Archive for the ‘Tools’ Category

The High Cost of Good Hand Tools

January 24th, 2014 by
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In my youth, one reason many builders of fine furniture, amateur and professional alike, turned to hand tools was economy. Hand tools were much cheaper

Two Bailey #04 1/2 smoothing planes

Two Bailey #04 1/2 smoothing planes

than machinery. Stanley probably made more hand tools than any other company, having plants in New Britain, Connecticut and England. The most notable hand tool they manufactured was Bailey Planes. The company bought Leonard Bailey out in 1869 and hired him to supervise production. Stanley made prodigious numbers of Bailey planes between 1869 and the early 1960s. The design set a high-water mark for hand planes and Bailey’s numbering system, sizes 01 through 08 (pronounced Oh and the number) became the de facto standard for the entire woodworking industry. Smoothing planes are 01 though 04; jack planes are number 05, with 07 and 08 being jointers. In 1923, an 05 jack plane sold for $6.05.

In 1898, Stanley introduced an even better plane, the Bedrock. This used the same numbering system, but a 6 preceded the number to denote the Bedrock Line. In the very early 20tth century, the cheeks of the 600 Bedrock Line were squared to further distinguish them from the Bailey Line. Stanley ceased production of the Bedrock in 1943, but craftsmen use and treasure them to this day. Today at least three manufacturers make slavish copies of Bedrock planes. In 1923, a 605 Bedrock jack plane sold for $6.75.

Classic Bailey #05 (foreground);  classic Bedrock #605 (back). Both made during the 1920s.

Classic Bailey #05 (foreground); classic Bedrock #605 (back). Both made during the 1920s.

When I was getting serious about woodworking in the 1970s, plane manufacture had sunk to an all-time low. You could not buy a usable plane anymore. But Baileys abounded at yard sales and flea markets for between $5 and $25. Bedrocks went for $5 to $75, depending on whether the seller realized that Bedrocks were premium merchandise. This happy state of affairs made a used high quality classic cheaper than a new piece of junk. There are those who will only buy new, and they chafed under what was available.

As woodworking grew as a hobby, the demand for decent hand planes became sufficient that companies started making decent ones again. Tom Lie-Nielsen was the first to realize this need and started making a good Bedrock reproduction. Today we are blessed with a host of companies making really good planes; however, they are not cheap!

If we factor in inflation for our 1923 prices from Stanley Catalogue Number 120, we find our $6.05 Bailey would cost $80.49 today and the $6.75 Bedrock would cost $89.80. This tells us that planes, and I think hand tools in general, have gotten significantly more expensive. A 05 Lie-Nielsen Jack today costs $325, which is 3.6 times the price of our 1923 Bedrock.

Some of this price difference can be attributed to manufacturing quantities. As you make more of any product, quantities of scale are reached that significantly reduce manufacturing cost. In the 1920s, Stanley was making planes in the hundreds of thousands, while any manufacturer today is making thousands at best. This would account for part of the price increase. Another factor is that planes, and many other hand tools, are cast iron. The cost for a foundry to meet EPA environmental standards, which are needed if the world is to go on, is significant. Some of the more attractive prices for hand planes may be due to manufacture in Asia, where manufacturing air quality standards are lower than in the U.S.

The good news, I think, is that cost of machinery has seen similar price increases, so hand tools are still a good alternative. What is more: they are safer, quiet and don’t need a power cord. Used planes do not abound anymore, but are still quite available. A decent Bailey can still be purchased for less than $100, making it a very good buy indeed.

JET, Powermatic Parent Company Purchased by Private Equity Firm

October 8th, 2013 by
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JET BandsawThis just in: big news on the business side of the power tool industry!

This morning in a press release, Tenex Capital Management announced that it has signed a definitive agreement to acquire the machinery and tools business of Walter Meier AG of Switzerland. For those who may not be aware, Walter Meier Tools manufactures the machinery and equipment under the JET, Wilton and Powermatic brands.

Powermatic latheWalter Meier Tools is headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee, but the company also has operations in Switzerland, Germany, Russia, France, Taiwan and China. It sells through more than 3,000 distribution channels in 30 countries. Tenex, the purchasing company, is a private equity firm focused on middle market investments. The transaction is expected to be completed by October 31, 2013. No financial terms were disclosed.

Walter Meier logoIn the same press release, Michael Green, CEO of Tenex Capital Management, stated, “In Walter Meier Tools, we have acquired a strong company with great brands and a growing market share in each of its segments. The well-recognized brands of JET, Wilton and Powermatic define the resilience and durability of the products. We look forward to supporting the company and its management team in executing its continued growth initiatives.”

At this time, that’s about all the information we have here at the Journal, but stay tuned! We will provide updates as they become available.

Grizzly Adds New Tool Comparison Feature to Website

January 4th, 2013 by
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Grizzly ChartIf 2013 is your year to buy a new stationary tool, and Grizzly is one of the companies you’re considering for that purchase, they’ve just added a slick new search feature that could make the process quite easy. It’s a machinery comparison chart widget that generates an instant side-by-side cross-reference for up to four Grizzly machines at once.

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Ryobi Wins Table Saw Safety Litigation

August 20th, 2012 by
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We’ve previously brought you other news of pending table saw legislation; in recent news, a Chicago jury decided earlier this month in favor of table saw manufacturer Ryobi Tools, against a plaintiff who claimed he was injured by a defective saw.

The plaintiff, Brandon Stollings, a carpenter who purchased a Ryobi BTS 20R1 a few days before the accident, claimed in the suit that the saw was defective because it did not include a SawStop sensing device or a European style riving knife. Additional lawsuits have been filed across the country with similar allegations, including a 2010 case decided in Boston in which the jury ruled in favor of the plaintiff, awarding over $1 million in damages.

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The Rapidly Rising Cost of Steel

July 3rd, 2012 by
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I remember the halcyon days when M2 high speed steel (HSS) turning tools hit the market. No longer did we have to worry about burning at the grinder, and HSS tools held an edge forever — compared to plain carbon steel, anyway.

The last decade has seen a proliferation of turning tools made from exotic powdered steels. Powdered refers to the manufacturing process where iron, with the necessary alloying elements, is mechanically mixed in powder form, then sprayed into a furnace where the powders become plastic but do not melt. The resulting blob is cold worked to form bars for machining. Powdered metal technology allows much higher amounts of alloying metals such as vanadium (which increases edge holding) than conventional blast furnace manufacture. The price of such special handling is significantly higher, but PM steels give extraordinarily longer tool life for metal cutting.

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SKILSaw Celebrates 75th Anniversary

June 6th, 2012 by
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For many woodworkers, the entire purpose of a garage is to house their tools. Any vehicles are an incidental. For some, however, the bikes are just as important as the woodworking — and we’re not talking about the kind they ride on the Tour de France.

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To Italy for Saw Blades!

May 4th, 2012 by
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Italian buildingIn the last two days, your intrepid editor has traveled to Venice, Italy and then up to Udine, Italy, to learn about Irwin’s newest entry into the circular saw blade market. Now, I understand that you might be feeling sorry for me … Venice in May is hard to take … but fear not, I am holding up well.

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Table Saw Legislation Moves to State Level

April 19th, 2012 by
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A while back, we brought you news of proposed federal rulemaking that would influence table saws. This week, a committee in the California legislature approved a similar bill at the state level. The “AB 2218 Table Saw Safety Act,” originally introduced by Assemblyman Das Williams (D), “Prohibits the sale of any new table saw on or after January 1, 2015, unless that table saw is equipped with active injury mitigation technology.”

“Active injury mitigation technology” is defined in the bill as “technology to detect contact with, or dangerous proximity between, a hand or finger and the teeth of the blade above the table top of a table saw, and to prevent the blade from cutting the hand or finger deeper than one-eighth of an inch when the hand or finger approaches any portion of the blade above the table top at a speed of one foot per second from any direction and along any path.”

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Who’s a fan of LEDs on tools? I sure am.

April 10th, 2012 by
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The other day I was routing a little nameplate plaque for my daughter’s bedroom. It’s fussy and slow-paced work. I first cut the letters following a paper template, then pull the template off and rout them even deeper. Not a job you can rush, and it’s one that definitely takes a sharp eye.

I was using a RIDGID R2401 trim router for the job. Aside from its compact size, which I really like, it’s got an LED light underneath to brighten up the area you’re routing. In this particular project, that feature was flat-out indispensable.

Maybe it’s my mid-40s vision starting to go … I’m resisting that sinking feeling that bifocals are finally unavoidable. Or maybe my shop just plain doesn’t have enough light these days. Whatever the reason is, I’m appreciating tools with built-in worklights now more than ever.

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Sharpening my Tools

March 17th, 2012 by
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I’ve never been particularly adept at sharpening my edge tools (chisels, plane irons, etc.). It’s not that I couldn’t get them sharp enough to work, it’s just that I’ve always experienced inconsistent results. One time, I’d get a blade so sharp, it simply glided through hard oak and maple. The next time I sharpened that blade, I’d be lucky if it didn’t tear its way through soft pine. Freehand sharpening always seemed like something that would take decades to get right (an opinion no doubt influenced by the fact that the best tool sharpener I know has made nearly 95 trips around the sun). The trick seems to be locking your wrists and fingers as you pass the tool over the stone, to keep the honing bevel at the same angle during every pass. Fail this, and you end up with a rounded bevel face and an edge that’s none too sharp. Yes, hollow grinding helps, as the tip and heel of the bevel are easier to keep flat on the stone. But unless the tool has a wide bevel, like a big chisel or heavy plane iron, even hollow grinding is no guarantee.

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