Last year, I spent several weeks editing a museum book for Bridge City Tool Works: “Quality is Contagious: John Economaki & Bridge City Tool Works, 36 Years Through the Lens of Joe Felzman.” It might just be the most gorgeous woodworking book ever published – and I’ve published some pretty ones myself.
As I was editing this book, I got an intimate glimpse into the mind of John Economaki, the founder of the tool company. Perhaps it was too intimate. John was so willing to share stuff – incredible, unpublishable and intimate stuff – that I didn’t know if I could look him in the eye the next time we met.
After organizing all this information into something you should read, I found myself left with the deepest respect for the man. To be honest, John is a difficult man to love at times. He is smarter than us. A better designer. And funnier. Plus he’s unafraid of criticism and is an iconoclast when it comes to traditional woodworking.
His tools are a reflection of his personality. Most of them are fueled by flashes of genius. They poke the eye of the traditional hand-tool woodworker. Yet so many of his ideas about toolmaking are adopted by other manufacturers that it’s sometimes difficult to realize how influential he has been.
Why is this? Well, Bridge City produces tools in an unusual way that doesn’t lend itself to legacy-building. Bridge City builds the new tools that John designs. When they are done making that run, they sell the remaining stock and move on to making another tool. They may or may not return to make older designs.
This business model makes the company easy to run for a small staff, it reduces the need to have a huge inventory and it frustrates many woodworkers who want a Bridge City try square, saddle square or eggbeater drill. But that’s the way it is.
As I was finishing up my editing of “Quality is Contagious,” Bridge City put out the word that it was taking orders for its new try square, a reimagining of the TS-2, the try square that was the foundation of the Bridge City company. I have a TS-2, and so I decided I needed a TS-2v2, which is aluminum and stainless steel (the original was brass and rosewood). It was a way to come full circle. (Yes, I paid full retail for the tool, etc.)
I recently received the TS-2v2, and it is unlike any other try square I’ve seen. The stock is made of two pieces of aluminum that nest together and clasp the stainless steel blade. If the square ever goes out of alignment, you can loosen four screws on the stock to re-square the blade and then tighten things up. This is a permanent square.
It weighs very little, and is easy to grip as you walk around the shop, thanks to the triangular cutout in the stock. Speaking of the cutout, it’s my favorite part of the tool. Inside the cutout is a loose piece of aluminum that rattles around a little bit when you put your fingers in there. I find myself tapping it around all the time as I’m thinking in the shop – a bit like rubbing a worry-stone.
There are several versions of this tool. They are making them now. If you think you might want one, don’t hesitate. And even if you don’t like it after you buy it, wait a few months and you’ll be able to sell it for more than you paid for it. That’s the other odd thing about the Bridge City business model.
Oh, and if you cannot afford one of these fine squares, John gave away the plans for his original TS-2, which were published in the October 2011 issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine.
— Christopher Schwarz
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