pfeil Swiss Made Carving Tools Production Tour

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Continuing our carving education, we toured pfeil Swiss made carving tools manufacturing plant in Langenthal; starting with the company history by Felix Zulauf (third generation owner and operator of pfeil).

English translation throughout the tour was provided by his daughter Christine. Pictured left are Christine, Margret & Felix Zulauf.

With us on the pfeil tour is our carving artistry contest winner, Nairi with pfeil’s owner and CEO, Felix.

Pfeil

The pfeil company was founded in 1902, starting out as a fabricator of cutting tools by Felix’s Grandfather, Werner Zulauf I, in a building that he shared with his wife’s café business:

Pfeil carving tools were first made in 1942, though surgical and other cutting instruments had been made since the company started. Ever since, pfeil has combined state-of-the-art technology with time tested methods to produce superb cutting tools. Felix’s father Werner Zulauf II carried on the business, sharpening tools in 1945 during WWII and exported those tools after the war. Werner II began working together with the 1962 owner of Woodcraft, Roger Wells, but never visited Woodcraft in the USA. pfeil’s first visit under Felix came in the early 1980’s. Woodcraft and pfeil will share a 50th anniversary of this business and personal relationship in 2014. Felix quadrupled his operation and moved it from the village of Langenthal to the industrial area in 1975.

For more on the history of Woodcraft, please visit:http://www.woodcraftfranchise.com/AboutUs.aspx

Their brand logo comes from the traditional family crest which has a flag and arrow:

The German name “pfeil” translates into “arrow”. Werner Zulauf II originally engraved this arrow on each tool produced by pfeil and this tradition continues today. Today pfeil is a worldwide registered trademark.

Pfeil has 30 employees that produce the highest quality steel tools for wood carving with ash wood handles and maintain all aspects of the business under one roof, including tool insert manufacturing, forging, tool and wood handle manufacturing, assembly, grinding, sharpening, finishing, quality control, raw steel and finished inventory as well as all front end operations.  Pfeil’s carving tools are harder in composition than the inserts that mold them, with all of their tooling inserts being non-standard. Inserts can be heated up to 500°C (932°F) repeatedly for approximately 50,000 times, however there are some hardening process differences between small and large tools. Pfeil also works to use air, water and energy resources efficiently to reduce pollution, and maintains its own water treatment and recycling program. Pfeil’s wood carving tool products highest volumes are exported to the USA, Germany, Italy, U.K, Australia, New Zealand, with additional exports going to many other countries around the globe. For additional information on the pfeil Advantage, please click on the following link:http://www.woodcraft.com/Articles/Articles.aspx?ArticleId=437&page=1

Pfeil

We toured 12 different stations, some of which we were permitted to take photos. No videos were permitted.  I will begin with them in order of manufacturing process:

Station one consists of three forming machines that all start with steel rolled stock (which is inventory age controlled) that is cut into required blank lengths and ground to specific length and form. Twenty different tooling programs can be created at these stations using 5mm-25mm diameter steel stock. Tooling material consists of chrome vanadium steel, special alloy made to pfeil specifications.

Second stop is the oven forge and stamp press of which there are two stations. The oven is heated to 1050°C (1922°F), which have controllers that maintain consistent required temperatures with a carbon monoxide generator for safe emissions:

Station three is a fully automatic unmanned process that combines one old and one new machine, created by Felix to forge the four-sided angled edges of the handle insert (shown left).

Station four is two forging/tempering machines, each one used for each side of the tool. This machine is a water-cooled circular stone grinder with a separate computer program for each different tool and removes the extra material, leaving a finer finish on the outside of the tool:

Our fifth stop consists of several 5-axis grinders which are programmed from 3-D engineering using GE Fanuc Controllers to create special curl cutting tools. All three of these machines are operated by a single individual, where in the past, these type of tools were fashioned by hand. (no pics).

Station six is two automatic polishing machines. Both stations are vibrating tubs containing polishing stones. The first with man-made larger stones, the second having smaller porcelain pellets:

The seventh station is a magnetic table grinder coupled with a Siemens Controller to create the flat and angled areas on the tools:

Station eight is two computer controlled 5-axis cutting edge and relief grinders. Six tools can be housed in the tool loader waiting to be ground one at a time. The 3-D software for grinding pfeil’s tools was a specific joint venture between Felix and the Controller Company. Programming for these grinders is done by two pfeil programmers. This process was also done by hand in the past. (no pics).

Station nine is an ultra-sonic high pressure cleaning machine which removes all debris from the tool. Detailed information of the ultra-sonic cleaner can be found at: www.kks-ultraschall.ch/ultrasonic-cleaning-units.

Station ten moves us into another room where the ash wood handles are created by an enclosed lathe which turns and cuts one handle at a time, while using two blade cutters for both radius forms on the handles. Block forms sized at 43.5mm long X 38.5mm square or as small as 23mm square, are purchased from a local carpenter and loaded into the lathe handle holder which stack 100 pieces ready for the cut to be performed:

Station eleven is the handle to tool assembly press. Handles which break during the assembly process are used for heating the entire facility together with all the wooden waste products. (no pics)

Station twelve is the Oil Dip finish tank. Its holder can house up to 600 handles, 150 per holder, while dipping 10 tools at a time. All tools are dipped up to the brass collar:

The Quality Control Inventory Manager manually and singularly inspects every pre-sharpened manufactured tool before tools and sets are boxed and shipped:

Here is the pfeil Swiss made company video:

Pfeil’s website link is at: www.pfeiltools.com.

For additional information on the use of pfeil & Woodcraft carving tools, please see one of many videos on youtube, like this one with Swiss master carver Reto Odermatt and Darin Lawrence of Woodcraft: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hjYfsfbGHfc

Check out all the pfeil carving tools on Woodcraft’s website at:http://www.woodcraft.com/Category/1002263/PFEIL-Swiss-Made-Carving-Tools.aspx

Search for additional Switzerland trip blogs at www.WoodworkingAdventures.com

auf Wiedersehen and happy carving….Frank

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