over the last little while, i have seen a raft of glowing reviews of the jointmaker pro by bridge city. i have to admit, when i first saw this thing i thought it was the most stupid tool i could possibly imagine. a tablesaw for people who didn’t want to actually use a tablesaw because they were so judgmental of using electricity they’d actually spend this kind of money on a ridiculous piece of junk. but people kept telling me it was wonderful and to give it a chance. i assumed i had to be missing something important. and bridge city makes it. if you don’t know bridge city, i don’t blame you. they’re one of those companies that makes amazingly high-quality tools and sells them at prices that are beyond ridiculous so nobody actually ever owns one. it’s like an infill plane from a custom plane-maker. it might be amazing but it’s irrelevant because you can get a veritas custom smoother for a few hundred bucks and that’ll blow it out of the water anyway or you can pick up an old stanley for twenty at a flea market, spend the afternoon with a wire wheel and diamond stones and you’ve got something that’ll get you awesome results and you’ve still got enough extra left over to buy a used car.
you know the stanley 55 combination plane. everyone knows it. it looks incredibly complex and like it will give you an absolutely stunning range of options to cut intricate edge details and joinery. and it will. but there’s a reason there are so many of them floating around in mint condition in their original boxes. joiners saved up their hard-earned cash and got taken in by the marketing that this would save them time and effort and give them easily-repeatable results with high-quality cutters and such. and it was excellent quality. but it is cumbersome, twitchy and incredibly time-consuming. it was everything stanley said it was. and here’s the obvious comparison. a tool company with an excellent reputation makes an overly-complex tool for people who value simplicity and direct action, give the thing a thousand options and the power to do everything from find your lost cat to parallel-park your pickup in a narrow space. so what you end up with is an incredibly-costly but useless tool. now, if you’re a handtool-only woodworker, you might love your stanley 55. and the 55 is incredible if you look at what it can do and how fast it can do it once you get it set up. but realistically it’s no match for a makita or bosch powered hand router. if you can pick one up cheap (and you often can) or one of its baby siblings (the 50 is surprisingly useful and you can get one for under fifty bucks a lot of the time if you’re patient), it might be worth it if you really hate the electrons flying all over your shop. and this is where the comparison breaks down. the jointmaker pro is useless. i’l go into details in a minute as to why. but here’s the upshot. if you want a good quality tool to do the things it’s meant to do, buy a tablesaw. any tablesaw. even that cheap one on amazon. but really if you want to do a bunch of this stuff, get a nice tablesaw that’s within your budget and you’ll be happy. or don’t. do it by hand with a handsaw. but in the name of all that is sacred and holy, don’t buy this tool. it gets my vote without question for the most stupid addition to the world of woodworking since the extra four legs on the eight-legged roman workbench — not just useless but mindless.
i just want to be clear on one other thing. this isn’t a review of all the products bridge city makes. as far as i am aware and from what i’ve tried they have absolutely stunning build quality and their tools are generally well-thought-out and worth using if you have a chance. so if you want to give them a grand or two of your money, you’ll probably be pretty happy with what you get. as long as it’s not this tool. so what’s it supposed to do? it’s supposed to be a tablesaw without the power. how? well, let’s get specific.
it has a sliding carriage that rides over a stationary blade, the way a sliding tablesaw carriage travels across a spinning blade. and that’s exactly how you can think about it. whatever you want to do, you secure your workpiece to the fence on the carriage and run it across a sharp saw blade. the saw can be raised and lowered and you can do angles, even compound ones. and all of this would sound amazingly useful and helpful if we were in the eighteenth century — it’s exactly the kind of thing that would have revolutionized the lives of people in colonial williamsburg. but this would be the same as getting all hot and bothered about a trip to the next village over the day after you got back from the international space station. it’s a few hundred years too late and an idea whose time came, left, had a long and happy retirement before being buried in the county cemetery. it’s been there, a corpse, for a couple of centuries now. until someone decided to dig it up and pretend it wasn’t a little … shall we say, less than at its best?
so is it brilliant or useless? and does time determine that? well, yes. it has the potential to be both but it’s most certainly one of those cases of a missed opportunity. let’s take a look for a second at who the target audience is. if you are part of this audience, this might be a tool for you. but i suspect if you’re a member of that audience you are not reading my review in the first place because i’ve generally been pretty hostile to that audience all along. this isn’t a tool for the casual handtool woodworker. it’s not a tool for the hybrid woodworker. it’s most certainly not the crossover tool for the predominantly-powertool woodworker. the target audience is people who think they’re better than everyone else because they do everything by hand — milling, ripping, resawing, joinery, finishing. the kind of people who don’t use sandpaper not because they like a scraped or planed surface but because they think it’s ethically wrong. in other words, it’s for that all-too-large group in the woodworking community that we can refer to as handtool snobs. now i’m a handtool-friendly woodworker. and i’m a teacher. i use handtools every day and my bench (even my temporary bench!) is littered with saws and chisels at this moment. there’s a dozuki sitting here on the desk right next to me. so i’m not anti-handtool by any stretch of the imagination. and i have some almost-completely-handtool friends. take james wright, for example. he’s got a handtool-only channel. and while i don’t know him personally, you can look at rex krueger for something quite similar with a slightly different focus. but these aren’t people who think they’re better because they don’t use powertools. they’re people who want to get the job done and enjoy the process. they enjoy doing things by hand. usually freehand.
i’m not quite like that. i like jigs and fixtures and guides. but i’m a japanese woodworker. and we do guide blocks and tracking channels and such all the time. it’s not anachronistic. it’s just the way it is. less complex tools, far more guides to use them, generally higher expectation of accuracy in places it doesn’t technically matter. a discussion for another day, though, i suspect. but the point is i don’t actually know anyone who does things by hand because they’re anti-powertools. this, however, is a tool designed for them.
it has all the complexity and guides of a tablesaw (a tiny tablesaw, by the way, making it almost completely useless unless you’re making small boxes or baby furniture — and i guarantee you matt kenney doesn’t want one of these useless piles of excrement) with all the effort of using a hand saw. but you never actually use the saw. you use the … sliding carriage? i can’t imagine any handtool woodworker getting particularly excited to go out into the shop to fiddle with a carriage. saw some wood? definitely. chisel a mortise? absolutely. run a carriage back and forth across an adjustable blade? come on. you’ve got to be kidding me. this isn’t the freedom-and-no-safety-nets handtool life we all know and love.
anyway, i’ve been rather postponing this. not because i don’t like posting negative reviews. i do it for books all the time (i even have a whole series devoted to books that are well-known enough to end up on school and college curriculums but so shitty they should be dissolved in acid to remove all traces of their existence — with a particular emphasis on why we should stop teaching shakespeare to children, for fuck’s sake, in the twenty-first century). but i try to be balanced so this should now be followed by a review of an absolutely amazing tool you really should spend your money on. and it’s not a japanese saw. it is, however, something that cuts wood and comes from japan, the makita lxt cordless trim router. it might not be the best, most useful tool of the last century. but it’s a game-changer as far as template-driven furniture design is concerned in ways i never thought possible. and we’ll talk about using a cnc. so if you’re a handtool snob, this won’t be the post for you. but if you’re a handtool snob, you’ve already become too angry at me for shitting all over the jointmaker pro to be reading this far in the article, anyway. if, however, like me, you’re a lover of handtools and you want to get the most out of your shop, mixing methods and traditions along the way as needed for the best results? come along. we have something to take for a spin.
until then, i’ll leave you with three pieces of advice. that saw you’re thinking of buying? just get it already. pick up a nice smoothing plane, whether japanese or western — i suggest the veritas — and set it up, take a few slices and find your zen. and don’t even give this useless tool another thought. thanks for reading!