Each year, I look forward to attending the “Working Wood in the 18th century” conference at Colonial Williamsburg. It’s a chance to spend a few boys’ nights out with my closest friends, reconnect with friends I don’t see often, and recharge my woodworking batteries. As a woodworking social event, it’s top notch. After conference cocktail hours offer a chance to sip a beer with the likes of Roy Underhill, CW’s resident master cabinetmaker Mack Headley, or distinguished guests.
Beyond the social, the conference offers serious woodworkers a chance to learn from the best. For me, the topics are almost secondary. I benefit from seeing others plane wood by hand. I like to see how they hold their tools, their work, and their composure as 200 pairs of eyes look on at their work magnified to fit on a movie screen. I need to say this and I don’t want to insult anyone; The guys in Colonial Williamsburg do this sort of work day in and day out. They have a great deal of experience with their hand tools. No matter how experienced someone is, folks with band saws as back-ups, tend to use them when the going gets tough. The guys at Colonial Williamsburg slug it out. So, like me, you’ll often find that they have a different answer on their test papers. I think their different approach is worth while for the larger woodworking community (even those not inclined to unplug their shops). Seriously- outside of a subscription to PW, I think this is the cheapest woodworking education you can get. As of today, it appears seats are still available for the first session.
This year, the cabinetmakers and joiner/carpenters are teaming up to explore the woodwork of Monticello. What a great topic! Jefferson had a penchant for adding tricky mechanisms, and hidden compartments to his furniture. Wooden hinges like those on Williamsburg card tables or drop leaf tables are pretty neat. Jefferson’s furniture should offer ample opportunities to explore all sorts of tricky woodworking. Already built the Philadelphia highboy? Do you laugh at Chippendale chairs? Pie crust tables? Knee hole desks? Jefferson’s sliding, hinging height adjustable mechanisms are your next challenge.
Beyond the woodworking is a fascinating opportunity to learn more about this famous President, his life and times, the lives of his children, slaves, and servants. Be sure to visit Monticello’s wonderful website to read up on the life of John Hemmings (Sally’s nephew?), Irish joiner James Dinsmore, and the other craftsmen who made Jefferson’s fertile imagination three dimensional. Their lives offer us a rare and fascinating glimpse into 18th century life and what it meant to be a skilled woodworker.
Lastly, pay close attention to who is chosen to present. The Hay shops 2 new-ish staff apprentices, Bill and Brian, are excellent speakers, craftsmen and researchers in their own rights. Brian Weldy comes to CWF by way of Plimoth. Bill is a serious musician like several other successful Hay shop cabinetmakers. I think there’s something to that. In music there is a blend of art and craft, as well as a desire for perfection that isn’t common elsewhere. Cooking is a subject that often arrises among my woodworking friends and I think there are similarities there as well. I look to these guys and the truly fabulous Ted Boscana for the direction CW is heading. These guys will likely shape the museum for many years to come.
I’m sorry I won’t be there. I’ll miss you all terribly. If you go, please send me some photos and notes and I’ll post them here. Just don’t make the pics too large. I have a 56k internet connection! Yikes!