Great Woodshops: A Century of Gerstner


One woodworker’s toolbox launched this thriving family business.
By Robert W. Lang
Pages: 76-79

From the April 2008 issue #168
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The dream of starting a nice little business is common among woodworkers, and it isn’t anything new. In 1906, Harry Gerstner followed his dream and established H. Gerstner & Sons in Dayton, Ohio.

It started the way many of these stories do. Harry worked as a patternmaker, made himself a nice tool chest, and sold one to an envious co-worker. Within a few months he left his job, and within a few years he was doing well enough to move out of his garage. In 1913 he built the structure that his company still occupies.

Harry developed a product that soon became the standard for machinists and tool-and-die makers. At the time, showing a prospective employer your tools was part of the job interview, and if you showed up with a Gerstner chest full of Starrett tools you made a great first impression. Often, that was enough to land a job.

Harry also developed a process for manufacturing that is a model of efficiency. Before anyone ever heard the term “work-cell,” Gerstner employees were assembling chests and drawers using machines dedicated to performing one step in a complex process. The same basic methods are used today, and some of the equipment and work areas are nearly as old as the building itself.


From the April 2008 issue #168
Buy this issue now