Making Chopsticks at Bridge City Toolworks

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In preparation for a recent trade show in China, John Economaki of Bridge City Toolworks had a nutty idea for a gimmick in his booth: a planing jig for making chopsticks.

As it turned out, people lined up at the show for a chance to make perfectly planed chopsticks at the show.

“I hit on something very deep in the Chinese culture,” John says during a chat in his office. “I have never seen so much joy in my entire life.”

Kids, women and adults of all ages used his little tabletop jigs to make the perfect tapering sticks that end in a petite tapered octagon. Then they used one of the Bridge City Jointmaker Pros to saw a pyramid shape at the top.

What started as a fun idea – almost a bit of a joke – is headed into production. The Chopstick Master is, like all Bridge City tools, a cunning invention from Economaki’s restless mind. And after he told me about the jig over dinner last week, I knew I had to stop at his Portland, Ore., office on my way to the airport to make a pair of chopsticks.

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The chopsticks start as a pair of straight, square-section sticks, padauk in this case. Then they are wedged into the jig to bend the wood on a diagonal into a shallow S-shape.

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Why? Because of the block plane used in the jig. Thanks to the skewed, slightly bent chopstick you can use the entire width of the iron while planing the chopstick to its initial tapered shape. That reduces sharpening.

Also cool are the plane’s two depth skids that poke out from the side of the plane like a catamaran. The skids capture the plane on a track and control the cutting action. When the plane stops cutting, you are done with that operation.

It is very difficult to mess up the process. Here’s what it’s like:

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You number each face of the stick one through four and wedge the stick in the jig with No. 1 facing up. Plane face No. 1 and then plane face No. 2 in the same manner.

Then you turn a knob on the side of the jig to change the pitch of its bed and plane sides No. 3 and 4. You have just created a perfect tapered stick.

Then you drop the stick into the V-shaped notch in the jig, which then shows the four corners of the chopstick to the plane. Then you plane away and create a tiny, perfect octagon on the last four inches or so of the chopstick.

You are done. Time elapsed (with instruction from the maker) about 5 minutes. I then cut a small pyramid shape on the top of each chopstick using the Jointmaker Pro and broke the edges with a small piece of fine sandpaper.

Totally brilliant.

If you are interested in being notified about the development of the Chopstick Master, go to ChopstickMaster.com. Economaki is working out the details of manufacturing and pricing – but I think you are going to be amazed at the price (including the plane). I’ll get one –to have it at my next dinner party and try to hook a few people into woodworking.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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11 Responses to Making Chopsticks at Bridge City Toolworks

  1. Great concept, with a neat story. Hope it sells well. 🙂

  2. Bill Harris says:

    I suppose it would depend upon what types of wood were used, but what finishes would be best? Would a natural tung oil be best, or one of the best? Also, would some woods like cocobolo and ebony work just as well without a finish, due to their oiliness? Thank you
    As stated, good report

  3. abtuser says:

    I lived in Japan a short while and decorative chopsticks are/were the rage, I have several myself. I’d love to make some.

  4. Bridge City really has developed a niche.

  5. Brian Clites says:

    Awesome jig John! And thanks for sharing Chris.

  6. This is a Chopstick skottbenk😀 👍

  7. Bob Jones says:

    Looks like a good project for kids. Could this be the new birdhouse? 🙂

  8. ninthwavedesigns says:

    The sign up form on the http://chopstickmaster.com/comingsoon/ page isn’t working – and no other way there to notify them, so I hope you don’t mind me mentioning it here. Thanks!

  9. The site is officially launching tomorrow, April 15. The sign up form will be fully functioning by then. @ninthwavedesigns

    Thanks for the fantastic post and sneak preview, Chris!

  10. tsstahl says:

    I was waiting for the hook…”BUT WAIT, there’s more!”. 🙂

    Quite happy with an aluminum square I recently purchased from Bridge City.

  11. potomacker says:

    Economaki was telling me that he didn’t know how the Chinese, who can be very touchy as to their culture, would receive the idea of an American showing them how to make chopsticks. But it was an unqualified crowdpleaser during the full length of the tradeshow. He was the only demonstrator who gave away items to attendees so that is a credit to his marketing prowess. Additionally, there is such a lack of opportunities for Chinese to learn about handicrafts that they could ignore, for those few days, the history of humiliation of the Chinese people at the hands of western powers was put on hold if just to pass a plane over a a stick of wood.

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