Wednesday, November 19, 2008

New Tools: Gadgets or Godsends?

The marketplace at the WIA conference was bustling with would-be tool buyers looking for the latest offerings from manufacturers. Lie-Nielsen devoted a corner of its booth to its new line of innovations: saw jointing jig, chamfer plane, tongue & groove plane, inlay tools, corner chisels, small hammer, fishtail chisels, burnisher, and a tool that cuts shallow mortises, Quaker locks, and the like after you have assembled your workpiece.

I was especially interested in the saw jointing jig, which hinges open so you can slide a file in place. The wings of the jig fold over top your saw blade so that the file rests on top of the teeth. You slide the jig along the teeth, thereby jointing them to the same height.

In one of the conference seminars—Modern Tools: Tolerances & Myths—which was conducted in panel format with Robin Lee (RL), John Economaki (JE), Konrad Sauer (KS), and Thomas Lie-Nielsen (L-N), a lively discussion ensued after an audience member asked if new designs were merely gadgetry. "Do we really need all these tools?" he asked. He sited one product, the Jointmaker Pro, invented by John Economaki, and inferred that it might be unnecessary and overpriced.

Here are the responses from the panel:

KS—Experiments are important. Some are valid, some are not, but inspiration keeps the industry moving forward.

RL—If you enjoy it, buy it.

JE—One thing you might not know about the Jointmaker is how many people it has helped: schools for the blind, people who have never been able to saw a straight line, people with one arm, and people with Parkinson's disease. You can't put a price on that.

RL—We offer a right angle magnetic guide for people with hand tremors.

JE—You don't need a lot of tools. Buy something because it speeds up woodworking. Gadgets might help you if you have time constraints. Above all, learn to make meaningful projects. Treat wood like it's $500 bf. That piece has to have a voice by itself when you're gone.

Another question from the audience: What are you going to change/what have you learned?

JE—We create new products based on my whims.

L-N—We're going to offer more instructional DVDs.

RL—We're slowly going to expand technologies with new lines of tools. We are just now offering our first handsaw. Many suppliers are disappearing. We have witnessed the closure of over 2,000 of our vendors/suppliers, which makes it difficult for us.


Gadgets or godsends? You decide. But I'll leave you with this insight from Adam Cherubini: "We need to support the modern tool makers. You can't grow a movement with antique tools."


Metalworker Mike said...

I don't think you need that elaborate a jig just to joint a saw. The only ones that need to be that crazy are ones for jointing breasted saws. Besides, having that casting wrapped around your saw is liable to leave scratches, and it makes it harder to lift the file for the return stroke, and you might clip the saw teeth on the inside of the casting in the process.
The Jointmaker is an interesting bit of business. I have some issues with it, but there is no doubt that you get a lot of engineering for the money. Whether you need it is a different question, but I don't think it's fair to say that it's over priced. For a model-maker or anyone else who deals with smaller material (no more than 2" or so in width and thickness) the precision would save a LOT of time making jigs.
The most interesting bit of that entry was the quote from Adam Cherubini. Had I seen the quote without an attribution, I never would have guessed he had said it. He not only uses 18th century tools, but he makes them if he can't find them. Definitely not someone that the modern makers get much financial support from. He's got a good point, though.


Anonymous said...

Gadgets and gizmos have been around forever. Whether or not they are worth while is, in my opinion, up to the individual and what he is trying to extract from the hand tool experience.

The Stanley 52 Chute Board could be considered a gadget, one introduced in 1905. All it was, though, was a commercially available replacement for something craftsmen had been making themselves for centuries.

When I search out a new tool I research what is available first, both old and new. If a tool maker is producing something that is a better product than what was produced a hundred years ago, I'll buy it. Sadly, though, most of the new tools available today do not, in my opinion, stack up against vintage tools. In the vast majority of cases, a modern tool maker, in their quest to reduce costs, always seem to find a way to cheapen the tool so it does not have the same feel and look that can be found with a vintage tool. The only exception I have found in this is hand planes, which is why I have a number of new and shiny Veritas planes in my cabinet.

Great topic, Kari. Thanks again.

Anonymous said...

I tend to be a minimalist when it comes to buying tools. Not so much by conviction, but for reasons of convenience, budget, time, and space constraints. I really do prefer woodworking to tool collecting.

I think it is neat to see manufacturers play around with new ideas and even new materials. Sometime they come up with some interesting things, especially for fringe case uses and users.

My favorite manufacturers are those who study the old designs, understand what made them "tick" and then make their own version according the practicalities of the work to be done, personal needs of the woodworker, and the materials available - much like the old makers did.

I usually find that I actually prefer new tools to old ones as long as they are made to the same or higher standards as the old ones.

The golden age of woodworking is long gone. While it is possible we may see some truly innovative designs in our lifetimes, it is extremely unlikely. More likely is that we might see a few incremental improvements due to manufacturers tooling or new materials.
Some would argue that even that is generally pretty improbable.

Adam is right. If we are going to see the craft really grow (and I think it will grow significantly), we need to support modern toolmakers who are making a best effort to produce quality tools.

Now, I am going off to finish making the woodie plane I started...

Woodbloke said...

Hi Kari - gadgets or godsend?..tricky one, you sure know how to pick 'em! I tend to adopt the minimalist approach (that's why I've somehow ended up with nearly 20 odd planes around my bench...note the irony) I tend to look at each job as it comes along and decide what (if anything) is needed, very often nothing is required to make it. I think it's very easy to be seduced by all the gadgetry and gizmos (and it's the same for any hobby) that come onto the market, but as an individual you have to ask yourself if that bit of kit is really needed...more often than not, the answer is 'no' However, tool makers are in business to make tools and they'll have all sorts of 'cunning plans' (Black Adder!) to help us part with a wedge. A good pal recently bought the LN inlay kit...when we compared it with a very good quality scratch stock (see my avatar on UKWorkshop)the LN gear wasn't a patch on the one that my pal Pete made for me.
End of the jour though, when you see all these shiny things with their beautiful timbers, the hand does sort of twitch twoards the back pocket...and therin lies the danger!
As an aside, there's a tour of my 'shop in the next issue of F&C (148 I think) - Rob

Anonymous said...

Coupla points:

1. Saw jointers of this sort were particularly marketed to the lumber trade for jointing the big toothed crosscut saws. No one cared if the blade was scratched a little... the idea was to maintain the angle and protect the fingers.

2. The Stanley Chute Board plane and it's like show up in printers catalogs. The intent was for forming the boxwood blocks to hold engraved plates as well as for forming engraved wood letters. Patternmaking tool catalogs also featured chute board sets.

While these tools no doubt saw use in other types of shops, there was and is a time and a place for everything.

3. I agree with Adam. The more we use antique tools that require sharpening, the more we use them up.


Anonymous said...

Kari - Thank you for the report on Lie Nielsen's new offerings. I am surprised with them offering the Tonque & Groove and the Chamfer plane. I quess I was expecting them to move in the direction that Lee Valley was going with the rabbet planes and ...(insert coming surprise whatever it is). In further reflection it does not make sense that Lee Valley & Lie Nielsen remain in lockstep. Did you get a feeling as to the general direction Lie Nielsen was going in their new offerings? The same with Lee Valley. I am sensing some major difference in how the two are approaching the future, but I am not smart enough to discern what it is.

Kari Hultman said...

As always, I enjoy reading everyone's points of view. Thank you for the thoughtful comments.

Rob, thanks for the heads up on the F&C issue. I'll look forward to your shop tour.

Bill, would you believe I didn't even notice the chamfer plane or the T&G plane until I saw them in my photo? I was shooting the inlay tools. There was so much to take in, I almost would like to have a do-over with the conference. The two companies seem very different to me. I believe L-N bases its tool designs on old tools, whereas LV seems to be more innovative/original. However, both offer excellent products, in my opinion. As far as their futures, I only know what they said in that particular seminar. I did not get the chance to talk with either owner one-on-one.

Anonymous said...

If you frequent tool auctions and flea markets, you can see more than enough of the peculiar patented gadgets from the 19th C industrial explosion. Many are rare because they broke or were failures! I have an idea that in todays market, we are not outdoing ourselves, at least in comparison to the 19th C inventors. Look for today's tools in the next century's tool auctions...

Anonymous said...

Like Crows we drag shiny objects back to our nests. Many of which have little or no use. "It sure seemed like a good idea at the time!" I tend to buy tools that aid or improve the quality or speed of my work. Many gadget tools and jigs are efforts to avoid learning skills. How many dovetail jigs, guides and gauges are there out there for a job that requires 4 tools (saw, chisel, mallet, marking gauge)and a practiced eye? I for one do not need the little dovetail saw that Mike Wenzloff is making for me and a host of others, but I spent a pleasant evening talking with him and it seems a good memento of the conference. As to a saw jointer, they are handy but a block of wood serves the same purpose. If it gives you joy to use it then it is multi-functional tool. John Keats wrote,"A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing."
Enjoy your quiet bowers.

Anonymous said...

I love gadgets, any gadget, all gadgets. I'd like one of each, at least. I'm in a quest for the ultimate gadget which I believe will be the power tool version of the Swiss Army Knife. Yes, there are lots of tools with multi functions, that's fine. I want all those multi functions and all the multi tools, combined!

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Kari Hultman said...

Dear spammers,

Kindly take a hike.