A plain and smooth piece of wood can be both beautiful and really boring. Stanley made a metal scratch stock, and Lie-Nielsen copied it. Let’s review the L and the N version!
Back in the day, the sign of a skilled craftsman could easily be seen. You would not just slap a piece of plain, flat trim on a cabinet door and call it a day! No sir! We even see this on older houses, where the stool, apron and casing around a window would not just be pieces of flat, rough sawn planks. There is a sense of pride to be seen in the workmanship – something that’s less common today, sadly.
Some years ago, I owned the old family farm house which was built around 1850. It had some work done in the 1920’s and again around 1945-1950. During the battle of Narvik, a shell from the war ships hit the roof, and there was some shrapnel damage from a bomb that landed in a field close by. The repairs were done skillfully and kept the original style of the house. Ornamented casings, exterior mouldings and other period pieces were replicated. The casings had chamfers and small diamond-shaped cutouts, and there were a profile in the center which I now understand was scratched into the wood. Lovely!
In smaller items such as the lid of a jewelry box or the front of a shelf, ornamental beads, coves or other decorative shapes made a plain surface into something more elegant and refined. When did we loose this? Perhaps a combination of changing styles, breaking loose from the old ways in a radical way and eventually industrialization and cost-effectiveness? We did not want all those fancy elements, we wanted modern and futuristic. Perhaps linked to the “uprise” of the working class. Or perhaps we have fallen to the hype of the PR department? The flat face is cheap to manufacture, and the creativity of the PR people sells it as something good. The true nature of it all, though, is more profit to the manufacturing business shareholders. It always is.
While I appreciate that the world moves forward and that style changes, I think it is a shame that the modern carpenter don’t have (or is allowed) the time to put a nice little bead down the corner board of a house. The ornamental blocks around the window as shown above, can be bought over the counter (or at least something similar), but the quality of the wood used to make them are abysmal at best. No select piece of wood that will retain its shape over the decades, just a CNC cut random block of wood. Knots’n all. Do the worker know anything about how wood behaves, how it moves through changing seasons? I am sure many do, but I am also sure the majority don’t.
The same thing goes for the general quality of construction materials – as long as it is fast and efficient, it’s good. A batten that looks like a propeller? Sure, “just shoot some extra nails in it, it’ll be fine”! I think we have lost something important, but it might be just me who thinks that.
About a year ago, I saw a beautiful box an acquaintance, Mr. Kompelien made – his level of craftsmanship is way up there! And his shop looks like Lie-Nielsen had a good sneeze in it, because it looks like a L-N catalog! I am not envious of all his nice tools. No, not at ALL!
I asked about how he created the nice profile on the breadboard end, and he introduced me to the Lie-Nielsen No.66 beading tool.
I just HAD to have one. And the other day, this thing was placed on my work bench:
Back in the day Stanley released their No.66 beading tool, which Lie-Nielsen has copied. Some minor improvements such as thicker blades and a bit nicer surface finish, but all in all a copy. Which is fine, really. This is not a complicated tool.
Stanley, ever the opportunist and “let’s create a demand”, jumped on the ol’ scratch stock wagon around 1880 and released what I think is a great tool. It remained in production up to WWII.
The tool is rather simple in its construction. A blade with a profile is held at an angle, leaning forward in the direction of travel. This is similar to how the cabinet scraper and the scraper plane works. If you are unfamiliar with those, it’ the same as a card scraper. If you don’t know what that is, you need to google it immediately!
You drag the tool along the surface repeatedly, and the profile gradually deepens; you scratch it into the wood. This gives you a lot more control than with a power router and the risk of ruining your work piece is reduced dramatically. Certain applications cannot be done with a router at all – not in any sort of practical way, at least. Think a reed profile along a curved piece. Plus, we would end up with the tell-tale surface of a rotary cutter (more on that later).
Some of these profiles could be achieved with a beading blade in a plough plane, or a dedicated profile plane. But you can't steer a plough plane around tight curves, leaving scratch stock or a beading tool like the 66 as the only viable options.
In the package we find the spoke shave looking tool, two fences (one for straight cuts, one for curves), a retaining clamp for the blades and 7 double-sided profile cutters (giving 14 profiles), a router blade (to use the beader as a router plane or make grooves) and a blank for creating your own profiles. A booklet that identifies the parts (but fails to mention ANYTHING about how to actually use the thing) plus a paper envelope for the cutters.
No instruction manual. No tips on use. No nothing. For a premium tool, this is really sloppy. They do have instructional videos online – but still, the lack of instructions on how to use the tool is way too sloppy for a premium maker. My Veritas honing jig and my vintage Stanley plow plane came with instructions that at least got me started.
Since Lie-Nielsen did not bother, I’ll do it for them.
Setting up the tool
You start by attaching the desired fence. See how it sticks out at the back? That’s because we drag this tool, we don’t push it (more on that in a bit). Thus it need lateral stability at the trailing end.
You then insert the profile iron into its slot, through the blade clamp. Extend the blade so that it sticks out past the sole of the tool. This will dictate the depth of the profile. For deep profile cuts you should start with the blade almost retracted and extend it as needed until you reach your desired depth. This will give you a lot more control and reduce whoopsies.
The fence has a slot for the blade so that you can partially cover the profile if needed, or move the fence to the other side without loosing the depth setting of the blade:
As you can see in the image below, the blade is angled forward in the direction of travel. This also means that you have two faces to use before you need to sharpen the profile. Sharpening is done by polishing the big, flat faces (front and back). There are no bevels on these blades. They don’t cut, they scrape.
The exception is the router blades, which do have a bevel. I don’t know the exact angle, but the router blade insert should be held at 90° (or perhaps 88-89° to create a small relief) on the diamond plates. That being said, I would probably not reach for the 66 when ever I need a small router plane. Too finicky and hard to fine tune the setting.
In the image above, I removed a bead using the router blade. This highlight the problem with the router blade insert – they are thin, hard to get really sharp, no guarantee of a flat bottom since the insert may shift a bit out of plane with the sole of the tool – and if you go against the grain there is really not much material left to get a nice finish. It could be just the other tool (me) at play here, but nevertheless I doubt the router blade will see much action. As for the application above: to make that particular profile, I’d rather just make a dedicated profile insert. That’s the great thing about this tool – it is really easy to do since there are no bevels involved.
This is the tool with just the fence. Note the polished handles with a “grippy” texture underneath. The sole is ground flat.
You insert the blade clamp through the two holes, then insert the blade and tighten down. Be aware that this design makes loosing the blade clamp a possibility! Here I feel that Lie-Nielsen could’ve done an improvement. Slightly longer pins on the clamp and a single screw or needle-like pin through to secure.. Watch Clickspring movies, and you understand what I mean. 😊
The finish of this tool is very nice! there are no sharp edges where your hand touches the tool – very, very nice. The tool is made from cast bronze while the blade clamp is made from brass.
The surface finish is left rough from the casting in certain areas, and this actually helps gripping the tool. You place your thumbs on the flat part with the text to support the tool, and the texture plus the letters stops your fingers from slipping. The slot for the blade is machined very nicely.
The included profiles and a blank:
According to Lie-Nielsen:
- 1/16″, 5/64″, 1/8″, 5/32″, 3/16″, and 1/4″ Single Beads
- 3/32″ and 1/8″ Fluting
- 1/8″ Double Reed
- 1/16″ and 5/64″ Triple Reeds
- 1/16″ Quadruple Reed
- 3/32″ Double Concave
- 3/32″ Double Convex
- 1/8″ and 1/4″ Routers
These will also fit a Stanley 66. As will the other accessories, but you might have to file the fences so they fit the groove on a Stanley. The blades are made from A2 Tool steel. They are hardened to Rockwell 60-62, which means that you can hone them on stones or diamonds to “sharpen” them.
How to use the hand beader
Mount the fence for the job. For this article, I’m making a straight cut in some red oak and around an aspen box using a reed cutter, thus I mounted the straight fence. Insert the blade through the blade clamp, set it to desired depth and tighten the clamp. Adjust the fence position.
Start out by taking a light pass where you apply pressure inwards towards the fence. This keeps the tool straight while you scratch the first few times to establish the profile. Keep applying pressure inwards and apply more downwards pressure. You’ll soon get the hang of it. Remove the shavings, or they could possibly lodge between the fence and the work piece, throwing you off course.
It is better to drag the tool towards you than to push it. Dragging gives a better view to what’s happening, and it is easier to apply pressure the right way. Don’t force the tool (too much).
You can even scratch end grain, but it is pretty difficult to do. I used a saw to define the two lines on the dovetail end there. After that it was easy. Just remember that going across unsupported end grain will blow out the edge. Outside and in!
Also note the shine in the surface of the bead – no rotary cutter can make that finish! No sanding can, either. This is the main difference between hand tools and machines. The surface finish from a tool that makes a continuous cut is superior to any rotary cut surface. No sanding needed, either (which would leave a comparably sub-par finish anyway).
It would be wise to leave your piece a bit longer than you need; it makes it easier to create the profile. It is not easy to maintain a good profile at the far ends, and you can’t just flip the tool around without resetting the fence. Of course, when the profile is finished in the middle this is not an issue at all. Just loosen the fence, place the blade in the profile and adjust the fence. Easy.
For the application I am demonstrating, one could clamp two straight pieces of wood to the board that extends beyond the ends of the work piece. It would then be easy to scratch the profile all the way to the end of the board. The geometry of the tool is so that you run out of sole before the cutter leaves the wood. The relatively short sole also makes it difficult to start outside the end and go into the wood.
I think Lie-Nielsen missed the boat on this one – a longer trailing end sole would’ve improved the tool a lot. That being said – It is really an easy problem to fix, but I cannot help feeling that if the persons responsible for “designing” the product at Lie-Nielsen had spent some time at the bench with the tool, they would’ve seen this small issue.
After a short time, the blade stops producing shavings and your profile is done.
The “shavings” looks similar to those from a card scraper, but are more like threads.
Some improvements could be made to the tool. A longer fence would be a nice addition to make it easier to keep a straight line, if you find that hard to do. Derek Cohen have a nice article about this at his site. You can find it here.
And of course – you can easily make your own profiles. All you need is a 16mm / 5/8″ wide and 1.5mm / .060″ (-ish, the thickness is not crucial) thick piece of steel. Flatten and hone the surfaces and file your desired profile into the blank without a bevel (square to the front and back faces).
All in all, I am very happy with the tool. The quality is really high and the attention to detail is great. The selection of profiles is good, and since it is really easy to make your own the sky is not the limit here.
As a copy of the Stanley 66, I feel that Lie-Nielsen has done a splendid job. They have, however, failed to improve the tool (apart perhaps from the use of bronze which I doubt really changes anything). In that regard, I don’t think Lie-Nielsen meets my expectations. I see absolutely no reason to pay the premium price for a Lie-Nielsen 66 if you can get hold of a vintage Stanley for a much lower price, but that could of course be a problem in and of itself. The profile cutters are available, as well as spare parts. Should you miss a fence, it is not that difficult to make your own. After all – for a woodworker, forming metal is just like working reeeally hard wood!
As I am writing this review, the tool is not available from Lie-Nielsen or any resellers I’ve checked out. The pandemic has created a shortage of materials and also a high demand for tools (this is really a good thing, as long as the supply catches up soon before people loose interest again). Several manufacturers in the field have the same problem. I’ve waited two months before my last order at Ashley Iles was shipped due to a huge backlog. While a nuisance, I find the situation reassuring. Lots of people wants to do woodworking! Anyway, I hope Lie-Nielsen will continue to offer this great, undervalued tool!
Veritas has a different take on a scratch stock, and I’ve seen a few other products out there. It is also rather simple to make a scratch stock on your own – just make it similar to a marking gauge. You can buy the profiles from Lie-Nielsen (or Veritas) to get you started. What I like with this tool, though, is the level of control you have over the result. As a bonus: if you are accustomed to spoke shaves and the cabinet scraper, you’ll feel right at home with this in your hands.
My no.80 cabinet scraper in use on my small side table.
While you can make your own scratch tool pretty easy, this tool offers very good control and versatility. You could secure two strips of wood with double-sided tape to the center of a box lid and scratch a line of reeds across it within minutes – not as easy with a traditional scratch stock design. Doing something like that, by the way, is not something I would take on with a power router. With a CNC machine, perhaps – but then it seizes to be woodworking.
I highly recommend the Lie-Nielsen No.66 beading tool. It is a great product of a very high quality, finish and standard. While not a new or improved design, I appreciate the fact that a pre-WWII tool is still being made (or at least I hope it will be continued).
Do you need one? Absolutely not. But I bet you want one!
I had a scratch I needed to itch, and finally I got the tool for the job.
I got this tool second hand. It was not used much, the seller informed me that he had just tested it a couple of times and so it was in mint condition. I paid him near full retail price, with my own money. Lie-Nielsen (or any resellers) has no affiliation with me or this review.