WIA11 The Hand Tool Olympics and WIA Report Card



Everyone’s buddy Marc Spagnuolo didn’t attend Woodworking in America this year. He asked my opinions, and I shared them. Here’s the long form. I hope the event presenters get this feedback because WIA is important part of preserving, and growing the craft. Please share your WIA opinions in the comments section below.

I’m not that bad of a guy

I like the Woodworking in America conference. No, I love it – really I do. But you might not get that impression from reading this post. Please, brotherman, chill. I’ll sprinkle some “attaboys” into this post, but it will also contain criticism. Don’t get all weirdo Buddhist on me for it.

First, let me explain my show priorities:

Priority #1 Renew my connection with my online woodworking buddies.

This was a key purpose for me attending. I definitely met that goal. Many beers were shared at the Keystone Bar & Grill on Thursday night. Vic Hubbard an amazing woodworker and photographer hugged my guts out. He can’t help it, he’s a hugger. We were sharing stories, poking fun, and laughing so hard we were tearing up. Our ride on the Covington-Newport trolley was Epic, and Rob Bois believes I was written up in the Police Blotter. I checked, I wasn’t. We had a great Italian food on Saturday night, and I want to especially thank the bartender at the Embassy Suites for the heavily poured Rum and Cokes in rapid succession. These are the guys that recommend tools, inspire new designs and new techniques, offer coaching, guidance, and motivation. Pretty important.

Priority #2 Get great deals on great tools

I knew I wanted to shop. I have spent very little on tools since last year’s WIA, so I made a list all year long and saved up my money for deals at the show. I bought what I needed to at the show, and I got good deals. The post-WIA rumor mill is that some were offended about the money being spent. I say screw ‘em. Most of my tools were old and restored, all are hand tools, all are well made, and every single one of them would be in any recommended tool list for a hand tool class.

Priority #3 Classes and Seminars

Last year, classes were the main draw for me. This year they were the lowest priority. I’m not sure why that was, but I may have set my priorities this way after seeing the list of presenters and classes. I think I just lowered my expectations.

The most awesome feature of WIA

Besides the social aspect, the Hand Tool Olympics were the coolest thing about WIA11 and should be a marquee event. Perhaps a final challenge of the best performers during a special dinner. That’d be awesome, although might be too nerve-wracking. This was the only time at WIA that I actually got hands-on with a tool and had coaching (and heckling). WIA should have much more of this. The goal of the HTO is to have everyone be a winner, have fun, and learn stuff, and for me they met that goal. Many thanks to Mike Siemsen, his volunteer crew, and the Society of American Period Furniture Makers.

Find out more about the Hand Tool Olympics at these links:

The Renaissance Woodworker’s Hand Tool Olympics Page

Mike Siemsen’s School of Wood

WIA Report Card

Good The class times were longer. I think this was based on feedback from last year to ensure there was time at the end for questions and hands on time.
Needs Improvement There were fewer classes overall and fewer compelling classes. Last year was packed, but it was packed with good content that kept us running from room to room. This year was not so packed and in fact there was 20 hours booked on Saturday (40 separate ½ hour blocks) as “Visit the Marketplace.” Some of these were smartly placed after a class incase the class went long. Others were clearly there to fill time. Monday afternoon in classroom 1 was free from 1:30-4:30 with six “Visit the Marketplace” placeholders. What class was supposed to be in that slot On any given day, there were only 1-3 sessions I cared about. Lots of content that wasn’t compelling.
Needs Improvement Smaller Sunday make-up day. On Sunday at WIA10 they repeated a ton of content, which was great because I had missed so many things that I wanted to see. This year I left early on Sunday and didn’t miss a thing.
Needs Improvement I attended one after hours event about Saving Woodworking at the Hofbrauhaus. I liked the discussion, but the venue was loud (Oompa band). The speakers couldn’t speak loud enough, and the equipment couldn’t get louder. I left.
Good They served lunch. A good box lunch, and once you were in the lunchroom you could have as much as you wanted. Friday I had half a lunch and three sodas. I skipped lunch Saturday.
Good Same facility as last year. I think the venue, local hotels, and local scenery (bars, restaurants, etc.) are perfect. Don’t move WIA12 to somewhere wacky (unless you move it to Seattle, Spokane, or Portland).
Good Longer class times facilitated more open discussion and hands on time, if you can survive the bum-rush of heavyweights.
Needs Improvement Bring back George Walker, Marc Adams, Jim Tolpin, Michael Fortune and Frank Klausz, and teachers of that caliber.
Needs Improvement Tackle topics that they haven’t tackled before. Go somewhere new.
Needs Improvement Overly focused on hand tools and historical woodworking (going further back in time). Embrace the modern hybrid woodworker.
Needs Improvement More Hands On Tutorials and Coaching: Ron Herman and others (SAPFM) in a room with handsaws teaching you 1:1
Needs Improvement Figure out A/V issues (lighting, focus, microphone placement, volume). Repeat questions.
Good No wacky awkward Roy and Frank keynote dinner.

Final Verdict

Yes, I plan on attending next year, but remember the sessions are my third priority

3 thoughts on “WIA11 The Hand Tool Olympics and WIA Report Card

  1. Shannon

    Nice write up Matt. I can tell you first hand that Pop Wood does listen to Wood Talk Online and they like some of our ideas. There is so much that goes into this event and I am amazed that they pull it off each year. I think what is most amazing is the attention they pay to feedback like this and it definitely does not fall on deaf ears. At the same time, I imagine that last thing they want to do is talk about WIA right now so you probably won’t hear much in the way of response. However, rest assured the message is getting there. See you next year, you have to teach me your hand saw kick back trick.

  2. Jerry S

    Matt. I totally agree with everything you said. You just said it better than I had it in my head. Best time for me was at the Olympics…disappointing was the speakers. Thought the lineup was weaker than last year when I saw it. Definitely confirmed in person.

    Jerry S

  3. Matt Post author

    Thanks for stopping by the blog Jerry. I’ll definitely attend next year. Sounds like I should have attended Charles Brock and Graham Blackburn’s sessions. I’ve heard really good things about both.

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