Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event, Denver, November 4th-5th, 2011

When I first got into woodworking a few years ago, I started coming across the names of makers of fine hand tools. Lee Valley, Bad Axe, and of course, Lie Nielsen.

The Lie Nielsen catalog is ever present on my night stand. And I thumb through it frequently before bed-assured that sugar plums and hand planes will dance in my slumbering head.

So when Lie Nielsen advertised their latest hand tool event in Denver, I resolved to go for a few reasons.

–They have one sample of each of the items they sell on hand.

–I could see, handle and try all the tools that interested me. Looking at tools in a catalog is very different from experiencing them with my senses. For example, the LN adjustable-mouth block plane felt a bit small in my hands. Maybe I’m used to the knuckle grip SB #18 I picked up last summer at an estate sale.

–For the items I was seriously considering buying, I could test the fit in my hand and how the tool performed in combination with my own mechanics (sawing, planing etc.)

–There would be knowledgeable LN staff on hand to answer my questions.

–I would expand my woodworking knowledge by seeing, hearing about and trying tools I’ve never considered before (see the floats section below).

–I would learn a thing or two from fellow woodworkers who would be attending. I reasoned that they could give me first-hand feedback on specific LN tools based on years of use in their shops. I also reasoned that seasoned woodworkers would be in attendance and that I would pick up a tip or two from them.

After attending the event, I’ll say this. There is no substitute for handling and trying the tools yourself. In this way, you get a sense for the weight and balance of the tool. And you can immediately get a sense for how a tool fits in your hands and how comfortable it would be to use in your shop.

10:00 a.m. Sharp
I walked into the warehouse of Sierra Forrest Products company to find two LN work benches and display cases sporting an example of everything the company makes. It felt like Christmas morning…where to begin.

I strolled up to a bench where a Lie-Nielsen representative—Curtis—was demonstrating the use of floats to another early bird. What I liked was that Curtis knew his stuff. He himself is an avid woodworker. He had impressed the company with his knowledge and passion for hand tools and they had brought the Texan on to work events around the country.

I was really there to try out all of the saws in Lie Nielsen’s nest. Hell, let’s be honest, I’ve been dreaming about the dovetail saw for over a year so I knew I was probably going to walk out of there with one. Consequently, floats didn’t interest me because I don’t build wooden planes. But as the demonstration continued, Curtis peaked my interest. The saws could wait a while.

Hands-on Float Testing
Curtis put a maple board into a LN chain-drive vice for us to work with. Now the vice was a dream to work with. It has a single handle to turn which tightens one of the screws and moves a chain and sprocket to tighten the opposite screw in unison. I didn’t notice any racking either and the edge end of the vise held firmly.

With the maple secure my fellow event attendee and I put a bed push-stroke float through its paces. Apparently, you can use them just like a rasp/file to accomplish any task you would use these tools for. In seconds I had rounded the corners of the board. The float face looks aggressive but it left a surprisingly-smooth finish on the work piece.

Then we tried a shorter, crane-necked pull-stroke face float.

It too worked the wood smoothly. Curtis explained that unlike rasps and files, you can sharpen floats with a triangular file. I see that as a huge advantage because that extends the serviceable life of the tool well beyond that of my current rasps/files. Let’s just say that a float has made its way onto my wish list.

Three Dovetail Saws to Try
Once we finished our hands-on with floats Curtis happily showed me the LN dovetail saws.

There were three to choose from. Two “standard” DTs both come with 15 ppi. They differ in their plate thickness, being offered in .020″ or .015″ versions. There’s also a “progressive pitch” model where the first tooth near the toe is smaller than the last tooth at the heal and each tooth gets progressively larger in between. The rational for this filing is that the sawyer can start the cut more easily.

My test cuts began with the standard DT. It was hard to get started until Curtis had me relax my shoulders and arm and let the saw do the cutting. Not bad. Then I tried the thin-plate saw. My relaxed posture started the cut easily and it went through the maple board like butter. Nice and straight too. The progressive-pitch saw did indeed start more easily and also cut quite well and straight.

Frankly, I liked the DTs better than my Japanese Dozoki saw. While I like the pull stroke feature immensely, I never did warm up to the rounded handle. By contrast, LN DT saw’s handle made me feel more in control of the cut and more confident in properly orienting the blade for greater precision.

Then of course, there’s the aesthetics.

A straight wood handle with plant fiber twine wrapped around it and a dull-finish curved-tip blade simply isn’t in the same universe as a drop-dead gorgeous curly maple handle with traditional brass back and split nuts affixed to a shiny, steel plate.

And here’s a beauty shot of the LN all by her pretty self.

Panel Saws and Joinery Saws
Next I had to try their 7 pt rip saw. I’ve been looking for one for some time now. I have a vintage 5 ½ Spear and Jackson split-nut saw, but it can leave quite a rough finish that my jointer plane has to attend to. It’s also very long at 28″ so I have to use it with my saw bench. I want a shorter panel saw that I can make finer rip cuts with for material in my vice.

But the few 7 pt panel saws I’ve seen on Ebay have been very pricy or have been in poor condition.

The LN 7pt panel saw fits the bill perfectly with a blade length of 20 inches. It cuts quite well, leaving a much smoother finish than my 5 ½. And its short length extends its use beyond the saw bench to the vice as well. But there’s only one tinsy, little problem. Or rather 225 of them. Because that’s the number of dollars that you’ll have to hand over for this beauty.

Next I tried the LN 16″ 10 ppi tenon saw, filed rip. Curtis marked some cheeks on a piece of maple and I sliced through it with the beefy joinery saw. I personally like the heft of this saw though others may find it a bit too heavy for their taste. I find it easier to let the saw do its own work because I don’t find myself pushing down on the blade the way I often do with much lighter saws. And with New Year’s just around the corner, there’s my first bad habit to kick for 2012.

Next, I used the small open-handle carcass saw filed crosscut, to remove the cheeks on a bench hook. It’s a dream to use, sharp, smooth and sexy.

But, since I’ve already got two xc backsaws to do these operations (Diston #4 for aggressive cuts and a Noble #1 for fine cuts) I’ll pass on this saw for now—no matter how sexy she’d look on my peg board.

After finishing with the saws, I was ready for the next class of tools.

There was quite a crowd at the plane demo bench. Crowds and I don’t mix. I avoid them. I’m the kind of guy who visits the Amalfi Coast in rainy December and runs errands in Colorado during Broncos football games.

So I drifted over to the chisels, free to handle them without jostling with others. I was surprised by the small handles. Oh they fit perfectly into my somewhat smaller hands, but I have to wonder how they would feel in the hands of you bigger guys. I also liked the shorter, rounded handles because they reminded me of vintage Stanley chisel handles. I’ve always found them pleasing to the eye.

I would like to have tried out the chisels but time was short (had to meet my lady for lunch) and there were planes to be caressed in a loving and caring way.

Planes and More Planes
LN offers all the bench planes (#1 through #8), shoulder planes (small, medium, large), router planes, scrub planes and shooting planes you could want. They have high-, standard- and low-angle frogs. Pick from standard blades or toothed blades.

I personally own their brass #4 smoother and it’s always been a dream to use. My first purchase upon getting back into woodworking was a Stanley Bailey #4. I spent the next two years fettling that thing, trying this or that. It did a decent job, but frankly, it never came close to delivering the smooth finish that my LN #4 did right out of the box.

Believe me. I know that their planes are pricy. But if you’re even considering purchasing one, you’ll want to put hands to steel and feel its measure on walnut or maple.

The first plane I had to try was the No. 51 Shoot Board plane.

This is a dedicated shooting plane and at 9 lbs, it has plenty of mass to see you through the cut of even the most dense end grain. I found it hard to track on the shooting board. I think that the mass of the thing is so different from the low-angle #5 I use as my shooting plane that I would need time to adjust to something this beefy.

Next up I tried their 4 ½ smoothing plane. The 4 ½ features a wider blade than the #4 (2 3/8″ versus 2″) is wider than a #4 and heavier. It took beautiful, wispy, shavings from the walnut board face I was planing and left a glassy finish. Even though it takes more muscle to push, I took an instant liking to it.

Checking Out
I wrapped up my stay after a couple of hours. The LN team keeps a limited number of models on hand for purchase on site. So I walked out with a thin-plate, standard-tooth dovetail saw, 4 oz of jojoba oil, a two-piece scraper card set, and a smile.

I also picked up a few tips from fellow woodworkers. Besides relaxing my posture to more easily start a saw cut, I learned a tip to take even shavings with a plane.

The plane demo bench had a block of wood 2″ x 2″ x 1″. What Curtis did was take a shaving with the right side of a plane then do the same with the left side. He tweaked the lateral adjustment lever until both shavings were the same thickness. Cool.

If you’ve been thinking about attending one of LNs tool events don’t cheat yourself out of the experience. You don’t have to spend a dime to enjoy handling exquisite tools along with the camaraderie of fellow woodworkers.

But, if like me, you walk out of there with a lighter wallet, a few tools and a happy heart, don’t say I didn’t warn you.


About The Write Biz

By day, I'm a mild-mannered copywriter who harnesses frontal-lobe creativity (right brain) to help B2B marketers generate leads and sales. By night I pick up hand tools to create wooden masterpieces...and give my black lab Bella the "red dot" laser to chase after.
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