28 October 2014
By Melinda Paquin
Images by Dustin Betterly
Edited by Leonie Shinn-Morris
The historic shipping, warehousing and manufacturing complex of Bush Terminal originally occupied 200 acres of waterfront in the Sunset Park neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY. Dating back to the early 1900s, this hive of industry and trade put New York City on the map as a major international seaport. Now renamed Industry City, this historic location of skilled workmanship and manufacturing is the perfect location for Tools for Working Wood, Gramercy Tools and Brooklyn Tool & Craft. Continuing the artisanal heritage of this space, Gramercy Tools pride themselves on their specialized manufacturing and fine finishing skills, which incorporate a reverence towards historic tool-making techniques.
Today, when you enter building 8 and crawl up to the fifth floor in the over-sized, slow-moving freight elevator, the doors open to Tools for Working Wood's eclectic showroom. Tools for Working Wood (TFWW) distributes a wide variety of high-quality woodworking tools from around the globe. Their collection includes an extensive array of reference books on topics ranging from woodturning practices and principles, to early technical processes, to joinery techniques dating back to the 17th century. It provides a fantastic resource for their own practices as well as a literary feast for the intrigued history aficionado or woodworking enthusiast.
If you're lucky, or if it's a very special day, you might be invited down the long aisle of heavy inventory shelves to gain access to the Gramercy Tools workshop. This is when the visit to TFWW gets really interesting - as you get a closer look at their world of hand-finished hand tools. The feeling of pride and quality is palpable and makes this studio space glow as you turn the corner and lay eyes on the home of Gramercy Tools.
Gramercy Tools, founded in 2000, began as a collection of tooling ideas and prototypes in the imagination of CEO and founder, Joel Moskowitz, and has since grown into a collection of expertly made saws, hammers, brushes, files, vices and holdfasts. Born of the idea that tools should be created with a sophisticated approach to custom manufacturing, all of their tools are crafted on unique, hand-built machines and then individually finished by hand.
In their beautiful studio space you will find all members of the team working side-by-side together: Naomi Baxter, Tool Maker, carefully grinding and polishing the hammer heads to a mirror finish; Kris Pastuszka, another Tool Maker, meticulously setting and filing saw teeth as Gramercy Tool's own in-house saw sharpener; Joel updating the website he hand-coded and built from scratch; Ben Seltzer, Production Manager, maintaining efficiency in the studio and constantly improving upon their already tested and reliable methods; and Tim Corbett, Head of Design, working on new designs along with his continuous testing of existing products.
What makes Gramercy Tools so special is not only their fine, high-quality steel, wood, and hardware parts, but also their dedication to extensive historical research, which allows the team to continually improve on existing processes. Ben says, 'I think that sometimes we forget that the skilled hands of the previous centuries were as hungry for innovation as we are today. When you read texts from the early industrial era those folks were super stoked on advances in technology that let them perform processes faster, at lower cost, more accurately or more safely.' Gramercy Tools' goal in building their own machinery is to continue this enterprising spirit. Despite their reverence for quality and attention to detail, they are still not averse to harnessing modern technology to further improve their products, an approach Ben sees as not only practical, but as more historically accurate, in line with these early innovators.
With this approach in mind, Gramercy Tools are devoted to elevating bespoke hand-tooling, without losing quality to mass production. One of their most recent creations, for example, involved attaching an Arduino mega to a 60-year-old Foley machine and programming it to file saw teeth with the utmost precision. Dubbed the 'Folduino', this custom machine, coded by Joel and built in-house, will allow for Gramercy Tools to streamline their work methods while maintaining their extreme attention to detail and quality. Ben says, 'the Folduino is a test-bed for the Gramercy workshop to learn about automating aspects of saw production that are currently done by hand.' Their goal isn't to replace the craft of hand-sharpening, rather it is 'to take what we've learned from hand filing and testing some of the world's best saws, and to build upon that knowledge in order to expand the range of products we can offer our customers.'
But this doesn't mean the end of Gramercy's purely handmade products. The Gramercy team assure us that they will always be producing a range of hand-filed saws. This isn't out of a blind subservience to tradition however, but rather, as Ben says, because 'skilled hand-filing creates specific performance characteristics' that make hand-sharpening so desirable.
This hints at the magic at work in this Industry City company today. Drawing on historical skills and techniques that have been honed over a long period of time, Gramercy Tools are writing the story of handmade tools into the future - bringing the best of the past together with the best of the present.
The day that The Saturday Market Project visited TFWW was the day that the Folduino - so emblematic of this approach - made its first run after many days of testing, making it a very exciting day for the Gramercy Tools team. Spirits were high and we can't wait to see what comes out of their studio next.