Lie-Nielsen #102


This exchange began on Monday, and I have been back and forth for a week with Lie-Nielsen’s very patient customer service rep.  For some reason that nobody seems to be able to explain, the blade dimension of the #102 block plane is slightly different now than the original.  Different enough that what was once a dependably precise tool is now just plain frustrating to use.  To be absolutely fair, I am a difficult customer.  If I can make a tool or repair an old one, I will spend the time rather than the money.  Not that I’m cheap exactly, it’s mostly force of habit.  When and if I do pony up for something, I fully expect it to live up to the bargain, and not for a mere 20 years.  Because of this kind of nonsense…

I have this Lie-Nielsen #102 block plane that I purchased in 1994, the only Lie-Nielsen plane that I own. Recently, I ordered a marking knife, and along with it a new replacement blade for the #102.

I kept noticing that every time I adjusted the blade it skewed in the throat, so I got out the digital caliper. The earlier two blades I have are (original)1.246” and 1.250” (to be reasonably precise), and the inside bearings at the throat are 1.25+”, while the new blade measures 1.226+”. The slack tolerance produces this result: turning the adjustment screw exerts a lateral force which skews the blade, every time.

What I’m experiencing is totally contrary to the logic (of Lee Valley’s block planes for instance) which uses screws to limit side play. (In fact, this problem appears to be unique to the Lie-Nielsen #102, I can’t think of another plane design where this would happen.) It will also render this particular Lie-Nielsen #102 block plane obsolete in time, if I can’t acquire replacement blades that actually fit.
I will gladly send you the plane, blades, etc. if you would rather check the accuracy of my measurements, or examine the particular mechanical issue that I have attempted to describe… Michael

There’s a couple of missing e-mails here… I cc’d someone else, he ended up getting the reply instead of me, none of which is relevant to solving the problem.  What I find frustrating in this is Deneb’s assurance that Lie-Nielsen is the arbiter of precision, even thought they have no idea why this dimension has changed by .025″.  


That is just fine. All I had said in the e-mail was that if you wanted to send in the plane as well. Then we can look it over and see if the tool is out of spec. If you would rather use it as is with the original blades, then that is fine. Please include a note with whatever you send in that lets us know what you would like us to do.

Cheers,  Deneb


To the best of my remembrance, Tom started out with the #102 block plane. An improvement on the Stanley original, and the cornerstone of Lie-Nielsen Tools, if you will. That it was somehow necessary to change the dimension by some minor increment surely made sense to a corporate number-cruncher. To a craftsman, it makes absolutely no sense at all (from 31.75mm to 31.14mm? why? why not an even 32mm?). In fact, it appears to be an attempt at planned obsolescence. The new blade simply does not work properly in the old plane. Knowing that, you might at least offer an ‘old stock’ option.   Michael


I have no idea why or when a change occurred, but I can assure you that the decision was not made by a corporate number cruncher. The reason that we did not make it 32mm, is because we do not work in metric, so fractional metric measurements are of no meaning to us. I apologize that the blades we are making today are not working in the plane that you got 20 years ago. I am not even sure if the bedding pocket for your plane is identical to what we are doing now. If you would like to send your plane in for us to check it over, we would be happy to check it out. We may even have some old W-1 blades around somewhere that we could send you. Please let us know what you would like us to do.

Cheers,  Deneb


I really appreciate your patience. Whatever the value of the plane itself, the design issue here is fascinating. Apparently, someone arbitrarily changed a critical dimension so that the blades are not backward compatible.
Several years ago, I had this minor epiphany that almost all ball bearings are manufactured to metric specs, because metric is the global standard. Thus the metric tangent. I had to calculate that, as I have nothing that actually measures in metric. And, since 32mm is a cabinet standard, why not?

That a new blade doesn’t fit properly in a 20 year old plane is another issue. Aren’t these things supposed to be heirlooms? One of my favorite planes is a pre-lateral #6 Stanley, which is (if you can trust Patrick Leach’s Blood & Gore) 135+ years old and still working fine. Eventually, all things being more or less equal, Lie-Nielsen will saturate the market for the kind and quality of tools that you are making. You may have already.

Anyway, I’m not particularly concerned about the plane itself. It still works fine with the old blade, and the measurements I gave you haven’t changed (the new blade is still 1.226+”, the plane throat is 1.25+”, the resulting .025” slop lets the blade skew sideways). There was simply no practical reason to change that dimension. It doesn’t improve anything, and as the blades wear out in the older models, they become functionally obsolete. This is not merely a technical issue.   Michael

I really don’t mean to beat up on Lie-Nielsen here.  Deneb is doing his best to represent the company’s interests, and I’m just trying to figure out why this relatively minor change happened in the first place.  Lie-Nielsen actually started out making a #95 bronze edge plane (I just looked it up in an old catalog).  The #102 came later, its blade was exactly 1 ¼” wide, and it fit tightly side-to-side at the throat.  There was no need to change that.  Ever. 

The old Stanley #102 has a 1 5/16″ blade.  I know, because I have fitted old #60 ½ blades into several of them; they are 1 ⅜” , and it just takes a bit of filing and scraping to get a perfect fit.  (I suspect that some old boatbuilder had thought of that trick long before Tom Lie-Nielsen came along.)  The Stanley #102 was also designed to be adjusted with a hammer, look at that little boss on its aft end.  

 We have three 25 year-old BMW E-30’s, all in excellent mechanical condition (Okay, one needs a new camshaft, but that’s another story).  The reason they are still running is due to German engineering, competent mechanics (re:camshaft…), and regular infusions of cash.  Precision and Tolerance…


About michaellangford2012

Timber framer, boatbuilder, dreamer, writer, musician; collector of books, tools, aphorisms. "There is nothing, absolutely nothing…half so much worth doing…as simply messing about in boats."
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6 Responses to Lie-Nielsen #102

  1. Phil says:

    I know how frustrating it can be when you are trying to get a tool to do something that you believe it should do, to no avail. I am a big fan of LN tools, and I own and use more LN tools than I deserve. I just came back from my shop after taking apart and re-setting one of my 102’s. It is a tool that is elegant in its simplicity. It never occurred to me that it should not have clearance in the body of the plane to allow lateral adjustment of the iron. I took out my B&S dial caliper to measure the difference in width between the iron and the bed: I could have used a tape measure for this task. This is of no concern to me, as it took less than a minute to get the iron adjusted to cut .002 shavings: even across the cut. In my humble opinion, there must be some play to account for a blade with a skewed edge (can anybody get it square to within .001″?). As for the movement of the blade as you adjust the depth: the adjuster will of course move the blade in two directions: in/out (desirable) and left/right (not desirable). Perhaps your adjuster nut is not moving as smoothly as it could in the detent on the back of the iron: a little oil or wax in this location may just fix this issue. Could it be that the first plane/iron combo you received was a fluke: so little clearance between the iron and plane body that you hit the jackpot and had a combination that always registered the same, every time you installed the iron? I offer these comments largely in defense of LN: I have also complained to them about this or that in the past: and I have to reluctantly admit that it was my error in all cases. They deal with all categories of customers: ones that are experts and I expect a fair amount that are lucky to get the iron installed in the plane body in the right direction. I am not suggesting that you are in the latter group: your website would suggest that you are at the front of the former group. If your plane is defective, I have no doubt that LN will make it right: with a smile.

  2. Phil,
    The e-mails were preceded by a rather long telephone conversation with Deneb, which didn’t really resolve anything. So, I provided him with all the relevant measurements and offered to send the plane if he wanted to check. Honestly, I wasn’t that much concerned with fixing my plane (the immediate and obvious solution is simply to not use the new blade), and I was trying to alert them to a possible design and/or quality assurance issue.
    The lingering question: why fix something that works? remains unanswered…

    My original LN #102, in which there is very little side-to-side play at the throat, works just fine. How much play does yours actually have, and when was it made? This may not be common practice, but I tend to adjust planes as I’m using them, without eyeballing the blade/sole every time I make an adjustment. Same with lateral adjustment. The #102 works fine with the original blade, in that it remains parallel with the sole adjusted as I just described.
    The play that accounts for an out of square edge is generally accommodated on the other end of the blade (e. g. Lee Valley’s set screws hold the blade tight at the throat, but there’s still some lateral adjustment). Wooden plane irons are noticeably tapered, allowing lateral adjustment. The lateral lever on a Stanley bench plane works somewhat differently, as does a Norris adjuster. In those, the blade pivots near the middle.
    The 60 ½, for instance, tends to move the blade in and out without attempting to skew, as does a typical bench plane. Wooden planes develop an impression (a sweet spot) where the blade sits without effort. A few taps with a small hammer…

    The first thing I noticed in the #102 was a slight grinding noise as I turned the adjuster. I think that is caused by the recess not being quite deep enough, so that the perimeter of the nut is contacting the machined inner surface of the blade. (This may be the source of the entire problem, and it could easily be a machining error.) Since the distance from that point to the bearing is half the distance of the bearing to the throat, the resulting movement is amplified by 2. As the two aft contact points have more friction, and there is the .025″ slack at the throat, the blade skews noticeably out of parallel with the sole.

    Thank you for your well-considered response, Michael

  3. PJ Flynn says:

    Hi Michael, I’d just like to add my 2 cents to this post. At this point though I have to confess that I think very little of Lie -Nielsen tools in general due to the very problem you are describing, the absurdly high prices, and the hype hype hype. I owned the rabbeting block plane and it had the exact same problem but much worse. The depth adjustment nut ground nastily in the groove at the back of the blade and the second you turned it the blade slammed to the side and there was plenty of play for it to do so. My 102 has this very same problem. I live about 10min away from the showroom so I brought it back to them and one of Toms helpful minions took it out back with the intent to try and fix it. He returned unsuccessful and offered me a replacement which I accepted. I took it out of the box and what do you know… it had the very same problem and as it turned out the blade was slightly wider than the body of the plane so one had to shove it against one side or the other depending on which side you were rabbeting with. I kept the plane and tried to make good use of it for a couple of years but the constant frigging around made the plane un-useable to me. I sold it on ebay.
    So to the point, Leonard Bailey in his brilliance designed his plane adjustment mechanisms with at least TWO DEGREES OF SEPARATION between you and the blade that you are advancing. It’s really that simple. The bench planes have a nut that moves a yoked lever that moves the blade. The block planes have a nut on a shaft that moves a sled that the blade is bedded on or as is the case with the Stanley No103 a lever moves a lever that the bade is bedded on. So for the most part your blade keeps its alignment. All of Lie-Nielsens’ small planes have the overly simple design that puts the adjustment nut right into direct contact with the blade and you know what happens next. This too basic of a design can only be beneficial to ease the manufacturing process but leaves the product wanting. From here on out, if I find myself with the weird urge to spend some dough it’ll be on Hock blades for my Stanley planes.
    I’m interested in hearing what you think of this, Thanks Pat.

    • Pat, I explained all those issues ad nauseum to Deneb. Basically, he didn’t care to understand the subtleties of adjustment, too busy defending the company interest.
      The essential part of the plane is still the blade, and Lie-Nielsen makes mediocre blades, always have (Hock A-2 cryo blades are sweet). Aside from being initially shiny (which turns to grunge), and less brittle than cast iron, bronze isn’t a great choice for a plane sole. It’s sticky. Cast iron is porous and a bit less sticky, hence corrugated soles. Transitionals are really under-appreciated, because tuning them requires a bit of skilled woodworking. Bailey was brilliant, too bad he’s not around to buy out L-N. M

  4. matt ross says:

    mike just read your ridiculous screed against lie nielson and i will comment ; rubbish matt

    • You are welcome to try the plane yourself, in the event that I may have misrepresented or mis-measured something. I haven’t sent the blade back, yet, so all the parts are still here. There’s also a reasonably accurate digital caliper, unless you would rather provide your own. What, exactly, is rubbish?

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