Two weeks ago, on April 1st, I received a call from Maine. I was busily working at Marc Adams School of Woodworking and the call went to voicemail. Later that evening as I drove to my parents’ house (where I stay when visiting MASW) I finally listened to voicemail and found that Andrew from Lie-Nielsen called because he was getting ready to build my workbench. It truly seemed like it had to be an April Fools joke.
Last year about this time I was talking to Mr. Lie-Nielsen, and I had finally decided to forego building my own workbench and just buy one. I asked what the lead time was, and he said, “about 6 weeks.” Thomas told me to call Casey back at the Toolworks and place the order through her. When I called Casey the next day, she told me Tom misspoke about the lead time. I was informed the benches were as much as 6 months out. I went ahead and ordered it, realizing that I would have a new workbench in time for Thanksgiving. Around October of 2007, I called to check on the status of my bench and found that I was still number 83 on the list of 130 people waiting for benches. A new bench for Thanksgiving would be out of the question.
I was lamenting my bench waiting frustration to Chris Schwarz who responded, “Why don’t you just build a bench?!?!?!??!” My response was something like, “Hey, Chris, you know Tom better than I do…. Do you think he would move me up the waiting list if I offered him like an extra Ten Dollars?” Chris replied, “Knowing him, he will either move you down or throw you off the list.”
I don’t think it’s a case of Thomas Lie-Nielsen being The Soup Nazi; I just got the impression he believes in treating everyone fairly. So I waited.
A couple of weeks later, I decided to start building the Holtzapffel Bench. That bench is nearly done, and I really like the design. While at MASW, students work on Lie-Nielsen workbenches, and they are very good benches. However, during the first day of my class with Chris Gochnour two weeks ago I kept discovering little things about the bench that were less efficient than the Holtzapffel bench, given the way I work. I love the massive legs of the Holtzapffel and the fact they mount flush to the front of the benchtop. This design offers clamping possibilities that are not available with the traditional European Trestle base. As much as I thought I wanted a tool tray, I have now grown accustomed to the clear 24” wide top of massively thick hard maple. (Note: Lie-Nielsen benches can be ordered with or without tool trays.)
So on April Fools Day as I pulled out of the parking lot at MASW, I was thinking about how happy I am with the workbench I built when the cellular signal improved and my phone's voicemail reminder told me of all of the calls I had missed during the day. I was thinking about my Holtzapffel bench when I listend to a voicmail from Andrew asking if I still wanted the Lie-Nielsen Bench. I called Andrew the next morning and found out some information… I was now number one on a list of about 200, and they aren’t taking any more orders (for a while). As Andrew told me about the challenges they face in meeting the demand for the benches, my mind began racing through thoughts of various schemes and dreams.
My brain went into Antiques Roadshow Collector Mode. I saw Leslie and Leigh Keno oohing over the bench, saying, “Yes. This is an original Lie-Nielsen Bench….” My brain then jumped to a glimpse of the estate sale with a Lie-Nielsen Bench covered with all of my tools. Patrick Leach’s Full Grown 50 year old Tool Elf was there offering “a hundred bucks for all of this old woodworking crap” which my 52 year old nephew was greedily accepting.
I thought about buying the bench and then immediately selling it on Ebay. How much would the guy who is currently #200 on the list be willing to pay to get an 8 foot long Lie-Nielsen workbench within 3 weeks??? The greedy look in my eyes was replaced with a look of fear as the vision of The Soup Nazi flooded my brain, and I heard Tom Lie-Nielsen’s voice say, “You’re the *^&^%*^$% who sold the brand new bench on Ebay????? NO MORE TOOLS FOR YOU!!!!!!!!”
Then, for about 10 seconds I tried to picture the layout of my shop with a $2000+ 8 foot long sharpening station. I couldn’t figure out where to fit it in. I also couldn’t figure out how to convince Gail to start working nights at a 7-11 in order to bring home extra cash to pay for it.
So after weighing all of these thoughts, I made the following speech to Andrew: “Working on the Lie-Nielsen bench here at Marc Adams’ yesterday reminded me of how nice these benches are. However, I am really happy with the bench I just finished making (don’t tell Andrew that it isn’t actually finished yet). Just in case you guys decide to stop making these benches, I would sure love to have one just from the collector side of things, but I cannot justify it given the lack of space in my shop. So, you see, Andrew, I love the benches you make, but they aren’t right for me.”
Then, feeling like all of those old girlfriends of mine from the 1990’s, I said the phrase that effectively closed my affair with the Lie-Nielsen workbench. I softly spoke into the phone and told him, “Andrew… It’s not you… It’s me.”
Next weekend I will be seeing Tom Lie-Nielsen. I hope things won’t be awkward. I hope we can still be friends if only for the sake of the 30 or so planes, saws, chisels, doweling jigs, aprons, and spokeshaves I own.