long as one of mine! And WOW, 38 comments and counting. Good to see on a topic so close to my heart, not my wallet you one could assume from my pricing, just ask my bank manager who steadfastly refuses to lend me money…!

    Who wants to chip in a few dollars each to buy Chris a small surface grinder with a sine plate? I woulda had that chisel smoking wood in half an hour.

    Quality remains and the cost is soon forgotten.

  14. gyegreene.blogspot.com

    Great post; great comments/discussion.

    Two points of fact:

    (1) From Chris’ original post: "$1,000 laptops that I have to replace every two years to run the software necessary for publishing." —

    I think if you talk to your I.T. folks, you’ll find that "running the software" isn’t the reason that you turn over your hardware. (Has the publishing and layout software **really** improved that much since 2003 — such that you **had** to upgrade software versions? And then get a more powerful computer to support it?)

    At least in academia and the corporate world, laptops and PCs get turned over every 2-3 years due to (1) the warranty running out, and (2) the odds of unexpected (and inconvenient!) hardware failure **somewhere** in the clientele occurring. (You have a lower rate of hardware failure among 100 new-ish computers than among 100 "six-year-old" computers.)

    I.T. staff want to be in the "ensuring the I.T. **works** " business — not in the "continually fixing the stuff that breaks" biz. 😉

    Same reason that — I presume — government and corporate motor pools — and the cops! — get new cars every few years: A 1991 Nissan Altima will still get you from "A" to "B" in 2010 — but it will have more bits and pieces fail than something that’s still in its first few years.

    (2) The comment about "The guys w/ the Ph.D.s" —

    ("The guys with the PhD’s don’t know how to value (or don’t want to) all these craftsmen designing, forging, cutting, grinding Lie-Nielsen’s tools. So an entire ecosystem is supported by this "expensive" approach, one that builds further on itself, supporting more and more people. The cheap tools — you’ve heard the theory, how globalization makes us all richer, despite middle class wages being stagnant since the 1970s.") —

    First, the **competent** folks with Ph.D.s know VERY well how to value all that stuff. 😉

    Second, I think academics that study that sort of thing would support what you’re saying — not disagree with it.

    Third, what’s "best for raising the standard of living for workers" isn’t the primary concern of corporations. It’s "how can we most efficiently make $$$?" (Answer: toss it overseas, to be built under sub-standard wage conditions, then ship it back.) Thus, the corporate bosses (in general) wouldn’t be concerned with the research findings of the "guys with the Ph.D.s" regarding the larger social or economic impact. 😉

    –GG

  15. www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawlJPXaiRZTvjtUNjvqHwQWQYPB7c4PXOaw

    Hey Chris;

    I agree on both fronts. Depends on your financial position I guess. I personally enjoy resurrecting unusable tools back to good use for me and possible generations to follow. And I agree with the spiritual context mentioned by one above.

    Waxing philosophical; maybe we receive a guiding hand for our toil and sweat, restoring an old craftsman’s tool. Well, something to think about.

    On another part of your post. You mention using Cubic Zirconium paper for your grinding process. I have set a few of these faux diamonds in my jewelry work but I am at a loss as to sandpaper made with this material. Did I miss something good or did you mean zirconium alumina?

    Good discussion!
    Mark W.

  16. Christopher Schwarz

    James,

    It was in 2002 and we did not give the vintage Stanley plane "Editor’s Choice." We gave it "Best Value."

    "Editor’s Choice" went to Lie-Nielsen.

    Still does.

    Chris

  17. Gordon

    Chris,
    Concur with your statement and the time it takes to set up a vintage tool for use as I have beeen buying and selling them for the last 5 years and as a hand tool emthusiast, I have a workshop full of them. There is nothing more enjoyable than opening a new LN or LV tool and putting it to work after no more than 15 minutes of tweaking. Still appreciate and enjoy the vintage tools, but the LN and LV stuff is spoiling me as they are all most aways easier to use than the vintage tool with a replacement cutter.

    Warmest regards,
    Gordon

  18. John Passacantando

    Chris,
    That was another excellent post. Are you trying to encourage your readers to send beer? Your layman’s way of backing into an economic analysis that incorporates more than just the short term costs they teach future members of the Clone Army at Harvard is helpful.

    I just want to add another piece of the puzzle, which is most useful when comparing "expensive tool" and cheap ones. Spend money on a Stanley chisel. Who makes the dough? A small amount has to go to the people running and working in a factory in China under standards we last found tolerable in this county in the 1800s. The majority of the profits are then going to be split up among Stanley, its executives, it’s advertisers pushing the new tool line, ocean going shippers (it’s actually kind of cool to think that your tools had to navigate around Somali pirates coming back in containers that might have gone the other direction filled with gear for our soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq) the real estate magnate who owns Stanley’s headquarters and on and on.

    Now compare that with the Lie-Nielsen chisel. Tom gets a piece of the profit for his mansion, jet boat, Lear Jet and 500 concubines. And the rest of the dough? Actual craftsmen, modern day versions of the guys we see acting at Sturbridge Village and Williamsburg, with superior talent, prideful work and above average incomes in small communities in the US, often reliably supporting entire families. These incomes in turn provide more cash in these small towns at the hardware store, grocery store (beer aisle) and oh yeah, these guys are far more likely to buy quality tools — which they can afford, thus continuing the cycle.

    The guys with the PhD’s don’t know how to value (or don’t want to) all these craftsmen designing, forging, cutting, grinding Lie-Nielsen’s tools. So an entire ecosystem is supported by this "expensive" approach, one that builds further on itself, supporting more and more people. The cheap tools — you’ve heard the theory, how globalization makes us all richer, despite middle class wages being stagnant since the 1970s.

    As for my personal experience, I have to say that every time I buy a cheap tool I regret it. Using a variety of cheap saws, I almost came to believe that I simply couldn’t cut down a straight line to make a dovetail. Then a fellow named Andrew at Lie-Nielsen talked me into their Rip Carcass Saw 15 PPI. I talked my girls into getting it for me for Father’s Day. Now, I swear I can split a thin pencil line like I am laser guided. Frankly, my Dad taught me about quality. I just found it necessary to relearn it.

  19. James Watriss

    Interesting post from the guy who gave editor’s choice to a vintage Stanley in a plane shoot-out a few years ago.

  20. Gary Roberts

    Talking dollars and cents:

    James Swan Extra Beveled Short Socket Firmer Chisel No. 7015 1/4
    1907 Wholesale price per chisel = $1.25
    2010 Purchasing equivalent = $29.40

    Remember now, that’s Wholesale, not Retail. Maybe tools today are not so expensive after all?

    Gary

  21. Sean

    Sure thing. And it takes the same amount of time and effort to lapp the sole of block plane and a 7 too.

  22. Mark

    Just my two cents on the time required to lap the back of a chisel…It does not matter whether the chisel is 1/4 inch wide or 1 1/2 inches wide, as long as the entire surface of the chisel is passing over whatever abrasive is being used, and assuming a comparable amount of pressure on the tool, the width is irrelevant with regard to time. However, physics dictates that you will expend more energy to overcome friction on the larger chisel. Most people would probably not notice a significant difference from one size to another.

  23. John Walkowiak

    The best quality tools have always been expensive. When hand tools were used exclusively, the craftsmen evidently were more than happy to pay the price for a tool that would serve them well and help them make a living. And, the toolmakers then also made a living. I have a few New Old Stock Buck Bros. chisels, 3/4" wide. I believe they were made in the 1940’s, or 1950’s at the latest. They were regarded as one of the best edge toolmakers of the day and their prices would have been competitive with other "best" makers. The price written on the handles is $8.79. That sounds like a bargain, but using an inflation calculator that translates into $137.00 in 1940 dollars, $77.00 in 1950 dollars and $64.00 in 1960 dollars. So, the price LN is charging is in line with what a quality new chisel has always cost. The difference it seems, is that the craftsmen from the past were focused mainly on high quality, whereas today, we are led to believe that low cost is most important. And, the business that sells the most – fill in the blank – usually makes the most money.

  24. www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawkUbc5o-D3NTuLWOGHQzHeJTtnrpsFrfzY

    The funny thing is as a hobby I actually enjoy rehabbing old chisels. Maybe that makes me weird but I do. Nothing against the high end chisels but I have some old stanleys that I got for less than $5 a piece that do all I need. Yes they took time but for me that was ok as I enjoy it and still search for bargains to rehab. I actually built a little table with room for some paper and my stones that i plunk in front of the TV and have at it. OK I said I was weird :)…

  25. Alfred Kraemer

    While I wouldn’t want to do without my 5/16 inch LN mortise chisel, most of my chisels are very good older chisels: Greenlees, Witherbys, a Swan, and a couple of chisels of a type that isn’t made anymore:
    1. 1/4 paring chisel with an 8 inch blade (Woodcock)
    2. thin-bladed 1/2 chisel – perfect for dovetails – from Jernbolaget and Gensco
    3. 1 inch longbladed (10 inch) paring chisel (Diamond Edge)
    4. incannel gouges (Buck)

    I’m not an ebay fan but for chisels it’s a good marketplace. The alternative is to scour fleamarkets and antique shops, etc. where sometimes you find an abundance but most of the time chisels that are tough or impossible to rehab.

    Alfred

  26. Sean

    Chris, I thought the "accounting" was intended to compare the cost including prep time of the two. If you inflate the prep time of the vintage chisel, the comparison may be less valid. Even if the prep time for the LN is zero rather than the 15 minutes you originally said and no flattening is required of the LN, you ought to pick a size for the vintage chisel that equates to a LN offering in my opinion. I’m surprised you find that the area of the back being flattened is immaterial. The very laws of physics (not to mention real world experience) show that it takes more work/time to remove more steel. Do you think you can remove one thousand of thickness from a four square inch area of steel as fast as from one square inch? I can’t. Narrower chisels go much quicker. I suppose if you always use a grinder, you may not notice the difference as much. I tend to use my Norton diamond plates – extra course/course (like ones I’ve seen you use in sharpening articles).

    Anyway, no big thing. Just trying to explain more of where I was coming from.

  27. Rob Porcaro

    Tom, John, and others like them produce honest products. A woodworker consumer buys, or chooses not to buy, such a product at a price based on the value of the tool to him. This is the marketplace at work.

    If the marketplace bears their prices and they produce efficiently, they will, and should, profit. If the marketplace bears high prices and they can produce efficiently so that they become wealthy, good for them. I hope they do!

    Tom and John provide jobs for members of the community and increase the wealth of our society. Let the marketplace rule their pricing and profits. Their prices do not need further justification. If someone doesn’t like their prices, don’t buy their tools. Another producer will inevitably fill the lower-price niche.

    So Chris, I agree with what you are saying regarding the tools, but in my view, it is unnecessary and ultimately beside the point.

    These guys do not need to apologize for running a successful business, nor for making a good profit, NOR for making a lot of profit if freely-acting consumers choose to pay their prices.

  28. Henrique

    I agree!

    Actually a cheap tool is done by a chinese guy, who makes US$0.50 a day, of hard work, and the ones who make money are the comunist party official who gets paid by bribery and home depot ceo with his nice bonus! These guys are getting really rich!

    Buying cheap tools is spending twice…first you buy it, try to tune it, it won’t work the way you expect…then you will have to buy a real good one, and start it over.

    The real good tools (Lie Nielsen, Blue Spruce, Bridge City Tools, and other nice tool manufacturers) are worth every penny you spend. If it’s expensive, buy one tools each time, but you get it done!

    I’ve learned it through the most expensive way…getting frustrated by cheap tools!

    Regards

    Henrique

  29. Christopher Schwarz

    On the "honest accounting" thing: The Lie-Nielsen 1" chisel takes as long to set up as the Lie-Nielsen 1/8" chisel. They are dead — D-E-A-D — flat.

    This Douglass chisel is no better or no worse than the vintage 1/4" chisels I’ve set up. In other words, the width is immaterial.

    As to the question of vintage setup vs. modern setup, I can ask the following: Can you dub the face of a chisel and have it work? I contend that the answer is yes. Is it ideal? I don’t know. Am I working on that question with the Underhill framing chisel behind the Douglass in the photo? Absolutely yes.

  30. Joseph Watson

    While since I am a hobbyist on a very tight budget I don’t hesitate to appreciate the tools you review made by Lie-Nielson etc. I love the quality but since I cant afford the bigger tools, planes etc, I haven’t bought one. I have always found you fair to talk of the tools I currently use too however, for example antique hand planes etc. I would never expect you to review a Buck Bros hand plane, that would be laughable. Your blog and magazine are not the venue for that.

    The fancier planes by anderson and holty are definately out of my price range but are remarkable. Would be delightful to get to at least try one. Maybe its about jealousy because I sometimes envy your job being able to get to play with those kinds of toys. I’d be too giddy to call them tools.

    I still prefer for now toiling away working on fixing up the older tools. My time in the shop isn’t worth much but the simple pleasures of getting to do it. Wouldn’t trade that for all the money in the world though.

    Thanks for all the yuppie tool reviews I live vicariously though you.

    Joe

  31. Sean

    Let me start off with this: I absolutely love LN’s chisels, have bought many, and considered them bargains.

    That said, I don’t know that you’ve really done such an "honest accounting" when it comes to the Douglass comparison. How wide is that Douglass? LN’s widest bench chisel is 1 inch. The wider the blade, the longer it takes to flatten the back for obvious reasons. From the pictures, that’s maybe a one and a half? Also, how bad the back is varies rather greatly from chisel to chisel in my expereince. Abused and poorly sharpened suckers need a lot removed, and others barely any.

    The next question is how much of the back really needs to be flattened to have the tool perform well in its tasks? Not much really. It would take a long time to sharpen off a 1/4" of length in chisel like that sharpening on water stones (an electric grinder might well go through the steel faster, but that’s really a waste IMO).

    Finally, like you , have expereince with LOTS of old chisels. I’ve never seen one that has had the back flattened in any significant way by the prior owner as best I can tell. How do you suppose the old timers did all the great work they did with such "inferior" tools? I think there is a bit of modern fettlers conventional wisdoms about the need to lap plane soles and chisel backs to the nth degree that are … umm, overstated and blindly accepted by too many.

    But like Al said, thanks for scaring folks off those horrible old chisels that ALWAYS require HOURS of laborious lapping to work worth a darn.

    😉

    Sean

  32. Ed Furlong

    I have no disagreement with anything Chris says; I have both new quality hand tools and restored vintage tools. There also is the pleasure of restoring a tool that was destined for the scrap heap to the service it was intended for. And with the rise of tool- and blade makers that serve the hand tool community, we can make those vintage tools better than new. Oh, and did I mention that I am frugal (i.e., cheap) and believe in the moral desirability of sweat equity?

    However, I want to speak to the historical, dare I say romantic, perspective that comes from holding a plane or chisel that has been held and used in honest labor by generations of the woodworkers who have proceeded us. Almost all of my vintage tools are from garage sales and auctions, so it isn’t a specific sense of family history, but in being part of a larger hand tool woodworking tradition, which at one time looked like it was on it’s way to extinction. Call me a crackpot, but when I put my hands on my vintage tools, it is as if I am putting my hands onto the hands of the woodworkers before me, and we are working together in one tradition, extending back to the Pharaohs. Perhaps, if I am really lucky, they are laying their hands on mine.

  33. z. mojica

    Chris,
    Couldn’t agree more. You did a great job describing the practical side of the argument. But, how about the bigger picture, the cosmic/karma issues?
    People think it justifiable to purchase tools made by starving slave labor or eight year-olds working in Chinese sweat shops earning cents per week. But, when it comes to paying an American a living wage, people are indignity about the cost. There is nothing immoral about paying a far wage for a day’s work especially considering that their pay end up back in the local economy.
    I love well built, quality tools that are beautiful to look at and a wonder to use but, beyond this, buying from American companies that pay a living wage is the right (moral) thing to do.
    sorry for the rant.
    Love your blog.

  34. Christopher Schwarz

    I can make a lot more money per hour writing than I can fixing tools. So I always feel cheated in the “value” department.

    But perhaps judging from the comments here, I’m too persnickety about set-up. I have set up hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of planes, chisels, spokeshaves and the like. I have never been able to get tools set up as quickly as the times stated here.

    I’ve used all manner of loose abrasive. Precision belt sanders etc. Maybe I’m just slow.

    BTW, the Douglass chisel in question is the one shown in the photos.

  35. Mitchell

    Here is the thing that is missing in all of this; what is the tool worth once it hits your hands?

    Because I mainly collect Stanley, I can only comment on them and your article is spot on when it comes to their planes. For other vintage Stanley tools, however, especially chisels, it is a completely different story.

    I collect Stanley No. 40’s and, on average, it takes me about 30 minutes to bring any one or them up to snuff. As I am always looking and buying these things, I often end up with duplicates. When that happens, I pick the best one and sell the other off where I bought it, on eBay. Without question, I have never sold one of these chisels for less than I paid for it. In effect, not only do I get my money back on the chisel, but the purchaser pays me for the time spent sharpening it for them.

    I won’t tell you about the bath I have taken with some of the duplicate planes I have sold this way, but so far, with the chisels, I can’t loose.

  36. Will

    As a public defender, an ale fanatic, and a proud owner of a few LN tools, I hope the quality guys can keep it up in spite of the fact that my resources won’t support them. These are the tools I save up for. There’s a saying I learned in Spanish that says that the cheap one costs twice as much (el barto es doble caro). As a cheapskate I tell myself (and my wife) that I just cannot afford the less pricy tools because they wind up costing too much in the long run. The public defender allusion spurred my comment here in so far I really love a well-crafted defense. I also like a well-crafted ale, and a well-crafted hand tool — a well-crafted article aint too bad neither.

  37. Matthew Holbrook

    Hello Chris:

    Thank you for this post. We need to see more analysis and guidance like this. Keep in mind that woodworkers who have respect for their tools and appreciation for the tools’ good design will keep them in sound shape for many years. The longer we woodworkers do this, the more we gain back on the costs saved from not having to buy replacement tools.

    The advice, "buy the best tools yuo can afford" is sound advice. Buying cheap tools every three years or so to replace junk that wears out is just going to leave less savings available to purchase good tools.

    Let me ask those reading this to consider this:

    The rationale that you present in the blog above may not apply to the one issue that vexes many woodworkers including me – the cost of buying real estate needed to get a woodshop setup in the first place. There is a point above which the cost of real estate becomes too high and there are no funds left over at the end of the day to buy quality tools, lumber, and instruction. Then the hard question needs to be asked whether it would be better for the woodworker to move to cheaper living arrangements to free up the funds needed to practice woodworking. Renting may be cheaper then owenership.

    As a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ, I take to heart His Word which says that a man who pretends to be rich yet lacks daily bread and a person who pretends to be poor yet has a servant (See Proverbs Chapters 12 and 13). For us, a practical application of this Biblical text is this: we as woodworkers know what is necessary for our lives and we don’t need the world’s praise for all the stuff we can get or own. As a result, we woodworkers can deny ourselves some things so that we can enjoy something like a Lie-Nieesen handplane or a Gramercy Tools carcass saw.

    By keeping my housing costs under strict control (refuse to keep up with the Jones), I have begun to enjoy the blessings of picking up new woodworking skills that come with new tools that promote quality work. These tools are two saws from Tools for Working Wood and a starter set of molding planes from Matt Bickford’s shop. These new tools are well made, at a fair price, and a motivator for me to continue to grow in woodworking. And I still have food on my table, still tithe with our church, and can give to those who are needy.

    Regards,

    Matthew Holbrook
    Reformedtruth@yahoo.com

  38. classes

    First off, that puts toolmakers squarely in line with period/custom furnituremakers. Something I always expected but never vocalized.

    Second, you guys are outside Philly at a bar (it better not be Iron Hill) and I didn’t even get a phone call?

  39. DW

    By the way, anyone who thinks you get rich making quality tools should try it. Make two or three planes. Metal ones.

    I’ll bet they’d have trouble covering the cost of their materials for at least several versions unless they’re making something like dovetail chisels where material costs are very low.

    I see that still a lot of the responses are failing to acknolwedge there are better ways to clean up old tools.

    Calling old tools junk and assuming that it will take hours and hours to prepare all of them is sort of like chopping one mortise with a scratch stock blade and then asserting that there is no way to do mortises other than routers and machinery.

    If anyone really doesn’t have the time to clean tools and prepare them (once you learn how to do it quickly and properly), i’m not sure how they are reading this blog asserting that they do woodworking with hand tools.

  40. Jason Herrick

    You nailed it on the head. Gotta love the wisdom that comes with cold carbonated beverages. As a consumer, you can choose. Do you have more time, or more money. When you break it down as you did it’s a lot easier to see. Well done Sir. Well Done.

  41. Al R.

    Chris – Thanks for scaring people away form the used chisel market. Now maybe I can get some of these gems more cheaply…..

    Personally I can’t believe you spent so much time working that thing over. Have you ever tried drywall sanding screens. They cut quickly.

    One thing you said rang true – you have to decide what your time is worth. Personally, my time is worth the amount saved by doing something myself – which is why I generaly stop far short of taking an old tool back to showroom perfection.

    BTW how about a picture of the finished chisel? I would love to see what a $37 dollar chisel looks like compared to a Lie Neilsen…

    Thanks – Keep up the great work!

  42. Mark

    I think you’re mostly preaching to the choir here Chris. I never buy a low end tool unless I know it’s destined to be sacrificed in some way. Using the higher end tools is pure joy I tell ya… Makes you want to raise your own game to the tool’s potential. Anyone giving you a digital wedgie must be a mole from some foreign country with cheap labor and substandard tool steel. As for computers…I use them a lot in my business but gave up buying brands names a long time ago and now build my own, just like my furniture. I still spend about the same but I get a better computer that I’d have to pay three or four times the price for on the market. Keep spreading the word. People are beginning to pay attention.

  43. www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawll0F8u-v3lDQ_peEXJ00cbJMnOA1t1PhA

    Another comparison can be found in "The Joiner and Cabinet Maker." Look at the cost of tools for a new journeyman, often expressed in hours, days, weeks needed to attain money enough. Compare one of those "took a day to earn" tools with the same premium equivalent today. The answer is almost always less, often much less than Thomas would have had to pay. So…. no more complaints!

    Now, about those public defenders? How’d they get into a woodworking blog?

  44. DW

    I’m not in the digital wedgie crowd, because I have scads of "gents tools".

    However, I would bet I could polish the back of that chisel flat in fifteen minutes.

    The key to refurbishing old tools is not killing the tips of your fingers doing it. You need to fashion a holder for irons and chisels out of something cheap, like a 2×4 and 2 spare bolts and hose clamps (which is used depends on whether it’s an iron with a slot or a chisel or iron with no slot).

    $20 for a kanaban, and $15 worth of loose diamonds and I have refurbished the horrible irons of about 20 old planes and still have 3/4ths of the diamonds left.

    Just like woodworking, it’s a matter of taking the time to do it the right way if you’re going to do a lot of them.

    If you’re going to do just one, then spending $35 on diamonds and a kanaban isn’t justifiable, but once you have them, it opens up a whole world.

    It’s nice to have both in the shop, even though old tools don’t advertise or lend themselves well to being available for thousands of users to purchase uniformly.

  45. Chris C

    Chris,

    I think your analogy about computers is spot on, and is
    one I have used myself many times. If you tell somebody that
    you spent $1000 on a table saw, they sometimes react strangely: "$1000! That’s crazy." I won’t even mention the $300 hand
    plane to them.

    Crazy it is until you ask them what they spent on their computer. $500? $1000? And how long since you bought the last one? A year? Two? Three?

    After I tell them it is likely that the table saw will still
    be cutting long after I am dead and buried it doesn’t seem like such a crazy amount anymore.

    More importantly is what happens to the 2-3 year old computer. Landfill? Maybe a phony baloney recycle program? Nobody wants any computer that is more than a year old it seems.

    Yet I sold my 5+ year old Jet jointer and my 5+ year old Jet
    bandsaw easily on Craigslist. And neither tool needed a hard sell; I got my full asking price and no complaints.

    But I’d like to point out perhaps a more subtle point that gets
    overlooked. The tools that we buy are used for something I think people need to do more of: production. When you factor this in,
    the price aspect really starts to play second fiddle. At least in my mind.

    Contrast this to the computer(or the $1500 HDTVs that evidently
    are essentially to people’s lives). These are almost exclusively consumptive in nature. I won’t deny that computers are also tools, as long as readers won’t deny that for the average person they really aren’t used that way.

    Chris

  46. Dan

    Chris
    The following has been attributed to John Ruskin: "There is scarcely anything in the world that some man cannot make a little worse, and sell a little more cheaply. The person who buys on price alone is this man’s lawful prey."

    I have never been disappointed with any Lie-Nielsen product that I have ever bought. Just added a 5/8" chisel to my collection last week – not sure set up took 15 minutes. After flattening the back on three stones, 5 strokes on each of two stones sharpened the bevel to ‘shaving arm hairs’ sharp.

  47. Jordan

    I use the same example as the laptop when talking about shop expenses. The common American idiology is "what it cost me right now" not what it cost over the course of a life time. Another valid point is the Lie-Nielsen chisel holds a strong resale value(Perhaps the resale is -$23.97 from MSRP).

Comments are closed.