An engineer turns his
understanding of metal
and a love of woodworking
into a busy tool-making
It’s a simple thing, really, to
make a woodworking tool. It’s quite another thing to make a tool
that is balanced, perfectly suited to the task and beautiful to
I should know. As a practicing
(always practicing) woodworker, I make tools here and there for
specific tasks. I’ve made a dozen marking knives, probably 10
drawbore pins, a few awls, and a handful of handplanes. But I’m
certain (and perhaps counting on the fact) that my homemade
tools will end up in the dump when I’m dead. My kids will pass
them up as mere bits of metal embedded in pieces of wood.
Nothing worth saving.
when my daughters lay their hands on the marking knives, awl and
chisels I’ve purchased from Blue Spruce Toolworks during the
last four years, I’m certain that those tools will make the leap
to the next generation.
Blue Spruce Toolworks is actually
one man and two shops crammed with metalworking and woodworking
equipment in a two-car garage in Oregon City, Ore. But in just
two years, David Jeske has pumped out more than 6,000 tools (or
parts of tools) to eager customers.
That is an astonishing output for a
man with no employees, no time for marketing and no office. And
it’s even more of an achievement when you realize that it from
the same man who turned his first handle for a marking knife on
his drill press not too many years ago. But when you look back
at Jeske’s life history it’s clear that every career move and
every hand-chopped mortise in a deck (yes, a deck) was leading
up to a career in toolmaking for this happily married father of
two and deeply Christian man.
An Early Love of the Mechanical
Jeske was born in Southern
California, the son of an engineer, and he spent his youth
designing, building and flying remote-control model airplanes
and racing around on dirt bikes dreaming of motorcycles. His
father wasn’t a woodworker, but he taught him how to run shop
equipment and he made a few choice career moves that shaped
After Jeske attended junior high,
his father moved the family to rural Arizona where he bought a
large metal recycling scrap yard. The young Jeske was his
father’s forman and did a little bit of everything around the
business, from working the scrap yard's shop to driving a
After a year, his father left the
business and moved the family to West Chester, Pa., where Jeske
got a sizable dose of East Coast history: furniture, historical
“When you are growing up, you don’t
really see things until you look back,” Jeske says about
Pennsylvania. “But there is a huge amount of history there. And
I was picking it up.”
After graduating from high school,
Jeske went to engineering school at the University of Delaware,
specializing in advanced materials and staying deeply entrenched
in the world of metal by building a hot rod Mustang. After
graduating, he followed his wife to Chicago and got a job
designing tooling for a plastic extrusion company until a
friend’s phone call lured him back West to San Jose, Calif., to
work for the FMC Corp. and work on the ceramic armor for the
Bradley fighting vehicle.
He and his wife also bought a
house, which led to Jeske building a deck, which probably
started him down the path to where he is now. But there was
still a lot of steel flowing through his veins because he also
build a 4-wheel-drive jeep from scratch and began working on the
“Star Wars” missile defense system.
After the birth of their son,
Andrew, the Jeskes decided to leave California and more to
Oregon. Jeske got a job with Warn Industries, which makes
off-road equipment and winches. And Jeske got his first taste of
He also bought a house that needed
a lot of work and so he started buying the woodworking tools to
fix it up and add a 1,200-square-foot cedar deck with a hot tub
and hand-cut joinery.
“I’m the kind of guy who doesn’t
like to pay someone else to do something I think I could do
myself,” he says. “I built a deck. And I wanted to do it right.
So I mortise-and-tenoned all the rails into the deck uprights. I
hand-chopped all those because I didn’t have a mortiser. Many of
the joints are actually half-lapped and fitted by hand. It took
me two years to build that deck.”
After seven years at Warn, Jeske
switched to Climax Portable Machine Tools, which makes
specialized machine tools that could work on-site, such as
machining an area flat on a large ship to install a radar array
or do precise machining during nuclear reactor repair.
“It was a neat place to work,” he
says. “However, I always wanted to have my own company.”
of the tools that Dave Jeske has made in conjunction
with Bridge City, including chisels, a marking knife and a mallet.