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February 21, 2010

I Meet Thomas Lie-Nielsen at Highland Woodworking


Who is the most well known person you ever met? I met an ex-Senator once at work, and I was with a Congressman the other day when he brought a large check to our community. Millard Fuller, the founder of Habitat for Humanity came to town a few years ago and he autographed the hammer I use to help build Habitat houses. I should have framed it (no pun intended) because Mr. Fuller died awhile back, but it is too expensive not to use. I do think he would want me to continue to use it to build houses.

When I narrow the field to woodworking, I met Norm Abram once, and I've taken a class at Highland from Roy Underhill and another one from Mike Mahoney. I read several books by James Krenov and bought one of the planes he made, and once I sat in that Sam Maloof chair at Highland.

Thomas Lie-NielsenThen a couple of weeks ago, I dropped by the store and got to meet Thomas Lie-Nielsen, founder and owner of Lie-Nielsen Toolworks and maker of some of the finest woodworking hand planes and tools made in the world (and they're made right here in America, up in Maine). He was in town to teach a class at Highland, and also gave some hand tool demos at the store's big winter sale day the day before. I stand in awe. Everybody in woodworking knows about these planes and they are beautiful.


Lie-Nielsen No. 102 low angle block planeI picked one up and the weight and feel is such that you just know they are the best. The finish is outstanding and the blades are honed to perfection. After I picked out the one I wanted, a No. 102 low angle block plane, Thomas autographed it for me with one of those electric engraving pens right on the spot. I suppose I will have to decide whether to frame this one or actually use it like I do with my Fuller hammer.

Given enough time and energy, I can pretty much make anything I want out of wood. But when I look at one of these planes, I cannot even imagine how to begin. The scope of the metal work, the foundry work, the machining, the fitting, not to mention the actual design to make it beautiful, is just beyond me. Then on top of all that, it has to cut wood perfectly. Oh, and by the way, the Lie-Nielsen factory makes a hundred planes a day, which to me is amazing!

I really enjoyed talking to Thomas and I admire his work, but I feel like he did leave all of us short on one thing. Go look at Chris Schwartz, the editor over at Popular Woodworking magazine and see the clip of him throwing double bit axes at a target. Thomas taught him how to throw this week when Chris went to visit the Lie-Nielsen factory. (By the way, we've got plenty of those kinds of axes at Highland. You'll need one of the double bit ones.)

It just occurred to me to wonder: Will Thomas ever be back down here to show the rest of us how to throw an axe?