During a recent vacation in Maine I realized we'd be passing through Warren, home to Lie-Nielsen Toolworks, so I stopped in for a look. It was an unplanned visit so imagine my delight when I discovered they were having an open house that included a tour of the factory.
It was great to finally be able to see the place. I'd been aware of the company for a very long time, having met the founder 30+ years ago at a nearby maritime museum where I was a boat building apprentice. Thomas Lie-Nielsen had stopped by to see someone and brought some planes with him. They were incredible in every way, but beyond the means of any of the guys in the shop--most of us bought hand tools at flea markets. I remember thinking there's no way this guy will make a go of it selling such expensive tools. I'm happy to have been wrong; Lie-Nielsen Toolworks grew and prospered, and now employs close to 100 people
The company makes an incredible assortment of high-end hand tools: planes, chisels, handsaws, and the like. Everything it produces is 100% US made, though some of the tools it sells are made by other companies. At their retail store I saw measuring and layout tools from Starrett, rasps from a French company called Auriou, and Swedish axes from Wetterlings.
Nothing Lie-Nielsen Toolworks makes or sells is aimed at what marketers refer to as value shoppers—it's all pricey stuff. The company would argue their tools are a lifetime investment, expensive only in relation to their mass produced counterparts. I can see their point, the cabinets and furniture I built during my career were more expensive than ones that came from a factory. It's too bad I couldn't afford to buy something from Thomas Lie-Nielsen when he came through the boat shop 30 years back because by now that tool would certainly have paid for itself.
The slideshow on the left contains photos from my tour of the factory. The captions will explain what everything is. There are a bunch of shots of Lie-Nielsen tools at the end.