"Let's make a milling machine for
wood. You and I will manufacture it and start a little business,"
recalls John McConegly, about how his father-in-law -- John Ducate
Sr. -- propositioned him to start JDS Company
, back in the mid 1980s.
McConegly, JDS's president, says his
father-in-law always liked woodworking in the off hours when he
wasn't managing a large furnace manufacturing company in Columbia,
South Carolina. But Ducate was frustrated with mortise-and-tenon
joints and the mortising jigs of the time. They didn't satisfy his
machinist's sensibilities. He thought he could build a better
solution ... and he definitely wanted McConegly on board with the
For years prior, McConegly who was a
school teacher and football coach, resisted Ducate's offers to come
work for the family business. But the lure of a new opportunity --
and a new way to make joinery -- finally enticed him to change his
"My father-in-law and one of his
factory engineers, a really brilliant guy, made our first three-axis
mortising machine with a bunch of bolt-together parts. They took that
Multi-Router prototype to a woodworking trade show to see if it would
get any interest from the crowd. John told me one or two orders
wouldn't do it, but five or six would mean they were on to something.
They came back with 12 orders."
So Ducate cleared a corner of his
factory, pulled together a small group of his employees and set them
to work making Multi-Routers part-time. John moved his family to
Columbia, "and before I knew it I was assembling Multi-Routers,
too. And taking them to trade shows most every weekend of the year to
look for dealers and sell the machines. I wasn't a woodworker, but I
knew every nut, bolt and screw on that machine by heart. Being part
of the assembly line really helped!"
John spent about four years working the
trade show circuit to develop a dealer network. In the meantime, JDS
patented the Multi-Router's design. It uses a ball-bearing follower
to trace any of 26 different aluminum templates that cut mortises,
tenons, box joints or dovetails of various sizes and configurations.
An ordinary router, bolted to the machine, mills the wood with a
spiral end mill bit or router bit in the exact same cutting pattern the follower traces on the template.
The fledgling JDS Company contracted
with a small local foundry to make the aluminum castings that form a
Multi-Router's base and tilting table. Some finishing work on the
castings was initially done in-house at Ducate's factory, but
eventually that work was outsourced to a local machine shop, as was
the powder-coat painting process. All of the other machine parts came
from U.S. manufacturers and still do today. In fact, JDS continues to
contract with the original foundry that manufactures the rough
castings in batches of 25 Multi-Routers at a time. The machines are
assembled, adjusted for accuracy, packaged and shipped from JDS.
"We're committed to American
manufacturing for our Multi-Routers," John asserts.
McConegly says Ducate, who really
founded JDS Company, tried not to be a hands-on leader, but he made
sure that McConegly kept things running smoothly. He told me, "I'll
get this business started with you, and if you can make something of
it, it's yours from there."
That was 25 years ago now, and about
3,000 Multi-Routers later. When asked what makes the JDS Multi-Router
a tool that continues to build a loyal following, McConegly recalls
another early comment from Ducate that sums it up: "John, we've
got a belt AND suspenders product here." The reasoning:
essentially, the Multi-Router is constructed to last a lifetime. "We
use hardened-steel bearings and hardened-steel rods that control
movement along the three axes. Our joinery templates are thick
aluminum, heat treated after machining to eliminate warping. Even the
follower that tracks the templates is a bearing that rolls rather
than rubs against the template contact surfaces. There's just nothing
to wear out on it besides the cutting bits."
In addition to quality components,
McConegly also credits the tool's "phenomenal" original
design to its longevity. In more than two decades, JDS has only
modified it slightly once to improve the micro-adjustment. It is
otherwise unchanged from 1987.
But the Multi-Router isn't for every
budget; the machine without extras costs about $2,700. Templates are
sold separately for around $50 each. John wants end users to get the
templates that suit their needs and not those they'll never really
use, so the company doesn't offer package deals of machine and
Because the Multi-Router's pricing put
it out of range for many woodworkers, McConegly and Ducate thought it
prudent to expand the product line in the late '80's with another
quality tool that could be more budget-accessible. This time, the two
set out to reinvent table saw miter gauges which, at the time, were
generally inaccurate and cheaply made. "Our Accu-Miter Miter
Gauge, which uses a spring-loaded shot pin to lock in key detent
angles, was the very first precision miter gauge on the market."
It gained quick acclaim with woodworkers and helped to solidify JDS
as a quality woodworking tool manufacturer.
Then, in the mid 1990's, JDS launched a
new family of air filtration and dust collection products. The first
SKU, an ambient air filter, was a logical choice, because Ducate's
furnace company could manufacture them easily. "There were some
other ambient air filtration systems at the time, but ours was the
first available to retailers," McConegly recalls. From there,
JDS expanded into portable 1-1/2- to 3hp single-stage and cyclone
dust collectors about a decade ago.
Ducate has since sold his furnace
company and retired. McConegly and his son Johnny operate JDS, along
with a modest-sized staff. He calls the business "small and
lean," with an emphasis on quality products and customer
service. For instance, John says it's typical for him to spend an
hour or more on the phone with woodworkers helping them determine
their needs from a Multi-Router or consulting on the design of their
shop dust collection system. That's all in a day's work.
And what of the 25th anniversary?
McConegly says JDS "won't be blowing too many trumpets or
banging too many drums," but he's proud of where the company has
come over the years and what it stands for now, especially in terms of the
Multi-Router that started it all.
"So many of today's power tools
are disposable. As soon as the battery dies or the tool stops
working, into the trash it goes ... We stand behind a 25-year-old
machine with amazing versatility. It's truly something you will buy
only once and pass on to the next generation. There aren't many other
tools I can think of that offer that kind of potential these days. We
plan to keep it that way."