Bridge City Tool Works: Chapter Two…

Drivel Starved Nation!

When you visit our Bridge City office you immediately see a panorama of all the tools we have made over the last 35 years.

Welcome to the Bridge City “Tool Zoo” the sign reads—if only we had one.

When guests arrive, Consuelo presses a secret button under her desk and a live, 220-volt electrode jabs my right thigh indicating that my Zoo Keeper presence is desired. (My concentration skills demand intense diversionary measures….)

When our guests see me crawl out of my man-cave office, they almost universally say:

“WHOA! Do you have a succession plan?”

I used to think it was just the 220-volt zap-to-my-lap that contorted my face, but now I think it is my cadaver-like appearance that prompts this response.

I’m asked the “succession question” frequently and the answer has always been no. My adult kids have their own lives—my daughter is a stay-at-home Mom of two—my son is an expat living in Mexico City, compliments of his employer. I just planned on dying here, probably doing something fun and interesting, like changing the musty filter on the shop vac. That all changed in three consecutive days this past January …

DAY ONE
On Monday, January 23rd I arrived at the office with a ridiculously full schedule—my annual work retreat commenced on Friday.

Around 9:30 AM our production coordinator delivered his two-week notice. It’s not something I wanted to learn… in four days I was leaving the office for a month. The notice was certainly bad timing, but not unexpected. (When the unemployment rate in Portland gets below five percent, job hopping reaches its peak.) I told myself that finding a replacement would commence when I returned on March 5th.

DAY TWO
The next day, Consuelo, who you all know as my boss, informed me that she is pregnant with baby number 84. I congratulated her (again) and knew immediately she would not be coming back. We have been working together for seven years so this replacement could be a bit problematic, (it’s hard to find employees who agree to be perpetually pregnant) but I have been through key personnel transitions several times before. Change is always good.

However, that evening I realized that after putting myself through college, six years of high school teaching, six years of designing and making furniture, and thirty-five years of running Bridge City, I did not have the energy, or the desire, to replace two key people and maintain my manic pace of designing products for the insatiable appetites of our incredibly wonderful customers … like YOU! I went to bed thinking that it might be time for me to retire and enjoy my two grandsons with a third grandchild on the way this September.

DAY THREE
Wednesday morning, Consuelo confirmed that she was going to become a stay-at-home mom. I candidly shared that maybe “my time was up” . Before our conversation was over, we received a call from an interior designer in the Midwest who was designing a new woodshop in a converted barn for one of her best clients.

This designer had given her customer “Quality is Contagious” for a Christmas gift, and his infatuation with our work here was… intense. She had marching orders to acquire “one of everything” in our history and was asking for our help. As you likely know, this is impossible to do in a single purchase. None of my three complete sets of tools are for sale. Consuelo informed her they would need to be purchased on the open market.

After the call, Consuelo stated that maybe this “was meant to be”. We then discussed the merits of selling this gentleman the “Tool Zoo”.

And then it became clearly obvious what I needed to do. After an incredible thirty-five years, I made the decision to wind this place down. I was struck by the irony of knowing it was time but didn’t know when—or how.

The next day, we sold all the tools in the Tool Zoo to one of the most fascinating guys I have ever met.

“Decisions are easy when values are clear.” -Unknown

Briefly, I founded Bridge City Tool Works in 1983. By 1985 I was attending 37 trade shows a year (where I likely met some of you). I would leave on Thursday mornings and return on Sunday evenings and run Bridge City Monday through Wednesday during the day. My evenings were spent doing spreadsheet work and catalog analysis. This went on for 15 straight years—no “Dad of the Year” awards for me.

When I am asked to speak about the history of Bridge City, my talk is titled; “Too Stupid to Quit”. All I blab about are the epic mistakes I made along the way. Isn’t this the hallmark of a brilliant business mind? And get this, people come up to me afterwards inspired! That is pure nonsense. The truth is, there is nothing I enjoy about running a business. For me, BCTW has always been a vehicle to passionately express new ideas and concepts—that nobody wants to buy—using tools as a canvas. Unfortunately, I had to run this business to live my dream.

While on my recent work retreat, an incredible peace was coursing through my existence. I realized I needed to connect the loose ends, so I made the decision to contact a business broker friend. I also reached out to two DSN members who have a wealth of business experience. Neil Clemmons and Fred Hayden were terrific sounding boards and great listeners, I am very grateful for their wisdom and advice. I liked that it was free too!

I also reached out to my good friend, Jack Xu, at Harvey Industries (we have an international licensing agreement with Harvey, they also make the Chopstick Master and the amazing Gyro Air Dust Collector) to inform him that I was to either going to sell—or shut down—Bridge City so I could spend the rest of my life enjoying my grandchildren. Maybe do some weeding and reading. Exercise wouldn’t hurt either…

Jack asked me to hold off on the business broker for a couple of days. I am pleased to share that after months of discussion, we recently struck a deal to sell BCTW lock, stock, and barrel to Harvey Industries. I did it because you would think I was an idiot if I turned down billions of dollars for this place…. FYI, I have already contacted a real estate agent to start price negotiations for Greenland. Stay tuned!

Here is a pic of the two of us celebrating the success of the Chopstick Master (I’m the one with the crooked glasses…);
Jack and John

(Some of you have already met Jack, he attended the opening of my retrospective in 2013 and was at the house for the book signing party.)

Jack, a licensed Mechanical Engineer, is also not “business” normal. He too, cares more about quality than money. And you know what is weird? You likely already have tools in your shop made by Harvey Industries! They have been in the woodworking OEM business for decades. Was I surprised Jack wanted to carry on with Bridge City Tool Works? Oh yes, and I now believe it is the very best thing that could have ever happened for everybody, particularly the BCTW faithful.

These turns of events are further support of my plan to never have a plan.

When I factor in the emails and correspondence with international customers of Harvey who have been buying Harvey made Bridge City tools, it makes me believe that they will successfully continue to travel the path of quality and outstanding customer service we have all enjoyed over the past 35 years.

So, what does this mean for the Drivel Starved Nation, you ask? Maybe not much—as you know, we have been going out of business 35 years in a row, so happily, that streak will continue!

Here is what I know now;

  • Consuelo plans on working through July. At that time, our office will relocate to the existing Harvey location in Los Angeles. All her babies are future customers which is good. I’ll eventually end up in Greenland in my private mansion, with a PGA certified 18-hole indoor golf course …but until then, Portland is home.
  • It is our goal to fulfill all our pre-orders by July 31, and as of this writing, we are on schedule.
  • Our shop will stay open until Jan 1, 2019 because… well, we have never been very good at schedules.
  • Lots of old stuff will be going on sale and new stuff will be less expensive!
  • The website will remain almost identical. Our toll-free number will be the same. And I will still give you behind the scenes and product updates via this Totally Awesome and Worthless Blog!
  •  No more payrolls for the parolee!

As for me? For the next two years I will continue to design fun stuff for you via Harvey, in addition to resurrecting those tools from the BCTW archives that make economic sense. Most important, I will head the quality control department for Harvey so the Bridge City legacy of quality continues. And, I plan on increasing my Totally Awesome and Worthless Blog output (which will not take much effort …). And you can still reach me through my busy parole officer or better yet: john@bridgecitytools.com.

The plan is to change the business model to one where items are in-stock as opposed to pre-ordering with the exception of limited-edition items. If you are a Jointmaker Pro owner, sleep tight tonight, your replacement blades will simply ship from Los Angeles beginning in August. Our repair department has already closed, so those of you who want to sell your old BCTW tools on eBay will have to clean them yourselves. We will still repair items that are under our 90-day warranty. I am working on a way to catalog all our spare replacement components so stay tuned.

Drivel Starved Nation, you heard it here first on this Totally Awesome and Worthless Blog. Without you, changing tool history would not have been possible—I cannot thank you enough.

I know you may have lots of questions, so please ask! I want to close by stating that I am thrilled that in Chapter 2, the legacy of Bridge City Tool Works will continue with Harvey Industries, Ltd. And I know I could not have found a better friend than in Jack Xu. For those of you who joined us on our Epic China Field Trip last fall, you know this is not fake news.

Heck, maybe Bridge City Tool Works will become a real company after all.

-John

49 comments on this post:

  1. Congratulations, I think.

    You’ve put in so many years innovating in the woodworking realm, bringing us tools that no one else could’ve possibly thought of- for better or worse!

    I’m flying out this fall to take you out for a retirement dinner- sorry, no gold watch.

    Best,
    Rutager

  2. Congratalations on charting your own path for 35 years. That is a solid run indeed. I’m interested to see what you come up with in this 104 week retreat that is coming up. A way to rip stock on the JMP?! The possibilities are endless.

    Relieved you found someone you can trust to carry out the quality of BCT. I’m glad I will not have to hoard JMP blades and we might see returns of tools like that great hand brace from years back. Several of your tools see use every time I’m in the shop.

    Thanks for the past, and here’s to the future!

  3. John,
    You certainly deserve a retirement. If you ever need another nearly complete set of tools, my son has inherited mine a bit early and would probably appreciate not having to store them. That was one of the hardest decisions of my life. Good luck and be happy with those grandkids.

    Gina Roberts

  4. Also seriously I’d love to attend a retirement dinner for John.

    I’ll fly out.

    Gina Roberts

  5. didn’t know they had bacon sushi. congrats, and enjoy the grand kids, i hear they grow up too fast.

  6. John,

    WE will not be having sushi, but you may have it! I’ll smuggle in a bunch of bacon in my pocket- back pocket, got to be mindful of hot oil burns.

  7. Oh, there’s always *someone* to abuse on the internet. I’d be lying if I said you won’t be missed, but I had a pretty good idea that’s where this ship was headed (down to the buyer!) so I’ve sorta been waiting on it. We’ll still have you to kick around on the blog for now.

    This mean the woodworking school is off?

  8. Dave-

    In hindsight, to everybody but me, I can see how your visionary powers did not betray you.

    My school will open in the summer of 2020. I already have 4 students!

    And I agree, I can take two more years of abuse from the DSN, looking forward to it actually.

    -John

  9. Congratulations, John! I’m so pleased to hear this. You’ve made a mark in the tool world, and improved the lives of innumerable people. I am particularly pleased – from a purely selfish point of view – because now we can hang out more! Six years till my retirement (not that I’m counting).

    Congratulations, again. I’m looking forward to seeing what you do for the next 35 years. It’s going to be fun!

    - Peter

  10. Thank you John,

    Congratulations on finding a way to write chapter 2 that will work for you, your BCTW colleagues, and your customers past, present, and future.

    - Doug

    Oh . . . and apologies for causing one of your (likely countless) 220 vAC zaps (smile).

  11. Doug!

    I now limp because of YOU? Thanks for that…

    Come by any time, see you on Monday…. (just made myself laugh!)

    - John

  12. Thanks Peter!

    Bad news for Gillian storing her stuff in our warehouse on summer break of 2019…. we will figure it out …

    FYI, I do not want to live another 35 years, to much work!

    - John

  13. Hope to become one of our off shore woodworking tool users as well as providers . Being currently disabled doesn’t stop me from trying ! Hope to get things together to earn a JMP2v and complete fence for my many projects .

  14. John,
    I started my woodworking experience way back in 1986 with your tools because I never knew anything else at that time. Afterwards, as all beginners do, I started becoming aware of the enormous plethora of tool options that were actually accessible. But, in all of that, I have always stayed with all of the GREAT innovations you kept producing with impeccable quality!
    I met you in person at several of the Washington DC Woodworking shows back in those years, thinking to myself, I can’t believe I am going to meet the man who is the genius behind such innovations! To sum your carer up I offer these words: if God was a woodworker, your tools would be the ONLY ones in His shop!!
    Congrats John for a job more than just well done! As a stickler for detail, perfection and timeless value myself, I so much appreciate not only all that you have done, but I celebrate who you are as a person because those personal qualities came though loud an clear in your labor of love for these past 35 years. In these times, you have been and will continue to be a rare soul indeed in displaying one of God’s greatest gifts: having the willingness and fortitude to do things the RIGHT way!
    Enjoy yourself John, you have more than deserved it!!
    Kevin

  15. John,
    Congratulations, I am so happy for you! You have certainly been worthy of the space you have occupied and I am blessed to know you. I look forward to the next generation of woodworkers (my 3 kids included) to have access to the wonderful tools and more importantly the principle of how something like a tool can be beautifully designed, made and then inspire one to do their best work. Thank you!

  16. Kevin,

    First, thank you.

    Second, I am nothing more than “Too Stupid to Quit”.

    That said, you validate my one hypothesis, and that is, quality can, and does, modify behavior.

    Incredible work is always the result of inspiration, and the tools we use are the closet, and most obvious sources of inspiration. All we did here is try to make that obvious.

    It hasn’t been easy, but thanks to customers like you, it has been possible.

    Thank you!

    -John

  17. Mike!

    Thanks, we have had a lot of fun together at MASW over the years. Thanks to you, I looked up raising orchids as a hobby – I am envious.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    Best-

    John

  18. Congratulations, John. I have always been in awe of your tool prowess and ability to create something like the chopstick master that’s so much fun to use. Nothing gives me more pleasure than to use a specific tool for a specific job, and when one gets to use a BCTW tool to do that job, it’s even that much more pleasurable.

    On a side note, what do you think the over/under is on Consuelo’s kid count? Wagers may be in order!

  19. Mark-

    Thanks for the congrats, greatly appreciated.

    As far as the over/under for Consuelo, I’m inclined to stick to 84. She’s been a bit cranky lately, it’s the third trimester blues I believe. And this one is a boy, so her house of estrogen is about to get a serious dose of testosterone! Glad those days are behind me!

    -John

  20. Congratulations John!
    I am so excited for you and your next chapter in BCTW.

    As a former BCTW employee, I learned plenty from you and the Bridge City Tools methodology.

    The one anecdote that resonated the most with people while I did trade shows, or worked the show room, or that I still to this day mutter…is that 90% of the time our tools (a handplane, chisel, ruler, or dust pan, blender, or toaster) just sit there and do NOTHING. When you go to use your…toaster.. If it is indeed THAT amazing looking, the last thing you want to do is make a crappy piece of burnt toast. You want to make the BEST, most PERFECT, piece of toast EVER. Quality IS contagious folks. It’s true.

    Thanks for your inspiration, John. Job well done.

    And please, don’t let Rutager bring bacon in to a sushi restaurant. And advice to all: DON’T sit next to Rutager in a sushi restaurant.

    Michael

  21. Thanks Michael!

    Agreed, Rutager trying Vegetarian sushi was one of the great BCTW memories! I’m actually surprised he didn’t have a heart attack.

    -John

  22. What a great sentiment, Michael! (Coincidentally, I’m eating some toast right now…)

    I’m so disappointed that the one dinner I missed was the one when Rutager almost projectile-vomited sushi. I’m glad it was photo-documented! Good times!

    -Peter

  23. Sitting next to me is fine, imagine the horror of the young lady across the table of me as the gagging started- seaweed wrap stuck to the back of my mouth- and yes somewhere in the vast internet there is a picture of me at that exact moment as “luckily” it was captured by Laurie, a member of our dream team JMP demonstrators.

    So John,

    With the extra time on your hands, what are the chances that we’ll be able to take another class from you at Marc Adams?

  24. Rutager,

    The chances of me teaching at MASW again are the same as the chances of the Minnesota Vikings winning the Stanley Cup.

    Or, you eating a full sit-down sushi dinner!

    -John

  25. Congratulations John on making a very graceful exit. Thanks for setting such a high and inspiring standard in your furniture and tool designs, your outlook on the world, and also in the way your company treats it’s customers. It will be interesting to see what designs a great mind like your’s can come up with if you don’t have the distraction of a company to run.
    mmmmmmm sushi!

    Kevin

  26. John,

    Vikings winning the Stanley Cup is more likey than them winning a Super Bowl.

    You teach the class and I eat the sushi!

    I’m driving down to Indiana in a couple weeks to be a student in an Marc Adams taught class- you may want to warn him.

    Rutager

  27. John,

    Couple of housekeeping questions: when is the last day that your office, tool zoo and showroom are open to the public; when is Consuelo’s last day and will the forum/blog continue on?

    Thanks,
    Rutager

  28. Rutager,

    Our last day in Portland is a bit fluid, we have a lot of tools to ship in the interim. The plan right now is the office will close at the end of July. Consuelo is getting cranky, so that date is likely solid for her. That is all I know now, but will know more by the end of this week.

    The forum needs to be upgraded, and I don’t know the future status, but certainly I would like to see it continue. (It is old, and needs to be upgraded, and that means it is a cost/benefit formula that I no longer control.)

    The blog will continue, for better or worse!

    -John

  29. Congrats on the retirement – I’m jealous…. Do let us all know when and if there will be a “moving sale”
    Cheers,
    -
    charlesfreeborn.com

  30. Thanks Charles!

    Keep you eye on this Totally Awesome and Worthless Blog for pre-sale announcements.

    Best,

    John

  31. John,

    Two years of designing; lots of time for HP-6 and HP-10 soles, I hope?

    Rutager

  32. Have you ever considered doing a kerfing plane sole for the HP-10 using either your own blade or the blade from badaxe tools?

  33. Although I suppose the 0.0625″ dado on the HP-6 almost accomplishes the same thing, but is just a bit wider than a saw blade.

  34. As you observed, we have it in multiple sizes. The 1/16″ dado works fantastic and has a scoring cutter so it also works across the grain.
    -John

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