I am lucky, for many reasons, to live Ottawa, Ontario but the biggest reason is because Ottawa is the birthplace of Lee Valley Tools a purveyor of high quality woodworking and gardening tools. I have to confess that I'm not much of a gardener, but I am a novice woodworker and an ardent follower of the craft, having amassed a not immodest library devoted ot the subject (food lovers are called "foodies", are people who are similarly enagaged in woodworking called "woodies"? But I digress).
Lee Valley (and Veritas, it's manufacturing arm) are not the only makers of premium woodworking tools - Lie-Nielsen, Clifton and Bridge City Tools are other names you may be familiar with. What sets Lee Valley and Veritas apart from the rest of the field is the bang you get for the buck. Like the other makers I mention, Veritas tools are ready to use right out of the box, all machined to tight tolerances and all the blades and cutting irons arrive honed and ready to go, but they can be purchased for a fraction of the price of a comparable Lie-Nielsen or Bridge City tool. I will grant that Lie-Nielsen produces prettier tools, but you can't go wrong with Veritas.
Lee Valley is also a tremendous innovator in tool design. Any tool nut by now would have seen Veritas' line of back saws that use an amalgam of steel dust, fiberglass and resin to provide rigidity across the back of the saw. I own several of these saws and the are a pleasure to use - by far the lightest and nicest cutting western saws I have ever used. They also make a variety of tools and jigs that are aimed directly at the amateur including sharpening jigs, jigs for handcutting dovetails, centering set screws in its bench planes and on and on. Plus, Popular Woodworking is reporting that Veritas has developed a new type of steel that combines ease of sharpening with the needed hardness to maintain a keen edge through repeated use.
As good as their tools are, what keeps me coming back to them time and again is their customer service. Lee Valley's philosophy is that you should never regret buying from them. To this end they offer a 3-month return policy, no questions asked. This alone is great, but a neighbour told me a story of how she bought a weeding tool from their store. The tool attached to your hose which you then stuck in beside the weed and released a jet of water that loosened the root and made it easy to pull up. Well, the first time she used it, the ground was so hard the tool bent and was rendered useless. She figured since she shouldn't have used it during a drought, they wouldn't refund her money, so she didn't return it. A year or two later, she happened to be back in the store and mentioned the incident to a sales associate who told her to bring it in and her money would be refunded.
Similarly, one year my wife and I bought a hammock for my dad and his wife. They loved it, but what amazed me was a few months later I got a letter in the mail explaining that the price of the hammock had gone down since I bought it and would I please find enclosed a cheque for the difference - two dollars and change. Who the hell does that? Add into the mix a very knowledgeable staff and you get a sublime shopping experience.
I had the pleasure of working at Lee Valley filling mail and internet orders in their warehouse. The work wasn't all that pleasurable, though fondling tools all day isn't too bad a gig, but what was a pleasure was the 30 percent discount employees got. Sadly most of may pay went into buying tools.
By the way, if Leonard or Robin Lee happen to read this, I wouldn't mind back in, though maybe not in the warehouse this time.