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I’ve had my head plunged deep into the cracker barrel of the 19th century this year while working on the forthcoming book “The Joiner and Cabinet Maker.”

One of the things I really like about writing books is the research. I have, for example, learned more about the history of pencils this year than during any other period in my life. In fact, I’m considering making some for my own amusement if I can get some graphite from Cumbria.

Of course, all this research has also made me one of the most boring people to be around in our neighborhood.

During my research I’ve also become fascinated with the benevolent societies of the 18th and 19th centuries. These were, in essence, clubs that had several aspects to them. They would provide insurance in case you died or your tools were stolen. They provided a social network , there are many accounts of parades and celebrations (think Shriners with sharp tools). And these groups sought to further their education. Many of these societies hosted traveling lecturers to speak on the craft.

So this morning I’m cleaning off my 350-pound French workbench to load it into the truck for Valley Forge, Pa., and the Woodworking in America conference. I swore I’d never move this bench again. (Actually, that was my back that was doing the swearing.) But despite all the grunting ahead of me, and some anxiety about my lecture on bench planes, I’m looking forward to Woodworking in America in a way that transcends the fact that it is part of my job.

You see, I’ve never been one to join clubs. I wasn’t in a fraternity. I never attended the French Club meetings (except when they had those Toblerone candy bars). Heck, I don’t even belong to the Society of Professional Journalists.

But this weekend, I know I’m going to get to see all the people who make my job so rich, including both toolmakers and readers I have known for more than a decade. I’m going to get to meet people I’ve always wanted to know , Toshio Odate and Peter Follansbee to name only two. And I’m really looking forward to the Hand Tool Olympics. Wait until Mike Siemsen gets his claws into you — you’re going to love it, too.

This event, for me, almost captures the spirit of these benevolent societies. If you went to Berea last year, you know what I mean. If you’re going to Valley Forge, you are about to find out.

All we really need now are some funny hats and a secret handshake.

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Showing 8 comments
  • Zach Dillinger

    Best of luck Chris! I wish I could have made it down this year…


  • Christopher Schwarz

    It’s a Gabardi.

    Tons of info to come on this beauty:

    I’ll have it at Valley Forge if anyone wants to see…


  • David

    Chris – What’s the identity of the bronze-sided smoother closest to the camera in the picture? Is it a modern-manufactured infill, or an antique?

  • Mitch

    Hi Chris,

    The Derwent pencil company (from Cumbria) sells blocks of natural graphite. You can see it on their website: www dot pencil dot co dot uk.

    According to their site they have a US stockist: ColArt Americas,Inc. 1 800 445 4278 (Option 4).

    Mitch from Cumbria

  • Mike Holden

    Good Grief Chris!
    You mean no one showed you the handshake?
    Joel passed out the directions for the hat in Berea, and Roy developed the handshake, but I cant believe that no one showed *you*.

    Mike (G,D, &R)

  • The Village Carpenter

    I’m with you, Chris. I love the sense of community at the handtool conference and am looking forward to meeting more woodworkers. I suspect that Peter Follansbee will be pretty sick of me by the end of the event.

  • Woody Medina


    I’m sure you will do great.

    I also have a mixture of feelings swirling around this upcoming weekend. On one hand I am extremely excited about learning from (and perhaps meeting) you and other great hand tool craftsmen and craftswomen for the first time. On the other hand, I am extremely new to woodworking, and I’m scared silly that my shyness will cause me to shrink and fade into the …ahem.. woodwork.

    Either way, I am sure I will enjoy myself. I am taking it for granted that I will learn a ton, and at the very least I might be able to someday tell my son or daughter about the time I mumbled like an idiot in front of the guy in the video when we watch one of your DVD’s. :o)

    looking forward to VF!!
    Woody Medina

  • Chris Vesper

    Wish I could be there Chris. All the best with it!

    I am sure it is going to be a great WIA. The world’s best in hand tools (well most of them), does it get any better? Have fun!!

    Oh and Megan… Get ’em girl!! Show them how much of a borer you really can be… 🙂

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