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The 2011 Woodworking in America conference starts in less than a month, and we’ve now secured all the fabulous prizes (and they are truly fabulous – I wish I were eligible to win!) for this year’s Hand Tool Olympics. (And we’re still taking full-conference registrations – click on the link above to sign up!)

The Hand Tool Olympics were conceived of and organized by Mike Siemsen (owner of Mike Siemsen’s School of Woodworking; he’s the fellow on the right side of the picture) and every year the games are staffed by volunteers from the Minnesota chapter of the Society of American Period Furniture Makers (SAPFM). They’ll be on hand to monitor and score each event – but they’re also happy to teach newcomers to the craft how to cut dovetails, how to use a jointer plane, how to properly hold a handsaw – in short, everything you need to participate. And SAPFM members will also have some gorgeous works and works in progress on display in their adjoining booth.

The Olympics are open to everyone who visits the Marketplace, whether you’re a full-conference attendee or a Marketplace visitor. And children are strongly encouraged to participate – I most like watching the kids give it a go, because they usually have no fear of failure (wish I could recapture that lost part of my youth).

In case you’re new to this annual WIA event, here’s how it works. All participants use the same tools for a given event – and we give those very tools to the event winners and to randomly selected participants in each event at the close of the Olympics on Saturday evening (but you need not be present to take home a prize – we’ll mail prizes to winners as needed). That way, no one gets an unfair advantage by using his or her own tools – and everyone gets to try some tools they might not have had their hands on before.

The person who scores highest in each event is declared the winner. Plus, just for competing in an event, your name is entered in a drawing to also win one of the tools. And the prize tools are, as always, well worth winning. Below, you’ll find information about each event, and the tools you could win (and many thanks to the kind folk and companies that donated this year’s Hand Tool Olympics tools and prizes).

One Meter Dash. Step away from your table saw. Each contestant is required to accurately rip a 36″ piece of 1×12 stock using a ripcut panel saw. This event is judged mainly on time, with points deducted for going way off the line. (A kinked saw will result in immediate disqualification.) For this event, you’ll be using 26″ ripsaws. The event winner and the random-drawing winner will each get a shiny new Lie-Nielsen Toolworks 7 points-per-inch panel saw filed for ripcuts, donated by Lie-Nielsen.

Shooting Sports. Use a jointer plane to straighten and square the edge created during the One Meter Dash. That’s right, you have to do it completely by hand. Judging, with a test bar of aluminum, a feeler gauge and an engineer’s square, is for straightness and accuracy. For this event, you’ll be using shiny new Veritas bevel-up jointer planes donated by Veritas/Lee Valley. Veritas jointer planes will be awarded to the event winner and a random-drawing winner.

Crosscut Extravaganza. Channel your inner square to accurately crosscut a piece of 1×12 lumber. This event is judged mainly for time with points deducted for going way off the line. (A kinked saw will result in immediate disqualification.) For this event, you’ll be using refurbished, expertly filed and sharpened crosscut panel saws donated by WIA speaker and saw sharpener extraordinaire Ron Herman of Antiquity Builders of Ohio (the guy pictured in the top picture at left). Ron’s crosscut panel saws will be awarded to the event winner and a random-drawing winner. (I don’t have a picture of these yet, but if you’ve watched Ron’s saw sharpening video, you know these will be saws well-worth using – and well worth winning!)

Brace Yourself For a Hole in One.  The challenge: Bore a 3/4″ hole in a plank, straight and square to the surface of the plank – it’s not boring at all! Judged for speed. Points off for major blowouts on the backside and any degrees out of square. For this event, you’ll be using expertly reconditioned braces and bits supplied by Ron Herman. Ron’s braces will be awarded to the event winner and a random-drawing winner. (Again, no picture to share here – but Ron keeps his tools in top working condition, so you know these are good braces).

Pins First or Tails First. You can cut your dovetails either way – we’ll keep track of which approach is more popular. Either way, you have to complete a well-fit three-pin dovetail joint on a 1×4, using hand tools. Judging is somewhat subjective (but playing cards are used to fill any gaps – the more playing cards it takes, the more points off). If the competition gets close, we may call in a jury. For this event, you’ll be using 9″ Gramercy Tools dovetail saws donated by Tools for Working Wood, and chisels, mallets and marking knives from the Popular Woodworking Magazine shop. Gramercy Tools dovetails saws will be awarded to the event winner and a random-drawing winner.

Greco-Roman Tenons. Produce a 3″-long, 3/4″-thick tenon on the end of a piece of 2×4 stock. Your attempt has to fit into a provided test mortise. This event is judged for time and quality, with some latitude allowed if the tenon is a bit tight, because most tenons are handplaned to final fit. For this event, you’ll be using 16″ tenon saws (filed 12-pitch and optimized for hybrid cuts) donated by Bad Axe Tool Works.

Plus, we hear there will be a special, non-scored event for those who wish to try out a frame saw revived from André Roubo’s “L’Art du Menuisier.”

Again, many thanks to all our kind Hand Tool Olympics sponsors for their tool donations: Lie-Nielsen Toolworks, Lee Valley & Veritas, Ron Herman, Tools for Working Wood/Gramercy Tools and Bad Axe Tool Works. Stop by the HTO booth in the Marketplace at Woodworking in America 2011, say hello to Mike Siemsen and the volunteers from the Minnesota chapter of SAPFM, and join in the fun! The conference is Sept. 30-Oct. 2 at the Northern Kentucky Convention Center; the Marketplace is open Friday and Saturday, and the Olympics are open during Marketplace hours.

– Megan Fitzpatrick

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Showing 8 comments
  • renaissanceww

    You mean we have to use a 20″, 7 ppi panel saw to cut a 2x thick piece??? Whether it is Pine or not, that’s just not right. I guess people did it too fast last year so they are going to make us work with a small over pitched saw.

  • Jonathan Szczepanski

    I’ll wait for the year that you need to use a ryoba or dozuki. Then maybe I’ll have a fighting chance.


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