I also wonder at what point in L-N's relationship with Woodcraft was Woodcraft NOT a high-volume retailer? Never, comes to mind.
I also wonder at what point in L-N's relationship with Woodcraft was Woodcraft NOT a high-volume retailer? Never, comes to mind.
Last edited by Charlie Stanford; 02-07-2013 at 4:48 AM.
To the average engineer, tool steel is tool steel. That's my experience in tool design/fabrication, anyway. A2 is the appropriate steel for a particular application, but Mn65 sounds cooler (is cheaper, easier to get, insert random reason here), so they put Mn65 on the drawing. If you've got a good engineer who knows tool steel, you still have to deal with a bean counter who might say, "well a mill run of this other stuff is cheaper, so we're going to use that." The second scenario is probably more likely than the first. (but I never miss a chance to pick on engineers ) When I visit various machine shops that I work with, some of the tool steels that are required on the prints just make them shake their heads.
As for L-N selling at Woodcraft. A lot of that has to do with product placement as well. You simply don't market a $350+ bench plane next to a $150 bench plane. People's perceptions of products can be affected merely by the placement. That is why the owner of my local WC told me that even though they would be selling Lee Valley again, I likely wouldn't see certain products on the shelf. Same goes for L-N. The perception of the product can be diluted if it is marketed along side other products of lower quality and price point.
If it ain't broke, fix it til it is!
Hardness can be obtained even with .50 carbon,but it is also necessary to have wear resistance. That's why Craftsman chisels in the FWW test years ago fared so poorly at only .50 carbon.
Mark,engineers designed the seats in my 1990's(ish) Ford Taurus station wagon. One day I got into the car and the seat collapsed because the undercarriage broke. The steel was at least 1/8" thick,but it was folded 90º at a perfectly SHARP angle. Anyone who knows metal at all knows you do not bend metal to a sharp angle. The steel broke at a neat 45º miter joint. Good thing I hadn't gotten into an accident in that car. My daughter had her neck broken when she was struck in the rear in her Toyota. The seat fell back flat. She recovered,but has pain all the time. I found out they had had a recall on the Escorts for the same reason. While they were welding the seat back,I looked at the next year's model,and saw that the seat's part had been bent on a curve like it should have been. What kind of stupid engineers was Ford employing,anyway? I traded the car and got the newer model.Later,I moved to Honda.
Another gripe I can recall was buying a tool box with studs to fit into the square holes in the set of sockets that came with the box. No way would those sockets fit those studs. What kind of engineers are we graduating? Not all GOOD ones,apparently.
If an engineer doesn't know one tool steel from another,he'd best make it his business to find out about tool steels. I doubt it is ignorance that leads Chinese manufacturers to choose cheap steel. It's money.
I'm certainly not attacking all engineers here. Just a few!! I hope no one gets worked up and tells me I should have been happy with my badly designed car seat!! Sorry,I knew better than that in high school.
Last edited by george wilson; 02-07-2013 at 10:14 AM.
For sure there's quite some difference between the metallurgy data/spec sheet properties, and the highly nuanced and often very subjective differences that surface with lots of user experience.
To be fair to engineers it's a bit of a never the two shall meet sort of deal. Your average product engineer of any nationality (who is very unlikely to have been hired for his/her woodworking skills) is unlikely to have the sort of user experience needed to 'get it' on the subtle performance differences in use between steels, but there equally don't seem to be too many users that know enough about metallurgy to point to the very specific differences in composition and heat treatment needed to deliver what they feel they need.
The other point is that these (tool steels) are all commercially produced grades. They are not produced with woodworking specifically in mind - it's more a case of testing what's available to see how well it works in woodworking applications and choosing accordingly.
It's hard not to have great admiration for the Japanese makers who have really been able to bridge the gap between user knowledge and metallurgy, and likewise for the one man plane making businesses who probably come close to this too.
It's presumably the extra chromium and not the hardenability per se. that makes for some difference in wear resistance between say 01 and the now moderately famous the MN 65?
I guess the Wood River stuff is not pitched as being top drawer. There's other new entrants in that midrange space too - the Stanley sweetheart line for example. None seem to have get it 100% right straight off. The question then becomes how far off they might be, and what's involved in bridging the gap to the premium stuff. Regardless of the effects of the steel spec consistency of manufacturing quality is as before (and as borne out in reviews of the mid range types) the other major issue...
Last edited by ian maybury; 02-07-2013 at 10:06 AM.
Garrett Wade and Woodcraft exposed a lot of people to LN tools who would've never otherwise been exposed, though, and it was (still all just my opinion) a bit of shafting for LN to let other retailers help them build the brand, and then just take them in house once they didn't want the market to be bigger or deal with the growing pains of servicing more orders as market share grows.
I don't really carry water for either company. LN is good, but they want too much control. WC's corporate has also done me well, but their prices on most things you can price shop on are very high. I think that's probably the cost of having brick and mortar stores, they can't undercut their stores. Rockler's not a lot different, at least WC has some things that I would like to buy. Rockler has all but abandoned hand tool users, which is a shame because there's one a couple of miles from me and most of the folks who work there are helpful.
If I was a betting man, I'd bet WC's demand for planes in the late 2000s was at least double what it was in 2000, maybe more.
What late 2000's,David? it's only 2013!
That's about the time that LN withdrew from the WC stores and went into price-control scenario. Before that you could get a couple of bucks off of LN tools at some retailers, which probably cut LN's direct sales. The squashed that pronto and banned retailers from offering discounts on the planes.
As far as the MN65 goes, is it safe to say that China doesn't really make any of their steel that's high quality, they buy it? I recall reading somewhere that nearly all of the steel they make in country is recycled stuff and isn't that consistent.
If they're making a plane that costs them (speculating here) $30 a unit to make, there's no way they're going to pay for $10 of imported tool steel to make an iron. From the standpoint of the retailer, though, it would be in their best interest because people can recognize what A2 is from other high quality planes, blog articles and magazines.
You see mn65 as a new user or magazine reader and say...what's that? It's Penny wise and pound folish. I can't believe they wouldn't be able to learn to harden and temper A2 in China (who knows where the bench plane irons are done?). Even LN likely went to A2 it's a lot more stable than warping, cracking water hardening steel.
Maybe MN65 is just as easy or easier to harden and temper.
Last edited by David Weaver; 02-07-2013 at 11:26 AM.
It is pretty surprising, given what they've pulled off with there bench planes, that they used that stuff for their shoulder plane. They seem to have been making a pretty strong effort to match LN and LV on most publishable type specs. Is it possible that since a shoulder plane is technically a low angle plane that they think its a better option for that? I guess more likely its that they couldn't produce a shoulder plane to spec with an 01 or A2 blade and keep the price enough lower than an LV or LN for it to be able to compete against them in the market.
As I've said before I've always been quite happy with my WR no. 6, but I got it for $110, which was a phenomenal value. I've never had a strong opinion for or against WR stuff in general, but in all honesty I have my doubts about that shoulder plane. For the life me I can't see why someone would purchase that when an LV medium is only $30 more. I wonder how it will do. Like Josh said earlier, from a purely bang for buck perspective it (and there no. 7) just doesn't seem like as good of a value as say their no. 4 might be, considering the LV and LN options that are available in the same price range.
Woodworking is terrific for keeping in shape, but it's also a deadly serious killing system...
I don't see any practical reason for 'low, middle ,high ' grades of steel in hand tools and don't think it could exist without advertising and hobbyists. When tools were bought mainly by guys using them to make a living there was no market for low grade . I have not seen any 19th century chisels or plane irons that are not superior to most of what is now sold.There is some superior new stuff but the same technology is used to intentionally make bad stuff. A book binder and restorer told me that the reason old paper is so good is "they didn't know how to make bad paper". There has always been a market for gentleman's tools using materials like exotic woods ,ivory, etc. But that doesn't mean those guys were the only ones who had tools that could cut wood.
It is common on both the Neanderthal Forum on on the power tools arena to bash Chinese manufacturing and quality. Wake up folks, I've got really bad /good news for you. China has the most modern manufacturing plant and the most modern machine tools in the world bar no one. Products like cell phones, iPods, desktops, laptops, TVs, and on and on we could go are produced every day of the year. The ability and desire to produce quality is there and you see and use it every day without any problems. The big fly in the ointment comes when someone decides to have a product knocked off but is unable to write good specifications or provide good dimensioned and toleranced part and assembly drawings when they bid the project out. The ultimate winner in this case is the ____ Mfg company who submitted the low bid, got the order, and made the tools. When the tools don't work properly in form, fit, and function the Chinese (or for that matter any other mfgr in the world) can legitimately still demand payment since they met the specifications and delivered product. The purchaser is then left with the choice of scraping or selling an "iffy" product to recoup as much of their money as possible. The other issue involved here is quality control. Good quality requires process control, incoming material inspection, in-process inspection, and a final quality inspection of the finished goods. Too many companies who order in any off-shore country farm out the quality function to a 3rd party firm who has no understanding of how the product is used, how it should work, etc. They only can evaluate if the tool and its parts meet the specifications. It took companies in the power tool area like Jet and others years to understand what they needed in bid packages and how they needed their own staff quality engineers and inspectors to supervise and assist their contract manufacturers. I seriously doubt that WC or any of the people who order hand tools made in any far east country have the needed staffs "in-country" and I suspect that they make at best a visit or two to the factories per year. To make matters worse, if the person making the visit isn't intimately familiar with manufacturing operations and doesn't audit the operation, the whole visit is window dressing and a waste of time. I can not count the number of times I've escorted visitors through the manufacturing areas of my day job just to have them smile, nod, and pretend to understand they knew what I was talking about. Most I could have told a laser was a waterjet and they wouldn't have know the difference.
The bottom line is this. If Chinese factories get detailed specifications on materials and a complete drawing package without errors or ambiguities. If the purchaser does quality audits and works with the maker to resolve issues as they arise. If the purchaser is willing to pay for both quality works and materials (ie a high enough price to pay for the materials). Then the Chinese will own the market and your only choice will be for Chinese made tools or tools from defunct American manufacturers. China can and will produce quality if some one is willing to pay for it.
Last edited by Dave Anderson NH; 02-07-2013 at 2:57 PM.
Chester Toolworks LLC
To be fair, in what Dave has said, if you go look at the reviews for woodcrafts V3 planes (I don't have any, so I'm not trying to defend my own purchases), they are almost universally positive.
A while ago when I was in contact with woodcraft from time to time (and found them to be good to their word, not salesy or overpromising), they told me that they'd made some changes to move them back closer to the original bedrock design and they had the bugs pretty much worked out. Internal folks there, not telephone customer service. I have not ever had dealings with anyone there internally where I felt afterward like they weren't honest with me. I can't say that about a lot of retailers I've dealt with (far and away, the woodworking retailers are better than other folks I've dealt with - I've had an especially large amount of trouble with musical instrument makers).
The guy on the ground comment that Dave makes is something I've heard over and over, from material handling (like ship and train size stuff) to musical instruments - if you are willing to staff the factories with folks in country full time, you can get whatever you want at whatever quality grade you want. Over time, the cultural differences that make that important will go away, unless China gets submarined by Vietnam and other places that are cheaper labor, and maybe the cycle will start again.
I have read Dave's comments a couple of times and agree. I remember when 'made in Japan' meant junk , it was mainly stuff made for our market and probably spect out by US people .The Japanese cameras etc made in Japan and proudly bearing Japanese names were responsible for 'made in Japan' now being a promise of high quality. I don't assume the Chinese can't design ,make ,and market excellent quality machines with Chinese names. Just wish they would do it.
It all comes down to money and knowledge. The purchaser, whether it is of a plane or a PC, has to have the knowledge of what they want, the knowledge of how to specify their standards to the supplier, and the knowledge of how to inspect and distinguish between poor, marginal, acceptable, and superior. They then have to find a reliable manufacturer who will offer or accept a unit price that allows the maker to provide the product to a particular standard and still allow the wholesaler adequate profit margin and a place in the market. The onus is always on the purchaser to chose the quality level they want and then moniter the manufacturer to make sure they produce to the agreed upon standard. Substandard tools produced in any country reflect primarily on the wholesale purchaser and to my way of thinking NOT on the manufacturer. If you order and are only willing to pay for junk it is junk you will get and junk is what you deserve.
Chester Toolworks LLC