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Is This the First Lie-Nielsen Plane Ever Made?

Thomas Lie-Nielsen has clearly established himself as the premier maker of fine hand tools in America. Now averaging in excess of 20,000 tools manufactured per year, his shop's total output to date is likely in the neighborhood of half a million tools.

The origin of his company, Lie-Nielsen Toolworks, began with a fortuitous opportunity to make a single tool that was inspired by Stanley of England's number 95 edge trimming block plane. An artisan toolmaker named Ken Wisner had manufactured the tool for a number of years, selling them mostly through the Garrett Wade Company of New York. Thomas had gone to work for Garrett Wade, and volunteered to take on the challenge of manufacturing the plane himself after Ken Wisner decided to end his own production of the tool. Working in a small shed in his own backyard using a small foundry, milling machine and metal lathe, Thomas turned out his first batch of the edge trimming block plane back in 1981.

Highland Hardware first opened its doors as a neighborhood hardware store in 1978. Its founders, Chris and Sharon Bagby, a young couple who had met at Georgia Tech a few years earlier, were working together as managers of a King Hardware branch store. King Hardware was a very old Atlanta company that had the distinction in 1886 of selling to the druggist next door the actual washtub in which the first batch of Coca-Cola was mixed.

King Hardware had also been a dealer for the Shopsmith 5-in-1 woodworking machine when it first came on the market in the early 1950s. As Chris and Sharon helped resurrect sales of the Shopsmith at King Hardware, a woodworking community began to develop around the activities of the store. The young couple were inspired to open their own hardware store, intending to make woodworking tools one of their specialties.

Shopsmith was not seeking new dealers at the time, so Highland Hardware became one of the early dealers for Swissmade Inca Power Tools. The American importer for Inca Tools was Garrett Wade Company. Chris and Sharon found that a side benefit of becoming an Inca dealer was the opportunity to buy wholesale many of the hand tools that Garrett Wade sold through their fine catalog. One of the tools that Highland stocked early on was Ken Wisner's edge trimming block plane.

Around 1980 a local customer named Jim Evans had purchased from Highland Hardware an Inca tablesaw and bandsaw, his first major woodworking tool purchases. He later moved to North Carolina, but continued to order tools from Highland. His first phone order happened to be for the Wisner edge trimming block plane, which he ordered not long after Ken Wisner stopped making them. Jim had to wait more than 6 months before the plane finally arrived. The reason? It had taken Thomas Lie-Nielsen that long to produce his very first batch of planes.

In 2016, Jim sent Chris an email mentioning that he still had the plane. He said "This little plane served me well. It was the only thing I had for a while that I could use to get a true 90 degree edge. When I went into the cabinet business, I would use double stick tape to hold a wooden wedge on it. This enabled me to trim edging tape on plywood without shaving the veneer off the plywood, like sometimes happens when you use a file."

Jim went on to say "If this is indeed the first plane made by Lie-Nielsen that you ever sold, I would like to give it to you, as it seems like all these years later it might have more value for you than it would for me."

After receiving the plane from Jim, Chris contacted Tom Lie-Nielsen to see what he thought about the situation. Tom replied "Hey, Chris - what fun! That first year I did not have my name on the tool. The plastic cap screw and hex screw I replaced as soon as I could. So, I'm thinking yes, it may well be from the first batch that I delivered to Garrett Wade late in 1981."

The little 1981-vintage edge trimming block plane with plastic cap screw and hex screw, and only the words "Made in USA" cast into the back of the body of the plane, is now on display in a cabinet at Highland Woodworking's Atlanta store.

Blessings to Jim Evans for his caring generosity and appreciation for history!

CLICK HERE to shop Lie-Nielsen Tools available at Highland Woodworking.

Watch the handplane making process at Lie-Nielsen Toolworks:

Watch an interview with Thomas Lie-Nielsen:

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