Birth of a Lee Valley tool
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 FineWoodworking.com: 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.
From there Brent had all the info he needed to create the final product in CAD, designing each of its components.
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 didn't 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.
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.
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.