Master Toolsmith Teams Up with Micronesian Carvers

Master toolsmith Jim Wester of Waldron Island, Washington is teaming up with the traditional carvers of the Waa'gey arts and crafts project in Yap State, Micronesia

Wester has spent over two and half decades creating high quality custom tools and blades in the Pacific Northwest. He is now crafting specialized Adze blades for the Waa'gey carvers in order to improve the speed and safety of their work.

Adzes are a traditional tool used for carving or smoothing rough-cut wood in hand woodworking. They are most often used for squaring up logs, or for hollowing out timber. Long ago islanders in the Central Pacific used shell, coral, and sometimes even stones, for the blades of their woodened handled adzes.

Contact with the Spanish in the sixteenth century saw the introduction of metal blades. Still, the specific size, shape, and material requirements for blades that would work within the handle and use parameters set by the islanders necessitated local modifications and re-configuration of the metal.

Carvers in the Waa'gey canoe project still employ scrap metal -such as old truck suspension springs- to make the blades, but are strictly limited by the limitations of these materials. Wester, who has been making customized blades for traditional and modern carvers around the world since 1987, is helping to change that.

Late in 2012, the US-based charity Habele ordered several large adze blades from Wester's North Bay Forge and donated them to the Waa'gey program. "The blade are by far the best quality the guys here have ever seen," explained Larry Raigetal who organizes the Waa'gey sailing canoe operation in Yap.

Working with Waa'gey and the Habele donors, Wester is now embarking on a much larger work order. He is special ordering high quality steel as the carvers in Yap provide him with exact details of the size, shape, curvature and weight they need for their adze blades to sync with the handles they'll create for them.

"This is pretty exciting," said Wester about the partnership with Waa'gey Canoe Carvers. "Boat building [here in the Pacific Northwest] is actually what got me started in blacksmithing."