WIA 2011 – Final Ruminations (thoughts have been overdone!)

Now that I’ve recovered from Woodworking in America, (and recovered from catching up at school), I thought I’d wrap things up.

My favorite single session has to be Graham Blackburn’s session on using traditional planes for jointing. It was really more than just jointing, he talked about his philosophy on using traditional tools, as well as how to set up and best use various types of planes, both wooden and those new fangled iron and bronze types. Through it all, he talked about the fulfillment of using tools that his forebears had used an hundred years ago; and the fact that, with care, his descendants may still be using the same tools an hundred years from now. The fact that these tools are relatively simple, with a minimal number of parts, means that they are easily fixed and tuned; and that, as woodworkers, repairing wooden planes should be right up our alley! The electron pushing tools have a much more limited lifespan, and, as they get more and more complex, the ability for an average woodworker to handle any major repairs by themselves will be less and less. How many of us, if any, would be able to repair a malfunctioning “flesh detection” technology in those table saws that offer it? That, already, is pretty much a factory repair. (Think how many computers are in the modern automobile, compared with cars from only 30 years ago.)

But, most of all, he showed just how easy, and more to the point, how well, these old tools work. They were designed, and perfected, over many years to do a job, and that development shows, when you know how to use them!

For the overall speaker, (aside from Graham), my next award goes to Jay van Arsdale, and his series of sessions on Japanese tools and methods. Jay really showed many of us a different way of working with, and thinking about, wood. The fact that most Japanese joinery was never meant to be glued, was an eye opener. I had already known how complex some of the joinery could get, but seeing some of these joints in person, and seeing how they were laid out and worked with chisel and saw, made them more understandable. Even using something as simple as an inkpot to mark all of the layout lines became a useful and practical technique, rather than just a quaint imitation of older times in a faraway land. There is a reason why it is better than a marking knife or a pencil for this type of work on these types of woods. I strongly suggest working your way through all 4 of the videos I posted in my last entry for a better understanding. In addition to seeing how Jay works his way through a joint, from start to finish, he provides a running commentary on many of the reasons behind every move he makes. I should give an honorable mention to the perennial favorite, Roy Underhill. Roy is always an engaging and entertaining speaker, but I fear his appeal is beginning to suffer a bit from overexposure, at least to me. While I enjoyed the 1 1/2 sessions of his that I attended, I had already seen the techniques demonstrated on his show, The Woodwright’s Shop. The full session that I attended an making threads and screws by hand, had been aired not too long ago; and the session on frame and panel joinery that I caught the last half of was shown in this past week’s show; and he had covered those techniques in various earlier shows.Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t regret going to those sessions, I just wish he had done something I hadn’t seen before. (At least OSHA had gotten on his case about not using any safety equipment, so he did have a pair of safety gargoyles while turning.)(Um, his pun, not mine.) I guess that is the problem when you have done as much as he has; it’s near impossible not to repeat yourself eventually. Assuming I attend next year, I may just have to skip his sessions. (Sorry Roy, I know you’re brokenhearted over that.)

The loser(s) of the conference, I have already mentioned in an earlier post, so I won’t rehash it. The only other thing that I would have liked to see was more vintage tool dealers in the marketplace. Last year there were four or five that I remember, this year there was only one.

So, while you are drooling over the ultra expensive latest and greatest, don’t forget to patronize the useful but maybe not so dazzling. It’ll be easier on your wallet, and those dealers will be able to make a living and be encouraged to come back!

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