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WIA 2013 Hand Tool OlympicsWoodworking in America 2013 (WIA) has come and gone, but we have so many fond memories. For me some of the best memories each year come from the Hand Tool Olympics. If you have not been to WIA in the past and have no idea what the Hand Tool Olympics are, you are really missing out on the fun. And if you’ve been to WIA and have not participated in the Hand Tool Olympics send me your name so I can drag you there next year.

Each year the Olympics happen in the Market Place at WIA and is headed up by Mike Siemsen and the folks from the Society of American Period Furniture Makers (SAPFM). The Olympics consist of several events run throughout each day that the Market Place is open (Friday and Saturday.) There’s everything from ripping and crosscutting boards with the appropriate handsaw to cutting dovetails (my personal favorite). The events are usually timed, with appropriate penalties for inaccuracy and (best of all) there are prizes.

The editors here at Popular Woodworking Magazine want to take time to thank the companies and individuals who donated tools that were given away as prizes, and recognize the winners of each event. There was also a raffle for prizes, and the only requirement to enter is to give an event a try – even if you aren’t the fastest or most accurate hole driller, you can still walk away with a great prize.

In the “Shooting Sports” event, participants had to use one of the Veritas jointer planes from Lee Valley Tools to straighten the edge of a board. Lee Valley donated two of the planes to be used then given away as prizes; one for the winner of the event and another as a raffle prize. This year’s winner was Regis Will and the raffle winner was James Powell.

While the “Brace Yourself for a Hole in One” event sounds more like something found at a golf tournament, participants actually used braces (supplied by Ron Herman) and spoon bits (supplied by Tools For Working Wood) to drill a hole through a board. Not only did the participants have to drill fast but they had to drill straight. This year Neil Cronkite took the honors leaving with both a brace and spoon bit. Andrew Detloff won the same prize in the raffle.

The “One Meter Dash” saw contestants ripping a board as accurately as they could while attempting to do it quickly. Phillip Day took home the Walnut Handle Thomas Flinn PAX Rip saw supplied by The Best Things. All I can say is, man that was fast. Our raffle winner, who was also quite fast, was Charles Lankford.

I tried the “Crosscut Extravaganza” this year after being challenged by one of the conference attendees. The object was simple, cut the end off a board and do it so the cut is straight and square all while shooting for the shortest time. The Lie-Nielsen crosscut saw certainly makes that easy. This is certainly one fun event as our winner, Bradly Healton and our raffle winner, Pam Day, can attest.

“Pins First or Tails First” gave participants the opportunity to use Bad Axe Tool Works saws, Springwood Industries mallets and Wood River chisels (supplied by Popular Woodworking Magazine) to cut their best dovetails in the shortest time they could muster. This year Simon Stark kicked up his performance and took home the complete dovetailing kit with Frank Vucolo winning the raffle. (What’s with Central Jersey Woodworkers Association taking the dovetail prizes?)

The final event was “Greco – Roman Tenons.” Mark Harrell stepped up to the plate again supplying two of his awesome Bad Axe Tool Works 14″ sash saws for contestants to use. The object of this event was simple, cut a tenon to fit into a pre-cut mortise. Simple, right? Evidently Mike Stelts had no trouble with it because he took home the Bad Axe saw. Robert Chan also won a saw in the raffle.

Our overall winner of this year’s Hand Tool Olympics not only gets bragging rights but, Aaron Marshall gets free pass to go to Woodworking in America 2014. As you can see, it pays to practice those hand tool skills. I’ll be looking for Aaron next year and making sure I’m not trying my hand at the events when he’s anywhere near the booth.

We can’t thank Mike Siemsen and crew, Lee Valley, Lie-Nielsen, Bad Axe Tool Works, The Best Things, Tools for Working Wood and Ron Herman enough for their time, effort and donations to this great event. Without their participation one of the high points of any Woodworking in America Conference would not exist.

If you are on the fence about coming to WIA next year, the Hand Tool Olympics are reason enough to make the trek. It’s tons of fun. You get to learn new skills (Mike and crew are happy to help by giving pointers) and make new friends. You can win some amazing prizes and push your skills beyond their limits at the same time. And did I mention it’s lots of fun?

— Chuck Bender

P.S. – I owe Regis Will an apology. I was given his name as Will Regis (which is what I originally put into this post). It is all fixed now and Regis’ ability to work a plane obviously far exceeds Will’s. Congrats again Regis.


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Showing 5 comments
  • msiemsen

    We would be happy to accomodate guild competitions. With a group it is best to have a different person on your team do each event. You are also welcome to call somebody out for a competition. We set up 2 stations and you go head to head. Many thanks to Popular Woodworking and the vendors who donated prizes!

  • Frank Vucolo


    Didn’t you know that New Jersey is the dovetail state?
    I just got lucky winning the drawing but Simon really earned it. I should note, too, that Simon has won the Dovetailing Competition at HTO two of the last four years!

    Got me thinking. I wonder if there’s a way to do a club/guild competition at the HTO????


  • renaissanceww

    It was a blast, always my favorite part of the show. Lots of good teaching going on too and people trying new things. I can attest that neither of my WoodTalk co-hosts participated in the Olympics so I’m leaving that tidbit in your capable hands for next year. 😉

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