Sometime in the early 1980's Thomas Lie-Nielsen, who worked for a short time at Garret Wade, the famous toolshop started in the 1970's in New York City, took over Wisner Tool company from the founder Ken Wisner and moved back to Maine to start the great and wonderful Lie-Nielsen Toolworks that we all know and love today. I have always been told that the first product of LN was a bronze copy of the Stanley 95, an edge plane. Here is a link to a PDF of a 1978 Wisner Signature Tools brochure where we learn that in addition to the 95 Wisner offered a modern copy of a Stanley 66 Scraper plane as well as a corner chisel.
The interesting thing about the Stanley 66 is that LN does make a fairly close cast copy of the 66. The Wisner version wasn't a casting, it featured a bent metal body which I have never seen in the flesh. I have no idea how well it worked but it is a really interesting design approach. My guess is that very few made it out the door but that could have been for bunches of reasons.
Another interesting factoid about this brochure is that it was distributed by "The Tool Works" another NYC tool company that I have never heard of. Apparently Garret Wade didn't have an exclusive.
I recently came across an early catalog of Hock Tools and I thought it was worth sharing. Starting a business is never easy and in the 1970's and 80's one didn't have the advantage of the Internet to spread the word instantly and free. The optimistic entrepreneur needed to advertise and send out brochures to any incoming inquiries. One such brochure recipient was my late woodworking mentor, Maurice Fraser, who was always on the lookout for tool improvements. While I haven't found evidence that he ever bought a hock blade he was certainly interested in Ron's custom service. There is a fair amount of correspondence from Maurice to various manufacturers pointing out the need for quality tools, letters that fell on deaf ears.
I asked Ron if this catalog was his earliest. He wasn't sure but said it dated to the early 1980's - so if it's not the first it's pretty close to the first. Here is what he wrote to me about the early days:
"I started making knives out of saw blades from the local lumber mill shortly after we moved here in October of '81 (coming up on 35 years!) Kitchen and hunting knives all hand-made, selling at ACC fairs (PITA). In Spring of '82 I was approached by one of the instructors and one of the students from Krenov's first year class. (By perfect coincidence his school/shop opened the same week we arrived.) Their goal was to have me make the blades and then resell them to the students at a profit. They didn't get their act together so I showed up with a batch of blades in December of that year and felt like a craps table croupier tossing out blades and raking in money. I saw the future.
Jim Krenov was famous for never doing product endorsements. When I decided to buy a one-inch display classified in FWW (all I could afford) I asked if I could call them "Krenov Style" plane irons. He not only liked the idea, he volunteered, "Call them Krenov Quality Plane Irons. It sounds better." He used to take my brochures along with a couple of irons when he did speaking/seminar engagements. Prior to my blades, he and his students used POS replacement block plane blades ($8) from the local lumber yard. Then they had to get very creative about breakers. I appeared with a solution to a problem and he was so grateful that he eagerly advocated for me to crowds everywhere. There is no question that I was at the right place at the right time with the right stuff. I totally lucked out and couldn't be more grateful.
My tiny FWW ad sold a few blades, the word got around, sold a few more. Then the phone rang. It was Woodworker's Supply of NM wanting to know what my wholesale discount was. I said, "Uh, I'll call you right back." At that point I knew how to make a blade but didn't know much about how to run a business. I actually called John Economaki, who'd launched BCT just a few months before, for some generous advice -- we had a mutual friend locally who'd recommended him to me. WSNM added my blades to their full-color catalog and sent that tacit endorsement out to 4 zillion woodworkers. A map-pin moment, for sure, in the Hock Tools history (still called Hock Handmade Knives then, and would be so for a number of years. I never really officially changed the name, just started using Hock Tools more and more.)
So, one new blade, another, one foot in front of the other. Thank goodness Linda was willing to work... Here we are, big fish in a small pond.
Sorry for the long answer but I like telling the story."
Ron sent me the photo of the knife that illustrates this blog. It's one of his early knives, made before his business became mostly blades for woodworkers but as you can see the shape and style is pretty much the same as some of his current knife kits which you can take a look at here. It's great that the design is still available.
This week is Woodworking in America, We unfortunately won't be able to attend but a lot of toolmakers will be and Ron and Linda will be there. Be sure to stop by their booth and say Hi!
08/17/2016 (I just Saw An Exhibit That I Could Go For)
Before I get into the body of this week's blog, I want to mention that tomorrow afternoon (August 18th) from 3 - 6 pm we will be having a Festool Demo Day at the showroom. In addition to seeing all the current tools, you will have a chance to take a first-hand look at some new tools for the fall. This includes a new carpentry saw - with a built in miter fence! - and a new screw-gun that takes magazine loads of screws for really fast professional work.
This has nothing to do with woodworking (well, maybe see the last paragraph) but it does have lots to do with getting people's attention. The most popular exhibit ever at the Guggenheim Museum was about motorcycles as art. People came from all over the country and from all walks of life to see the show. There were lines to get in outside the museum almost every day. Why? Because the topic resonated with people.
Learning about motorcycles interests people much more so than does an exhibit of self-indulgent paintings or sculptures. The Queens Museum, an interesting, but mostly off-people's-radar museum located in Flushing Meadow Park (where the 1963-64 World's Fair was held, and right near the spaceship restaurants from Men in Black) mounted two of the best museum shows I have seen in a long time. Hey Ho Let's Go just closed. (Sorry.) The line on opening day at the Ramones show was four hours long.
I had in mind to go to the show since first hearing about it well before its opening, but various other things in life intervened, so I made sure to see it shortly before it closed. The show consisted mostly a collection of memorabilia with videos of performances. It's very interesting to see that first wave of crudely printed punk music magazines (before we knew they were punk), a great photo article on the Ramones buying their first touring sound system. The Ramones were all Queens guys, though only Dee Dee continued to live in Queens after they had a bit of fame, and first got acquainted at Forest Hills High School (one town over from Kew Gardens, where my parents moved, allegedly "for the children's sake").
The coolest bit was Tommy Ramone's Forest Hill High School yearbook, opened to the page with Tommy's picture. Smiling on the same page was a larger picture of a teacher, young Gasper Fabricant, who five years later was the principal at my high school. The Ramones weren't famous yet; perhaps later on he enjoyed some bragging rights.
The most poignant part of the exhibit was two pages of lyrics scrawled by Joey Ramone in the hospital, miserable, writing: "I want my life." Joey Ramone died of cancer in 2001.
Even on its last weeks the exhibit was pretty packed, and there were more people taking pictures than any exhibit I can recall.
There were two other exhibits going on at the same time that haven't closed just yet and are very, very good. The first is a permanent exhibit of the museums Tiffany lamp collection. That was fun.
The other is an exhibit of cartoons, illustrations, and paintings by William Gropper, a leftist illustrator of mostly social issues. I thought his work had real power, enough to get criticized by the Japanese government before WW II for his caricature of the emperor and by Joseph McCarthy of his painting of lazy senators. Gropper was blacklisted by the House Un-American Committee.
Is there a connection between these shows and woodworking? Certainly woodworkers face constant pressure on woodworkers to make stuff that is "different," "new," or that "explores the condition of humanity in the 21st century." But what our customers really want is a nice chair or table. I complain about the loss of skill, about the industrialization of furniture making, and the decline of traditional skills -- and then along come the Ramones, with the musical skill equivalent of using a hot melt glue gun. And I find the result incredibly compelling! 40 years after the punk rock movement made headway, the lack of musicianship is being overlooked (okay, not by metalheads) because of the compelling style that was developed. So when you design furniture, worry less about your ability to make it and more about what you are trying to achieve both practically and emotionally. That's the message of the Ramones for the modern woodworker.
BTW in case anyone is curious, my favorite Ramones songs are "Rockaway Beach" (Rock, Rock, Rock, Rock, Rockaway Beach, we can hitch a ride to Rockaway Beach...) and "We're a Happy Family" (Sitting here in Queens, Eating refried beans...). In case you are curious, no I didn't need to look up the lyrics for either song.
A lot of interesting things are happening here at TFWW. Summer, while not extremely busy from a woodworking standpoint, is really busy from a retailing perspective. Summer is when we put pedal to the metal and try to get new products on-line. Here's a wrap-up.
A few weeks we introduced crowned CBN grinding wheels. CBN wheels run really cool, need no dressing, and are great for grinding tool steel. Crowning the wheel, as you would do with a regular wheel, makes free-hand grinding a breeze and much easier to control. The 6" wheels are on-line here. 8" wheels and additional new versions of the Gramercy Custom Grinders are coming soon.
Over the years we have seen, rightly so, more and more people becoming concerned about chemical toxicity in paint. The concerns are about both the long term toxicity of the finish - especially important when there are young children around - and toxicity during application. In response, we've just started stocking the complete range of all colors of Real Milk Paint. Milk paint is a traditional paint that is basically pigment and milk solids. It's about as safe a colored paint as you can apply.
Stabila Levels, Tapes, and Folding Rules are the gold standard of what these tools should be. Stabila keeps on pushing the envelope of what these basic tools can be and do. Dumb stuff that should be obvious, such as rubber bumpers on the ends of the level so that you don't ding the tool when dropped (notice I didn't say "if," I said "when"). Tape measures with measurements on both sides of the tape and grippy end hooks. We also stock their digital level that allows much more sophisticated layout than ever before.
Between now and early fall expect a flood of new products from lots of vendors.
Happy Summer! As a veteran of the 1963-64 World's fair I have distinct memories of the Unisphere - the giant globe in the center of the fair. After the fair most of the buildings and rides were demolished but the Unisphere became the centerpiece of Flushing Meadow Park. In its original setting of the fair the Unisphere and its surrounding pool were a giant, forbidding, off-limits symbol of peace, understanding, and the space age. Designed by Gilmore David Clarke the Unisphere stands 120 feet tall and is made out of stainless steel.
It's no longer off limits and has become a giant wading, sprinkler pond for the summer. In the pictures below I tried to get some sense of the hulking size of the sphere that totally dwarfs all the kids below. The last picture is of my mom,my sister, and I on one of our many visits to the fair (my dad took the picture).
PS. In the background of one of the photos you can see the derelict towers made famous in the first Men In Black movie. Originally the towers were very large rotating resturants and while there have been noises about trying to restore and reopen them, they have been derelict since the fair.
A few weeks ago my wife and I took an evening walk from my office up Fourth Avenue to Tanoreen, a great Middle Eastern restaurant in Bay Ridge. Brooklyn's massive expansion occurred in the second half of the 19th century and Brooklyn consequently has a collection of thriving 19th century architecture. But Brooklyn's status as one of the largest cities in the US - Brooklyn is more populous than Houston - means that the main streets go on for miles and miles.
Here are a few of the more interesting buildings we saw: