Woodworking in America Recap

The fine folks at Popular Woodworking should be all smiles today as they reflect back on their efforts over the past six months–Woodworking in America appeared on all accounts to be a smash success.

I was involved in three sessions (and one repeat); Modern Tools, Tolerances and Myths (x2), How Modern Tools are Designed and Made and Furniture Design. As briefly as I am capable, summaries follow.

The Tolerance and Myths sessions was a forum that included Tom Lie-Nielson (Lie-Nielson Toolworks), Konrad Sauer (Sauer and Steiner Planes), and Robin Lee (Lee Valley Tools) and myself. The first edition was moderated by Chris Schwarz and the second by Steve Shanesy (publisher of Popular Woodworking).

The attendees appeared very interested in the processes, techniques and philosophies from a tool maker’s perspective. Most of the session was spent on how flat a plane sole should be to yield optimal results and other quantifiable measurements. It was the consensus of the panel that woodworkers overly fret about such details and it was suggested by one panel member (guess who) that perhaps it would be a better use of one’s time to fret over the appearance of one’s project, which is after all the reason to call oneself a woodworker.

In the second session there was a comment made by an attendee that I felt could not go unchallenged regarding the $1100 price of the Jointmaker Pro. Its very existence was questioned and it appeared to be a waste of money to this gentleman.

I probably appeared to be a bit torqued but I suggested that a broader, less judgmental attitude might be enlightening–why not ask this question to the schools for the blind who are buying the Jointmaker Pro? Or those power challenged areas in Guatemala and India who will be receiving saws next month? Or the customers who can no longer hold a hand saw steady? Or those who are interested in gallery-quality cuts without power or the need for dust collectors? One thing about woodworkers–there is no shortage of self-righteous opinions. I have always felt there is a time and place for judgment–the time is on Sundays and the place is church… woodworking is just too much fun to be plagued by singular viewpoints.

I am pleased to share that this gentleman sought me out afterward and sincerely apologized for his question. We had a brief discussion about the filters we humans use that sometimes lead to nasty cases of myopia. His apology was not necessary–I thanked him for sharing his views and we parted ways with good feelings.

I was deeply moved by the sincerity of one attendee who inquired why his choice of technique (hand vs power tools) was judged so harshly by internet forum participants.  He was fairly new to the craft and was visibly disturbed by the judgment he encountered from inquiries in forums. The panel was unanimous in suggesting that whatever works best for you is all you should be concerned about.

You know, I have joked about the attitude on forums and coined the most fervent and vocal opinionists as the “Woodworking Taliban”–this gentleman’s plea for a more user friendly place was a voice I hope was heard by many who participate in these internet venues.

The session on How Tools are Made featured the same toolmakers as above and also was moderated by Steve Shanesy. This session was lively, the questions and dialog superb and likely could have continued for another couple of hours. The banter amongst the toolmakers was lighthearted and spirited (we all have much more in common than differences) and was very engaging.  I had much fun in this session and felt like we adjourned way too soon.

The last session of the conference was on furniture design featuring Kevin Drake from Glen-Drake Toolworks and John Economaki (that would be me).

Kevin opened the session with a well-prepared overview of the hierarchy of design and used Japanese art to bring awareness of how the eye sees and how the artist manipulates this process using the fundamental design principles of proportion, scale, harmony and balance. I followed with a more informal approach introducing the concept of meaningful work–work worthy of the space it occupies. I suggested that design always reflects the values of “our time” and that perhaps the focus on furniture from the late 1850’s through the early 1900’s by woodworking magazines was limiting our understanding of ourselves.

It was hard for me to read how well this was received and I am open to critique if you or anybody you know attended this session (john@bridgecitytools.com).  I have for many years felt the obsession with technique was keeping us from exploring our creative gifts as makers. I am deeply passionate about improving our visual surroundings by increasing awareness and sensitivity to beauty in our efforts.

The marketplace ebbed and flowed with the timing of the sessions. While I was away in sessions, Michael Berg manned our booth. We had a steady stream of traffic both days and I think it is safe to say that many people who came to see the Jointmaker Pro work left impressed. Clearly if we can find a way to make this tool available for around $500 it would likely be one of the most popular tools available. For those who are still skeptics–just wait.

The CT-15 Multi-Square was a smash hit. This tool really resonated with just about everyone who had a chance to hold it.  This may be one case where our decision to make it once is short sighted.

The new Centerscribe was also a popular tool–after we explained its many uses. Next week we will introduce a movie showing this tool in action that should be fun to watch.

I heard great things about all of the other sessions and several sounded like they should have been videotaped and sold as comedy pilots to the major networks.

It would not surprise me if Chris Schwarz is in the hospital as I write. This guy never quits moving until he is backed into a corner where he graciously answers every question–and it appeared all 400 attendees had at least a couple.

Of course a show like this would not be complete without a chance to unwind. Now here’s the problem with going to dinner with Tom Lie-Nielson and his staff–I always wake up the next morning with a headache, and it is not from what you think 99% of the time. I don’t know how many times we have done this, but the laughter is off the charts and the dinners always memorable. I wish I could repeat a couple of the jokes here…

So to Steve, Chris, Linda, Megan, Rober, Glen and all who I have left out, THANK YOU for making Woodworking in America possible–let’s do it again!


5 comments on this post:

  1. Hi, John.

    Very interesting! I was in Berea, and LOVED the Design session, and your assessment on all the doings on this post. I would like to contribute the following, taken right from my blog, http://sandal-woodsblog.com .

    A while back I had Neil Lamens as my guest, and created a podcast on Design: Form ( link: http://sandal-woodsblog.com/2008/10/10/neil-lamens-on-design-form/ ) .

    A summary:


    This is the first audio podcast from Sandal Woods. Neil Lamens of Furnitology Productions is my guest; we discuss Form in design. The following are a few of the things we discussed:

    1. Form vs. function – the old adage
    2. The benzene ring form
    3. Kaleo Kala – an analogy
    4. Period furniture, with emphasis on the 60s, when form was just about anything you wanted it to be!
    5. What has transpired since the bean bag chair, “a living form”?
    6. Are we as woodworkers in a period of discovery, so that we can move forward with design?
    7. If you will attend the Woodworking in America Conference, would you be interested in having some additional conversation about Form in design?

    We would love to hear from our readers what you thought about this first podcast, and especially about the theme, Design: Form. We will address a new topic on design in the near future.




  2. Al; Thanks for the kind words. Change begins with meaningful dialog–thanks for the post. I will check out your Design podcast.

  3. John,

    I’m sure you’ll have many more people claim the Jointmaker Pro is a waste of money. But I think they are dead wrong.

    Perhaps it will warm your heart to know that in my annual “What to buy for a woodworker” post I will be naming the Jointmaker as one of them. I’m hoping someone will take my advice and leave one under the tree for me 😉

    Here’s what I wrote about the Jointmaker in a post that should be up at http://www.robertkarl.org/woodworkingblog by the end of tonight:

    “While I admire Bridge City tools for their beauty and innovation, I usually think they are pricey and optional.

    “With that said, I think the Jointmaker Pro truly delivers the value of its price, and that nothing else on the market can do what it does. It introduces a real innovation that even power tool users can appreciate.

    “If your woodworker does fine work, especially on a small scale, no other tool can provide the speed and reliability of this tool. It opens up a world of possibilities for speed and flexibility in woodworking.

    “The name tells only part of the story, because the it can also be used to make extremely precise sculptural effects and tiny parts.”

    Here’s to you and your vision. Thanks for bringing us such beautiful tools to drool over. And many thanks for bringing us something as clearly functional and freeing as the Jointmaker Pro. I think it’s a tool for the ages.

  4. John,

    Apparently I was very good this year:

    Someone left a Jointmaker Pro (voucher)under the tree for me. I can’t wait for delivery so I can start learning what this machine can do!

  5. Rookster-

    Congratulations! I am taking the week off between Xmas and Jan 1 specifically to design projects for the JMP. My timing is perfect as we are still stuck in the snow.


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