Steel City Tool Works may be the new kid on the block but don’t let that fool you – there is a lot of experience behind the name.
It was only last year that Steel City Tool Works made their grand entrance at the woodworking show in Atlanta (the equivalent of the Vegas show held last month) and it did not take them long to be accepted as one of the big names in woodworking.
Jim McEntee, Vice-President/General Manager of Steel City Tool Works, Canada, credits the fast success to the fact that the founding partners have been in the field for many years. Together, they create a team with more experience behind them than most any other company.
The partners had originally held management positions with Delta for many years and when that company was combined with Black & Decker, a shift in management took place, as often happens, and their career paths took a detour towards a new beginning.
The opportunity that presented itself was to form their own company, bringing with them their vast amount of knowledge and expertise, and create a line of tools that would offer woodworkers some unique features.
This goal may seem like a hefty task since they would be making the same woodworking tools that are already available, but their experience at supporting customers over the past 20+ years provided them with a vast range of ideas, needs, and challenges. They now had the ability to change and add features that would help woodworkers use their tools more efficiently.
Another of Steel City ’s goals is to maintain a high level of satisfaction with their customers, valuing their feedback. Mr. McEntee noted that today’s technology helps with this as blogs and forums such as LumberJocks.com creates a venue to identify strengths and needs of products, which in turn helps them improve the woodworking tools that they offer.
The Granite Innovation
Although Mr. McEntee states that using granite for work surfaces isn’t anything new, he does acknowledge that this innovation is catching a lot of attention. He says that many high quality measuring surfaces have used granite for years because it does not warp or rust and can be machined to high tolerances. (Typically an accepted tolerance level is around ten thousandths of an inch but with the granite they can take that down to a 1 thousandths level). Also, cast iron is actually more susceptible to breakage and, with the granite tops being thicker and heavier, the granite provides greater stability as well as helps to dampen vibration.
Why did they think of granite? Well, besides the benefits mentioned above, as the team was discussing what unique features they could bring to their line of tools, their representative in their Asian company (all other six members are in North America) suggested granite because they are located next to the largest source of granite in the world. And so the use of granite took its next step into the world of woodworking machines.
First responses to the idea typically include a questionable look as visions of kitchen counter tops comes to mind. But with a little education the benefits mentioned above start to override the perception and people become more receptive to the idea. Also, the 10-year warrantee that will come with the granite top will help reduce the users’ concerns!
The first models to be introduced will be available in October of this year. We will be seeing:
- a jointer with a granite fence (it will also be available with the standard cast iron)
- a 14” bandsaw with a granite table, again with the option of the standard cast iron.
Then, in late January of 2008, there will be a new table saw introduced. Currently their table saw option is a contractor saw. Other companies have introduced what is referred to as a hybrid saw – a contractor saw with the motor housed inside the cabinet, providing protection for the motor, added safety features, and more efficient dust collection. These are wonderful features for a saw to have.
The drawback to the hybrid is that it is presumed to be a true cabinet saw which is designed for finer precision than the contractor’s saw which is meant for rough cuts. Steel City Tools ’ answer to the hybrid is to make it a true cabinet saw, which means greater precision.
Their “Steel City Cabinet Saw” will be available with a 1 ½ HP motor as well as 3 HP and will have the granite table.
The goal of the company right now is to further develop their distribution base. Their plan is to work with woodworking dealers rather than the big box stores and so their focus is on filling the gaps, geographically. For example, in Canada, they are seeking dealers in northern and central Ontario and in the prairies. They want to have their machines available wherever there is a big population, everywhere in North America.
And what if you don’t happen to live in North America and you want to get your hands on a Steel City machine? Mr. McEntee chuckled at this and said, “We’d find a way.”
Tips for LumberJocks
When asked what words of wisdom he had to pass on to woodworkers, Mr. McEntee had two key tips: 1) safety, safety, safety, and 2) research!
In our world of marketing ploys it is easy to get caught up in the “I have to have it” mentality, whether it is because the tool supposedly has some amazing features or because you get a lot of free things with it when you make the purchase. But Mr. McEntee advises woodworkers to do their research before they purchase and buy the best they can afford based on their own personal needs and their wallet.
He says that woodworking shows are the biggest marketing ploy and often people will buy things that never get used. Before you buy, he suggests, select the product that best suits your needs and then go shopping. Then, if the freebies happen to be attached to the product you have selected, well, then, you are getting a good deal.
Mr. McEntee also praises the online forums for the help they give regarding research. But, he also warns, don’t write something off because a tool didn’t work for someone. Perhaps their woodworking needs are different or perhaps they got that one in a thousand that was faulty. Research – get more than one opinion; know your needs. Do all of the legwork before you buy so that you aren’t kicking yourself later.
That is good advice (not only regarding woodworking) and is a great way to wrap up an informative conversation!
Thank you to Mr. McEntee, for taking the time to chat with me, and to Steel City Tool Works for their innovation and for their addition to the woodworking world.
P.S. Keep your eyes open for Part II of this interview. I will be meeting with Mr. McEntee in person at Steel City Tool Works, Canada, in the near future!
-- ~ Debbie, Canada (http://www.execulink.com/~yohan)