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Artisan Spotlight: Shop Tour of Vesper Tools

by Kelley Bagby

Click on any picture to see a larger version.

I had the pleasure of visiting the workshop of Chris Vesper from Vesper Tools in Melbourne, Australia a few months back, and he was nice enough to give me a peek into the inner workings of an artisan tool maker shop.

The first thought I had when I walked into the Vesper workshop was that this is a man who is extremely dedicated to his craft. The shop isn't huge, but it appears to be extremely efficient, especially for having so many large machines that need to be accommodated for space. The various machines all seem to be oriented just so, and I can picture the work flowing through them on a daily basis.

At Highland we sell the Vesper Double Square , in a set that includes a dovetail blade, two 3-inch rulers and a 6-inch ruler (you can also buy the set without the 6 inch ruler if you prefer), but what customers really flock to Vesper Tool Works for are his gorgeous inlay tools. They are striking in pictures, but even more impressive in person.

Chris showed me the turret mill, a very universal machine for making general engineering parts. Chris uses it to mill out pockets for infills, dimension material, drill, ream, bore and much more.

Chris then introduced me to the enormous double ended pattern maker's disc sander he uses to clean up the infills as well as squaring off blocks of timber.

We made a stop at the Bandosawrus, Chris's world famous bandsaw that he bought when he was only 18 years old. It is quite large, quite old (built in the late 1870s), painted green, and a dedicated machine in this shop. Chris says it is the only bandsaw he owns, and he uses it regularly.

Next up was the large surface grinder, one of Chris's favorite machines and you can see why - it leaves a beautiful surface on every blade. All of the blades in Vesper Tools are ground on this machine, including bevel blades, tri-square blades and double square parts.

Once the blades are ground and the bodies are ready to go with their infills set, Chris uses the Deckel FP1 milling machine to create the extremely accurate slots in the bevel body and blade that allow them to line up exactly.

Above is the setup Chris uses to do all the laser engraving in-house.

Chris has a turning station set up to use whenever it may be needed.

This vise with 150mm wide jaws is used as a clamping device while assembling bevels.

This is Chris's precision toolroom lathe, used mainly for prototyping work and smaller production runs. Another of his favorites and a beautiful machine!

A Rockwell Hardness Tester is such a good thing to have in-house. Chris says that even though he doesn't use it every day, it is worth having so he doesn't need to "beg and plead and travel miles to test one simple little part" anymore. He uses it to confirm any contracted heat treatment he gets done, as well as for R&D or any time he needs to test hardness on some object.

The Mitutoyo optical projector is for calibrating and measuring all sorts of things. The little mastercut branded bookmark in the second picture is a nice thing to show people how it will measure a tiny hole diameter or similar on a screen.

And finally a couple of random shots around the shop as well as some additional works in progress.

After the tour of the shop, we head upstairs for a closer look at the area Chris (perhaps?) jokingly refers to as his 'mancave'. Complete with tool museum, woodworking book library including a few books of amazing plates he pulls out to show me, this mancave does a disservice to all other mancaves in the world by proving them woefully inadequate at their mancavey-ness. With a kitchenette and eating area within arms reach of the bookshelves and tool museum here, I can imagine many woodworkers who would dream of this being where they get to go every day.

The large book on the bookstand is The Engineer, a bound UK publication from the early 1870s. The other plate set of plates is Diderot, making needles and sewing pins.

Chris has a bit of a 'museum' up in the mancave of tools he has collected, tools he has developed over the years, and an impressive library of old and new woodworking and machining books. For a toolmaker, I can't imagine a more inspiring place to spend your downtime. Though I get the sense that Chris Vesper doesn't experience a lot of 'downtime'!

Also located upstairs is what Chris calls his 'panic room', a large closet with 4 inch thick insulated walls and door. In this room, Chris stores his tools in process, his timber that needs to be dehumidified and dried out, as well as parts that are ready-made and need to be assembled. Chris shows me a block of the Tasmanian Blackwood timber he uses for all the tools he makes at the standard level (as opposed to his signature level where you get to choose the wood featured in your infill or tool handle). Even at the basic level, the Blackwood is gorgeous - really spectacular grain.

I wish I had gotten more shots in the panic room but I did take a photo of the product Chris is restocking Highland with - 28 double squares ready to go.

It was a fascinating visit and tour - really informative to see how Chris approaches his work as well as inspiring in my own work. If only we could all find ways to filter out the random distractions of life the way Chris appears to have done, there would be a lot more getting done in this world. Or at least a lot more beautiful hand tools being made!

Vesper Tools Double Square Set

  • Made in Australia, this exquisite tool is machined from hardened steel, and features a spring loaded locking pin, a convenient 45° bevel on one end, and an anti-rotation mechanism to maintain the center pin's position while you switch blades.
  • A true pleasure to use, the odds are great that this versatile pocket size square will become the handiest tool in your shop.
  • The square is available with 3 widths of 3" stainless steel blades, or additionally with a 4th blade that is 6" in length.

Click here for more info

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