Toys from Lee Valley

One of our regular readers Mr Umaji informs us of the enormous and enduring joy he gets from discovering, observing and acquiring all sorts of woodworking tools, accessories and so on.  Woodworking, he argues, is not just about wood species, skills, methods and all that, but also about the sheer pleasure of acquiring what he calls are "toys" for the job.

I cannot agree with him more. I confess to spending an inordinate amount of time at various online stores and making wishlists that are unlikely to be ever fulfilled. At any rate, it is a consuming and rewarding pastime.

I am constantly on the look-out for friends and acquaintances travelling to the United States and whenever I locate someone, I pester that person with a request to carry some tools back to India for me.

The trouble with buying abroad, as most Indian woodworkers know, is the added, often prohibitive expense of shipping charges and import duties. Added to these are the uncertainties associated with our postal and customs systems. It is much better and far cheaper to buy them online and then have someone bring them over.

One of my American friends in particular is most cooperative about the business of carrying tools for me every time he travels to the United States. Adam Pitman from Minnesota has a heart as large as the vast area of the state from which he comes. He will invariably call me every time he flies home asking whether he should carry something back. I have a long wishlist and Adam invariably obliges.

Others are not as cooperative, particularly my Indian acquaintances (barring a couple of honourable exceptions). I find Indians, particularly those based in the United States, invariably raise objections and cite complicated US customs and security procedures as an excuse for refusing my requests. I persist of course.

Sometimes I am plain lucky. Once a woodworking enthusiast in the US who had read my blog post about the difficulty about importing tools into India sent me an email saying he would be travelling to India and would willingly carry something small for me. I immediately responded and the fine gentleman did indeed carry a small but extremely useful assortment of tools back for me. I am happy to say that this American, Joel Michalski from Wisconsin, became a friend while he was in Delhi and remains in touch now that he back in the States.

This month, Adam had to return home for a short visit and once again carried a small parcel back for me. They were a bunch of woodworking items from the premier online store Lee Valley. Have a look (The pictures are taken from the Lee Valley Online catalogue at

Workshop Striking Knife

I have learnt that the utility of an extremely sharp marking knife is unparalleled. I have one single side bevelled knife and got this $10 Veritas knife. Worth having a few around.

Hinge Centre Punch

This is another invaluable little tool especially for someone like me who has to attach hardware to small boxes. I always find it difficult to find the exact centre of the pre-drilled screw holes in hardware. Any misalignment causes major fitting problems. This tool hopefully will help.

Wheel Marking Gauge 
I have always wanted one of these even though they are not essential tools. My Japanese knife edge marking gauges do a splendid job. However, I wanted to try out these ones and got one that allows for micro-adjustments, a feature that is often very useful. The gauge, as most Veritas products, is beautifully engineered, very precise and lovely to hold. According to Veritas, "The hardened steel wheel cutter scribes perfectly at any point of its circumference. Since it cuts wood fibres rather than tears, it marks cleanly, even on cross grain. The wheel's single sided bevel also pulls the gauge face against the stock, maintaining accuracy. Its cutting edge is at the extreme end of the rod, useful for transferring dimensions such as tenon shoulder and mortise depth. The wheel retracts into the face of the gauge for storage and protection. The gauges are very easy to set, since each has an internal O-ring to keep light but constant friction on the rod…we developed a second model with a slightly longer body fitted with a two-stage collet to allow fine adjustment of the cutting wheel. "

Inlay Cutter head

Those who have been following my blog would be familiar with my penchant for small boxes. To make my boxes look better I have been experimenting with various embellishments and enhancements, one of which is the addition of strip inlays. Attaching extremely thin narrow inlay strips accurately is not the easiest of tasks. Using a palm router to rout a shallow (1/16th inch) groove is acceptable but is difficult to use in slightly complicated layouts. Another method involves the use of a router plane with an attached "Inlay Cutter Head".  Shims are used to adjust the width of the cutter to the precise width of the inlay strip while two sharp cutter heads plough two lines. The waste within is removed either by a chisel or a regular router plane blade.

Auger Gimlets

For hand tool work, starting a hole for screws, and even nails at times, requires a gimlet. I have one but it is of a standard size and makes an awfully big hole and gouges out a fair amount of wood, which is a problem while working with small pieces where a more delicate touch would be preferable. These French made gimlets do a superb job in starting holes.

Indranil Banerjie
27 July 2015

One of our readers, Sudhir Mathur, was fortunate enough to shop at a Lee Valley store. He says the tools made him swoon. Here are some of the things he bought:

Forstner Bits

Honing Guide

Wheel Marking Gauge

Marking Knife


Speed Square and Bevel Gauge


  1. Awesome cache of fine tools ! Really wish our Indian websites start carrying these. Guess it has to do with demand !

  2. I had somehow missed this blog , found it while organising my mails . I happened to visit the Lee valley store of Toronto Canada. This was introduced to me by Abid Ali who advised me to buy some tools from there and called it " the Rolls Royce of Tools".It feels like mecca of Tool stores !!.Awesome experience of the quality of their display and technical finesse . Unlike other DIY stores here one has to see the display/ catalogue , choose an item , take a token and meet a salesman at the counter, who are trained , helpful and explain patiently .
    By coincidence I purchased the Marking knife ,Circular marking gauge pictured above , It feels like a dream to use and touch . Other items procured Fostener bits , Micro fine scraper, Plane Tool ssharpening jig and few more . There were so many tempting items but their prices are like gold plated !!! so had to resist . Just wanted to share this experience . IS anyway I can upload pics of items procured ?

    1. Matter, you are lucky to be able to visit the Lee Valley store. I dream of doing it! As for photographs, please email them to me at Would be happy to put them up.


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