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Quality Is Contagious: John Economaki & Bridge City Tool Works, 36 Years Through the Lens of Joe Felzman

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Quality Is Contagious: John Economaki & Bridge City Tool Works, 36 Years Through the Lens of Joe Felzman

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Quick Overview

“Quality is Contagious”  follows the relationship between John Economaki and Joe Felzman who met in their 20’s when John was a furniture designer/maker and continued when John began Bridge City Tool Works in 1983.  They have been working together for almost 40 years.

Published by Museum of Contemporary Craft, this 12” square, 204 page coffee table sized book contains over 280 stunning images by award winning photographer Joseph Felzman and a foreword by Jay Maisel

In addition to the $49.00 standard hardbound version with dust jacket, we are also offering a signed, limited clothbound boxed collector’s edition for $69.00

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Product Description

(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.

Customer Reviews

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  1. "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)

  2. "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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