A Trip to the Hand Saw, Plane, and Chisel Factory

This is a view from the back of the main building in Warren, Maine. It contains a production facilitiy, offices, a demo room, and a small retail store. Hand saws, chisels, planes, and other metal tools are fabricated and assembled at this and a smaller building nearby. Work benches and wood parts (knobs, handles, and the like) are made at a facility in a nearby town.

Lie-Nielsen’s shop contains a mix of old, new, low-tech, and high-tech machines. These are some old Bridgeport milling machines.

This surface grinding machine is used to grind plane blades. The table moves back and forth under the spinning head, which can be set up to flatten or bevel blades. After the machine work is done the blade will be honed by hand.

These electric ovens are used for heat treating blades.

This US made A2 steel bar stock will be turned into chisel blades.

Bar stock is placed in the hoppers of these and other CNC machines, which cut the material to length and then machine them to the desired shape.

The CNC machines remove everything that isn’t “chisel” and turns it into shavings—which will be recycled and later made into something else.

Here is a selection of finished socket chisels, which are kept in the demo room so visitors can try them out

Lie-Nielsen does not have the facilities to produce its own iron castings—though at one time it produced bronze castings in-house. Now, all castings are made by outside suppliers in Maine and Massachusetts. These plane bodies are made from ductile iron because it is stronger and more resilient than traditional gray iron. Bronze castings are made from manganese bronze, an alloy that weighs more than iron and wears better than brass.

Cast iron plane bodies receive a powder coating when they arrive at the shop. Some of the powder coating will be removed as the casting is machined. Only those parts that are not machined will retain the powder coat color. These plane bodies have yet to be machined and are black on all surfaces.

The tour guide is showing a plane body at an intermediate stage of machining. The sole (bottom) has been ground flat. The next step will be to grind the sides flat and square to the sole.

These CNC machines are used to machine tools and make parts.

Bronze castings for the no. 97 1/2 Small Chisel Plane. If you look closely you’ll see that the top forward edges have been machined. The rest of the casting is still rough except for maybe the sole (bottom).

Bronze chips and shavings collect in a bin at the base of a CNC machine.

More old Bridgeport milling machines.

This is the polishing area, where parts are sanded and buffed to the desired finish. Unlike earlier stages of production, this is nearly all handwork.

The assembly area is next to the polishing area and is the final stage before shipping. Here you can see some of the small parts used to assemble planes.

This top of this table is a granite surface plate and is as flat as flat can be. Planes and other tools can be placed on this surface and checked for accuracy (flat, straight, square, etc.)

These finished tools have been wiped down to remove hand prints and are ready to be wrapped in rust proof paper, boxed, and shipped.

Vises and bench tops are produced by outside suppliers. Lie-Nielsen makes the legs and does the final assembly at a facility in a nearby town.

This is the room where hand saws are made and assembled.

This will soon be a backsaw blade. It arrived as part of a coil of metal, was cut to shape, and will have holes drilled in it to hold a handle and back.

This brass bar stock will be used to make back saws. It will be cut to length and have a narrow kerf milled in the edge to accept the blade.

Teeth are cut into handsaw blades using one of several Foley Belsaw machines, each set to produce a particular tooth pattern.

Panel saw blades ready for handles and sharpening.

Backsaw blades ready for handles and sharpening.

I’ve never met anyone who knows how to use a saw set, let alone someone who has two of the things. The fellow who uses these hand-sharpens every saw that comes out of Lie-Nielsen’s shop, setting and filing each and every tooth.

My visit took place during an open house so Lie-Nielsen staff was demonstrating various tools that they sell—including these Swedish-made axes from Wetterlings.

Every, or nearly every, tool Lie-Nielsen makes was available for trial in the second floor demo room. This table contains maybe 15% of what was there.

Here are a few of their handsaws. The same tools are available with multiple tooth options.

More hand planes here. The violin plane, the small one second row up three back from the end, reminds me of the tool Thomas Lie-Nielsen was showing around at the boat shop where I met him 30 years back—though the catalogue says it’s a new design.

Some spoke shaves, scraping planes, and drool-worthy hand planes here.

This is a view from the front. The narrow building on the far left is a production facility. The part with the dormers is the retail store. The largest part of the facility is off to the right; you can just make out the cupola on top of the demo room.

Lie-Nielsen Toolworks is just off Route 1 in Warren, Maine.

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