Sad Loss for Lee Valley & Veritas

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This was the first plane in the Veritas range I purchased about a decade ago now.

Over the weekend I heard of last week’s passing of Leonard Lee, the founder and CEO of the Canadian company Lee Valley & Veritas. Mr Lee birthed the company that became the woodworker’s household name throughout North America with many stores in his native country of Canada. I was always struck by Leonard Lee’s insights and innovative entrepreneurialism in the development of both Lee Valley and then Veritas as a modern day tool making company that flies in the face of Asian manufacturing*. Any man that can develop such fine companies within a western economy as he did has to be recognised.DSC_0686

You can see the details of Leonard Lee’s life in the memoriam here:

Any father will always be sorely missed by family, friends and work colleagues. Having been privileged to visit Canada and spend time with those continuing the efforts that started with Mr Lee I can vouch still for the standards set by Mr Lee for progressing the company into its future — customer satisfaction, integrity and treating the customer as a friend. The basis for my admiration of this company came from the lived reality of these three things.

DSC_0251Of course Lee Valley & Veritas are responsible for the design, development and manufacture of dozens of designs in tools and related equipment that we woodworkers now depend on all the more, filling the gaps left by the demise of makers now gone. For me, and I am sure many, many a thousand, it has been a privilege to in some small way be associated with the work of Leonard Lee and the company he founded.

*Asian manufacturing is very often governed by global demands for ever cheaper (and thereby cheapened) products and it has become common place for companies once known in domestic realms as local manufacturers to no longer actually make products of their own but force the global manufactories toward lower priced goods that then affect the quality at point of sale. In Mr Leonard Lee’s case he established a home-grown business when other well-known and long-established companies were taking their business elsewhere.

34 Comments

  1. Brian on 11 July 2016 at 11:16 am

    I’m in Canada and shop at Lee Valley. That’s a very sad loss. Lee Valley is a great store.



  2. Robert Demers on 11 July 2016 at 1:42 pm

    Indeed a very sad day for all of us who have come to depend on Veritas innovations and other great tools in our woodworking pursuits.
    Mr Lee was indeed a great man, and despite his success remained humble till the end. I had the pleasure of meeting him a few times, quite a story teller.

    We can all take comfort in the fact that his son Rob is running Lee Valley and Veritas the same way his dad taught him, with respect for the customers. As my English cousins are fond to say: the King is dead, long live the King.

    Bob, proud to call Mr Lee Canadian



  3. STEVE MASSIE on 11 July 2016 at 4:38 pm

    This was very sad news indeed, as Lee Valley / Veritas is a great company. I don’t own any of their bevel up planes but have the small plough plane and medium size shoulder plane. I have bought a lot from them over the years and will continue to do so.

    Steve



  4. Roman on 11 July 2016 at 8:01 pm

    Paul,

    As a leading authority and a respected voice in the woodworking community, you have power with the words you choose and the messages you send. I would hope because of this, you would choose your words more carefully. The issue I am writing about it the phrase “Asian manufacturing”, with the implication that due to the Asian origin, the work is inferior and subpar. This belief is nothing new and many people say this. Unfortunately, this is a racist viewpoint. Asian companies are capable and do manufacture many quality items. It is also true Asian companies make subpar items. But they do so at the request of their (often Western) clients who focus on cost-cutting rather than quality, not because of their race.

    Leonard Lee made quality tools because he placed importance on quality unlike other heads of woodworking tool companies. It wasn’t because he was white. It wasn’t because he made the tools in Canada. It was because Leonard Lee wanted quality. That’s it

    I realize one can’t always go into details when writing blog posts but I would hope that you would choose your words more carefully next time rather than use a phrase with racist implications for the sake of brevity. And I sincerely hope you are not saying this because you hold this belief yourself.

    respectfully,
    Roman



    • Paul Sellers on 11 July 2016 at 8:34 pm

      Racist and racism is a new one for me. I’ll give it some thought.



      • Muddy Rhodes on 11 July 2016 at 9:05 pm

        Mr. Roman needs to find a safe place on the net.



      • Gary Knight on 11 July 2016 at 10:40 pm

        I don’t see any racism overtone….in fact it really annoys me that self interested people pull the racism card when it suits them even though no racism was intended. This sort of coment only creates racism. Keep up the good work Paul. I look forward to your informative blog posts as I learn more about all things woodworking.



      • Roman on 11 July 2016 at 10:52 pm

        Thanks. and see my reply to John.

        best,
        Roman



    • John on 11 July 2016 at 9:51 pm

      Which is racist? To reference a truth — that goods manufactured in Asia are often sub par and sold cheaply — or to automatically assume that what was meant by that reference is that Asians cannot manufacture quality goods?

      It seems all too common today for people to puff themselves up by accusing others of being racist with little to no basis, but you should examine your own motivations. You made an assumption about Paul’s intent with no evidence other than the ethnicity of the people in the region he mentioned. That is the very definition of racism.

      In short, you might want to follow my mother’s advice: Clean up your own back yard before you start on somebody else’s.



      • Roman on 11 July 2016 at 10:51 pm

        John,

        The way it is worded in Mr. Sellers’s post, the implication is that all Asian manufacturing is subpar. That’s a racist statement. My reply to Paul Sellers was to point out the implication, not to assume that he holds that belief. And if he does not indeed hold those beliefs (as I hope), that he would be more thoughtful about the words he chooses so that he doesn’t unintentionally perpetuate racist views. So I’m not saying Paul is a racist. I’m saying he (hopefully) unintentionally made a racist comment that many people are making nowadays.

        If you read my post again, you’d see that. If not, I hope this reply clarified my original post.

        And re: your opening comment. Yeah, many people talk about how Asian factories make cheap stuff but conveniently leave out instances where they do make quality items.

        best,
        Roman



        • John on 12 July 2016 at 7:38 am

          “The way it is worded in Mr. Sellers’s post, the implication is that all Asian manufacturing is subpar.”

          No, it is not. That you insist on reading it that way shows a problem with you, not him.

          “That’s a racist statement.”

          No, it is not. If you really think that is true (and I don’t believe that for a second), then you don’t actually know what racism is.

          “If you read my post again, you’d see that.”

          I read it again. You’re still wrong.

          “Yeah, many people talk about how Asian factories make cheap stuff but conveniently leave out instances where they do make quality items.”

          And we get to the crux of the matter. The statement didn’t reflect your personal agenda, so its truth is immaterial. Fair enough. You’d have gotten a lot further by simply pointing out the other side as you see it rather than throwing around unfounded and inaccurate epithets.



        • Mike Ballinger on 12 July 2016 at 2:12 pm

          Roman, what kind of racist opts for a global reach to any and all countries regardless of their ethnicity or religious beliefs? Choose your words carefully my friend… anyway back to Mr Lee, what a remarkable achievement in such a fine business. I only own a mortice gauge but it is wonderful in the hand and I love using it.



    • Ken on 13 July 2016 at 1:23 pm

      I actually think Roman made some perfectly reasonable points if you care to overlook that he first pushed your big red (and slightly dodgy) anti PC buttons. The origin of sub par products is irrelevant. People everywhere are capable of wonderful work IF they are afforded the time and resources to do it. The brief Asian manufacturers work to is usually a Western one and that brief in turn is crafted in response to what Western markets are willing to buy and how much they are willing to pay. If too few of us will pay for good quality Chinese made goods they won’t be asked to make them.
      Stuff changes and this need not always be someone’s fault.. Quality hand tools have ceased to be made in volume everywhere because the market for them vanished or shrank below the point where production was viable. There are l;ots of interesting reasons why that happened and why to some extent a (much smaller) market has since returned. Veritas played their part as have others. We could talk about those things but too often instead contributors to forums such as this do simply bang on about the country of origin or “accountants” or “engineers” ruining previously great industries. Surely we can all see that pandering to such ill informed prejudice is a bad idea and a poor substitute for what could be a much more interesting conversation.
      For the record I might add that I have never heard or read Paul denegrate products because they are made in Asia or Mexico or anywhere else. Though he does frequently drone on about accountants, engineers and educators!



  5. Gary on 11 July 2016 at 9:51 pm

    Nothing wrong with stating the truth Roman. You said so yourself in your post.. American and other company’s are having things made overseas. As cheap as possible. So yeah. Mr. Sellers post was right on. Racist??? I think not.



    • Jeff Brann on 12 July 2016 at 12:39 am

      I know Mr. Sellers personally and to even imply that he would post a racist comment is totally without merit or foundation. Roman should find someone else to criticize as there are certainly plenty of them out there.



  6. JONATHAN WARREN on 11 July 2016 at 10:28 pm

    Roman
    Having spent some time with Paul, I can assure you that I have not found him to be racist in any way, shape or form. His comment was not targeted at Asian people, but rather at those formerly well-respected manufacturers who have retained brands respected by craftspeople and have used the brands’ reputation to sell their tools which are now cheaply made in Asia – rather than in the centres for which they had become famous, eg Sheffield. Paul has blogged about the deterioration in quality and standards of these tools – modern Stanley or Irwin tools spring to mind – in the past. His stance has been that by moving manufacturing offshore to countries where labour is cheap has been to downgrade and disadvantage our own toolmaking industry unreasonably in pursuit of profit. I don’t think Paul’s comments were in any way racist, nor intended to be taken as such.



    • Roman on 11 July 2016 at 11:07 pm

      Hi Jonathan,

      thanks for your thoughtful reply. please see my reply to John.

      I’ve never had the fortune of meeting Paul or taking one of his classes but I do read his blog and enjoy his posts. I have read the blogs you mention where he does address the issues of outsourcing of work and the loss of quality in a thoughtful manner.

      I don’t think he’s a racist. I just think he made an unfortunate choice in words that has negative implications. I am asking him to give thought to those choice of words and the implications they make.

      best,
      Roman



      • Roy on 12 July 2016 at 1:46 am

        Roman,
        Like Paul, I believe (or hope) that your intent is genuine in pointing out that using the term “Asian manufacturing” should not be synonymous with cheap and poor quality. Unfortunately, this tends to be the case in regards to tool manufacturing. I don’t believe that anyone believes that Asian manufacturers are not capable or able to produce quality goods, it’s just that the business model for most Asian manufactures is low to produce the lowest cost good which they are able to do by reducing quality. I don’t believe that anyone would argue that point and that is certainly not racist.

        I also feel like it is in poor taste to reduce a heart felt tribute to the passing away of an innovator and pioneer into a squabble on semantics. Leave that to the other woodworking forums where their is no shortage of bickering and posturing.



  7. Joe Bouza on 12 July 2016 at 3:37 am

    Wow! This PC nonsense is getting to be too much. Insinuating racism in this blog space is ridiculous to say the least. If I say ‘English tool manufacturing and American tool manufacturers are not worth their salt anymore’ is that to be construed as racist? Or,..their standards have slipped?’. Does that make me anti English or anti American? Of course not!

    This sort of ‘politically correct’ lecturing has no place on a sophisticated and already respectful woodworking blog site. Perhaps the gentleman who complained did not fully understand the intent and direction of Paul’s comments. However, I suggest a long look in the mirror before throwing PC stones at others would be a good place to start from next time around.



  8. Dan Campbell on 12 July 2016 at 4:45 am

    Well said Paul. All of it. I try to get to my local (only 6 hours away) Lee Valley store in Edmonton when ever I can.

    A proud and non-racist Canadian.



  9. Paul Sellers on 12 July 2016 at 11:16 am

    I just added a paragraph at the end as to what I was saying for clarification.



    • Sven-Olof Jansson on 12 July 2016 at 2:01 pm

      Dear Mr Sellers,

      Replacement blades for Veritas’ router planes and scrub plane are made in Taiwan. The one I have of the latter is not to the precision, nor finish, of the blade that came with the plane…

      Kind regards

      Sven-Olof Jansson



      • Paul Sellers on 12 July 2016 at 2:43 pm

        That’s interesting. Thanks for the update, Sven.



        • Ed on 14 July 2016 at 1:21 pm

          To add a data point- I purchased a replacement spokeshave blade from Lee Valley. It was perfect and to the usual high standards of the company. Perfectly flat back. A few wipes and it was polished. This has been true of every cutting tool I’ve ever purchased from them. Even the Narex chisels came that way, and I suspect that is unique to Lee Valley’s Narex.

          Thank you for your remembrances of Mr. Lee. While important points are being discussed, I hope we can return to our thoughts of Mr. Lee and focus on how we come together through woodworking rather than on issues that keep us apart. Yes, those other issues are important, but this blog was about the passing of Mr. Lee and is really an opportunity to remember the things he brought to the world. His sharpening book was an early resource for me, long before I ever bought any of his tools.



          • Paul Sellers on 14 July 2016 at 4:31 pm

            Thanks Ed. So easy to lose the spirit of intent.



      • Joystick on 12 July 2016 at 4:02 pm

        Ooh-er, I was just about to order the Veritas medium router. I had been looking at the older Stanley/Record 71/071 models on the Bay but they seem to sell for around three quarters of the price of the brand new Veritas. The Veritas has a more sophisticated depth adjustment and so I’d rather save my money for a bit longer and buy the Veritas. Now there’s a possibility that the blades might be below par (according to Sven experience). I wonder if Veritas can clarify the situation?



        • Sven-Olof Jansson on 12 July 2016 at 5:23 pm

          Just to clarify: I have as of yet only examined and tested the scrub plane blade. It’s quite badly bowed, but thankfully that’s less of an issue for a scrub plane. /soj



        • Peter George on 14 July 2016 at 1:55 am

          All of the router plane blades are made in Taiwan. It states on the catalog page “Made in Canada (except for blades).” I have the router plane and several of the blades and have not found any quality control issues. I think this goes to the point that Asian manufacturers can produce quality goods if the company requesting them is willing to pay for the quality.



          • Graham Howe on 15 July 2016 at 1:16 am

            I certainly wouldn’t have concerns about the country of manufacture of Veritas blades as I find that the company Mr Lee founded continues to insist upon the highest standards, not only in their products but also in their staff and stores. I have absolutely no doubt that if I ever encountered an issue with one of their products the replacement or other resolution would be immediate and effective. Now for the record, I was very fortunate to receive some Veritas tools for Fathers Day this year, one of which was the Router Plane and the packaging that the blades came in clearly states “Made in Canada”, so perhaps they are using additional manufacturing locations to support additional demand rather than cut costs or reduce quality?

            I would also take this opportunity to to thank Paul and Leonard Lee for being two of the most significant influences in me finally starting to appreciate hand wood working. Paul’s videos, blog and other online content (I will be buying the book soon) have been a revelation to me and convinced me that even as a nearly 50 year old dog, I can still learn new tricks. The Veritas hand tools I have from Lee Valley are an absolute joy to use, have made it even easier to follow Paul’s teachings and are tempting me away from the powered approach.

            I don’t expect to give up my power tools completely, I also don’t expect to purchase Veritas tools exclusively, but I do believe my hobby will continue in an improved direction because of these two men I have never met.



  10. Ken on 13 July 2016 at 2:05 pm

    One of things I like and admire about Veritas is that they rarely seem to release a product without first giving a great deal of thought as to whether it can be made to do a better job. There are less difficult ways to make and sell tools which is why most of the competition focus on build quality and appearance. .To try and better the efforts of generations of tool makers and designers is an altogether tougher challenge. That Veritas chose this path and stuck to it without ever pushing their prices into the stratosphere says a lot about those who run the company and also the engineers they employ.
    For those reasons I think Leonard Lee might well go down as the founder of the greatest of modern hand tool makers.,



  11. m. messina on 14 July 2016 at 12:34 pm

    Wow, a whole lot of talk about nothing at all. I live in Asia and wonder how many of those commenting do as well?
    Are we talking about all of Asia or specifically China? Seems like the latter. Well it is quite well discussed and the topic of shows here that most middle class Chinese will not buy Chinese made goods if they are looking for quality. Counterfeit goods are the norm and there is no consumer protection agencies in China.
    That said the Chinese make pretty decent quality for a good price if you take the time to sift through all the options. This is often a resonable option. If you are looking for something to last forever then of course there are better options. I learned long ago to always buy the best quality I can afford.
    Japan is a country (in Asia) that is known to produce products of exceptional quality… and the prices reflect that. I live in Japan. The sad fact is that many Japanese companies are manufacturing in China and assembling in Japan. The quality is not what is was yet the prices are as high as ever. For this reason I have stopped buying Makita. “Assembled in Japan” is not “made in Japan”. This is not something new. I was a professional cyclist before and many Italian bicycle manufacturers doing the same thing with all the parts manufactured in Taiwan and then assembled in Italy.
    This topic is too deep and complex to go into with a simple blog comment, but it is legitimate and not racist.
    Quality goods are made in every corner of the world, as is shyte. It is up to us as consumers to determine what we are looking for and to do our diligence in finding the products that suit our needs.
    It is much, much easier to find quality goods in the UK and US than it is in Asia… and the choices are infinitely greater.



  12. Collin on 24 July 2016 at 1:37 pm

    I only recently discovered the quality and beauty of Lee Valley and Veritas tools. I recently finished a 2 year program for guitar building and repair and I had the opportunity to acquire a Veritas low angle block plane that was on our list of tools needed and recommended by my instuctors. The day I received the plane in the mail was a day I’ll always remember. This was the first tool I had invested a good chunk of change for and was so overwhelmed by the tools look and finishing touches. I knew nothing of setting up a plane, checking the sole for flatness, sharpening and honing. After very in depth discussion on set up and fine tuning, I went to work on my shiny new block plane. I maybe spent 10-15 minutes on the sole before it was flat across the entire surface. The blade holds an edge very well and adjustment is very effortless. More often than not, when I came to a point in my guitar builds that I had true an edge, I very well could have skipped off to the edge sander or used one of the router setups. But I always grabbed my block plane if it was a task the plane could achieve just as easily. I found it to be my partner in my craft. The tool worked with me. Together we made some mistakes,well……… I made the mistakes haha, but my plane was there to help me regardless of user error. With all this being said, I have a high regard for old and new tools alike. I have a couple stanley Bailey bench planes that I bought and cleaned up and they work wonderfully. But I never would have bothered buying and cleaning them up had I never used my Veritas block plane. It opened the doors to a vast array of hand tools. It led me to this blog, it helped me shape the necks on my first guitar builds, it helped me with so many things while in school. It saddens me to read of such a loss. I know my love for woodworking hand tools has only came to be these past couple of years but using that plane sparked my desire, urge and quest for knowledge. A lifetime of enjoyment came with this plane, and Veritas didn’t have to plaster it on the box to sell it to me. Its an unspoken feature that comes with the tool.



  13. Milford Brown on 2 August 2016 at 8:15 pm

    Years ago I owned a Taiwanese-Delta small drill press with chuck jaws that weren’t quite parallel. Wanting one with a crank to raise and lower the table, I replaced it with a larger Chinese-Delta one, and found that the clamp that holds the table would not slide down the column. I spent the better part of an afternoon carefully polishing out the interior of that clamp so it would slide but not be sloppy. A while later, I saw an assembled one in another tool store, and my initial problem had been corrected, but to the extent that loosening the clamp let the front edge of the table to drop quite noticeably. Given the choice, I was glad I received the version I have. Unfortunately I have never encountered an older US-made one for comparison, but have wondered about this fit.

    Another “outsourced ” product line – Marples chisels – have been reported to me as another example of poor quality from China. In contrast, I inherited a Chinese-made sliding caliper that is a fine example of precision machining. Unfortunately I have no idea of its source or cost.

    I also have a few Harbor Freight bar clamps that are undoubtedly Asian knock-offs of the orange Jorgensen ones, and they work equally well. Obviously we need to be selective in buying tools, regardless of their origin.



  14. Milford Brown on 2 August 2016 at 8:40 pm

    Earlier today I read a comment (which I have not been able to find again) that using petroleum-based oil avoids the possibility of “natural,” that is plant-sourced oils that have the possibility of spontaneous combustion. Actually that is true only for drying oils, such as those used for wood-finishing. These dry by oxidation, just much slower that the fuel in your car engine, but when confined, the heat generated can indeed lead to fire. Other oils that remain liquid, those used in the kitchen or the Japanese camellia oil, do not have that hazard, because they do not undergo oxidative polymerization to a hard film, so they are perfectly safe. A traditional tool-oiler for Japanese woodworkers is a short section of bamboo filled with rolled-up cloth and soaked with camellia oil. There is also a plastic version with a cap to keep the oil where it belongs. In one of the US Kezurou-Kai sessions some years ago, one of the visitors from Japan was doing some very precise fitting of joints, and poked the cutting edge of his chisel into a large version of this bamboo oiler before each cut. The more common use is to wipe a thin film of Camellia oil on steel tools to inhibit rusting. I have found that very effective for my saws, chisels, and plane blades.