Quality hand tools before their gone?

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Blog entry by JuniorJoiner posted 01-10-2009 08:01 AM 1613 reads 0 times favorited 12 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I recieved the latest Lee Valley catalog/supplemental today in the mail. I’m afraid it may just be the harbinger of doom.
This supplemental was expected just for the new planes and dovetail saw.(opinions on those are not what i want to discuss)
the scary part of is was the 25% of this digest is white pages of price changes for their regular catalog.
I know this is one of many signs of the times, and prices are adjusting everywhere, but i’m afraid this is beginning of the end of another golden age of toolmaking.
the last few years have seen quality hand tool makers growing all over the world. not just lee valley, but Lie-Nielsen, bridge city, ray and ashley iles, blue spruce, titemark, and many others.
I personally have taken the opportunity to replace most of my older used tools, retiring many tools that deserved it. the reason i had used tools, is that no was making quality new ones.
my worry is that those days will come again soon.
will the economy push us all to accept sub standard furniture and tools again? will these custom toolmakers weather the storm, or should i buy the last of the remaining tools i would like to replace now before they close their doors?

Does anyone else share this concern or am i the only one?

-- Junior -Quality is never an accident-it is the reward for the effort involved.

12 comments so far

View Eric's profile


875 posts in 5236 days

#1 posted 01-10-2009 08:14 AM

If there’s a demand, there will always be a supply. I’m not too worried about it. Of course, I can’t afford the new ones so I usually go pre-WWII Stanleys whenever possible. And those are all over the place on eBay.

-- Eric at

View daltxguy's profile


1373 posts in 5366 days

#2 posted 01-10-2009 09:41 AM

I doubt they would price themselves out of the market. My guess would be that hand tool makers, the few that are left, are pricing their tools with a reasonable profit on each tool sold and are not dependent on large volumes – and hopefully demand is (was) higher than production. If they are lucky then demand will simply drop to meet production rates. Worst case, they may have to drop their prices and accept lower profit margins. I guess the kicker for any small business is if you have high overheads and you need to maintain that higher margin, then you are out of business – that’s probably the scenario that you fear.

But then if there are a lot of people out of work, maybe more home based shops will open up and the cottage industry will revitalize. We’ll all be going to our local forger again to get plane irons and making plane bodies out of wood again. It was large scale industrialization which killed the quality hand tool market, maybe it will be death of high overhead, high volume industrials which will bring back the same industry.

-- If you can't joint it, bead it!

View JuniorJoiner's profile


497 posts in 4892 days

#3 posted 01-10-2009 10:19 AM

i really appreciate your optimism, i for one would certainly welcome having a local shop for any kind of quality hand tools, i have to mail order everything.
certainly, a poor economy and hard times brings communities together. i’m sure the woodworking community will be one of them; both local and through sites like this.
i certainly hope all or most of these manufacturers will be resilient.
one thing i can suggest to them is to take a few pages from certain European toolmakers, and offer tools at a reduced rates if they send them unhoned and unhandled. Personally i prefer this option as i usually customize my tools before i start using them.
if nothing else, a boom of cottage industry toolmakers would be likely to produce more unique tools.

-- Junior -Quality is never an accident-it is the reward for the effort involved.

View jnimz's profile


35 posts in 4879 days

#4 posted 01-10-2009 10:27 AM

Tools are no exception to me… I try to buy locally, and if I cannot get something locally, I definitely try to buy American. I’d rather buy from the little guy, even if it means a few dollars more.

-- Jace - - - --

View Andraxia's profile


133 posts in 4961 days

#5 posted 01-10-2009 02:30 PM

Some (both hand a power tool makers) may go under – some say Shopsmith is seeing the writting on the wall atm. But there will always be tool makers out there that make quality. I am wondering if the resurgence you spoke of a few years ago is more to do with them being more tech savy and getting on the net?

jnimz: similar thing in Australia – but if the local product is $100 and the imported product of equal quality (and in many cases better quality) is half the price; then the local will have to go the way of the dinosaurs. I’m all for buying local and paying a little more but my budget does not cover such huge price differences. Nor does most people I am thinking.

-- The wood slayer - Yes dear I did plan to make more kindling out of that wood I have been drying for the last year - honest!

View dusty2's profile


323 posts in 4882 days

#6 posted 01-10-2009 03:27 PM

The optimist in me says that Shopsmith will recover. Yes, they are reportedly having financial difficulties but aren’t “they all”. Maybe Shopsmith should ask for a “bail out”; everyone else seems to be.

-- Making Sawdust Safely

View Doug S.'s profile

Doug S.

295 posts in 5160 days

#7 posted 01-11-2009 02:06 AM

Whether it’s LV, LN, or single person toolmakers, their costs for materials, utilities, transportation, etc. are going up just like ours. Their not set up as non-profit charities and need to raise their prices just to stay at the same level. It doesn’t help that folks are getting nervous and tight with their discretionary spending but the makers would quickly have to shut their doors if it starts costing them money to selll tools at a a loss and stay open.

-- Use the fence Luke

View ChicoWoodnut's profile


904 posts in 5268 days

#8 posted 01-11-2009 03:13 AM


I think if you are watching current markets the price of commodities is going down not up.

-- Scott - Chico California

View daltxguy's profile


1373 posts in 5366 days

#9 posted 01-11-2009 03:15 AM

So, I didn’t ask about the price list inclusion with the LV catalog. I assume prices are going up and not going down?

So, why exactly are prices going up? Cost of energy is returning to levels from 5 years ago, same for commodities, wages don’t seem to be risiing, interest is at or near 0 in many parts of the world. Is this just an exchange rate issue?

I know my situation here in NZ is that we have no (very few) local tool makers and that everything is imported ( even if a tool is made here, the raw materials have to be imported) and so we are subject to the huge fluctuations of the currency. Since the NZD is now worth about the plastic it’s printed on, and we have to import everything from overseas, fine tools are ridiculously expensive. Lee Valley’s nice new plane ( the one that looks like a running shoe) runs us $600 – I don’t think so. We’re now better off ordering from european tool makers but still pricey. I may end up being that forger down the street.

-- If you can't joint it, bead it!

View Luke's profile


546 posts in 4746 days

#10 posted 05-22-2009 06:12 AM

I own a sign shop here in snellville and we have seen the price of nearly everything go down. This has not spawned us to lower prices at all. Then again we haven’t raised prices in a long time so we probably just fell back to the old rate in a manner of speaking. To stay in business you have to have a demand for your product. It also pays to be the best at your craft (LN). I don’t think things are as bad as it seems out there. We are busier than we have ever been. Our customers that built houses are dying. But they have been living like kings for many years while the rest of us suffered or at least weren’t thriving. I kind of feel like the balance of power or money if you will is changing. The economy is evening itself out just like it needs to. The problem right now I think is that the right choices have to be made in washington to not stifle growth when things do turn around. Those companies that have lived off of cash systems and not tried to go all out with credit and doing things that are not Sound practices economically and financially will win out in the long run. If you have a company making a crappy product and selling it for dirt cheap you might not be thinking about the long term. Basically most of the time you get what you pay for. crap in, crap out if I may. The fundamental practices of running a business to be successful are still in play. Many business have opted over the last decade, or more even, to try to get rich quick and now they are having to pay for it. Over extending ones credit is a huge issue with companies and personal finances right now. Too much politics, sorry. I think they will be fine as long as they keep sound principles in mind.
I just noticed that this post is 131 days old….ugh :)

-- LAS,

View a1Jim's profile


118322 posts in 5029 days

#11 posted 05-22-2009 06:24 AM

even taunton press is sending 50% off e mails


View JuniorJoiner's profile


497 posts in 4892 days

#12 posted 05-22-2009 06:48 AM

the post may be old but i don’t think the economy is something people have forgotten about. My area seems fairly recession resistant. and a Lee Valley has open up local since i first posted this.
I think hard times are sometimes necessary, to get rid of companies and people who shouldn’t be in business. and also to change the way we do things. people are now getting back to saving for things they want, and buying quality over adequate products. which is better for everyone in the end.

-- Junior -Quality is never an accident-it is the reward for the effort involved.

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