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American Edge Tools and their Makers


Blue Spruce Toolworks by Christopher Schwarz
Copyright 2006. Originally appeared in the Fine Tool Journal

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An Internet Discussion Plants a Seed

Meanwhile, Jeske was becoming more interested in woodworking. He didn’t have anyone around who could show him how to build things so he started reading posts on Badger Pond, an early (and now defunct) discussion forum on the internet.

“I was all about power, power, power,” Jeske says. “But there my eyes were opened to hand tools.” He took a trip back to West Chester, Pa., and studied the line-and-berry inlay furniture that was a feature of 18th century Pennsylvania furniture. He bought books. Then moulding planes. Buck Brothers chisels. And then, most importantly, a dovetail saw.

“I was learning how to cut dovetails and I learned I needed to use a knife to mark them,” Jeske says. “So I made a marking knife on my drill press and posted a photo of it on Badger Pond. People got excited.”

Jeske bought a vintage Montgomery Ward lathe and turned a few more knives, which people bought and liked and then told their friends about. Meanwhile, Jeske’s day job was becoming more difficult.

He liked designing and working with his hands, but he was spending most of his time managing other people. “I was working so many hours and had a long commute,” he says. “I didn’t have time to see the kids. I was feeling that I’d missed the boat.”


A more typical marking knife is too chunky to get between these tight tails to mark out the pin shape.

But no matter how hard he tried, Jeske couldn’t figure out how to make his tool-making enterprise into a full-time business that could support his family. He and his wife prayed for guidance. And it came in the form of John Economaki, the founder of Bridge City Tool Works.

The Bridge to a New Career

A sample of the chisel handles Jeske made for Bridge City’s chisels. The handles were the single biggest order for Blue Spruce to date.


Jeske and Economaki started a friendly relationship that would seem odd to observers of the tool-making world. Economaki is outspoken, demonstrative and (I know this from personal experience) quite hilarious when unleashed on a group of people. Jeske is just as friendly, but in a low-key way. But both men love making tools, and so they decided to make a marking knife together for the Bridge City catalog.

Jeske presented his idea for a marking knife with replaceable blades. Economaki liked the concept but wanted a different aesthetic.

“I said, ‘John, you need to put your John Economaki signature design stamp on the tool, but I can manufacture these for you,’” Jeske says. Economaki ordered 500 sets of knives. That was in 2004, and David H. Jeske was making the leap to full-time toolmaker. He left his comfortable job (his salary is now one-third of what it was). He evicted his wife’s car from the family garage, and he moved some serious machinery into the space.

Jeske works alone in his small shop, which is divided into two rooms. One area is for woodworking; the other for metal (though there is a radial arm saw and CNC wood lathe in the metal room).

The woodworking side is filled with mostly vintage machinery: a Walker-Turner 16” two-speed band saw and powered-downfeed drill press.


The side bevels of the tools are machined slightly concave, so they never interfere with your work.

A Davis & Wells horizontal boring machine and a Yates-American lathe with leather belts. Plus a Powermatic table saw, Delta planer, nice workbench and an assembly table with an ultra-high molecular weight top.

Jeske built a CNC wood lathe from parts he had lying around and got to work. After the marking knives, the relationship with Bridge City continued. As Jeske made knives under his own brand, he also was helping manufacture a deadblow mallet and the handles for Bridge City’s anniversary chisels. The order was for 4,000 assembled and packaged chisels handles.

And if that’s not enough, every cranny of the shop is stuffed with odd wood – Manzanita bush wood from his parent’s house, wood from a plum tree from a friend, spalted oak from the firewood pile.

The double ferrule is a real improvement. It stiffens the thin blade and is quite attractive.


The metal shop is also crammed with equipment: a CNC gang-tool lathe, a CNC 3-axis milling machine, grinders, buffing machines and a four-disc wet-platter system for grinding tool bevels.

The irony of it all is how machine-oriented things are to manufacture hand tools.

“I wear earplugs and headphones over those earplugs,” he says. “It’s kind of stinky, the coolant mist. My daughter won’t come in the shop when I’m working.

“And so when I do my woodworking, I retreat into solitude and use primarily my hand tools.”

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Winsted Tools

D. R. Barton


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