Ron and Joel Moskowitz have been good friends since they met at “Plane Day,” a gathering of toolmakers at the Popular Woodworking Magazine offices to share whatever it is they had to share, and to provide the editorial staff all sorts of content about handtools.
These two have a lot in common, not the least of which is their love of tools, engineering and making things with their own hands, their ability to see in three dimensions and desire to manufacture high quality tools relevant to woodworkers today. I tell you this because many people still believe what binds Ron Hock and Joel Moskowitz is their mutual delight in eating Indian Food.
I first met Joel at WIA in Valley Forge where he introduced me to his then new project, bringing into being The Joiner and Cabinet Maker with Lost Art Press. And, it was researching the Lost Art Press site while working on the interview with Chris Schwarz that I was reminded of this incredible document, and enterprise that so characterizes Joel as an avid and important woodworking and woodworking tool historian.
Sort of like Isaac Newton, who as a child both inspired and drove adults crazy with his models and inventions, Joel has been making things since he was a kid, too. First models, then miniature steam engines, then furniture, which he understandably believes was the most useful.
And now? Well, Joel agreed to a cross continent e-interview!
Linda: How did you begin and what continues to inspire you about the history and tradition of hand tools?
Joel: I have been interested in social history since I can remember. When I studied woodworking, my teacher, Maurice Fraser, was a keen fan of finding the right tool for the job and we learned a lot of subtleties that are useful to know when buying one old tool versus another. He also emphasized learning and practicing good technique over just getting a project done.
Linda: How do you decide that a tool needs designing in the first place; what is that process like for you?
Joel: Some of the tools came about because of a frustration with current products, others because we think there is a niche in the market. But in all cases we don’t move forward unless we have some sort of compelling feature that we think will be appreciated.
Joel: Tools for Working Wood is a seller of fine woodworking tools from all over the world. Gramercy Tools is the brand for tools we make in-house or have made for us. They all reflect the best performance we can muster, regardless of cost. Some are pretty inexpensive, such as our holdfasts, and some are not, like our veneer saws. I would say all are ultimately good values because of their performance. All the tools in the Gramercy Tools line reflect state of the art performance available from any vendor anywhere in time and place.
Linda: Which was your first tool at Gramercy Tools?
Joel: The holdfasts, followed closely behind by the turning saw.
Linda: Which is the least understood by woodworkers?
Joel: The brushes. People spend a year building some incredible piece of furniture and then run into finishing trouble.
Linda: Am I correct in noticing that you are seriously committed to educating your customers? If so, please talk about that; why, what it accomplishes, and the response from woodworkers?
Joel: We spend a lot of time researching what we are doing. It’s good to pass the information on. We also hate seeing people do stuff the hard way. I am personally interested in technique: It’s not just about getting stuff done, but how to do it. What we find is that using hand tools doesn’t have to be slow, but to work efficiently you’ll need good technique. Good technique can make all the difference. I hate fighting my equipment! Learning how to use equipment efficiently makes woodworking go far faster and makes it more fun.
Linda: How would you describe your research process?
Joel: I read a lot and I collect tools and books on tools. When a question comes up the first step is finding out all the different historical solutions we can.
Linda: Where do you begin; what is your first question?
Joel: It’s random! Seriously, good ideas can come from all over. Some of them stick and go to the next phase of design, testing, analysis, etc. We work as a team. I can brainstorm with the best of them but most of the real work is done by our design and manufacturing staff. They are very, very good.
Linda: You hire artists to design tools. What’s that all about?
Joel: There are a lot of artists in NYC. As a group they have great dexterity, they think visually and spatially, they like making things and most are very creative. These are great skills to have in a company.
Linda: Which artist did you hire first and how did you find him or her or him? Did this person know anything about woodworking to begin?
Joel: Our designer Timothy Corbett was the first. At the time, he didn’t know a lot about traditional woodworking but he is a fine craftsman who really appreciates good tools and how they can help you do great work. His curiosity and creativity have led us to some wonderful tools.
Linda: Ron directed me to your Work Magazine Reprint Project; please tell me all about it.
Joel: As Ron says, it’s the best DIY magazine ever, with all sorts of projects for every interest at every level. I got hold of the first four years but the magazines are too fragile to read easily. So we decided to scan them and at the same time release them exactly 123 years to the day when they were first published.
It’s a weekly, and remember in 1889, 16 pages of magazine had a lot more text in it than a magazine does now. It takes me an evening to get through an issue, and it’s totally absorbing! We’re offering a free download for anyone who wants it. There is a new thread on woodnet (meaning woodnet.net) on trying to get castings together for building the iron smoother that is in issue 5.
Linda: What’s coming up for Tools for Working Wood?
Joel: Good question. I don’t know. We are stretched to the max and growing apace. This year we hope to get out a new tool, but more importantly we are reorganizing and expanding our capacity to keep in stock the tools we currently make. A few years ago we would be out of stock on saws for months – now we are in stock, with a decent cushion just about always.
Linda: It seems to me that the small, independent toolmaker is most like the woodworker; they share more at the bench than the larger companies do with their customers. Tools for Working Wood and Gramercy Tools are larger than Hock Tools, plus we are way in the country, and this might make a difference, but what is your experience with the woodworker visitor?
Joel: They have fun. Visitors get a chance to play with the tools, see what works for them and see who we are. We get lots and lot of tourists visiting New York. Come and visit!