The Unknown Craftsman: A Japanese Insight into Beauty

I recently finished reading The Unknown Craftsman: A Japanese Insight into Beauty by Sõetsu Yanagi and adapted by Bernard Leach. It explores the circumstances under which beautiful objects are created, and how industrialization has influenced handmade craft.

I began taking down quotations that were interesting and worthy of sharing, but soon found myself jotting down entire paragraphs. So, rather than rewrite the book, I will merely point you towards the chapters which I found most interesting.

  • The Beauty of Irregularity (page 117);
  • The Buddhist Idea of Beauty (page 127);
  • Hakeme (page 171);
  • The Way of Craftsmanship (page 197); and
  • The Responsibility of the Craftsman (page 216).

This book has been added to my list of Recommended Readings.

Found Treasure

While looking through my collection of photos, I found a picture of a box that I made many years ago. It was my idea of what a treasure chest looked like.

I have added this chest to my gallery under the year 2009.

Small Treasure Chest

Although relatively small (only 13″ long), it was made very sturdily and weighed a lot – even when empty. The box was constructed with 3/4″ red oak, dyed with a dark walnut aniline dye. I cold-forged the strap hinges and handles, and fastened them to the chest with pyramid head screws.

This chest inspired the large yew treasure chest I made the following year that was featured in the Taunton Press book, Blanket Chests by Peter S. Turner and Scott Gibson.


Book Review – Quality is Contagious: John Economaki & Bridge City Tool Works, 36 Years Through the Lens of Joe Felzman

Last month, I took the train down to Portland, Oregon to be in attendance of the opening of Quality is Contagious: John Economaki and Bridge City Tool Works, an exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Craft.  I bought the book which accompanied the exhibit and finished reading it last night.

Quality is Contagious Front Cover

Photo from

My Review in One Sentence

The book was exactly as I would want my own: hardcover; large, colour photographs; insightful and interesting anecdotes; thought-provoking quotes; and above all, a thoroughly enjoyable and inspiring read.

I have read some books that took a long time to read because getting through it felt like a chore.  This book took a long time because, every half-dozen pages, I either read something profound or saw something that got me thinking and I would sit there, just gazing into space, reflecting. This is an outstanding book and I highly recommend reading it.

Sentimental Value

Being at the book party and getting signatures from the book’s contributors and Bridge City Tool Works staff (including an encouraging message from John) makes it even more special.

Signatures and Notes I also asked other attendees (family, friends and customers of John) to sign the book’s cardboard case.  This book is one of my most cherished possessions.

Book Case Links:

Quality is Contagious: John Economaki and Bridge City Tool Works

All photos in this post are courtesy of Neil Clemmons.

Last week, I took a 9 hour train ride south to Portland, Oregon for the opening of Quality is Contagious: John Economaki and Bridge City Tool Works, an exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Craft.  An estimated 300 people were in attendance that night.

John Economaki, former furniture maker and President and Founder of Bridge City Tool Works

John Economaki, former furniture maker and President and Founder of Bridge City Tool Works

The exhibit featured select pieces that John created during his notable, if abbreviated, career as a furniture maker.

Waterfall Desk

Waterfall Desk by John Economaki.  Circa 1981

Throughout the exhibit were also a selection of quotes which also appear in the book, Quality Is Contagious: John Economaki & Bridge City Tool Works, 36 Years Through the Lens of Joe Felzman, that accompanies the exhibit.

Brenner Clock

Brenner Clock by John Economaki. Circa 1978

Requiring slightly more floor space were the tools that John created under the name of Bridge City Tool Works.

Layout Tools

Some of the many tools produced by Bridge City Tool Works

Also on display were a few pieces that John created with the Bridge City Tool Works products.  This chess set was impressive from both a technical and design perspective.  That, of course, was no surprise to anyone familiar with his work.

Fog of War

Fog of War by John Economaki. Circa 2013

The next day, I attended an open house at the Bridge City Tool Works Showroom and Skunk Lab (their prototyping and assembly workspace).

Skunk Lab

John Economaki talked about the Jointmaker Pro. Jack, the fellow in the white shirt, travelled from China to attend.

After the open house, we were invited to John’s house for a Book Party.  I collected signatures from John, Joe Felzman and the other contributors present.  I also had the idea to collect signatures from everyone else at the party on the protective cardboard case for the book, which turned out to be a great way to meet new people.

Book Signing Photo

Customers, friends, family, and contributors to the book enjoyed a beautiful evening in John’s backyard

On the third day, Bridge City Tool Works organized a couple of buses to take us on a tour to three wineries.

Harry, of

Harry, of Chehalem Wines, talked to us about his wines in the shade of a large canopy

My trip to Portland was as memorable as any I have taken.  The museum exhibition was inspiring and humbling, and the open house gave me further insight into the Bridge City Tool Works world.  The party at John’s house and wine tour gave me an opportunity to meet and talk to other customers, as well as his friends and family.

I would strongly recommend viewing the exhibition.  It is on display at the Museum of Contemporary Craft in Portland, Oregon until February 8, 2014 and it is my understanding that it will then travel the country.  I would also recommend getting yourself a copy of the accompanying book.  It is an amazing book, put together in a very similar fashion to how I imagine I would do it – lots of pictures, bits of trivia, interesting stories, and quotes.


Featured in a New Book!

Last August, I got word of a call for submissions from Taunton Press for a new book on blanket chests.  A few years earlier, I had built a small chest with compound-tapered sides and a coopered top.  I had also forged the hardware myself, including the handles and strap hinges.  I completed it the night of the deadline and sent off my submission.

When I learned that my chest had made it through the first round of selection, I was asked to provide photos to their specifications and complete a questionaire.  As long as I was able to complete those two tasks by October 19, my box would make it into the book.  I asked a friend to help shoot the box and we spent one sunny afternoon taking the required shots.  It was difficult selecting the best few from the over one hundred photos we took.  I submitted the questionnaire along with the photos.

The book, Blanket Chests, authored by Peter Turner and Scott Gibson, is now available for pre-order from the Taunton Bookstore.  It will be available in stores March, 2011.

I am in the good company of 29 other fine woodworkers.  I’ve taken the list of chests and makers from the Taunton site and added links to the makers’ websites.

Waterfall Chest – Brian Sargent, New Hampshire
Bermudan Chest – Austin Kane Matheson, Maine
Red Leaf Chest – Michael Cullen, California
Plain and Simple – John McAlevy, Maine
A Chest for Life – Laura Mays, Ireland
Modern Lines – Libby Schrum, Maine
The Un-Chest – Robert Schultz, Wisconsin
Chest of Blankets – Richard Vaughan, Australia
Dogwood Blanket Chest – Craig Thibodeau, California
A Chest for Work – Terry Moore, New Hampshire
Little House – Peter Pierobon, British Columbia
Sea Chest – Mitch Ryerson, Massachusetts
A Boat Builder’s Chest – Ejler Hjorth-Westh, California
Flower Power – Brian Reid, Maine
Danika’s Chest – Ted Blachly, New Hampshire
Chest in the Round – Gregory Smith, California
Curly Cherry Classic – Charles Durfee, Maine
Celebrating Arts and Crafts – Darrell Peart, Washington
Alabama Man – J-P Vilkman, Finland
A Wedding Chest – Miguel Gómez-Ibáñez, Massachusetts
Cabinetmaking Traditions – Bruce Eaton, New Hampshire
Pilgrim Century – David Stenstrom, Maine
Function Meets Elegance – Shona Kinniburgh, Scotland
Wood That Flows – Peter Turner, Maine
Treasure Chest – Chris Wong, Canada
Simply Proportions – Liza Wheeler, Maine
Box of Blue – Garrett Hack, Vermont
Chest as Storyteller – Jeffrey Cooper, New Hampshire
Unexpected Details – Carol Bass, Maine
A Pair of Oak Chests – Stephen Lamont, United Kingdom

If you can help me find links for Roberts Schultz, Bruce Eaton, David Stenstrom, Liza Wheeler, or Carol Bass, or if you have any corrections or broken links to report, you can contact me at