Interview with Joel Moskowitz (Gramercy Tools)

The Kings County Hammer is a great example of a product designed for use and is a joy to look at too. Machined from tool steel, the hammers are differentially hardened and then given decorative Victorian inspired file work and an octagonal cross section hickory handle. The Gramercy Tools range of products have their home at Brooklyn’s Tools for Working Wood. We asked the founder of the company some questions.

Name: Joel Moskowitz

Lives: New York City

Education: The Cooper Union (Mechanical Engineering)

Career: Before TFWW, I was a programmer.

What do you do?

I own the company. Once upon a time TFWW was a one man band and I did everything. As we got bigger I have shed tasks. These days I personally do less and less design but I manage the design process.  As we have grown we are codifying the way we design stuff. We have meetings every two weeks and phases in the design process that we try to follow.  Right now we are doing preliminary investigation on about a dozen ideas to see which will go to the next steps as we focus on the new tools for the fall.  As we narrow the field I will be involved less and less in the process. I currently also do all the product management for outsourced products, write the website copy, and do the photography. I design and write all the software the business and website uses.  How did you go from being a programmer to founding TFWW/Gramercy Tools?  I have always been interested in tools and woodworking and the history of tools. So back in 1996 I when I needed to create a sample website to showcase my company’s website design abilities, the sample site we did was www.antiquetools.  com. We then added ecommerce a year later. Then I decided as a tiny consulting company we could not compete in the computer services business – and I thought the techno-bubble might burst – so I thought about selling tools full time. I began doing that in 2001. Deep down I wanted to make my own line of tools, so we took that on as soon as we could. Now Gramercy Tools and BT&C (Brooklyn Trade and Craft) form a huge percentage of our total sales and we are continuing to grow at a good pace. Being in NYC and wanting to manufacture in the US and Europe, we realized we needed to be at the high end of tools, which considering my own appreciation of high end tools made sense.

How would you describe the “Gramercy Tools” line of products? And how has your interest in woodworking/tool history informed their design? 

Gramercy Tools are tools that we design and either make or source (USA). With a few exceptions, these tools are sold exclusively through us. We consider these products our flagships. All of them reflect some new feature or more usually a reintroduction of an old feature that has been lost to time.  Our interest in history informs the design of our tools in many ways. For example, late 18th century dovetails saws are small and light, with a higher hang in the handle than mid 19th century saws. We were curious why this is the case. Until we built a prototype we didn’t understand how much easier it is to control a light saw than a heavier saw that influences the cut. The higher hang handle also makes the saw easier to control. The ergonomics of the tools are designed to help the user move their hands in the correct fashion for accurate cuts. But if that’s the case, why did the dovetail saw get heavier with a lower hang handle as the 19th century moved on? Further research showed that the term “dovetail saw” was applied to any short backsaw, most of which were used for cutting trim on construction sites, not dovetailing. That is why if you bought a “dovetail” saw by the 20th century it was heavy to stand up to job site abuse, deep in the cut for versatility, and filed crosscut for cutting trim (not rip as dovetail saws should be). We just rolled back the clock. Since we hand-file our saws, and do tons of hand operations in manufacture, it is easier in many cases to get that feeling of an 18th or 19th century design than if we dumbed it down to make the tools by machines. Our etch on the blades is a real acid etch – not a laser – so we get the same line quality as the great saw etches of the nineteenth century did.  The reason for sticking with a classic look is that part of the reason many people are attracted to woodwork: it’s a link to the past – something you don’t get using high tech tools, or streamlined tools made of plastic.

How have you managed to assemble a like minded team of people to design and develop and manufacture these tools?

We advertised on Craigslist. I interviewed a lot of people, looking for competence, smarts, and generally interesting, curious folks you want to work with. As it turned out, many are art school graduates.  Our designer, Timothy Corbett, has a background in sculpture and a real passion for tools and a feel for 19th century design and history. He also is a fine craftsman in his own right and set the bar pretty high for the very talented and dextrous people who actually make the tools.

Can you tell of any further plans for tool development?

Not really – we are instituting a formal design process and we are still in phase one for a lot of products.  Founded in 1999 Tools for Working Wood is located in the Bush Terminal Market, a giant warehouse facility built in 1907 to service the Brooklyn docks. Now also known as Industry City it is home to lots of warehouses and a fair number of woodworking shops.

www. toolsforworkingwood.com

Tools for Working Wood

32 33rd Street 5th floor

Brooklyn, NY 112 32

Hours 10- 5 Monday to Friday

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