(Jacket Liner Notes by Marilyn Musick)
John Economaki is quite possibly the most innovative toolmaker of our time. While one might not know him on a first-name basis, fine woodworkers everywhere are well acquainted with his beautifully documented designs, all to be found at Bridge City Tool Works, the company he began more than 30 years ago.
To be sure, John Economaki is an artist who makes artists’ tools—tools that inspire the next project, the next challenge, the next exceptional three-dimensional piece, sustaining a satisfying continuum of creativity. But how he translated his art into a successful business is a worthy story for anyone who wishes to build a career with a craft. In Quality is Contagious: John Economaki and Bridge City Tool Works, 36 Years Through the Lens of Joe Felzman, Economaki shares his learning curve with the perspective of a self-made man and the generosity of a teacher. He is proof positive that it’s not enough to have a talent; it’s knowing where to take it and how to get it there.
“Following your heart with reckless abandonment is completely acceptable if you are prepared to mow lawns for the rest of your life.” Point taken. Economaki never sugar-coats the struggles along his critical path, he simply leads by example, adding occasional pearls of wisdom.
One in particular, “Never skimp on the imagery serving as your ambassador to the world.” speaks to the creative collaboration Economaki has shared with Joe Felzman, a Hasselblad Masters Award-winning photographer, for more than three decades.
The two met in 1977, purely by chance trying to kick-start a photo drier in a rental darkroom. Casually observing that the photograph Economaki was trying to print was essentially worthless, Felzman’s brutal honesty struck a nerve. From that day forward, Joe Felzman would photograph every piece of furniture and every tool designed and engineered by John Economaki. With deft precision in cleverly imagined, expertly executed contexts, he raised the stakes for Economaki’s work, presenting his tools as the pieces of art they so clearly were.
Quality is contagious and it provides momentum—the kind that empowers two exceptionally talented men to flourish in their respective careers.
John Economaki is founder and president of Bridge City Tool Works, the heirloom toolmaking company he established in 1983. He lives in Portland, Oregon and travels far and wide for teaching engagements attended by aspiring woodworkers. Hasselblad Masters Award-winning photographer Joe Felzman would shoot every day, even if he weren’t in the business. His studio in Portland’s Pearl District is a welcoming retreat chock full of equipment and a serious inventory of interesting surfaces.
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MAGNIFICENT! Review by Allan
Many of us who work with wood are accustomed to using tools that require some fine tuning – old tools, new tools, and tools often designed to sell at a low price. Edge tools seldom have a useable edge fresh out of the box, squares aren’t square, planes have soles that aren’t flat, and handles are rough or unfriendly in the hand. It isn’t that these tools can’t be used for producing satisfactory work – more often than not they can. But, at the other end of the quality spectrum, when a craftsman holds and works with a thoughtfully designed and carefully made tool, the tool itself ‘tunes-up’ the user, inspires a higher level of quality, elevates work standards, and disallows acceptance of ‘good enough.’ Add beautiful materials and artistic details and you have tools that excite the esthetic sensibilities of the person using them. Bridge City is not only at this end of the spectrum, they established it.
If you are thinking about buying this book, you either ‘get it’ already or, if not, it is highly likely that you will by the time you’ve finished reading it. John’s tools and Joe’s photographs are tributes to the word ‘quality’ and exalt our species, man the tool maker. (Posted on 11/12/13)
Fantastic Book Review by Mike C
This book is one of the finest of its kind I have ever read. The tools that John makes are not just highly functional, but beautiful design pieces on thier own. This book does a wonderful job of showing the creativity and enginuity that makes John and his tools what they are.
Also as someone who has tinkered with both woodworking and Photography the marriage of the two is done in an unmatched way. The quality of the photography, tools and book are all unmatched.
As someone who has taken seminars from John I think the book also gives insight into how he approaches his craft.
I would strongly recommend this book to anyone, if you are into the craft then it is a must have. (Posted on 11/2/13)
This book will raise your game Review by neil
This book tells an inspired story of a man and his personal passion to produce excellence.
Joe Felzman's photos do a wonderful job of showcasing John Economaki's tools. But the life story of a pursuit of excellence is what is really inspiring about this book. Having owned and used John's tools, they take your work to a higher game - partly through precision, but equally important through their inspiration.
Great tools motivate better work. And a great book about a toolmaker and his craft causes you to introspectively look at how you can up your game in life.
Highly recommended as a gift for anyone who appreciates the seductive power of quality and the path to achieve it. (Posted on 10/31/13)
Outstanding! Review by Jim Arnold
This book clicks all of the boxes. It is, first of all, beautiful. People who have no interest in tools or woodwork pick it up to page through the gorgeous photography of even more gorgeous tools. Second, it is really well written. BCTW is an interesting story and the text is offered in a readable style. And last, most importantly, it is a great read for anyone who loves woodwork. The book contains valuable information about tool development, tool work and has some jaw dropping shots of completed pieces. You'll love it. Get it. Good luck keeping the drool off it. (Posted on 10/24/13)
Use This as a Model to Step Up Your Game Review by Chip
I recently participated in a workshop taught by John Economaki to make his signature try square and 45° gauge. In the course of the workshop I purchased his book, Quality Is Contagious. First, the workshop was intense and far more than I expected. John is a no-nonsense instructor that also takes the time to then ensure everyone is on the same page. Second, I didn’t expect the extent the unique new knowledge gained about working with dissimilar materials, brass and rosewood. Third, a message John delivered more than once was that the quality of your tools counts and they can inspire an individual to reach for best, not just good enough. Fourth, the book is an expense I really didn’t need, except that I have gone back to it many times, shown it to friends and family, and used it with my grandson to inspire a visit to the Museum of Contemporary Craft in Portland to view the exhibit of John’s work and help my grandson in his life journey … this alone was priceless! Fifth, the photography is exquisite!
I appreciate John’s vision and tenacity. He has adapted Bridge City Tool Works to reflect the times and forge new ideas. His collaboration with the Museum of Contemporary Craft has offered an opportunity to observe the breadth and scope of his work and ideas, as well as to inspire each of us to reach higher and accept only the best in what we can produce as individuals. My own work has improved immensely as a result of my experience with John. The tools I made are not only eye candy, but a very useful, reliable set of layout tools and a reminder of the beauty and quality of work to which we can all aspire. The book is a source of inspiration ... and some envy.
(Posted on 10/24/13)
Incredible, incredible tools, incredible photography, great story Review by Gina Roberts
This is an amazing, inspiring and fun book. It is fun to leaf through the pages thinking, I have this tool, and that tool, and I'm so lucky to have this beautiful representation of them. But that isn't the whole story, John's amazing story of his journey, his philosophy, and Joe's absolutely beautiful photographs of the most beautiful tools ever made is just breathtaking. Looking through this book, makes me want to excel in everything I do, to be a good at what I do, as John and Joe are at what they do, and the standard is incredibly high. Quality is Contagious and I hope I get a really bad case of it! Thanks to the Bridge City Toolworks team for this amazing work, and I hope to be back for future anniversary celebrations.
(Posted on 10/24/13)
An Easy Decision Review by Chris Wong
You've navigated to the Bridge City Tool Works site, read about the book, and clicked to read reviews. If you've come this far, you're obviously interested in the book, so I strongly suggest that you act. Get yourself a copy - you won't regret it.
The book was exactly as I would want my own: hardcover; large, colour photographs; insightful and interesting anecdotes; thought-provoking quotes; and above all, a thoroughly enjoyable and inspiring read.
I have read some books that took a long time to read because getting through it felt like a chore. This book took a long time because, every half-dozen pages, I either read something profound or saw something that got me thinking and I would sit there, just gazing into space, reflecting. This is an outstanding book and I highly recommend reading it. (Posted on 9/11/13)
I Knew Him When Review by Corinne Economaki
It strikes me after leafing through Quality Is Contagious that John is smart, talented, creative, and lucky. Yes, lucky. He’s lucky to be laser-focused on design and creativity. Lucky to have a purpose. Lucky to have the skills to carry out what he was born to do.
It’s clear John didn’t relish being a businessman and all the attendant responsibilities that come with being in charge. Yet being the CEO allowed him to do what he was supposed to do. Design and create. Yet he did have some business chops, and reading his account of the BCTW catalog proves it. I can remember a conversation years ago in which John was talking about using email blasts to sell tools at a sale price for 24 hours – so what? you say – before most folks had even heard of email marketing. Constant Contact hadn’t even hit the scene yet.
While the authors of the quotations in the book are more familiar to me than the purpose of the tools, it’s easy to appreciate the designs, showcased magnificently by Joe Felzman’s photographs. Reading Joe’s description on how to take a photograph is like being back in school in front of a master teacher.
And yes, this book is about John’s talent and skill as a designer and the tools that are the end result, and it’s more. This book, John’s story, is as much about being true to one’s self as it is about being an artist. Same for Joe. And the cost that comes with it.
Most of us who’ve made our way in the world have been lucky if we liked what we were doing and luckier if we were good at it. For some of us, that could have been more than one career in one field. I imaging quite a few folks could have made their way through life doing a variety of things. Not John. John was driven – is driven, even compelled, to design and create. Most of the things I’ve been compelled to do haven’t been all that good for me.
And yes, I knew John when. One summer 50-some years ago, the New Jersey Economakis visited the Iowa Economakis. Nine or 10 of us went to the Iowa State Fair and John fainted in the cow barn. He had one of those little salamanders safety-pinned to his shirt. It was hot.
He’s my favorite cousin.
(Posted on 8/30/13)
"Quality is Contagious" is to a coffee table book as a Lamborghini is to a Kia, any Kia! Review by Fred
Quality is Contagious: John Economaki & Bridge City Tool Works. 36 Years Through the Lens of Joe Felzman
I have had the privilege of knowing John Economaki for the last five years. Even more importantly, to me, is that I also count him as a good friend. We have spoken on the phone, in person at many shows and endless email, mostly by me.:o) With that background, I was expecting to see Joe Felzman's incredible pictures of both John's furniture and tools, as well as a lot of background information that I pretty much knew.
Luckily for me, I am no longer surprised when what I anticipates turn out to be almost 100% incorrect. :o) This book is utterly fascinating from the the forewords to the very end where the book team is named and acknowledged. In between is what makes this book so "Contagious."
What the world lost when John could no longer build furniture it regained many times over when he became a tool maker. He has changed the lives of far more people with his tools than he could have ever possibly done so with his furniture. It is not possible to pick up up a Bridge City Tool Works tool and use it for poor quality work. John Economaki's tools do not just make our work a little bit better, they also make each of us better. When we are constantly working with tools that are not ordinary but indeed extraordinary it requires each of us to also rise up and reach new levels. The more often each of us stretches to reach those new levels it becomes more difficult for us to ever again accept less than our very best.
"Quality is Contagious" shows the paths of John Economaki and Joe Felzman as they stretch their way through the years. Each one pushing the other to be better, to be the best. To spread the joy of their end products to those of us where it makes a difference. Knowing that by doing so, we too push and stretch them thus creating an extraordinary circle of excellence. It is an inclusive circle where the requisite need to join is merely the knowledge that beauty and excellence should be twinned.
Read their story, look at the pictures. This is not a fairy tale where everything is perfect. It is much better in that it is real and shows what believing in your vision can bring you to even when things are at their darkest. John learned that his vision of beauty and excellence was one deeply shared by his customers when unsolicited they started sending money to keep BCTW afloat. Whatever John may have believed prior to that, he now knew that he was not alone and never would be.
Joe Felzman and John Economaki are two men at the pinnacles of their avocations. These two men are rightfully lauded within their respective professions, within the Museum of Contemporary Craft exposition and finally within this very impressive book. However, do not make the mistake of thinking that either of them is going to now kick back and rest on their laurels. They each have too much joy to spread, there is too much beauty and excellence waiting to be twinned whether in a picture or a tool, it just does not matter.
Is there an additional expense to this approach? Without question, so the only thing you can do is ask yourself, is that rather small additional cost worth the benefit of personally becoming better, pushing and stretching others to also become better and thus adding additional artistry to our world? If it is, welcome to the circle of excellence. You are where you belong! Read and enjoy the BOOK!!! :o)
If not, welcome to Harbor Freight. :o) (Posted on 8/29/13)
"Quality is Contagious" is infectious in its excellence. Review by PFranks
Quality is Contagious: John Economaki & Bridge City Tool Works. 36 Years Through the Lens of Joe Felzman
This is not a woodworking book. After reading all of its one hundred and seventy-eight thick, glossy pages you will not have learned a new way to cut dovetails or how to sharpen your chisels. But you will find yourself impressed – perhaps amazed – and inspired.
This is a book chronicling the journey of two men: John Economaki, furniture maker/tool maker, and Joe Felzman, photographer. Felzman was destined from birth to become a photographer, and Economaki was destined from birth not to live where soybeans grow wild. In particular, Iowa – his home state. “Quality is Contagious” uses the rich, emotive photographs by Felzman of Economaki’s furniture and tools to document the genesis and life of one of the world’s premier tool makers: Bridge City Tool Works in Portland OR.
The forward by New York photographer Jay Maisel sets the book’s tone: self-deprecating genius. Surely the greater part of genius is an eagerness to learn from others, an ability to synthesize diverse ideas, and a recognition and exploitation of serendipity. Such appears to have been Economaki’s life. Would the beauty of Economaki’s tools have reached such a world-wide audience had he not serendipitously run into a young Joe Felzman who told him his photographs were “shitty”? For $50, Felzman took over the photography for Economaki; their history is richly detailed in this book.
Economaki’s early tools were made of brass and rosewood, echoing the warm familiarity of your grandfather’s house. Felzman’s photographs show off the tools with a soft golden glow, intimating a soothing fire off to the right, blazing in the field-stone hearth you built yourself, sitting down to a Thanksgiving dinner with a collection of relatives – or perhaps people you like – at the table you built by hand. In later years, this warmth gives way to more defined use of light and shadow, as Economaki’s tools evolved to use more anodized aluminum and most recently, stainless steel. This industrial hardness is still softened by Felzman’s impressive use of composition, juxtaposition, light and shadow. The warm, elegant sensuality of the early tools has matured, curiously, into an urban sexiness of curve, edge and texture.
The gorgeous photos of stunningly beautiful and functional tools are only part of this wonderful book. Each tool is accompanied by a short reminiscence of Economaki’s. Where did the idea for the unique Bridge City Tool Works honing guide come from? Economaki, musing that the sidewalk was a big sharpening stone, encounters an A-frame sandwich-shop sign that became the honing guide. Why do my hands have to bleed when I use western shoulder planes? A random encounter with a fox led to the supple comfort of the Foxtail Shoulder Plane, surely one of the most curvaceous and functional woodworking tools ever made. How can I accurately extend this line around a corner? Here’s a new tool: the saddle square. How can I accurately cut this small piece? Let’s clamp a Japanese saw blade, with its tiny kerf, teeth pointing up, and move the piece over the blade: the JointMaker Pro manual table saw.
These genius moments are made bare in the line drawings inside the front and back covers: the figures from Economaki’s ten or so patents. Is that a baby’s high chair? No – it’s an ergonomic support for a surgeon during an operation. Surely that marking gauge is not new? Well, this one will mark two lines, rather than one, in case you’re marking a mortise, for example.
A central theme of “Quality is Contagious” is excellence. “Good enough” is not, in fact, good enough. Felzman’s award-winning photographs are meticulously composed, occasionally including rented arachnids. His use of light and texture is stunning. The timeline of Economaki’s tools reveals a passionate intellect and an absence of compromise. It seems trite to call his work “out of the box”, since he designs the tools to build the box. His re-imagining of existing tools, and invention of others is unprecedented in modern tool making. Felzman’s photographs make plain the inherent dilemma faced by all Bridge City Tool Works customers: do I use the tools, or do I collect and display them?
“Quality is Contagious” is a delight to read. Each page contains new nuggets of insight and inspiration. There is some joy to be had in reading how Economaki brought top-quality Japanese saws to the West through a serendipitous encounter with the top saw maker in Japan. Or how Economaki helped to start Dave Jeske’s Blue Spruce Toolworks on the path to becoming one of the top western-style chisel makers in the world: Jeske was haranguing Economaki on an internet forum about the prices of his tools. Economaki invited him to meet, and ended up launching his business with a $400,000 order. Or how Economaki’s unique and iconic VP-60 hand plane was assembled by local people with disabilities. These nuggets help to form (or confirm) the sense that Economaki is not only a genius, but passionate in his drive to help people tap into their own abilities, to shed the skin of convention, and let their own genius shine.
Felzman and Economaki’s stories boil down to “did it” and “could have, but didn’t”. Felzman was launched on his career by his father; his trajectory was straight and true, and the world is a better place for his vision. He did it. Economaki could have stayed in Iowa, could have stayed as a Portland high-school shop teacher (and terrible baseball coach), could have dropped out of the woodworking culture when struck with a near-fatal allergy to rosewood dust, could have let Bridge City Tool Works shut down during any number of financial crises. Could have, but he didn’t. In his engaging Q&A with Namita Gupta-Wiggers, Economaki shares that the realities of running a successful business are a drudgery, detracting from his love of teaching and his need to express his creativity. Unfortunately, the business is the yin to the tool-creator’s yang: they exist together, inseparable. And we are the better for it.
Heavy as it is, this is a hard book to put down. It satisfies and engages on so many levels: it is beautiful, it is tactile, it is inspiring, and it is impressive. Scattered throughout the book are thought-provoking aphorisms and maxims from Economaki and other important thinkers. By the end of the book I could never imagine doing a “good enough” job again. A wonderful quote from Ronnie Oldham in “Quality is Contagious” sums it up well:
Excellence is the result of caring more than others think is wise, risking more than others think is safe, dreaming more than others think is practical, and expecting more than others think is possible.
(Posted on 8/21/13)
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