Birth of a Lee Valley tool

comments (5) October 13th, 2012 in blogs

AsaC AsaC, Contributor
thumbs up 23 users recommend

Most products still start with a hand drawing. The basic idea here was a vise that could be made cheaply and mount simply on any bench, with a jaw that could rotate to any position, like the jaw of a pipe clamp.
Next he took a real clamp and attached it to a simple wood mounting block to try out the concept.
Brent knew that the product needed to be self-contained, and have at least one way to release the vise from the front. The design took a big leap forward at this stage, as Brent made this plastic prototype, with both a push-rod release and a cord release. The cord would lead to a foot pedal, but Brent decided that was unnecessary.
The plastic model showed him the basic design of the housing, and the release mechanism, but it didnt prove that the metal clamping plates would actually grab in a variety of positions, no matter what directing the jaw force was coming from. For that Brent needed the machinists to make this working metal model of the guts of the vise.
From there Brent had all the info he needed to create the final product in CAD, designing each of its components.
3-D printing is a fantastic and exciting new part of the design process, and it was here that Brent was able to refine the final design of each part.
The 3-D printer turned out the precise plastic parts that make up this full-scale model.
The real thing is no different from the plastic prototype, except for its materials, and it is manufactured in Veritas Ottawa plant.
Brent Hyde, Veritas product designer.
Most products still start with a hand drawing. The basic idea here was a vise that could be made cheaply and mount simply on any bench, with a jaw that could rotate to any position, like the jaw of a pipe clamp. - CLICK TO ENLARGE

Most products still start with a hand drawing. The basic idea here was a vise that could be made cheaply and mount simply on any bench, with a jaw that could rotate to any position, like the jaw of a pipe clamp.

Photo: Asa Christiana

Update October 24, 2012: Be sure to catch our exclusive video tour of Lee Valley Tools' manufacturing operation in Ottawa, Ontario.


On the occasion of Lee Valley Tools' 35th anniversary, Jon Binzen and I recently visited the company's headquarters in Ottawa. It was a inspiring and fascinating to go behind the scene's at one of the world's top hand-tool makers, and we did our best to bring that experience to you. Jon took notes and still photos for an article in the latest issue of FWW, and I grabbed a bunch of extras for video clips of the manufacturing process, plus two audio interviews for the latest episode of our Shop Talk Live podcast, along with the photos in this blog. 

While I was there I met all the product designers, guys I have been wanting to talk to since I first started buying Veritas' innovative problem-solvers 15 years ago. Just to give two examples, my sharpening process took a quantum leap forward with their grinder tool rest and Mark II honing guide. Both are a boon to modern woodworkers, and both were designed and manufactured in North America, which is a rare thing in itself these days.

Product designer Brent Hyde took me into the project room, which reminded me of the inventing room in Willie Wonka's chocolate factory. The whole history of original Lee Valley and Veritas products was there, each with its own box on a shelf, containing all of its prototypes, basically its story. The designers brainstorm together at times, but work independently on their respective assignments. Brent took down the box for the new Lee Valley pipe vise, a product he had brought to life, and laid out the contents.

The stages represent the common process for developing new tools, and demonstrate some of the tools and techniques the designers use along the way.


posted in: blogs, hand tools, Tools, design, Veritas, manufacturing, lee valley

Comments (5)

Robie Robie writes: Thank you Lee senior for starting Lee Valley. We had little access to such tools in Canada and you changed all that and my woodworking.
It is so good to see the firm prosper and grow. It will, so long as it remains relevant to us with good products and service. Their innovations sure are "jazz" and it is good to see them take a hard look at classic designs and improve on them. Along with Lie Neilson, they have done so much for woodworkers and raised hopes that we can continue to manufacture in North America in a viable way. The respect with which both LN and LV make and handle their products makes us woodworkers want to use them with equal respect and they urge and inspire us to do work that is worthy of such tools. Thank you.
Posted: 7:06 am on November 8th

JBourgeois JBourgeois writes: Where is the link to these videos? It looks as if they have been published, because bill71 had access to them. But there is no link from here.

Podcasts are useless for that type of topic. They are good to discuss "philosophy", but when times come to the real stuff, nothing beats a good moving picture. I remember 5 seconds clips that are worth 2 hours of listening in my continuous learning experience as a woodworker.
Posted: 6:25 pm on October 22nd

billg71 billg71 writes: Interviews were great, would love to see videos but your video frames are truncated in both Firefox and Internet Explorer so I can't access the volume, pause/play buttons, and even the tabs or scroll bars on the right-hand list. Can't find a way to contact webmaster on your site, posted something about this in Knots forum a while back but no replies or improvements. Can't even get to Knots today, link at top of page takes me to error page.

I know this really doesn't belong in a blog comment but there doesn't seem to be a way to contact anyone about a website problem so any help would be appreciated. Email me with a contact addy and I'll send screenshots.

Thanks, love the podcast.
Posted: 1:00 pm on October 20th

wiley_woody wiley_woody writes: Hi

As an avid woodworker for many years I'm always amazed at new ways for tackling woodworking joinery...A jig I discovered awhile back and which I used for all my dovetails in my new kitchen cabinets is called the Kehoe Dovetail jig and is one of the best and easiest to use...It's concept is totally different from all the other dovetail jigs and I'm not sure if Fine woodworking has even tested it yet...(the Leigh is good but not as easy to use)...Keep the new "toys" coming.

Bill Carlson
Posted: 10:00 am on October 20th

Grantman Grantman writes: Can't wait to see the videos! I listened to the podcast on a long drive and really have me intrigued. I, too, own the MK II honing guide and it's phenomenal.

So glad Robin (Rob) is committed to manufacturing in North America.
Posted: 3:03 pm on October 17th

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