Keeping the dream alive

There once was a dream called America. A land of opportunity where anyone could work hard and be successful. In these days of government regulation, selling off everything we own to foreign powers, a changing work ethic and a shift from making things to buying things, it’s good to know there are some folks out there trying to make things the best they can.

A couple of weeks ago I was a guest exhibitor at the Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event held at Ball & Ball Hardware in Exton, PA. For those who don’t know Ball & Ball Hardware, you’re about to see some cool photos from the event. If you missed it, you missed seeing something that is fading in this country: quality products being made by Americans.

I truly believe the coming together of Lie-Nielsen and Ball & Ball hardware for this event is a marriage made in heaven. They both small American businesses that are producing extremely high quality products and they’re doing it here in America. They’re overcoming the hurdles of high American wages and government intrusion compared to those of the Far East. Both companies are hit by EPA regulations and rising costs but they keep putting out great products.

Sure, those products are a little more expensive than their foreign counterparts but they should be. A Lie-Nielsen hand plane performs better than those of the invaders. A piece of Ball & Ball hardware screams quality by comparison to its cheaper counterparts. For those of us who know period furniture, you just can’t beat the fit and finish of a Ball & Ball pull. You can see the hallmarks of quality that go into each piece whether it’s the care taken in the buffing and polishing of a piece or the hand filing and chasing of an early brass. These things relate directly to the quality and care put into the Lie-Nielsen products. If you look at the care and effort put into shaping and finishing a plane tote or an adjuster knob, you’ll see the same pride and quality of workmanship that goes into every Ball & Ball backplate or knob.

If you can’t tell, I have a great deal of respect for both companies. My suggestion is, if you can afford their products, please patronize both companies as often as possible. It would be a shame to lose even more than we already have with the products being made in this country.

The event itself was pretty well attended. In addition to Lie-Nielsen, Ball & Ball and your’s truly exhibiting there was also Jim Leamy with his amazing planes. We also had Daed Toolworksthere and Raney was showing off his outrageous planes as well. Fred West brought a slew of Philip Marcou planes. Matt Bickford came and showed folks how to make moldings using his planes and the local SAPFM chapter was represented by Rich and Joe.

At the handtool events, Lie-Nielsen and the other exhibitors well…exhibit. Lie-Nielsen does their handtool thing, I do my dovetail or carving thing and everyone else does what they do. Usually the venue is a specialty lumber dealer so there’s lots of wood lying about to be purchased. The main difference for me with this tool event was that Ball & Ball opened up their shop to the public. This is not something that happens all the time.

The shop is usually closed on Fridays and Saturdays but the showroom is open both days. At this event, Ball & Ball brought in their blacksmith and their foundry-man. And did they put on a show…

Not only did the crowd get to see brasses being poured by hand but they also got to wander the entire workshop. Ball & Ball sand casts their hardware just the way it was done 250 years ago. They use a special sand that used to come from Vermont. I say “used” to because the supply of this natural sand is gone. Bill Ball figures he has about 4 or 5 years worth of this sand left before he has to find an alternative.

I, for one, hope this becomes and annual event. Some might think it’s a purely self driven motivation since Ball & Ball is about a 20 minute drive from my school but the true motivation is to see more people exposed to what this company is really doing just outside Philadelphia. In the ever changing landscape of American business, here’s a company doing things with old fashioned pride. I’m glad I could be part of this special hand tool event. If they manage to hold another event there, you’d be wise to travel any distance to see this extraordinary place in person.

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6 thoughts on “Keeping the dream alive

  1. Nice article Chuck! My next hardware purchase will be from Ball and Ball!!

  2. Very well-written article, Chuck! And it has a great point, as well. I’m a big fan of patronizing smaller “local” businesses (local being a subjective term), whether it is soap from a woman at the local craft show or hand planes from the likes of Thomas Lie-Nielsen.

    I’m having a hat made for my little boy by an acquaintance up in Oregon. She’ll make it to his size and in a color we pick. It costs $20, which my wife balked at, but I’d rather send $20 to someone in Oregon who knitted it by hand than buy something made in China at WalMart for the every day low price of $12.99.

    Sorry. Got sidetracked.

    Great article. 🙂

  3. Being a retired navy guy (20yrs in subs) I have always tried to buy american made but as the years go by its increasely difficult to find “made in the USA”. I agree without reservations about your statements on Lie Neilsen and Ball and Ball. They are expensive but you are getting what you pay for. I am willing to wait and save my pennies to buy from either of these companies.

    Its sad that in today’s global economy that being made in USA is getting the same flavor as Japan in the late 40’s and early 50’s.

  4. Chuck,

    Thanks for talking me into hosting the Lie Nielsen tool event, and thanks for the great article, I agree buy from Ball and Ball

  5. I guess as a Canadian I should be sure not to purchase from Lie-Nielsen or Ball & Ball, or your services for that matter. Since America is still a huge exporter of goods, I think you should reflect a bit more carefully about your arguments.

  6. Brian,
    I wasn’t suggesting we stop purchasing quality goods from other countries. If you carefully read what I wrote you’ll see I’m merely praising companies like Lie-Nielsen and Ball & Ball for bucking the business trends in America. Let’s face it, our society (and I have no idea about your society) is headed down the path of buying cheaper, throw away products produced in third world countries. It’s a disposable society purchasing disposable products. It once meant something to purchase a product “made in America”. Companies like LN and B&B are merely, as the title of the article suggests, “keeping the dream alive”.

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