Bridge City Tools: The Book

He who approaches the temple of the Muses without inspiration in the belief that craftsmanship alone suffices will remain a bungler and his presumptuous poetry will be obscured by the songs of the maniacs.” – Plato

I started this project a year ago to coincide with our 25th anniversary, but the economy got in the way—In the spirit of eternal optimism here is the back story…

Way back in the mid 70′s I met Joe Felzman, a freshly minted young photographer from the Brooks Institute. I was teaching high school at the time but I really wanted to be a furniture maker and of course I had no money.  I needed a portfolio to enter shows and  this was way more difficult than I imagined… today I am proud to say that I turned out to be one crappy photographer.

Joe shot my furniture portfolio from 1976 to 1983 (some of his images of my pieces are posted in our Design Showcase) and when my furniture making days morphed into tool making, Joe shot all of the Bridge City catalogs—several of which have won meaningful awards.  It only seemed logical to celebrate his talent and the synergy we experienced by producing  “The Tools of Bridge City Tool Works: 25 Years Through the Lens of Joseph Felzman”.

Like our tools, this book will be different—it not only is a chronicle of Bridge City tools, is is also a celebration of photography by an extraordinarily talented photographer. For this effort, I have pulled from my personal collection every tool we have produced over the past 26 years (plus a couple that have never seen the light of day) and Joe is shooting all new imagery. We will include all the catalog covers, ancillary stories and other assorted tales from the past 25 years. From brass and rosewood to black chrome…it will all be included.

Karen Matheson is doing the graphic design and Jay Maisel (who was recently declared by a leading photography journal the greatest living photographer on the planet) has penned the forward. Chris Schwarz, of Popular Woodworking has signed on to fix all of my syntax and grammatical errors and all that is left is my part–writing and funding.

The purpose of this post is to offer you an opportunity for suggestions that we may have overlooked.  This project is 6-10 months away, maybe longer considering my history of promises…

Meanwhile, here is a pic of the cover and an inside spread and we look forward to your suggestions.


Cover 1 Drop ShadowInside Spread Drop Shadow

20 comments on this post:

  1. John,

    This should be a great read, both for reference and a beautiful “Coffee Table” book. Maybe I need to build a nicer coffee table! I hope you plan on including brochures from all the commemorative tools and other special tools. Also it might be nice to include build quanities and other information that will help tool collecters now and in the far off future. I’m looking forward to seeing it!


  2. A couple questions, will this book be for members only? Will it be stocked or will only a couple runs be made? If i had to guess, im thinking this book may be at least a couple hundred pages. You have a price range on it yet? For a suggestion, if possible i would like to read about the design process, any problems you had and how you fixed them, why what materials where choosen. I would also secound the comment about listing how many tool were sold… It would be nice to read about how you decide which tool to make next as well.

  3. Hi John,
    I had the pleasure of speaking with you at a tool event in Sturbridge, MA last year. Would this book be a good opportunity to discuss and illustrate the process of developing your more unique tools? The kerfmaker is a perfect example. It solves an often encountered challenge, but I hate to think how long many of us would have needed to develop a comparably simple and elegant solution. In a nutshell, I would love to see and read more about the discovery process. Thanks.


  4. What a great idea! I’m really excited to see this book. Tool porn that you can leave out in the open. I’ll have to keep my 11 year old daughter away from it – she’s a serious toolophile (ask Fred!).

    Suggestions? How ’bout every now and then you have a quote from a user? Maybe at the beginning of a chapter, or somewhere near a picture?

    I’d love to hear about the decisions made while designing a tool. It would be really fun to see some early sketches, 3D models, or some discussion about whether to chamfer an edge or what color to anodize the aluminum. What got you into black chrooome? How/why has your design aesthetic evolved/changed from brass/rosewood to aluminum and black chrooome? How did you come to think of your signature series, and how do you get inspiration for those tools?

    And how did you decide on your business model? Surely you’re the only tool maker who uses the art-print philosophy (signed/numbered/limited edition) for tool production.

    This is all very exciting!

    Also, you might consider offering certain photos as framed art (signed/numbered?). There’s a few that I’d love to have in my house.

    - Peter

  5. We have entertained the idea of limited edition photographic prints–but all of that will come later–if at all. Interestingly, it was this cover shot that got that idea rolling–the shavings in the throat is such a dominate/submissive image…

    I like the user comment idea–that is new and I think a great way to demonstrate the connection of the tool with the user… hmmm….

    Regarding the size of the book, it will be around 250 pages and printed in limited quantities… I am GUESSING that it will be around $60-$75.

    Also, since our first tool was a square, that is the book format…and when opened creates a 2:1 proportion…one of my favorites.


  6. Hi.
    I’ve always loved the photography that accompanied all things Bridge City Tool Works. Yours was always heads above everybody else in the field.

    I put myself through Brooks Institute heading up the shop portion in a construction crew that remodeled mansions in the very upscale community of Montecito in the late 70′s. I’ve been a commercial photographer in San Francisco since 1982 but am seriously considering going back into wood. The photography profession is about cooked.

    Good luck with the book, I know it’s going to be visually stunning.

  7. Paul;

    Thanks for the kind words–I know how digital has hammered your profession–I wish I knew the answer.



  8. John,

    I’m really looking forward to this book “event”.
    I ditto what several people above have said about sketching out your creative process. What would also be nice to see, is what’s behind that creative process….. such as the times you take off alone for your “vision quest” once a year. Sorta like a peek at your diary of thoughts during that time.

    hmm, another thought…….
    Since your going to be putting your creative energies into the “print & paper” medium I think it would be jolly after having gone through the book to find at the inside of the back cover a fold out holder/envelope that would contain a paper tool that would open/fold out. That paper/card stock “tool” would be in itself an inspiration that would aid in the design process of each reader.

    ……and maybe in the front inside cover a cd where we could listen to your fireside chats that would be verging more on the esoteric aspects of your creative/design thoughts that would go beyond that which you have expressed in the book. (yes I know this just shot the price up higher than what I will be mentioning below!)

    cheers for now,

    P.s…. regarding the costs, having a fairly sizable collection of art/architecture books myself & knowing the quality of printing/paper/cover you’d be expecting-not to mention the limited aspect of the run, I would probably expect the costs to be somewhat higher then what you mentioned.

    P.s. 2… Ok, after this book is finished and done with, I would also like to see a “book” that contains about 12 paper fold out tools for the mind/soul………….. that would go beyond woodworking. The one you would put in the back cover of “The Tools of Bridge City Toolworks” above would be a hint of what would come in this one.

    P.s 3… Whenever I mention “paper” tools that would also include laser or water-jet cut “paper like” thin aluminum or plexi as well.

  9. note, I believe your time stamp of this comment page needs to be adjusted for daylight savings time.

  10. One aspect of the creative process that I’d like to see addressed are descriptions of the techniques used to create some of the images. In fact, this was the first thing that crossed my mind when I read the “through the Lens” part of the book title.

    I pulled a book off my shelf that illustrates this well. The book is “Photographic Global Notes”, which contains a large number of short articles. Each shows a photograph and is followed by a description, often with illustrations, of what went into the creation of the image. Many of them involved interesting lighting setups, multiple exposures, etc., and often predate the application of digital image processing techniques. In any case, this was the inspiration for the suggestion.

    Provided this doesn’t detract from the cohesion of the rest of the text, of course. In which case, never mind… :-)

    - John

  11. Maybe you could do something really cool with the book like Kramer on Seinfield did. He made a book about coffee tables and the book actually had legs on the back of it that unfolded to turn into a coffee table.. I’ll be thinking about it..

  12. Dominant-submissive. I love that! I was just enjoying the wavy pattern made by the shaving. But no – it’s woodworking BDSM!

    Here’s another thought: why not sell a signature series book that includes a signed and numbered black chrooome bookmark? Or maybe black chrooome on one side, and brass and rosewood inlay on the other, to reflect your evolving aesthetic? And/or sell a special edition in a walnut case…

    I’m really looking forward to this!

    - Peter

  13. Joe has a technique called “Perfect Lighting” and this will be illustrated in the book. Jay Maisel came to Portland and watched Joe work and left with the comment, “I don’t know anybody who works like this!” That is quite a statement.

    These are all great suggestions and I appreciate the feedback. Feel free to chime in if the muse strikes.


  14. Lighting diagrams would be great. They can become a little uh…boring if over used. They don’t show the subtleties of a lighting setup…the tiny reflectors that are positioned to a 32nd of an inch, feathering of lights, gobos, gels, scrims, dots etc.

    If you include too much in the descriptions however then the book could become a how to book and that’s probably what it shouldn’t be.

  15. Paul;

    Good points–this is not a how-to book in the sense of photography/woodworking or tool making. It is primarily a celebration of the synergy of two people who found each other and managed to survive in business for over a quarter of a century. That said, it will contain tips and tricks, just enough we hope to inspire others to do their best work.

    It is this unique approach that will differentiate this effort from others–and there is much work to do before it is done.

    Really appreciate your comments!


  16. How about including a “But wait! There’s more!” item? A DVD of interviews with you, and Joe, a photoshoot, a tour of your facilities.

    Not that there’s not enough work involved in putting out the book alone.

  17. I look forward to the book John. I’ve always enjoyed the photography in your catalogs and posters and am sure this will be a real coffee table grabber.

    Have you considered an online component as well? Given the tool / woodworker connection why not consider a separate site that could include comments from owners / others or questions by tool to build on the community that your tools already inspire? Could be as simple as uploading the photos to Flickr for others to see, comment on, and get inspired by. Or a separate site.

    The other aspect of this could be screen savers / calendars / desktop wallpapers / phone wallpapers that add further value and personalization or inspiration from the photos and tools.

    It could be very interesting to add a ‘human’ aspect to the book or bigger ‘project’ by going into your archives of owners and soliciting stories or work profiles to show how the tools inspire the craftsperson. The interplay between you and Joe is one aspect, but your tools inspire the craft both as a book of the collection, but also what the collection has inspired as well. This latter component could be limited to an online version.


  18. Wow!

    I was out of town for two days and nearly missed the conversation! This will be a great addition to my “collection” of Bridge City Tools. I really like some of the suggestions already made – you can see the anticipation already!

    Will the pictures all be new photos?
    I think it would be interesting to have a photo of the tool and also one with the tool “in use” – especially the more unique ones. This would balance the “collector” and the “tool user” side of me and re-enforce that not only are these museum pieces, but the tools also WANT to be used by hands that appreciate them. I know this creates much more work, but thinking “long term” it would be really great for a person to pick up the book who doesn’t know the nuances of woodworking, see a stunningly beautiful piece of work, but then get an “ahaa” when they see what this think will really do. You could possibly solicit some of your subscribers to provide some samples of their work-in-progress to provide the base for the photos? (I’m thinking of some of the box work and inlays I’ve already seen on this site. Just a suggestion…


  19. John,

    I definitely think that you should include a bit about the inspiration, design process, obstacles to overcome, and some interesting trivia. Details such as size, weight and materials used would be nice as well.

    Gallery books with lots of pictures are nice. Books with explanations of what makes it so special are even better.

    Hard cover or softcover? How about an anodized aluminum cover? Just a thought.

    I like the layout of the page with the heading “Two Decades of Creative Synergy”.

  20. I just spent half an hour on Joe Felzman’s web site, and half an hour doesn’t do it justice. This guy’s amazing! The way he uses light to bring out interesting textures in objects is almost tactile. And the composition of his works is so well proportioned, though sometimes tension-building. I’m absolutely astounded at his work. If I ever made anything worth photographing – heck, even if I didn’t – he’d be the one I’d want to photograph it. It would look better, more interesting, more intriguing, more mysterious than it would in real life. John – that was one serendipitous moment when you hooked up with him. Good move on your part. Amazing, amazing stuff. That image of the koi in the rain. And the Patagonia store in the rain/snow. The tools. The people. The cars. Wow.

    - Peter

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