In the fall I was kindly invited to Maine, in the US, to work with 7 other violin makers at a beautiful seaside cottage for a week. We each worked on our own violins and violas and of course shared ideas on our current work. With such a small group it allowed people to share research that wasn’t quite complete and have valuable feed back. With a larger gathering or conference there is more pressure to present completely finished research. These small luthier work groups are becoming common around the world, as luthiers continue to share ideas with a spirit of learning together.
As a break from making violins, we visited the woodworking tool company, Lie-Nielsen. They have been making fine woodworking tools in Maine since 1981.
With a showroom complete with benches, we could try all their tools! It was a great opportunity to see how they performed rather than looking at tools in a catalogue.
During a guided tour of their workshops, we were shown many parts of the manufacturing process. For example below the rear section of a blade had been heated. The metal changes into a beautiful rainbow of colours during this process and importantly softens the steel. They found the hard steel was wearing the mechanics of the plane with years of use. So heat softening the back of the blade solved this issue. The cutting edge at the front of the blade is still hard for a keen cutting edge.
Lee Nielsen used many computer controlled milling machines to produce their tools. But some stages were still done by hand. Shown below, an employee is sharpening chisels. Next the handles will be fitted.
Our tour guide shows us a box full of handles for their hand saws. All the wood for the tool handles comes from Maine, which I thought was a nice extra touch.
Below is a drawer of rejected planes. Some only had a tiny flaw but would still be melted down. The amount of quality control was impressive. As craftspeople we are fortunate to have such dedicated tool makers!
It was wonderful to spend a week in Maine during the fall as the leaves were just starting to change to red. As a group we all pitched in to help with the cooking and enjoyed some great local food and scenery too!