Thursday, May 28, 2009

Tool Lovers Brace Yourself

A couple weeks ago we were in Chicago for a Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event at Jeff Miller's shop demonstrating the Benchcrafted Tail Vise and the new Glide Leg Vise. During the show a recent acquaintance showed up. His name is Slav Jelisejevich (that's pronounced "yell-ee-seh-YEH-vich).

I first heard about Slav from Woodworking Magazine's weblog. Chris Schwarz wrote a fascinating story about Slav a few years ago, and ever since I've been looking forward to meeting Slav.

Fast forward about three years. I'm in Berea, Kentucky at the Woodworking in America conference. I walk up to a small booth filled with plastic cafeteria trays chock full of NOS (new old stock) files, rasps, chisels, planes, you name it. Behind a small, ragged bench is a cheerful character working a board with an enormous rasp. It's Slav. The same fellow from Chris' story.

After introducing myself (that's Dave Jeske of Blue Spruce Toolworks thinning his wallet at Slav's booth), Slav treats me to an in-depth rasp and file tutorial. I'm fascinated, and walk away from his booth with almost $200 of NOS files and rasps. I have to admit I was pretty skeptical that I needed so many different varieties. But in the past year I have used every single file and rasp I bought from Slav on numerous occasions. The guy knows what he is talking about.

So back to Chicago and the Lie-Nielsen Event. Slav and I strike up a conversation and he invites us to his shop for pizza and beers. Later the same day, after we pack up our benches and lend a hand to the Lie-Nielsen crew, Chris Schwarz grabs me and says, "you're going to love Slav's".

Heading towards downtown Chicago, our GPS signals us to make a right off the main thoroughfare. We're immediately transported to old Chicago. The traffic literally vanishes. And I mean literally. There isn't another car or person within a 3 or 4 block radius. It's still, and surprisingly quiet. The street is lined with old brick warehouses as we get closer to Slav's. I feel as if we're driving through a small midwest town on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

As we get close to Slav's shop we see Slav waiting outside the door to the warehouse where his shop is located and he escorts us to the shop itself. At first glance, I know we're in for a treat. Slav points us to the pizza (which was fantastic) and cold beers, which after a long day on our feet we heartily devour. Slav invites us to wander freely and poke around. It's really too much to take in. There tools everywhere. Rules, saws, machinery, planes, files. And a lot of it is for sale. (Slav is an effective low-pressure salesman, and I found that purchasing tools was almost irresistible).

But some of the stuff is from Slav's own tool collection, which includes tools new and old. And a lot of NOS tools that have never seen the light of day.

Here's one of many racks of old planes and plane irons.

Old levels housed in a vintage hardware store display case.

Display cases of old machinist tools, boxwood rules, Lufkin tape measures, and lots of other stuff that you'd have to stare at long and hard to discover.

Slav's collection of old miter-box saws, hanging above some of his veneer stock.

Slav was kind enough to show us his personal everyday-use tool cabinet. These are some of his chisels. Slav not only sells tools, but is also an accomplished furniture and cabinetmaker. This is a working shop. When we stopped, Slav was working on a teak kitchen island destined for a condominium with a view of lake Michigan. Some of Slav's past work can be seen around the shop. I noticed a nicely dovetailed bird's-eye maple wall cabinet with ebony beading. Slav has also been published in Fine Woodworking's Design Book series.

A large mortising chisel.

Slav's everyday tools include several infill planes. Here I'm looking over a couple Norris shoulder planes infilled with rosewood, as Ron Brese examines a Norris smoother.

A Norris smoothing plane.

A Wayne Anderson smoothing plane.

Another Wayne Anderson plane. This little plane was incredibly comfortable. Peeking in from the left is an incredible brass bull nose shoulder plane.

Slav also has a good collection of vintage iron. These Delta machines were in fine condition and ran like a top. Slav was in the middle of refurbishing several old Delta drill presses when we stopped by.

We were at Slav's for a couple of hours, but I felt like we only scratched the surface. Slav's tool collection can only be topped by his kindness and hospitality. Thanks, Slav!

If you're in need of old files or rasps (or something else), contact Slav at Mustang Design 312-455-0430.


  1. Shops like that--ones that are stuffed with tools and wood--are so much fun to poke around in. I can see why you had a great time.

  2. Kari, I'm sure Slav would be glad to show you the shop next time you're in the Chicagoland area. Maybe at WIA?!


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