One of the lessons I learned while I was a student at the North Bennet Street School was an appreciation for quality hand tools and the superior work they can help produce. A hand tool that works well and feels good in the hand can be a joy to use — and all the better if that fine tool is also easy on the eyes.
Many hand tools on the market today mimic or improve upon the designs of earlier tools. I love my Lie-Nielsen planes and chisels which take advantage of newer materials and manufacturing techniques and produce traditional tools that look great and work even better. A few makers have been a bit bolder with their designs and use of manufacturing technology — some of the new Veritas planes like the side rabbet or custom planes, Knew concepts coping saw and Woodpecker’s line of one time tools among others.
When I think about tools that are pushing the envelope in terms of design, use, manufacturing quality, and aesthetic appeal, John Economaki’s work is at the top of my list. If you are not familiar with John or his work, he founded Bridge City Tool Works in 1983 and like a fine micro-brewer has been making small batch runs of incredible tools ever since. Given the small production runs these ultra premium tools have been a the higher end of the market and are popular with woodworkers and collectors. I’d love to buy every tool he makes if I had the budget to buy them all, but even one or two in your tool chest will be a delight to look at and use on a regular basis.
Quality is Contagious: John Economaki and Bridge City Tool Works
If you live in the Pacific Northwest you can see some of John’s toolmaking prowess and furniture making skill at the “Quality is Contagious: John Economaki and Bridge City Tool Works” exhibit which is currently at the Bellevue Arts Museum in Bellevue Washington. The exhibit will run through February 1, 2015. (The exhibit was curated by Nicole Nathan in collaboration with Economaki and formerly seen at the Museum of Contemporary Craft in Portland, Oregon) and is a celebration of John’s work and dedication to quality.
If you are like me and live in the Northeast, do not despair — this exhibition will also be making its way to Boston in the new year. I am happy to report that the North Bennet Street School in Boston will be hosting this exhibition the late spring of 2015.
You can learn more about the exhibit at NBSS and tool here along with a personal appeal from NBSS President Miguel Gómez-Ibáñez here. Admission to the exhibit will be free and it will surely be a inspirational experience for both craftsmen and patrons of the arts.
“I am a huge fan of North Bennet Street School and can’t think of a more relevant venue on the East Coast for the exhibit – it is really quite an honor.” — John Economaki
Now here is the part where NBSS needs your help. Exhibitions are costly and, as a non-profit, the school has to raise $20,000 in funds to cover the installation, travel expenses and insurance. To help underwrite the costs, John Economaki designed a limited edition TS-1 Try Square (see photo above and below). The tool is 6.5” long, just under 4” in height and features a stainless steel blade with an 8:1 internal cutout for laying out dovetails. The innovative handle design interjects a fun combination of colors giving it a unique voice in the tool world. Individuals who contribute $250 or more, receive the NBSS square. For contributions of more than $400, supporters receive both the tool and a copy of the exhibit book.
If you’d like to help support this worthwhile exhibit you can make your donation here.
Donations over $75 are tax deductible and if you work for a larger corporation you may want to see if they have a donation matching program. At my current day job, and my last job as well, they will match any donations I made thus effectively doubling my contributions. I encourage you to do the same if possible. I’ve already made my donation and eagerly await my new tool and book. I also look forward to seeing you at the exhibition.