One of my recent projects is a Pennsylvania Spice Box, following the plan in FWW #196. Steve Latta wrote the article and developed the project plan. It’s a beautiful chest that will require me to do a fair amount of line and berry inlay, along with some lettering. I’m excited to do it, but had no hand tools with which to make it happen! Thus, I went on the hunt for the perfect tools to get the job done.
In my research I found that there are really only two options available when it comes to buying a ready-to-go set of string inlay tools. Veritas makes a cool little tool that will do either straight line or radius inlay (about $130). It looked like it would work well in the videos I saw – and I believe Veritas makes some top quality tools. Lie-Nielsen also offers a kit of wooden tools that were designed by Steve Latta – the same guy whose project plan I am using. Lie-Nielsen’s tools are about three times the price of the Veritas cutter (about $345).
I chose the Lie-Nielsen tools at $345 – for a few reasons.
First, I love wood tools. There’s something about using a wooden tool to make a project that makes me feel much more connected to the work. I much prefer them to metal tools. I wish I had the opportunity to make more of the tools I use, but that’s just not the way it happened. I had only ever used a Lie-Nielsen panel gauge before but I loved the quality and finish of it. I was sure these would live up to my expectations.
Second, while I could easily build these tools in an afternoon, I’d still have to order the blades from Lie-Nielsen. I cannot make blades in my garage shop – and that’s probably a good thing!
Finally, I like to support the toolmakers and craftsmen who lend their skill and insight to us on a regular basis. I think of everything I have learned from countless woodworker’s over the course of my life and it’s astounding how much insightful, practically useful information I have received without paying a single penny. If Steve Latta can get some financial reward for all he has done to teach inlay to me via YouTube and books, then I’m happy to pay it. Likewise, Lie-Nielsen cannot stay in business without making some coin themselves. Obviously Veritas has done much to expand the collective knowledge of woodworkers everywhere, but I weight the contributions of folks like Steve Latta, Mary May, Bill Anderson, W. Patrick Edwards, Roy Underhill, and countless others, as much more valuable simply because they don’t have millions of dollars backing them in a commercial venture. They teach and share largely for the love of the craft. That carries a lot of importance with me.
My choice is certainly not meant to besmirch the quality of the Veritas tool, either. I own several Veritas tools and will probably buy many more in the years to come. That said, I think the Lie-Nielsen set of tools will work better for me in my attempts at inlay.
Upon receipt, these tools did not disappoint. They are built with the same eye to quality that one expects from anything coming out of the Lie-Nielsen factory. They appear to be well made, finished nicely, and the blades are sharp. What more can I ask? I know – for a personal tutorial on how to do inlay by Steve! That’s unlikely to happen – for $345 anyway – but at least I get the DVD.
As far as the value for the money spent goes, I have to admit that I’m a little surprised at how content I am given the price I paid. When you lay the tools in front of you, it doesn’t look like $345 went very far. The independent woodworker in me believes I could make the same quality tools for much less and that my purchase was simply a cop out to take the easy path and buy yet another expensive Lie-Nielsen tool! That may not, however, be the case. The materials to make these tools would likely cost $100 between the wood, brass, and fittings. Add in all the different blades with shipping for another $75.00 or so, and I’d be about halfway to the cost of the tool set. Then there’s shop time – I can spend it making tools or spend it using them. That’s always a toss-up as to which is the best use of the hours. And the DVD certainly provides some invaluable instruction in how to use the tools. So in truth, I’m not sure I could make these tools for anything less than what I paid – I think they’re a good buy.
I will post a video soon of these tools in action so everyone can see how well they work. If you are in the market for some inlay tools, give these a try. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed either.
I’d love to hear how other people have found the Lie-Nielsen inlay tools are to use – and any others. Please share your thoughts.
Note: This post is a “reprint” of a short article I just wrote for my blog. Inlay, marquetry, and veneering are topics of great interest to me and I want to help Joshua jump start this forum with some good content.
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