Knew Concepts - Fine Metalsmithing Equipment Designed for Artisans

Knew Concepts Changes the Guard

Lee and Brian

As many of you know, this summer has been challenging for the whole team here at Knew Concepts.  Lee Marshall, the inventor of the original Knew Concepts saws, died on June 25th, after a brief battle with cancer.

It took a while to get the paperwork straightened out, but we can announce that Lee’s #2, Brian Meek, purchased the company and will continue with the entire crew to build on the path that Lee started.

A Note From Brian

From the outside, it often looked like it was just me and Lee, working our magic in a cave by the sea.  That was never the whole story.  There were a number of very talented people backing us up along the way.  Especially at this turning point, it’s important for them to be recognized.  I promised Lee that I’d take care of our people.  The first step is recognizing their contributions.  So, this isn’t going to be a short Knewsletter.  Even then, I’m going to miss people and for that I apologize in advance.

Lee and I were friends for many years before we started working together on Knew Concepts.  When it started, I just offered to help him make saws for a couple of weeks while I was between gigs.  Eight years later, Knew Concepts has grown into something much more serious than either one of us could have envisioned.  Lee’s plan, upon which he would hold forth (loudly) on occasion, was to retire and putter around with those little saws as a hobby.  He figured he’d sell enough of them to pay for the rent on the little shop space he’d found to "store" his tools.  Basically, enough income to pay for the man cave, and he’d be happy.  My plan was just to help out an old friend for a couple of weeks, and then move on.  Funny how things work out isn’t it?

What started out as casual assistance rapidly evolved into a real partnership.  Neither one of us could have done it alone but working together brought out the best in both of us.  The pleasure of designing with someone who you don’t have to slow down for or explain to is something I can’t explain, but some of those design discussions were the most fun I’ve ever had.  I miss him terribly.  One of my wife’s favorite stories about the two of us is watching us cooking up an entirely new product over dinner on the road during a show.  We went from “nahhh, that’d never fly”, to a completed design and marketing plan in less than 2 hours of laughing our tails off.  We never built that particular project, but that dinner will stand as one of my fondest memories of Lee.

Lee’s cancer was quick, but not so quick that we didn’t have time to talk about the future.  I promised him I’d finish up a couple of his last projects, among them the big marquetry saw, which will be coming as soon as we can get all the parts made.  Once the marquetry saw is done, I have a few new surprises of my own.  The whole time Lee and I were working together, I also had another line of jeweler’s tools that I made under my own marque, Eisenring Enterprises.  Those will start to be brought under the Knew Concepts tent.  The basic breakdown was that Lee and KC concentrated on saws and things that cut, while I concentrated on hammers and forming tools.  Many of the bench goodies like the dovetail plate clamps, and the titanium trivets started out as Eisenring projects, and got rolled into KC just for ease of marketing.  Expect more.

The Knew Concepts Crew

Below is a picture of the whole gang, out front of the shop, back in June.  The plan was for Lee to come over to join us.  Unfortunately he was too ill by that point, but he joined us in spirit.

The Crew

First, there are a couple of people who aren’t in the picture, Steve Chiolero and Dan Brady, who need to be mentioned.  Steve was a friend of Lee’s who helped out with the machining in the early days as well as helping Lee bring our first (ancient, broken) CNC mill back from the dead.  He passed away unexpectedly in early 2010, just as things were starting to get fun.  He was a part of that early team who was hard to replace.

Another part of the team was Dan Brady, who didn’t work for us at all.  He was our next-door neighbor at our second shop in Santa Cruz.  Vastly more important however, was that he was one of the best tool and cutter grinders either of us has ever known.  We literally couldn’t have made the early saws without the custom made cutting tools he designed and built for us.  We still use them for some things.  Without Dan, Knew Concepts would never have gotten off the ground.  He passed away last spring, another lost to cancer.  Tool and cutter guys are a vanishing breed, and having a good one next door saved our tails more often than I care to think about.  Dan’s passing leaves one cutter shop in the entire Bay Area to service all of Silicon Valley; Tesla, Google and Apple in the mix.  That should give a sense of how rare they are and what good fortune it was to fetch up next to him.  There were times when the mill broke a cutter, I yanked the wreckage out, sprinted next door, and he had us back in action in under 20 minutes.  Without Dan in those early days, we never would have made it.

Also not pictured is Jeannene, our long suffering bookkeeper, who’s very much alive, just shy.  Jeannene had been with Lee as his bookkeeper for years before Knew Concepts even got started.  She dates back to his previous company, Bonny Doon Engineering, which made (and still makes) hydraulic presses for the jewelry market.  She’s been here for the whole ride, and so far, has managed not to strangle either one of us.  My goal is to keep it that way.

Now for the people you can see.  

Starting on the left are Will and Don, our father & son assembly team.  They’ve been with us for about 3 years putting saw parts together and trying to keep up with our final assembly dervish, Tim.  Will’s the one on the end.  He stepped right into the breach when Tim flew off to Africa for several weeks this summer.  Will’s transitioning into more customer facing things, so you’ll probably hear more of him in the future.   He brought his father, Don, along when Don began to get tired of digging fishponds in his back yard with a backhoe after he retired.  Or perhaps Will’s mother had something to do with that.  I didn’t ask — I’m just grateful for the help.

To the right of them, the woman in the black dress is Brenda, our social media wizard.  When it was me and Lee, neither one of us had time to deal with social media, and now that it’s just me, I really don’t.  So Brenda is the voice of Knew Concepts, and the one who posts all the neat Instagram pictures and Facebook updates.

Kneeling in front of Brenda is Gabby, our first real assembly person.  She started putting saws together sometime in 2010.  She cranked out saws beyond number while saving up for, and then attending, college up in San Francisco, eventually leaving us to study full time.   Lee kept a copy of her graduation picture over his desk, and was very proud of her.  She came back for the picture to make sure that the whole gang really was all here.  

Kneeling next to Gabby, holding the saw, is Tim, our current lead assembly person, who has probably made more saws than Gabby by this point, although it’s a near thing.  He’s the son of Dan Brady, the tool & cutter grinder who was next door to us.  Tim started working for us 5-6 years ago at the old shop next to his father’s.  A very talented guitarist and audio engineer Tim’s studying at the local college with the aim in mind of becoming an audio engineer for real, so we don’t have him full time any more, but we’re grateful for the time he can be here to help.   He’s had an adventurous summer.  We’ll cover that in more detail in another knewsletter.

Also kneeling, to the right of Tim, is Jack, our web master.  Jack’s the one who keeps running, does our print ads, and makes sure the store charges you the right prices for things, so he’s critical to our survival and growth.  

Standing behind Jack is Ray, who just inherited my old job title of Operations Manager.  Deck Boss is probably closer to the mark.  He’s former Navy, a Viet-Nam veteran, and is the guy who keeps the rest of us on something resembling an even keel.  He started working for us about 6 years ago and is one of those people who become so integral to the outfit that they seem like they’ve always been there, reliable as sunrise.  He runs the CNC’s more often than I do these days, and makes sure we’ve got enough pieces & parts to keep going and that they’re all in the right places.  Lee and I used to have a running joke about his filing system, but somebody around here needs to be organized, and lord knows it wasn’t me or Lee, so more power to Ray, the great organizer.

The woman in blue, next to Ray is my wife, Kathryn, who was officially employee #4, back in the early days, putting saws together on the weekends, before even Gabby came along.  The guy on the very end is me.  My story is a long one but this isn’t about me or even Lee.  This is about all the people you never saw, who made the saws possible.  We were never really alone.

The road forward from here will be different of course, but it’s something we’re all looking forward to.  There will be new products to develop and new challenges to meet.  I know we can do it — together.

Lee and Brian


Brian Meek
Knew Owner,
Knew Concepts

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