Lie-Nielsen's headquarters and factory are housed in a pair of buildings off Route 1 in Warren Maine. The second floor of the building with the cupola houses a demo room where visitors can handle and try out any tool the company makes. David Frane 1 of 33
The factory contains a mix of old and new equipment. These are some of their vintage Bridgeport mills. David Frane 2 of 33
These CNC machines are among the more modern machines in the plant. David Frane 3 of 33
This steel bar stock will be milled into parts in the CNC machines. I looked at the tags—even the steel they use is made in the U.S.A. David Frane 4 of 33
The table of this surface grinding machine moves back and forth under the spinning head—which can be set up to bevel or flatten plane blades. The final honing is done by hand. David Frane 5 of 33
Steel goes into the machine as a solid bar and comes out as a chisel or part. What's left are the shavings, which are sent to a recycler and eventually sold to steel producers. David Frane 6 of 33
Blades are heat-treated in these electric ovens—which bring them to the desired combination of hardness and flexibility. If the blade is too hard it will chip or fracture in use; too soft and it won't hold an edge. David Frane 7 of 33
The hardness of blades and other cutting tools is rated on the Rockwell Hardness scale. I've seen Rockwell numbers for years and yet this was the first time I saw the device used to determine it. David Frane 8 of 33
The company lacks the facilities to produce iron castings so it subs that work to outside suppliers in Massachusetts and Maine. As you can see, the edges (and bottom) of these rough castings will require some machining. Lie-Nielsen plane bodies are made from ductile iron or manganese bronze—ductile iron because it's stronger than traditional gray iron and bronze because it wears better than brass. David Frane 9 of 33
Our tour guide shows us a jointer plane body at an intermediate stage of machining. The bottom has been flattened and all that remains is to grind the sides square to it. David Frane 10 of 33
These bronze castings will be used in the model 97 1/2 Small Chisel Plane, which is based on the old Stanley 97. David Frane 11 of 33
Bronze shavings from the machine used to bring bronze castings to their final shape. David Frane 12 of 33
It feels like I have seen thousands of safety posters in various shops but this one really makes the case. David Frane 13 of 33
Iron castings for the model 71 router plane. Look closely and you'll see that the holes for the handles have been tapped. David Frane 14 of 33
This is the area where parts are sanded and buffed to the desired finish. Most of the machining is automated but the finishing work is done primarily by hand. David Frane 15 of 33
This granite surface plate is flat to within thousandths of an inch and is used as a fixture when checking to see that plane bodies are square and flat. David Frane 16 of 33
If the machines in the finishing area were not enough, the stools in front of them indicate the finishing work is done by humans rather than robots. David Frane 17 of 33
Assembly benches are stocked with the parts needed to assemble tools—the last stage before shipping. David Frane 18 of 33
The parts for these bench vises were provided by outside suppliers; assembly was done in a nearby town. David Frane 19 of 33
The room where hand saws are made. David Frane 20 of 33
Hand saws begin as coils of steel. David Frane 21 of 33
This piece of steel will be turned into a backsaw—which involves installing a brass back, drilling holes for a wood handle, and cutting and setting teeth. David Frane 22 of 33
Hand saw teeth are cut with venerable Foley Belsaw machines. David Frane 23 of 33
Backsaws with teeth cut and backs installed. David Frane 24 of 33
You have to be pretty old or into traditional hand tools to know what the blue things are. They're the saw sets used to set the teeth of handsaws. Setting teeth allows for a kerf that is wider than the body of the saw. If the kerf isn't wider the saw will bind in the cut. David Frane 25 of 33
Planes that have been wiped clean and polished prior to shipping. David Frane 26 of 33
A mix of old and new machines in this part of the factory--everything from drill presses and edge sanders to CNC machines. David Frane 27 of 33
Swedish-made Wetterlings Axes on display at an open house. These are among the handful of products Lie-Nielsen sells that are made by other companies. David Frane 28 of 33
Planes and other tools on display in the company demo room—where it's possible to handle and try out nearly all of the company's products. David Frane 29 of 33
Socket chisels in the demo room. David Frane 30 of 33
Hand saws and a router plane in the demo area. David Frane 31 of 33
These are some of my favorites—block planes and specialty tools such as skew cutting rabbet planes. David Frane 32 of 33
Lie-Nielsen is just off of Route 1 in Warren, Maine. This was shot in July when the area is at its most beautiful. Having lived for a couple of years in a town to the south I can attest to the fact that it's not quite as nice in the winter. David Frane 33 of 33
A few summers back during a trip East I decided to visit Lie-Nielsen Toolworks in Warren, Maine. As luck would have it, they were holding their annual open-house, so I was able to tour the factory where they make hand planes, chisels, saws, and other traditional woodworking tools.
It would have been nice to tour the plant while it was in operation, but I understand why it was shut down for the open house—it would be dangerous to have guests wandering through while machines were running. The photos above are from my tour of the factory and include captions that describe what things are.
A personal side note: although I don't own any Lie-Nielsen tools, I have a longstanding "relationship" with the company. In the early 80s I was a boat building apprentice at the Maine Maritime Museum in Bath, which is 35 miles south of Warren. One afternoon a guy walked into the shop, introduced himself as Tom and showed us some tiny planes he'd made for a man who built ship models.
I was blown away by the beauty and quality of the tools he had made and would have loved to buy some from him. But like other apprentices, my budget was better suited to buying hand tools at flea markets and barn sales.
I remember thinking at the time that this Tom fellow (Thomas Lie-Nielsen) would never make a go of it because there could not possibly be enough people able to afford what he made. This is one of those cases where I am happy to have been wrong; in the 30+ years since Tom's visit to the boat shop his company has grown to around 100 employees and become a brand sold around the world.