Woodworking in the great white north.

The Northeastern Woodworkers Show 2011

A few months ago Dyami Plotke of The Penultimate Woodshop blog mentioned to me that the Northeastern Woodworkers Association Show was being held in Saratoga Springs, NY on the last weekend of March.  This is one of the great benefits of meeting up with other bloggers at WIA, you find out about stuff like this.  But wait, there’s more!  Not only was the show on, but Dyami’s Dad (Doug) was hosting a dinner in his newly built workshop a short drive away in Greenwich (pronounced Green-witch…not Gren-itch).

Fast forward to a March 25th and Mike Lehikoinen (of the Novice Wood Ramblings  and Antero’s Urban Wood Designs) and I were on the road to Saratoga Springs.  The drive from Toronto ended up being 7-8 hours (with stops to alleviate this crazy back pain I’ve got from a herniated disc…thank you Canadian winter!)  I won’t go on too much about the pitfalls of trusting a GPS device, but sufficed to say that the Appalachians are beautiful, the deer and wind farms are plentiful and people are not!  We got there with only one close call with a daring deer.

Given that most of the drive was through pastoral farmland and rolling hills, it was quite surprising to see this quaint and beautiful town appear suddenly. If you’re ever in the area (north of Albany) I’d recommend taking the time to visit, it’s a very nice place.  We stayed at the Hampton Inn, a stone’s throw from the City Centre where the show was being held.  I’d give the accommodations an 8 out of 10; it’s new and very nice and clean, parking is free but somewhat limited, breakfast was included and provided enough variety for anyone’s taste.

One of the great things about these shows is meeting up with new people and talking woodworking. We spent time on and off throughout the weekend with Dyami and Doug as well as local boys Ben Lowery and Guy Bucey.

On with the show!  The show is basically broken up into four distinct areas: the showcase, the workbench showcase, the marketplace and the seminars.

The Showcase:
Our first stop was the showcase area where NWA members had submitted pieces to the show which were evaluated and awarded ribbons by the likes of Chris Schwarz and Peter Follansbee. There were some outstanding pieces here, for the full slideshow of images, follow this link: Slideshow

A few of my favourites in this included the following pieces:

The Workbench Showcase:

Adjacent to the showcase was the workbench showcase where you get a really great display of how different we all are as woodworkers and what really makes us each unique. If you think that ‘tails first/pins first’, ‘power tool/handtool’ debates are highly charged amongst woodworkers, just throw them into a room full of workbenches and ask them what they like/dislike about the benches. I could see friendships splintering apart as fellow woodworkers shocked each other with revelations about which benches they liked or disliked. Like live theater, it was woodworking entertainment at its best.

Here’s another slideshow of the workbenches on display, including Chris Schwarz’s petite Roubo: Workbench Showcase

Given my current need to build a workbench where I can do more hand tool work, I was enthralled by the benches and took a fair bit of time reviewing them for size, height, access to storage, etc.  My own plans for a workbench are still up in the air, but here are a couple of benches that give me inspiration for my own franken-bench:

If you want to learn more about the petite Roubo bench, here are some video’s from Dyami covering an interactive chat with Chris Schwarz: part 1, part 2, part 3.

The Seminars:

While there were plenty of seminars for all tastes in woodworking, I attended two in particular:  The Anarchist’s Toolchest by Chris Schwarz and 17th Century Carving with Peter Follansbee.

The Anarchist’s Toolchest:

Chris is far and away one of the most enigmatic presenters.  Informative, witty, self deprecating and more than anything – honest!  This seminar was a pre-cursor to the book of the same name that is coming out in a few weeks.  The crux of this is that we all need to forget what we ‘know’ about hand tool storage – be it tool boxes, pegboard, french cleat walls and even the venerable apprentice’s wall hung tool cabinet.  The toolchest is what we really need.  (Shannon, if you’re reading this, I see a HTS Semester 2 project in the works here)  The reasons are many and the options are simple but flexible – I am close to being swayed into building one someday, maybe the book will sway me fully.

But why ‘Anarchist’?  This was the most intriguing question asked.  Chris is tall enough to not use a soapbox, despite the appropriate need for one to answer this question.  Essentially, we woodworking types don’t follow societal expectations of buying and replacing everything every few years and are thus anarchists.  Not only do we not toe the line and buy crappy stuff from Wal-mart and Ikea, we actually make stuff that has the potential to outlast our children and grandchildren.  I realized after this seminar that stamping 2011 on a piece of furniture might just make it a very rare piece indeed in another hundred years – my melamine computer desk will almost certainly be taking up valuable real estate in the bottom of a landfill long before many of the pieces seen in the showcase.

17th Century Carving:

I’m new to Peter Follansbee’s work and don’t really have plans to build replicas of 17th century woodwork, but I was intrigued by the opportunity to see his work up close and watch him carve.  I don’t care what the topic is, I will attend any future seminars by Peter Follansbee, he has the same charisma that Chris Schwarz and so many other woodworkers have.  Not only that, he’s damn good at what he does and is truly passionate about his work.  He makes no excuses for what he does or how he does it, exemplified by his response to the question “how do you change your carving technique when working with a species other than oak?”  His response, “I would put the other species of wood back on the wood rack and go get some oak.”  Brilliant.

 The Marketplace:

What trip to a woodworking show is complete without a stroll through the marketplace?  What stroll through the marketplace is complete without a bout of impulse buying?  The marketplace at this show had the usual standbys:  Lee Valley, Lie-Nielsen, guys turning wooden cowboy hats and the obligatory dude with the microphone selling stuff you didn’t know you needed.  There were a surprising number of wood vendors selling planks, blanks and burls.  Chuck Bender was showing off his dovetailing skills (see Dyami’s teaser video here) and convinced me to get one of his DVDs.  Someday I may make a pilgrimage to his Acanthus Workshop for a class.  The other really surprising thing to me was the number of woodturning related booths – from guilds to bowl blanks to tool mongers, you could find it here!  The one disappointment for me was the lack of used tool sellers (guys like Patrick Leach) – there was one poor soul with a very limited selection.  The other absence was the toolmakers (WIA spoiled me here I guess) of which Matt Bickford was the only one of note for me.

Despite this, all was not lost, I did find a way to spend a few bucks and get some badly needed tools…really, I don’t know how I did woodworking without them…I may actually catch up on my Hand Tool School projects now – or at least once my back starts cooperating.


Despite a full weekend from a woodworking point of view, saturday night was very much a highlight to the trip.  With Canadian beer in tow, we headed over to dinner at Doug’s place in Greenwich with the Long Island Woodworkers.  The location was billed by Dyami as ‘a barn and 2nd workshop’ that his Dad was building.  This was no barn…this was every woodworker’s dream.  Picture a four car garage, hand carved post and beam construction with a vaulted ceiling.  Oh, and it has two bedrooms, bathrooms a kitchen and living room upstairs off the back of the ‘workshop’.  I have a new retirement plan thanks to Dyami and Doug.  The evening was amazing, with terrific company, a fantastic catered dinner, special appearance by Chris Schwarz (people really do amp up the hero-worship in his presence).  A HUGE thanks has to go out to Doug for hosting and Dyami for sneaking us in through the back door.  🙂

Thanks also to Ben and Guy for the great company.  Thanks to Mike for the company throughout the weekend (especially the long drives), I haven’t talked this much about woodworking…EVER!

More links:

This was a great show with great people, here are links to some other references to the show:

Dyami’s take on the show and shots of the saturday night festivities:  The Penultimate Woodshop

Ben’s take on the show:  BLowery.org


6 responses

  1. Ian,
    What a great write up. You certainly did the show more justice than I did.

    I’m glad you had fun and I thank you for coming. We had a nice time with you.

    April 4, 2011 at 5:20 pm

  2. Thanks for the links to Chris’s talk about the mini Roubo. Excellent talk.

    Wish we could get a really high Quality show in the Atlanta Area.

    April 5, 2011 at 7:22 am

  3. Kyle Barton

    Glad you had a great time, and thanks for the post.


    April 5, 2011 at 11:48 am

  4. Ian,
    I have seen this toolchest thing coming for a while and am not surprised that Schwarz is going to turn the “establishment” on it’s head once more like he did with Workbenches several years ago. I have worked with tool chests at my volunteer job at the museun and they are wonderful. The problem I see here is the floor space they occupy in the hybrid woodworker’s shop where floors are reserved for machines. I can say that when I get my dedicated hand tool space (whenever that will be), I will have a chest instead of a wall hung cabinet. The sad news is that even after the semester one tool cabinet is built and filled I’m sure in short order I will need more space so a chest will become a necessity.

    April 6, 2011 at 10:08 am

    • Having been ‘playing catchup’ on the whole hand tool approach, I’ve clearly seen the evolution that Chris Schwarz has gone.
      From handplanes to workbenches and now into toolchests it’s been incredibly interesting to see how opinions change and what was essential a couple of years ago falls by the wayside with new revelations.

      The irony being that the ‘new revelations’ are actually coming to the surface by digging deeper into the past. We’re essentially regressing through the industrial age back to the very basics of pre-industrial woodworking and finding that what was written down a few short generations back was the filtering out of all the fluff (left handed screwdrivers and all) to provide a clear view of what really matters.

      One anecdote from Follansbee’s talk was how he was able to hand carve a panel in under a half hour that a certain musclebound celebrity woodworker required 9 gruelling hours to complete using a router. There’s definitely something to this hand tool thing! 🙂

      In any event, I hear you on the hybrid woodworker challenges with the toolchest, in my mostly power tool shop today I have no room for one. I am also not yet convinced that I will benefit more from a chest than a wall cabinet. Perhaps this is the point, we all have to go through each step in this reversed evolution in order to appreciate working in a hand tool shop a la Roubo.

      April 6, 2011 at 10:54 am

  5. X

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    October 18, 2014 at 3:55 pm

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