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JOEL Joel's Blog

It Was 25 Years Ago Today!


It Was 25 Years Ago Today! 1

In 1996, I quit my job and with a partner started a computer consulting company. In 1997 we set up the Museum of Woodworking Tools as a demonstration of the websites we could build for clients. We picked tools because we needed content for our demonstration site, and this was a subject for which I could do a deep, deep dive.

In 1998 we added a very primitive e-commerce portion to the site to show that we could also sell stuff, aka the Museum's gift shop. By the end of 1998, my business partner and I decided to split up the business. I took full custody of the museum in the breakup. In January 1999, my girlfriend (now wife) Sally talked me into a trip to Vietnam, and that was pretty exciting. When we got back in early February, I knuckled down and redid the primitive store to something professional (including a museum exhibit about Vietnamese woodworking). And 25 years ago today, April 1st 1999, Tools For Working Wood went live.

Initially we mostly sold books about tools and a few brands of quality traditional tools. Above is a snapshot of our first page courtesy of the Wayback Machine. By today's standards, it's pretty primitive, but to be fair, back in 1999 most websites were pretty primitive. The fact it worked at all was pretty amazing. The first order for which I have a record for came in on April 6th for four books. The second order came in the next day, April 7th, also for books. Then it was two days more before another order came in. At that point we just didn't have that many tools. I still had a regular computer job, so I would go to work during the day and then in the evening I would work on the website and then pack the occasional order. Once in awhile I would have to go the next day to the post office. As the business expanded throughout 1999, more tools arrived. Some were stored the bedroom closet, some went under the sofa in the living room, some just got piled in the corner (hopefully no one would notice them). Sally and I moved to our current apartment and got married in early 2001 and I started working full time for Tools for Working Wood. By summer of 2001 I was basically making a daily trip to the post office with a little shopping cart full of packages. But I also finally had a deal and FedEx came to my apartment to pick up more packages. We had no venture capital. Sally kept her day job and without this financial support and emotional encouragement I would never been able to get out of the starting gate.
In 2002 we moved to our first real location, an office on 20th street not far from Gramercy Park (memorialized in our the name Gramercy Tools). The place had shelving left over from the previous tenant. Over a weekend or two we moved all the tools to the new place using a big shopping cart and many trips. It was great to get our home back to being our home. The next few years were ones of intensive growth, and the beginnings of making tools. We outgrew our Manhattan office by 2007 and found affordable space in Brooklyn. The move to Brooklyn was when I started this very blog. Here is the first entry about the move. I am happy to say that a quarter century after we started, we are older but still going strong. I can't tell you what the future will bring. I know that woodworking has changed over the years. Certainly activities like spoon-carving and chairmaking are more popular than ever. Our customers are increasingly building modern furniture, but the talent we see in traditional skills continues to amaze me.

Manufacturing tools was always my dream, and we started with our holdfasts, which had to outsource because of the size of the press needed. But even in Manhattan in our tiny little space, we started making our first tools. And that's always been exciting. I've seen our customer base grow up, retire, change, and new people come into the business. It's all exciting. I don't think I'm ever be tired of seeing new people start making things. Or the excitement people get when they get some new tool or toy. It's been 25 years. We owe a lot of debt to friends of ours who helped us in the early days and vendors who sold to us for no reason other than we seemed reasonable. Also we have a great debt to the staff members here, who make the tools, design the tools and packaging, pack the tools, sell the tools. Many of our the employees have been here for years. Without their efforts we would have a fallen apart years ago. And finally I've got to thank our customers. Customers who have the faith that we would follow through. Loyal customers come back again and again and again. Without customers we wouldn't have anything.
Happy anniversary!
Join the conversation
04/01/2024 Sue Tolleson-Rinehart
Happy Anniversary, and here is to the next 25!
04/01/2024 Dave Polaschek
Congratulations! The first 25 years are the hardest? ;-)
04/01/2024 Jason
Happy Anniversary TFWW!!! I am always very appreciative for folks like you that make tools that nobody else does. If the person (you guys in this case) doesn't make it, it wouldn't exist, and I appreciate that, so thank you!
04/01/2024 Joe Maday
Happy 25th Anniversary! Never thought it was that long ago. some ways it's been like TFWW always existed...a "go to" supplier for tools, supplies, extras and information...I remember shopping at the original store after spending some time at the Salmagundi club.....Congratulations on all the years of fine customer service....
04/01/2024 Hubert
Happy Anniversary. I remember going to Gramercy to look at and buy tools. It was the only real woodworking store around for anyone living in NYC. I believe I bought my first set of real chisels from there. It would be nice to see it again if you have any old pictures, maybe you could post some of them for nostalgic reasons. Thank you for everything you do.
04/01/2024 Willy Benis
Happy Anniversary and thanks for all that you do!
04/01/2024 Jim Ryan
Your blog brought back a lot of memories. I could never figure out what the museum of tools was all about. I visited your second location many times. You did not mention you decision to stop publishing a paper catalog. When I read that I thought you were nuts even though your reasons sounded good. I think that you were the first woodworking tool company to do this. Time has proved you right. I really appreciate your fast service. When I am ready to start a project and just realized that the expiration date on my Old Brown Glue has long past I know I can get it from you the next day.
04/01/2024 Jim Ryan
After I posted my comments I realized that I forgot something important. I always thought that a good way to support a great company like Tools For Working Wood is to order any Festool tool or accessories from Tools For Working Wood. The price is the same everywhere.
04/01/2024 Kim Sellergren
A beautiful, well-made hand tool is, to those of us who love these things, a "Thing of beauty and a joy forever." Quality tools are to be admired, maintained, and used to make other beautiful things. They are the opposite of much of our "throw away" society. They can last for a hundred years, and be passed on for multiple generations. No wonder the Japanese believe that some tools embody the soul of the maker. Please keep making and distributing these important works for at least another 25 years.
04/01/2024 Michael W Rodgers
Great story. I always appreciate and admire people who have the courage to go into business for themselves. I cannot remember the first tool that I bought from you, but my shop is full of them. Great customer service and a commitment to quality products are what I appreciate about TFWW. Happy Anniversary!
04/01/2024 George
Happy 25 TFWW! Love everything you do and your Brooklyn shop. Wish I lived closer than 3000 miles away.
04/02/2024 Vincent
Ha, a day late, but happy web anniversary!

I never knew the museum for woodworking tools site was also by you! I’ve looked at the Vietnam woodworking portions for a a little over a year now for different frame saw designs, wishing I could visit to purchase some hand forged carving gouges and chisels and just learning how woodworking was done in 1990’s Vietnam.
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The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the blog's author and guests and in no way reflect the views of Tools for Working Wood.