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Learn How. Discover Why. Build Better. - Christopher Schwarz


Blue Spruce Toolworks by Christopher Schwarz
Copyright 2006. Originally appeared in the Fine Tool Journal

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An engineer turns his

understanding of metal

and a love of woodworking

into a busy tool-making



It’s a simple thing, really, to make a woodworking tool. It’s quite another thing to make a tool that is balanced, perfectly suited to the task and beautiful to hold.

I should know. As a practicing (always practicing) woodworker, I make tools here and there for specific tasks. I’ve made a dozen marking knives, probably 10 drawbore pins, a few awls, and a handful of handplanes. But I’m certain (and perhaps counting on the fact) that my homemade tools will end up in the dump when I’m dead. My kids will pass them up as mere bits of metal embedded in pieces of wood. Nothing worth saving.

But when my daughters lay their hands on the marking knives, awl and chisels I’ve purchased from Blue Spruce Toolworks during the last four years, I’m certain that those tools will make the leap to the next generation.

Blue Spruce Toolworks is actually one man and two shops crammed with metalworking and woodworking equipment in a two-car garage in Oregon City, Ore. But in just two years, David Jeske has pumped out more than 6,000 tools (or parts of tools) to eager customers.

That is an astonishing output for a man with no employees, no time for marketing and no office. And it’s even more of an achievement when you realize that it from the same man who turned his first handle for a marking knife on his drill press not too many years ago. But when you look back at Jeske’s life history it’s clear that every career move and every hand-chopped mortise in a deck (yes, a deck) was leading up to a career in toolmaking for this happily married father of two and deeply Christian man.

An Early Love of the Mechanical

Jeske was born in Southern California, the son of an engineer, and he spent his youth designing, building and flying remote-control model airplanes and racing around on dirt bikes dreaming of motorcycles. His father wasn’t a woodworker, but he taught him how to run shop equipment and he made a few choice career moves that shaped Jeske’s future.

After Jeske attended junior high, his father moved the family to rural Arizona where he bought a large metal recycling scrap yard. The young Jeske was his father’s forman and did a little bit of everything around the business, from working the scrap yard's shop to driving a forklift.

After a year, his father left the business and moved the family to West Chester, Pa., where Jeske got a sizable dose of East Coast history: furniture, historical houses, museums.

“When you are growing up, you don’t really see things until you look back,” Jeske says about Pennsylvania. “But there is a huge amount of history there. And I was picking it up.”

After graduating from high school, Jeske went to engineering school at the University of Delaware, specializing in advanced materials and staying deeply entrenched in the world of metal by building a hot rod Mustang. After graduating, he followed his wife to Chicago and got a job designing tooling for a plastic extrusion company until a friend’s phone call lured him back West to San Jose, Calif., to work for the FMC Corp. and work on the ceramic armor for the Bradley fighting vehicle.

He and his wife also bought a house, which led to Jeske building a deck, which probably started him down the path to where he is now. But there was still a lot of steel flowing through his veins because he also build a 4-wheel-drive jeep from scratch and began working on the “Star Wars” missile defense system.

After the birth of their son, Andrew, the Jeskes decided to leave California and more to Oregon. Jeske got a job with Warn Industries, which makes off-road equipment and winches. And Jeske got his first taste of manufacturing.

He also bought a house that needed a lot of work and so he started buying the woodworking tools to fix it up and add a 1,200-square-foot cedar deck with a hot tub and hand-cut joinery.

“I’m the kind of guy who doesn’t like to pay someone else to do something I think I could do myself,” he says. “I built a deck. And I wanted to do it right. So I mortise-and-tenoned all the rails into the deck uprights. I hand-chopped all those because I didn’t have a mortiser. Many of the joints are actually half-lapped and fitted by hand. It took me two years to build that deck.”

After seven years at Warn, Jeske switched to Climax Portable Machine Tools, which makes specialized machine tools that could work on-site, such as machining an area flat on a large ship to install a radar array or do precise machining during nuclear reactor repair.

“It was a neat place to work,” he says. “However, I always wanted to have my own company.”

A collection of the tools that Dave Jeske has made in conjunction
with Bridge City, including chisels, a marking knife and a mallet.

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