After taking a couple days to catch up on stuff, I am finally ready to share my Woodworking in America experience with you. This was my first WIA and my expectations were building all year long. I even vowed to skip IWF (the big tool show in Atlanta), just to make sure I could focus all my attention on this education-focused conference. And am I ever glad I did!
The show consists of two main areas: a marketplace and the educational sessions. The marketplace was approximately the same size as the show floor at the traveling woodworking shows, only the vendors here were much more engaged and of a higher caliber. Even if you didn’t attend a single session, you could get some quality hands-on right on the marketplace floor! Somehow, I managed not to spend a dime but many of my comrades weren’t so lucky. In fact, I wound up helping some folks spend their hard-earned cash. And while the marketplace could easily eat up a full day, I filled most of my time with the sessions upstairs.
I originally had a nice schedule set up, but its amazing how quickly that all changes when you start meeting up with friends and going to sessions together. Here are some of the highlights from the sessions I attended:
I went to Michael’s discussion on cutting veneer. The funny thing about a class like this is that there is very little discussion about actually cutting veneer. 95% of the talk is about setting up your bandsaw. Obviously you won’t get very far if your bandsaw isn’t set up properly. I enjoyed hearing Michael’s perspective on the bandsaw and some of the things he considers to be myths. These are things that directly conflict with some of the conventional wisdom that I learned from some very knowledgeable folks, like David Marks. It just goes to show you that there is always room for more than one right way to do something. To sum up, Michael says that by using low tension and setting the blade in the middle of the tire, there should be no need to adjust for the drift of the blade. And if you use an aggressive blade for resawing, a 1/3HP machine should be powerful enough for just about any resaw task. He also says the whole coplaner wheel thing is crap. This talk truly made me re-examine a number of things I simply accepted as fact.
Frank’s demonstration was on the secret mitered dovetail. I don’t have a picture but I’ll try to explain this. Imaging a drawer with a mitered corner. But behind that miter, hidden inside is a set of dovetails. The process involves cutting a short miter into the adjoining piece first, then cutting a half-blind dovetail inside the new edge. Sounds more complicated than it is but Frank’s humor and accent would make watching him play a game of ball in a cup fun and entertaining. I’m half Hungarian so maybe that’s why I like him so much. Anyway, after watching the demonstration, I turned to my buddy Aaron Marshall and asked him if he would ever bother. Imagine going through the trouble of cutting a dovetail by hand only to hide it behind a miter joint? Luckily, a passerby overheard the discussion and explained that a real practical use for it would be in a bracket foot. You don’t want anything more than a miter visible from the outside, but a dovetail would give the foot tremendous strength. The light bulb went off! Makes perfect sense. Thanks random woodworking dude!
You guys have heard me talk about George many times by now. I love how he teaches design. But after watching his DVDs, most of the session was review for me. He covered all the standard ratio business and classic forms and all that jazz. He also went into some detail on the use of dividers, which works very nicely with my personal adherence to Relative Dimensioning. The most compelling part of the session for me was when an audience member asked George to address the Golden Rectangle and how it relates to the whole number ratios. After all, the Golden Ratio is NOT a whole number ratio. George’s answer was pretty straight forward. He basically said that the Golden Ratio is sexy to talk about, but if you really look at old furniture and forms, you’ll see that the prevalence of whole number ratios is undeniable. He had many examples to support his position. Good stuff!
Chris did a number of sessions throughout the conference but I could only make it to two of them. The first was on one of my favorite hand tools: the router plane. Chris gave us a bunch of background and usage information as well as tips on maintenance and sharpening. The second class was on scraper planes, which was a little less interesting to me. Frankly I was there simply because I was following Matt around and that’s where we ended up. But, the session was packed with good information. The take-home message there was don’t waste your money on the big expensive scraper planes when a $30 Stanley #80 will not only suffice, but actually work better than most other options. As an owner of two of these beauties, I agree 100%. I love Chris’ presentation style and it was a pleasure to learn from him in person.
I have been a fan of Marc Adams since I first started woodworking. A buddy of mine let me borrow some of his woodworking DVDs, and that includes a number of Marc Adams titles. Marc is a very clear and concise presenter and he has the added bonus of spelling his first name the proper way. He covered a few simple jigs for making circles and ellipses. I have made/used circle-cutting jigs for the router in the past, but I never had to cut an ellipse. Marc shows us a simple fixture that works in conjunction with the circle cutting jig to create ellipses of pretty much any size. I may not have picked up all the details but he said the entire thing is covered in his DVD, which I believe I still have in my collection. So I’ll be checking that out later. Marc’s enthusiasm and teaching style make me wish I had more disposable income so I could take a class at his school. Its one of the best in the country and I have yet to attend. Someday…..
Between the sessions and the marketplace, it was a very busy weekend. But there was another thing to factor into the experience, and that was the people. Frankly, this was the best part of the event. It was like being back in school with a bunch of my old friends. I had a chance to put faces to names as well as catch up with some old friends like Tom Iovino and Matt Vanderlist. At some point, our little group grew to about 10 somewhat rowdy guys who were clearly having more fun than they were supposed to. Walking to White Castle with a bunch of goobers all wearing “May the Schwarz be with You” shirts was a sight to see! Watching them all scramble back to the convention center to address the resulting bowel issues was even funnier!
The very last thing on my schedule was the Guild BBQ on Saturday evening at Allen’s house. When we initially planned this, I assumed there wouldn’t be enough Guild members going to the event to actually make a real “get-together”. Holy smokes was I wrong. I think Allen’s final RSVP count was 30 people and if I’m not mistaken, they all showed up! That many people squeezed into Allen’s house was hilarious and quite a bonding moment. It really made me pause and think about the power of what we are all creating here with not only the Guild and TWW, but the woodworking community on the whole. Powerful stuff my friends…..powerful stuff…..
The excitement and buzz was infectious all weekend long and there was never a dull moment. If we were laughing in class or causing trouble on the marketplace floor, we were drinking beers and trading war stories from the shop. Certainly an event I’ll remember for a long time. Thanks to the folks at PopularWoodworking.com for creating this event and helping to push the woodworking community forward!
For more coverage of Woodworking in America, check out all the content in the Woodworking in America Round Up thread in the forum.