Asthetics is a Responsibility

Here’s a typical (although made up…sorta) thread that occurs like clockwork after we introduce a new tool;

–I just saw the new gadget from Bridge City and at $100 NO THANKS! –Woodboy

–two too many zero’s for me. —Frugal Farms Woodworking

–Yeah, I can buy a whole lot of tools on eBay for that price. –Cellulose guy

–You don’t need to spend any money on any tool. Just get old leaf springs from the dump and pound away! —Herc

–$100 bucks and NO MOTOR? You have got to be kidding me. –Angus

–I saw the BCTW 6″ rule for $14.95 and said, SCREW THAT! I had a six-inch ruler tattooed on my right index finger for 8 bucks! —Darryl

–Hey Darryl, is it still a 6″ ruler? 🙂 —Dante

–No, it’s now around 3-7/8″ long and still works–the rule from BCTW would have wrecked the blade and trashed the rule.–Darryl

…OK, you get my drift. These samples, and all their inbred cousins have their place in the free speech that nobody wants to read department but worse yet, they completely miss the point. And if this post makes you angry, then we are getting somewhere. (Progress is born from unsettled minds)

You are likely not a tool designer but I am. You likely make furniture or other wooden objects and if one is to believe the values that froth from the keyboards in today’s forums, you should never, EVER, entertain the thought of expressing yourself through your work–it just needs to work. Cinder block and 2 x 12 bookshelves anyone?

Think about it–the only thing that really matters (with function being a given) is your voice, your shapes, your forms, your decisions, and if done well, YOUR WORK has a chance of outliving you. This is an important responsibility and it is a big one if you believe that objects should be worthy of the space they occupy.

You are also likely to be a self-taught woodworker and have found yourself swimming in a sea of uncertainty regarding design, proportion, harmony, negative space and a host of other brain-eating words that prevent you from realizing your full potential.

The decisions required to create work with a meaningful voice involve a subject matter much deeper than woodworking techniques and it is tough to do this well on your own. Design is complex, deep, unbelievably rich and essential to serious woodworkers. So, what to do?

Read. Study the work of others. Attend JURIED gallery shows, and when possible, take classes.

And speaking of classes, there is still time to sign up for the Woodworking in America Conference on Furniture Design/Construction. The dates are August 14-16 and the location is right outside Chicago/O’Hare.

There is no way you can attend a function this intense and not get a major, vector changing bang for your buck. The folks at Popular Woodworking are a dedicated, hardworking bunch of woodworking freaks and they put on a great conference–I attended the first one and saw first hand how much fun everybody was having. If it were not coinciding with my class reunion I would be there. (If you are guessing which reunion I will disclose there is only one trailing zero…)

So, in closing, what do you think of this idea–if one is going to post negative things about the work of others on an internet forum, each poster must also include a picture of their work? And if the work being bantered around is from Bridge City it is compulsory to send a direct email to

If this were law, there would be design seminars weekly in this country.

Oh, one more thing–I never would say such inflammatory things if I did not care.


15 comments on this post:

  1. Beautiful post, John. I agree with you wholeheartedly. Your “voice” is a product of a lifetime of experience, much of it unrelated to woodworking.

    But it seems to me that you’re paying too much attention to the people saying negative things about you, your tools and your company. Bottom line: your business is working, and the people who appreciate your tools appreciate your tools. You will never (and this is important) please everyone. Never. So stop trying. Don’t even worry about changing their minds. Just do what you do with the conviction that it’s the best that you can do, and the knowledge that you’re bringing joy to the people who can appreciate it. They’re the people who matter to you.

    And every now and then, the peer pressure will get too much for the naysayers, and they’ll try one of your tools, and the ride down the slippery slope has begun. Most people will never have that experience. But for the few who do, it might be the most rewarding thing that they do in their life. And you should take pride in that. The people you’ve influenced in a positive way are your most important legacy.

  2. And a P.S.: I think that your rule (people who post negative things should be required to show their own work) should apply to all fields, not just woodworking. And particularly to the talking heads on TV and the radio these days. I think there would be a lot more shutting up…

    — Peter

  3. Peter-

    It’s not so much that I pay attention, but I receive emails and calls from customers who don’t understand this nonsense and then wonder what I am going to do about it. It is never going to end but that doesn’t mean we can’t make the world a better place. Most of the complaints involve prices. I completely understand affordability but when I can’t afford things (which is much these days) the last thing that occurs to me is to write a sight unseen, negative FOREVER POST on the internet. Call me weird I guess.

    For example, we have a rule here that states that our posts on other sites (mainly from Michael or myself) have to be giving. That means we will try our best to make the information truthful, meaningful and worthwhile. We like to have fun too (the Kerfmaker was a great item for friendly and fun community banter and likely hard to top–I mean how many other woodworking sites have professional quality cartoons?) but we will limit that side of our personality to our site.

    Meanwhile, we will not tolerate spleen bursts on our site. When they come in, and they do, we ask the person to rephrase in a manner that can be of benefit to others. Guess what? Nobody bothers. One step at a time…

    Anyway, my intent was to remind people that their legacy is their work and rarely, if ever, their techniques (or tools for that matter). At the end of the day, people are buying BCTW tools for the impact created by the aesthetic in addition to the function–aesthetics are a big responsibility here. The WIA conference might get a couple of woodworkers thinking about their work in a more meaningful way.

    Thanks for your kind words!


  4. A colleague on another forum had a very apt description of your tools (and business model). The analogy was with art prints: the artist makes a limited number, and then destroys the mold/screens/plates/etc. That gives the prints value beyond their aesthetic appeal. They’re rare. I think the same thing applies to your tools: yes, they’re functional tools. But they’re also art. Even if they get scratched up from use. They are beautiful, beautiful things. And if people don’t appreciate that, then it is very much their loss. No, they don’t have to spend the money to buy your tools. But they should acknowledge that your tools have value beyond their function. As you say, you can build a bookcase from boards and cinder blocks, and it will be functional. But there’s more to life than just function.

    Lead by example. It’s the best you can do.

    — Peter(zo)

  5. I started buying Lie Nielsen tools several years ago. These are really great tools and are designed for functionality. Really “top of the line” iron planes. Then I took a design class with John. I couldn’t resist buying some of the tools he brought with him to the class (I honestly didn’t know much about them before I took the class). I see these tools as a FOURFOLD value! First they are as good as Lie Nielsen tools for functionality – they really work and I USE them. Second, they are a collection for me. I am not entirely sure why “collecting” is so important, perhaps because I love my son and want him to have the “best gift ever” some day, but it has been FUN to find the “elusive John Economaki low angle smoother” and the “RS-18 extension pieces”, etc. I still am looking for some rare pieces. Third, I have never experienced the originality in a set of tools that BCT has offered. It is “out of the box functionality” – it is COOL to use these tools. Finally, (and this was a slow-growing surprise to me), I RESPECT these tools. I look forward to working with them and I expect better results from my work when I use them – I believe I do get better results because of my attitude regarding the tools (the best tools I could own deserve quality workmanship). Everyone may not agree with this, but for me most of what is in our environment is “just noise”. You can quickly pick out people who mean what they say. In my mind you need to listen to these people – both good and bad. This is what you learn from. So much for philosophy. Bottom line, Keep making those cool tools – the legacy of BCT will survive time.

  6. John,

    I could not agree with you mor about the design end of this business. I build furniture for a living but luckily my partner is amazing at design. It is without question my weakest area. I will be attending some of the design seminars at the Popular Woodworking show here in October at the Valley Forge Convention Center. I really hope that you will attend as well. I know it is a haul but we could use you there.


  7. You really nailed it, Dennis. These tools really do draw you to a higher level of woodworking. You expect more out of yourself, as you have to live up to the tools themselves. No light gets through my joints!

    And they’re so nice to look at…

    When’s that VP-60 coming? Of all the BCT planes, it’s the one I really want to try!

    — Peter

  8. John,

    It’s me again. :o) Okay, I am a HUGE proponent of the high end tool makers such as yourself. My furniture speaks to me and is much more than just functional. If I can’t feel it I don’t build it.

    I am new to the Bridge City world even though I had a couple of your tools and did not realize it. I hope you do not mind but I am also a huge proponent of Lie-Nielsen and have been having a running argument about the whole Wood River debacle from Woodcraft.

    To my mind, you, Tom Lie-Nielsen, Dave Jeske, Kevin Drake, Rob Lee, Gary Blum, Philip Marcou, Trent Powrie, Andrew Lunn, Eddie Sirotch and so many more are the giants of our day when it comes to woodworking tools. To my mind, pfranks, Dennis, Rutager and all of us are living in a golden age of woodworking tools.

    Looking backward I do not see a time when there were so many fantastic tool makers all producing at the same time. The beauty of our time is that we get to argue about whose tool is better when the reality is that with this group everything is great.

    Part of my very lengthy and windy post here is that regardless of what a Darryl or Dante or anyone else posts they are not and never will be who you are selling to anyway. As far as those negative posts that last forever, so do the extremely positive ones that are written about you and what you produce. Look at that GORGEOUS Stainless Steel Anniversary Shoulder Plane. You made 50 of those and sold them almost immediately. I would have given my eye tooth for that plane but I did not have the budget but I damn sure greatly admire the beauty and incredible skill that went into making that plane.

    You do amazing work and obviously have great following. Not a bad legacy John. Those other negative guys are merely dandruff on your collar. Brush them off.


  9. Thanks for all the kind words folks. I agree, this is an interesting time for tool making, and perhaps the most challenging.

    The real point behind my post was to remind all 8 people who read my blog that the real debate, and the real opportunity should be centered around design/form/permanence. Man has been making dovetails for several thousand years–who gives a hoot if it is tails/pins or pin/tails? I don’t and neither should you–they just need to be flawless.

    I wanted to put a word in regarding the WIA conference on furniture design because it is an opportunity for those who are looking for a way to broaden their horizons and have fun-I meant to say something earlier but spaced out (again).

    Regarding the stainless steel shoulder plane–as many of you know, we have never done anything like this before,so we were a bit surprised at the response. I told the staff that when we get down to the last three or four that I wanted to buy them (I would need to figure out where to get the money, but that is a detail…) So what happens? They are snapped up-do the math.

    I want to do more things like this in addition to our annual Commemorative Tool, which by the way the 2008 version will be announced soon… black chrome anyone?

    You folks are great–just wish there were 10,000 more of you. Time to support cloning!


  10. design / form / permanence – Got it and agree!!! Don’t forget that the bottom 20% of the bell curve mostly only contribute the obvious or the negative. More fodder for the “Woodworking Taliban” Section?” Anybody that can turn an ad with a bad phone # into a win-win situation will surely work out a win here too. Until then, I intend to vote with my wallet!

    As to ugly postings (and maybe cloning too). Since I am both a beginner and on medication myself, I support the idea of being banned from the blog until I buy another tool. The suggestion of having to submit a picture of my work scares the heck out of me! 😀

  11. John,
    Maybe it’s time to review that old Latin proverb that imay be applicable:
    “Illegitimatus non carborundum.”
    (Don’t let the bastards grind you down.)

    As to the idea of requiring a photo of a sample of their work before they can criticize; probably a good idea.
    Now where is that picture of the Maloof rocker that I saw on the internet?
    Love yer stuff!


  12. John,

    TRUST ME, the last thing this or any other world would be a clone or more of me. That could start mass evacuations and all kinds of other really bad stuff. So, LUCKILY for you there is only one of me.

    Now as to some of my work you may have seen one of my older pieces in Rome. A little piece known as the Coliseum. Does that qualify me to keep posting? :o)


  13. Actually, I think it would be a nice feature of the blog (or perhaps we should all frequent the BCT forum more) to be able to post pictures of the pieces made with the BC tools. I’d bet there are some amazing pieces out there!

    As for cloning, I could sure use another couple of me. But I have to agree – we have plenty of Freds!

    – Peter

  14. Peter;

    I think your idea is a good one. Here’s what we will do;

    Michael is our forum moderator and he will need to set up a “Projects/Design” forum or whatever name he picks. I will post a pic or two from my past furniture pieces to get the ball rolling in addition to a general outline of the thoughts driving the piece SANS techniques. This way the discussion(s) can be centered around the topic of design.



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