Amana Tools: Changing Woodworking through Persistence and Commitment to Quality
Issue: Issue 4.01
Posted Date: 1/13/2003
As recently as the mid 70s, woodworking was a different world. The use of routers was virtually unknown, and most edging was done with shaper cutters or even saws. Both the equipment and the blades were priced beyond the means of many small shops and most hobbyists.
Amana Tools changed all that. Working with a factory in Israel, the New
York company took on an entrenched cutter shaper industry to establish its router bits (and ultimately router bits in general) as the tool of choice for professionals and amateurs.
"My father was a cabinetmaker ... that's how I got into this business," Aaron Einstein, founder and CEO of Amana Tools recalled. "It wasn't worth it to buy a shaper cutter for only three or four hundred feet of form, but a router bit would cost only $30 or $40. We started out with trimmers -- because the laminates were just coming in -- and for wood, some quarter rounds and maybe some ogees. I used to go see customers all over the country. I'd fly to California, rent a car, and drive from one end of the state to the other ... stopping at every account along the way. Our biggest competition on the West Coast was Wisconsin Knife. I'd ask them to try one and slowly, slowly we grew. It took years of going from state to state, but based on our quality and vailability, we eventually took the business."
Master Router Set
Aside from Aaron's persistence, several early key decisions were critical to building the company's reputation and market share. They decided to use good quality German steel and carbide made in Luxembourg from the largest producer in the world. But perhaps most important was the equipment the company uses to manufacture its tools.
Since it's inevitable that even low-priced competition will improve, Amana has developed its distinctive, black-colored Timberline brand to compete on price point. Made in the same factory on the same equipment, the brand is 40% cheaper than the equivalent Amana bit and encompasses 140 of the most popular profiles.
"It's all made by us, it's very unique: like nobody else's," Aaron explained. "During our manufacturing, a single machine completes all the stages to create a router bit. That and the extra steps we take are the only way to maintain the exact tolerances a good router bit requires. Otherwise, every time you move a bit from machine to machine for different procedures, you add a little runout or vibrations. In a side-by-side comparison, you can see the difference. Ours run smoother and stay sharper longer."
The company buys all kinds of exotic hardwoods to test the tools for both speed and quality and to determine how many running feet can be done before re-sharpening. To further ensure that every blade achieves that high standard, Amana randomly checks one out of ten bits or blades after it arrives in New York. (Every 12" or larger blade is checked!)
Which came first better router bits or better routers?
As Amana's business grew, the increased use of router bits soon affected router manufacturing. According to Aaron, routers themselves were pretty weak, only 3/4 or 1 hp, but as customers wanted larger radius -- 5/8", 3/4", 7/8" -- bigger machines came out.
"All the tolerances are fed into a central computer to ensure that the quarter-round bits we made five months ago are identical to the one we made today," explained Aaron, who supervises most of the testing himself. "Let's say you bought a bit today and it broke -- and believe me it won't, but lets say it did -- and you were in the middle of rounding a corner. You can buy a new bit, finish it, and it would be perfect."
The extra cost of materials and machining also means that Amana is on the high price-end of the market. But as Aaron noted, "Once you've ruined an expensive piece of wood or had to spend hours sanding after using a cheaper bit, the extra cost of ours becomes worth it."
The company recently came out with a 10" saw blade for the DIY market called A.G.E. It's a high-end blade at a low-end price made entirely in Germany.
Today, still working with the manufacturing plant in Israel, the company's saw blades, cutters, and bits are sold through specialty woodworking retailers such as Rockler, lumberyards, and sharpening shops, and directly to large furniture manufacturers such as Steel Case and Herman Miller. Business is split 50/50 between DIY/small shop and high production manufacturers.
And Aaron takes great pride in his product.
"I was at a show in Atlanta a few years ago and this doctor -- a brain surgeon -- told me he had just about every DIY bit we sell and how he relaxes by spending Saturdays and Sundays making furniture for himself and his neighbors. Here's a guy who can afford the best, and he loves our tools. It made me very proud."
Though the company doesn't sell retail directly, its web site provides detailed product information and links to retailers.