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“It will be necessary that I teach them how to choose their tools that are made by Smiths, that they may use them more with ease and delight, and make both quicker and neater Work with them.”

– Joseph Moxon, “Mechanick Exercises”

Few people in the world of hand tools rouse people as much as John Economaki, the founder of Bridge City Tool Works. He has a passionate customer base that keeps its collective lip buttoned on the Internet, and a vocal chorus of critics that doesn’t.

Critics charge that his tools are too expensive, that some of his tool designs are too specialized to one segment of the craft and that his marketing copy tries too hard. So when you meet him, you expect Economaki to be rich, snobbish and overly proud of his product.

During the last 16 months, I’ve become acquainted with Economaki. And the more I talk to him, the less I understand the critics. He is, unlike many people who make tools in this world, one of us. He was a woodworker, an industrial arts teacher and a professional furniture maker before he started making tools.

He is, like many toolmakers, struggling to remain profitable, he’s quite earthy and he’s the biggest critic of his own designs.

“Ah, you see this,” he said today about one of the parts of one of his planes, “this is a design flaw. I should have put a magnet in there so it would stay in place as you tighten the lever cap.”

This week, Economaki is in our shop here in Cincinnati to show us some of his newest designs, share thoughts on CAD software and give a presentation to a group of our readers. Today, Economaki and our staff spent the day in the shop, working with his tools, chatting about woodworking and discussing the state of toolmaking in this country.

Time with Economaki makes my head hurt. It’s common to start on a conversation about try squares that shifts to tricks to determine accuracy using a cylinder of steel to biographies of Albert Einstein to the legacy of Sam Maloof. All that happened in about three stoplights while in my car on the way to his hotel.

But the most interesting thing about the day was getting to spend time with his tools. They are as much about design as they are about function (kind of like fine furniture, don’t you think?). He admits that freely and says his tools aren’t for everyone. As to the criticism that the tools are “too expensive,” you don’t feel that way after you use the tools and understand a bit how they are made (entirely in the United States).

I’ll admit, some of his tools don’t appeal to my eye or the way I work, such as the Japanese saws. But other tools of his have a remarkable pull.

When Bridge City started making the SS-2 Saddle Square, I ordered it as soon as I saw it and have never regretted it. The tool has been in every shop apron that I’ve worn to shreds while working at the magazine, and I carry it to every show.

The Saddle Square is functional, yes, but it also delights me. It pushes me to work better. And as its brass surface has become scratched, tarnished and worn over the years, my woodworking has become tighter, lighter and easier.

And that’s worth something.

– Christopher Schwarz

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Showing 11 comments
  • Karl Rookey

    That’s what I was hoping you’d say. Looks like I know where my birthday money is getting spent. I’ll be getting one of those nice little saddle squares.

  • Christopher Schwarz


    When John was here he said they were going to get ready for a run of those squares and that they are one of the items they run all the time. If you place an order, it will get filled I’m told.


  • dave brown

    They command a pretty penny on eBay too . . . .

  • J.C. Collier

    I do agree with all of the posts, my problem is one of a certain shortness in the pocketbook. That said, I love a Ferrari for its beauty and quality of manufacture. Mr. Economaki has positioned his company similarly providing fabulous examples of the tool making art. BRAVO! I might never own a Ferrari but I do own a few of Mr. Economaki’s tools and I am exceedingly glad. If I could afford one of each, I might, but then again I might not. A few of them strike me as a bit of stretch in the usefulness/cost ratio department. But so what? What he’s done is set a standard for design and manufacture and then dare to exceed it. We should all be similarly afflicted.

  • Karl Rookey

    OK, Chris, now I can curse you. Out of Stock, Production Date Not Available. And I see why you bought it: that could be quite useful.

  • Karl Rookey

    Wow. Great article and thought provoking comments. I’ll admit that I have a soft spot for well-designed, highly functional tools. I would love to see and use some of the Bridge City tools in person. Owning the right ones would also be great.

    But I suffer from a competing affliction: "Never pay retail." I don’t always follow the advice, but it tends to lead me down roads of used tools more often than not. You know I’m going to look up the saddle square, though, after an endorsement like that.

  • Raney

    While I certainly agree that BCTW tools are more expensive than I’m generally comfortable spending, the question I keep coming back to is this:

    Q: How many tools do I regret having spent too much on?
    A: Very few. In fact, most of the ones that come to mind I would have regretted buying at ANY price.

    Q: How many tools have I bought because they were bargains that I later regretted, wishing I’d spent more to get what I really wanted?
    A: Too many to think about…

  • Christopher Schwarz

    Here’s the way I look at it: Is a Sam Maloof rocker ($30,000) any more comfortable than a La-Z-Boy recliner ($300).

    I’ve sat in many examples of both. The answer is no.

    But which would I rather have in my house?

    The answer is easy.

    If we bought things only on price plus utility, we’d be wearing shoes made from duct tape.


  • P. M.


    I am among the ones that openly admit that these bridge tools are on the pricey side of my scale. This situation reminds me being once in the launch of a new product: When they told me the market price and asked what I thought, I said “too expensive”. Then, after few minutes and different questions about the product, they asked me “If you had the money would you pay the price tag” and I said “yes”. Then, I realize that (and how) they’ve got me.
    My pocket told me “it is pricey” but the back of my mind was saying “that is the right price but, sorry pal you don’t have the money”.
    Same goes with Bridge Tools. They are nice but not for every one’s pocket, mine included. I would love to have a bunch of bridge’s tools (including the VP-60) love to meet Mr. Economaki, and even work with him in the design of one of his tools. But as a hobbyist, I don’t see any of his tools coming into my workshop any time soon.
    Now let’s put this in a different perspective, if I am making furniture (and say is fine furniture) how much difference would make having any of the bridge’s tools. If the price of my work should include (reflect) the price of my tools and my time, by how much would I (be able to) increase my price just for using his tools. Would the use of these tools reflected in the final product. Or, in other words, would these tools make my work noticeable better. I honestly can’t say that using bridge’s tools would make that much of a difference. Can you?
    So as many other luxuries: you can have it, you may have to have it, but just don’t try to justify why!
    And hey, if someone feels like buying Bridge Tools’ I won’t stop him (not even talk him out of it). In fact if is a friend of mine I would even ask for a test drive!



  • Christopher Schwarz


    You are correct in that Moxon was an observer and chronicler. He wasn’t a woodworker as far as I know. That quote is taken from his chapter on saws, when he is recommending steel saws over iron ones. I suspect he is parroting advice from joiners of the day that he interviewed for the book.


  • Elo

    Great post Chris! I like to read bits on the people behind the hand tools renaissance.

    About that quote… I thought Moxon was only an observer and not a craftsman himself. That quote makes him sound like a trade master. I could be wrong though.

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