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
“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
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
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
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
“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
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
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.”