This weekend is the Woodworking America Conference in Ohio. I highly recommend you go. Yes the sessions may be sold out. But having attended the last two, I can tell you there’s a lot going on in the Marketplace that will be worth your while.
The people in the marketplace include some of the most knowledgeable folks in our craft. Their infomercials include more solid woodworking information than most books and videos on the subject. And that fact that you can ask questions and take test drives makes this by FAR the best buy in woodworking education.
Like other sorts of demonstrations, (I’m thinking of Colonial Williamsburg) you’ll get out of the Marketplace what you put into it. My advice is to get involved, ask questions, and try your best to annoy and needle the presenters. If you want to continue asking questions, making the presenters late for their sessions, at least volunteer to carry stuff!
Sometimes what you learn isn’t what you might think. So I have a few suggestions of topics you might want to ask different folks in the marketplace and a couple recommendations for folks not to miss. Remember; Since these folks are top notch, WIA uses them to teach so they won’t always be available. Give yourself all day at least to ensure you get to see and chat with everyone. You won’t be sorry.
Larry Williams makes hand planes. He may not be excited about revealing every step he uses, but he’s a fantastic source of information on practical heat treating, metallurgy, and sharpening. Want to know what grinder stone to buy? I’d ask Larry before you let Joel talk you into something.
One of my favorite woodworkers in the whole world is Chuck Bender. Chuck knows 18th c furniture inside and out. Chuck is THE guy to ask about basic 18th c structures. He’s recently been accepting students to his Acanthus workshop. Find out what classes Chuck is offering and make suggestions if he’s not offering what you are looking for.
Dave Jeske, of Blue Spruce Tool Works makes the only thin bench firmers made today. Thin chisels were once the norm. Ask to take one for a test drive. Everyone else there probably will as well so you’ll have the chance to check the edge retention of the tools Dave makes. I think Dave underestimates the capabilities of his chisels. I use similar chisels for all my chopping needs and I think the design is superior. But try it yourself and see what you think. Just ask him for tapered octagonal handles instead of those polished crank handles he puts on them!
In my opinion, LN’s Deneb Puchalski (the “c” is essentially silent, poo-HOW-ski) is the gold standard for woodworking infomercials. Deneb’s presentations are clear, concise, and impressive demonstrations of virtually anything you want to do with a hand tool. Each demo is as much a ww class as it is a demonstration of LN’s beautiful products. Ask him anything and he will demo it. I think these guys (LN) and the folks from LV are of the opinion that if you are into woodworking, it’s not if but when you will be a customer. So they are more than generous with their time. Take them up on it. (Just don’t elbow your way in front of the guy with his credit card out.)
Don’t miss the SAPFM booth and my friend Mike Siemsen. Here’s the story on the Hand Tool Olympics: There’s an old family tradition that wherever there are 2 sail boats, there is a race. My brother Steve has always had a good natured competitive spirit when he worked. He and I would race to see who could change a car’s brake pads the fastest for example. This was part of my family’s tradition of craft. Doing it quickly, silently, and perfectly was the goal whether it was landing a sail boat, or cooking dinner, or building something. In other families, the boys wrestle or play one on one basketball. We built or fixed things or drew pictures. It was all about craft in my house.
One year, many years ago, I brought some hand tools I had made to the Designer Craftsmen show. After the show I invited several furniture makers (including Chuck Bender) to my booth to see my tools and try out my saws. One of my favorites was a cross cutting back saw with what was then, a dramatically thin .025″ saw plate. It was a beauty. So all of us practiced cross cutting scrap wood I had brought for the purpose. Steve was there and quietly took his turn, but instead of mildly cutting off a hunk, he sliced a VERY thin uniform unbroken slice, from the board’s end. The gauntlet was thrown.
Wherever I demonstrated after that, I would challenge woodworkers to see if they could “Beat the Master”, by cutting a thinner more uniform slice than I could. It seems pointless and stupid, but in the context of a hand tool shop, it’s an excellent skill and a good lesson. In a normal shop, cutting a board to length is a simple matter of marking and pulling a trigger. But in a hand tool shop, planing end grain is not a great solution to removing 1/16″ from a board. But you can do this with a hand saw if you are very skilled. So what seems trivial in a shop with power tools, can not be taken for granted in a shop without them. It’s a powerful lesson, hidden in a silly, typically raucous game. Readers of mine shouldn’t be surprised by my inclusion of double meanings. I learned from the best.
At the first WiA, we played a rousing game (or 12) of beat the master. During one such game, I held my video camera (projecting its hi-def image on an 8′ movie screen) while the likes of Rob Lee played along, carefully sawing end grain. In the crowd was Mike Siemsen and Dean Jansa, woodworkers I only knew from SAPFM’s web forum. Mike is a great guy and I think “Beat the Master” inspired him. He took the basic idea and made it better, adding new events, creating the Hand Tool Olympics. He’s gotten folks to donate prizes and has worked very hard organizing it.
Let me sum up this long story this way: Go to the Marketplace to shop. Go to the Marketplace to learn. Take part in the Hand Tool Olympics. It reflects a decades old tradition in my family (competing in craft) and a ton of work by Mike and Dean who’ve gone to tremendous effort building saw horses and bringing tools a great distance. Don’t stand there like a knucklehead with your hands in your pockets, holding your LV bag, willing to watch but not try. If you stink, Dean or Mike or some new friend will help you.