The Hand Tool Olympics and My Shame Spiral - Popular Woodworking Magazine

The Hand Tool Olympics and My Shame Spiral

 In Chris Schwarz Blog, Sawing Techniques, Saws, Woodworking Blogs

I could barely get out of bed this morning. It wasn’t because of a hard night of slamming Maudite. Or because I had worked every waking hour for the last seven days. It was because of my shameful, shameful sawing time in the Hand Tool Olympics at Woodworking in America.

The Hand Tool Olympics were an absolute blast. Attendees got to try their hand at ripping, crosscutting, planing, tenoning, dovetailing and boring. All the events were timed and judged for accuracy using a super-cool set of feeler gauges (a deck of cards). The Olympics were run by Mike Siemsen of the Mike Siemsen School of Woodworking and volunteers from the Society of American Period Furniture Makers and the Minnesota Woodworkers Guild.

And what was even cooler than the competition was all the training and instructing that was going on during the Olympics. Mike and his staff showed people how to properly perform all these operations. They also provided sharp tools, nice wood, a great sturdy bench from Adjust-a-Bench and three sawbenches. Mike is an incredible instructor. He is incredibly skilled, practical, fast and funny. We really need to make the trek up to his school and write about it. Mike is a semi-hidden gem to most of the country.

Mike Siemsen checks the accuracy of a rip.

I only got to compete in two of the events, and my performance was pitiful.

I had to rip a 1″ x 36″-long pine board. I did the deed in 50-something seconds. Both Mike and Deneb Puchalski from Lie-Nielsen Toolworks smoked me with times that were more like 12 seconds or 14 seconds. I have lots of excuses that relate to my child-like limbs, but I won’t claim that was the problem. Truth is, I stink at ripping.

My only consolation is I did do a good job of edge-planing the board I ripped and got it nearly square and straight using only my eye and a jointer plane.

We’ll be repeating (and expanding) the Hand Tool Olympics at the Valley Forge, Pa., Woodworking in America event in October. Look for a grudge-match showdown between Mike and Deneb. And look for me to improve my time. I’m going to be practicing.

– Christopher Schwarz

P.S. Be sure to congratulate Managing Editor Megan Fitzpatrick on her performance in the boring competition. She and one of our conference organizers named Heather Griffin battled for last place. Megan came in third from last. Take that Heather!

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Showing 10 comments
  • Welcome to Baltimore - Hon !

    I’ll bet Maudite was a blonde!

  • Rob @ Evenfall Studios


    I have smiles here, several reasons why.

    Rip Saw events could be the human powered equivalents to tractor pulls and drag racing. I can envision Top Fuel Funny Saws with ported and polished taper grinds and aggressive fleam angles coming from sawmakers soon. Who will be known as "Big Daddy"? Time will tell.


    Working at boring so you can do it faster… Uh. Be careful of what you wish for! I know some people like that, and I think they achieved it. We have been giving them $20’s and asking them to buy personalities ever since!

    We think you are pretty cool, Please Reconsider!

  • Ron Boe

    I’m sure he would be faster if he didn’t have to follow a line.

    I am. :^)

  • Mike Siemsen

    The saw benches were designed to make a way to hold lumber of a specific size for a specific task(Olympics). A typical saw bench would not really need any vises to hold the lumber. These will clamp a board that is around 11 1/4 inches wide (crosscut) or 36 inches long(rip), which would be a bit limiting in the real world of woodworking. I would suspect that you would be better off with Chris’s design for general use.
    The vises use a piece of 2 x 8 for a chop with a pair of 3/8-16 wing nuts to tighten them. The bottom adjustment is a 1/2 inch bolt with a 1/4" plumbing floor flange re-tapped to 1/2" threads to match the bolt. the upper bolts are 8 or 10 inch "L" shaped anchor bolts. They are basically a short leg vise. The cross piece at the floor may become a permanent addition for stability.
    The Olympics were great fun to run with wonderful people of all skill levels for contestants. Many people had never cut a dovetail before. I really enjoyed seeing them grow in their woodworking skills and gain an appreciation for a good sharp saw (thanks Technoprimatives!) I can also say that I had the honor to show Brian Boggs how to cut a dovetail joint, he was very quick on the uptake! As to Deneb, lets just say he should probably stick to tools with just a single tooth, like a plane.
    I cannot say enough about the guys that came along to help me, good woodworkers and great pie eaters! Thanks Jim, John and Jeff.
    I will try to post some more youtube video on how to do the events so people can prepare for an even better version of the Hand Tool Olympics at Valley Forge, Where I am certain Chris will better his time by half!(I may have to bring a special board and a slower stop watch).
    WIA was once again a place to meet and hang out with some wonderful people. I hope to see many of you in a few weeks.
    I am off to do my one arm push-ups in preparation for my grudge match with Deneb.

  • megan

    That’s funny Alex! Yup, and I’m going to work on boring so I can do it more quickly in October.

  • Alex Grigoriev

    So you men took all fun competitions, and sent the lady to the boring one?

  • John Griffin-Wiesner

    Those benches were designed and built by Mike. They break down. And the leg vises can be moved to the sides of the bench opposing each other, or just removed altogether. The long 2×4 at floor level was a last-minute addition to the bench used for ripping because the padded carpeting on the marketplace floor gave the bench a bit more wobble than we liked.

    I think Mike is on the road again today, but should be available later today or tomorrow for comment.

  • TS Jones

    Defintely, the saw benches caught my eye. Especially the leg vise contraption.

  • Auguste Gusteau

    The Hand Tool Olympics are wonderful, but passing to series things, can you tell us something more on those sawbenches?

  • Mike Renfro

    How does this saw bench compare with yours?

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