Fair Woodworking

April 6, 2012

Canadiana, Eh?

Filed under: Fair Woodworking & Hand Tool Blog,Strong opinion warning! — fairwoodworking @ 5:10 pm

To borrow from Jeff Foxworthy’s redneck jokes, “If you know what makes this picture so Canadian, you might be a Canadian”.

I took this picture a few years ago, I have no idea who these people are, and it was not staged. I just had to save this moment, and I’m glad I did because it fits into today’s topic in an odd way.

For those that are stumped and have given up trying to identify the seaweed as oh, I don’t know, Weedus Canadianus? You may as well just click HERE, I’ve doctored the picture a little so it might be a little more obvious.

Still don’t get it? Well, up here you would say that these two just “went for Tim’s” (coffee that is), and anyone here would know what you were talking about.

So if any ever you are unsure of someone’s claim of Canadian Citizenship, feel free to use this as a test.

But what does that have to do with woodworking?  Well….. I’m getting there….

If there was not “Tim’s” there would be no Roll up the Rim to win Contest. With no contest there would be no need for Rimrollers, and they are very important to today’s topic.

Years ago, while surfing about on the forums, I came upon a post stating that if Lee Valley had any brains, they would be banging out their new premium line of planes as fast as they could get them out to market. The argument was that practically everyone on the forum would be gobbling them up, and LV would make a killing.

This started all kinds of banter back and forth, and it was pointed out that while yes, many of the forum readers would buy these planes, there weren’t nearly as many members as the original poster thought. At best this would result in what? A few hundred, or a couple of thousand planes sold? On the global market, sales numbering in the thousands would be considered more of a failure than a killing.

About that time if I recall correctly, (I couldn’t find the original post, so forgive me if my facts are not 100%), Rob Lee jumped in and pointed out that there also is very little profit margin to their line of planes, and here is where the Rimroller comes in. I think he said that the Rimroller alone, just this single $2.50 product line, generated more profit in a year than the entire line of Veritas planes. Something like that… I was floored.

The more I thought about this the more I got to thinking that the Veritas line seems like more of a labor of love than a get rich quick scheme. And really, I could think that about most hand tool manufactures. The amount of time and effort, the research and development, required. The skills needed, not to mention the marketing to a truly tiny market of hand tool users. Many of these little companies are responsible for the resurgence in hand tool woodworking, bringing it back from near extinction in the 70’s, and 80’s.

We owe them our thanks. Lee Valley, and Lie-Nielsen especially.

I also appreciate how although all these companies are in competition with each other. There seems to be an unspoken understanding that they are all a part of the woodworking community first, and competitors second. I’ve talked to beginning tool makers that were struggling getting going, and was encouraged to learn that other more established tool makers that were in direct competition were helping mentor them for the sake of the craft.

This makes me proud of my hand tool community. It speaks of an era where your word was worth more than a stack of contracts. A day when you knew that the people you worked with would do the right thing. Even if nobody was looking, even if it was not in their best interest. Right is right, and wrong is wrong. An agreement between true gentlemen needs no contract.

Sadly, as our hobby starts to take a foot hold, big business starts to take notice. Money from outside of our hand tool family see’s a chance to make a buck, and there is no law against that. Nor should there be.

For the last few years there have been a few lines of planes that have all been manufactured out of the same factory in China. I have no beef with the Chinese workers trying to earn a living for their family, and I applaud any company manufacturing in China that is demanding a top quality product from them. High quality at a low price is a good thing.

What bothers me is any company that sits on the bleachers watching other companies build a market, and then once the hard work is done, swoops in, blatantly copies their products, and runs to china so they can undermine the sales of the company they are copying.

This whole thing saddens me really. I’ve wished for a long time that someone would make an affordable hand tool that was still of good quality. I can’t stand hearing time after time about new woodworkers buying their first hand plane at the local big box store, and being disappointed to discover that it was just a poorly fashioned hunk of metal in the shape of a hand plane. It’s a waste of money, and an unnecessary burden to our landfills. What a great thing it would have been if rather than this company buying a hand full of Lie-Nielsen planes and shipping them to China to be copied, they had collected the same selection of 100 year old Type 11 Stanley planes and the holy grail of block planes the #65 knuckle joint to be copied!

I’d be singing their praises right now!

Locally (North America) these LN rip off planes are marketed as Woodriver by Woodcraft. To be fair they did change their block plane from the LN design to the #65 after much backlash. But again, it’s not because they were trying to do the right thing. I suspect it was to avoid a law suit.

I have test driven these rip off planes, and the Version 3 (V3) are of very good quality. So it really pains me to be so against them. I am against them to the point of not only writing about it, but also to commit to voting with my wallet. I have chosen to never buy one of these planes, and also never buy anything from Woodcraft for their involvement with them. I know they have not broken any laws, but I chose to reward the companies I respect with my hard earned dollars.

This is a choice I have made based on my opinion of what I want to see for a hand tool landscape, but I want to be sensitive to the fact that it’s not such an easy stance for everyone else to make. I am very fortunate to have a Lee Valley store in my town. I can go there when ever I want. Just about every year we go on a road trip to the states, and from the route we take, the LN factory is but a very short detour. Supporting these, and other suppliers is relatively easy for me. It makes my choice as easy as swearing off broccoli.

For others the cumulative costs between the two is enormous. I get that, and I respect that. If you can’t support the companies that have built this great hobby, just remember that there are many other ways to give back to the hand tool community.

And that is really what it’s all about.

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