At Woodworking in America I participated in the Hand Tool Olympics. It was the best darn part of the whole show, in my opinion. Truly the only place in the entire show to try out your technique and get coaching. And boy do I need coaching.
I’m a hybrid woodworker, I’ve embraced power tools now that I’m a big boy and my mommy lets me use them. But when I was a kid I was only allowed to use hand tools. When I was sneaky I’d use a handheld power tool. I haven’t crosscut or ripped by hand since I was in my early teens. Yeah, that’s my excuse.
So at the Hand Tool Olympics, I was excited to get back to work with hand tools. I did well in crosscut accuracy, but was a little slow. In the rip, I was also fairly accurate, but boy did I have problems. Not only was I bending the saw (not permanently) in the picture below, but I caused the offcut to split from the board and hit Aaron Marshall in the back. His doctor has told him to rub some dirt on the wound and keep working.
Thanks to Vic Hubbard for the photo. Not only does he do great work, he’s a great photographer.
Matt Bending a Saw, Photo Courtesty of Vic Hubbard (@Tumblewood)
So, why would I post this embarassing picture? Well, I don’t know. Maybe I’m a glutton for punishment (and other things). But honestly, as Mark Hochstein and Shannon Rogers pointed out, it’s a great picture for analyzing my form. So what are some of the many things I’m doing wrong?
Get that stupid badge out of the way. Can you imagine if I was going full force and caught on that badge? Even more of a hazard when using powertools.
Get over the work better. My shoulder, arm, saw, and cutline should all be lined up. They aren’t. That’s why I’m reaching with the saw blade and bending it.
Get a saw that fits. I’m a broad guy, but not a tall guy. My saw should fit nicely from my armpit to the tip of my hand. It looks like I am pushing too much saw in the picture.
Get a bench that fits. Because I’m not tall, I’m having a hard time getting up onto that bench and lining up with the cut line. If I got up on the bench any more, my left leg would be up off the ground.*
Don’t push so hard. I blame my superior genetics, physique, powerful forearms, and German “powercalves.”
*Note: Don’t get a short bench with a long saw. You’ll drive the saw into the ground and ruin it.
What tips would you give me for better sawing technique? Post them in the comments section – even you smartaleks are welcome to post.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
Longer class times facilitated more open discussion and hands on time, if you can survive the bum-rush of heavyweights.
Bring back George Walker, Marc Adams, Jim Tolpin, Michael Fortune and Frank Klausz, and teachers of that caliber.
Tackle topics that they haven’t tackled before. Go somewhere new.
Overly focused on hand tools and historical woodworking (going further back in time). Embrace the modern hybrid woodworker.
More Hands On Tutorials and Coaching: Ron Herman and others (SAPFM) in a room with handsaws teaching you 1:1
I am a hybrid woodworker: I use power tools and handtools. I like to think I have balance in my force. I won’t run tiny pieces over a power jointer, nor will I start my projects by wandering into the woods with an axe and handsaws. Both power tools and hand tools are awesome, and have their place. I was interested to see Peter Follansbee (whom I’ve never seen speak before) talk about 17th Century Joinery. I was expecting that a lot of his talk would be similar to the Lost Art Press’ The Jointer and Cabinet Maker. Peter took us further back in time though, and I wonder if the trend will continue. Should I expect to see “Woodworking in 50,000BC with Ook-Ook the Neanderthal” next year? I enjoyed the class overall, and here were my key takeaways:
Peter doesn’t use a pencil. Sharp things make lines.
He splits his own logs, and works them when they are fairly green. He doesn’t worry about cracks or splits from cross-grain stresses very much.
He rarely uses a saw, and mostly splits wood to free boards from logs, then planes the boards on the face side if necessary.
He uses a saw to create tenon cheeks, then splits those too
He pins his mortises, and they are rock-solid. He makes his own pins for tenons with a chisel and straight-grain oak.
He tells you to throw a lot of things away. Basically everything invented after 1699 I’d imagine.
His beard is epic. ZZ Top epic.
12 Rules for Traditional Tool Chests, Christopher Schwarz
The Schwarz has moved on from benches, and is now organizing his tools. Based on the work he did collecting data for The Anarchist’s Tool Chest, he’s put together a set of guidelines for building a tool chest. I’ll be building a hanging tool cabinet soon, so I thought some of these ideas would apply. From what I could summarize I think the twelve rules are:
Paint it, but not on the inside or bottom
Nail on the bottom so you can replace it*
Nail on battens that you can replace*
Don’t cram things in, use space
Keep the saws off the floor of the chest*
Stack the molding planes blades against the side, facing down so the blades don’t fall out
Build it light and strong
Don’t French your tools into nice tight little places, it’s less flexible
Be able to get to your tools in one hand motion
If it doesn’t fit, you don’t need it
Sliding bins: 3, or 2, or 4
Opposing dovetails hold it together
*These rules are necessitated because of wet floors that would rot wood and rust metal.
And special rule 13: Benjamin Seaton’s tool chest is a bad example, because Benny didn’t do real work.
Overall these were good guidelines, but I’m not sure how many help me with a wall hanging cabinet. If you have some good links, please share them in the Comments section below.
The Contrarian Cabinet Maker, Steve Shanesy
This was a very open-ended discussion. Steve was basically making the point that there really are no rules in woodworking. If people tell you that you should only use hand tools, they’re wrong. If they tell you that you should only use solid wood, they’re wrong. If they tell you always cut pins first, they’re wrong. He showed an example of a drawer made for shop furniture from Baltic birch with metal drawer slides, rabbet joints and stapled together. He also showed an antique drawer with dovetailed sides, a solid raised panel bottom, and one screw holding the bottom in to the drawer through an elongated slot to accommodate seasonal changes. Both are correct. Because the discussion was so open-ended and freeform, I struggled staying engaged.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, Chuck Bender
With George Walker not in attendance, this session covered design and the classic forms. He had great examples of ball-and-claw legs ranging from the very straight and vertical, to the very curved. All were appropriate, but just not for the same piece. Chuck took us through his slide show, and we identified the leg on the piece in the Bender Leg Curviness Scale. I didn’t think the very curvy legs would look correct, but in some cases they were perfect. Here’s a refresher on the class forms:
Tradition Improved at Lie-Nielsen Toolworks, Thomas Lie-Nielsen
This was very interesting to me, for a few reasons. First, I was able to listen to one of the great toolmakers describe how and why he got into tool making. I like that his tools are made in America, and he also showed a “How It’s Made” style video showing manufacturing processes in place at Lie-Nielsen today. And he hinted at tools that are coming soon.
Thomas Lie-Nielsen is clearly an expert in tool making and the engineering and science required to be the best. He discussed the properties of brass and steel including discussing powdered steels, carbon content, and hammering the slag out of iron blooms. Thomas also runs a business and discussed the challenges of running a business in a small town, finding and managing labor, and ensuring quality remains consistent. For example: there is one person at Lie-Nielsen that does the final shaping of all saw handles, because that guy is just the best at it.
Watch the video below, but know that it’s incomplete without Thomas’ commentary.
What tools did he say are in the works? I’m not sure I can share that, so I’ll respect that the information he shared is confidential.