Archive for October, 2009


A Parable from Valley Forge

October 10, 2009

OK, so here is my last post about Valley Forge. It’s a story I’m going to share with you, partly because it was humorous, and partly because it’s the sort of thing you might read in an old book of parables but would never think actually happens. Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures to go with it, so you’ll just have to bear with me and use your imagination.

It’s sometime on the first morning of the conference. I’m at my booth in the marketplace, and there are lots and lots of people working their way up and down the aisle examining the various wares. I look to my left and a small, elderly Asian man in a purple jacket catches my eye. He is just kind of puttering along, taking very tiny steps, with his hands clasped behind his back.

Now, I am not even remotely a student of Japanese woodworking, but I thought to myself, “That looks like Toshio Odate.” I’d read his book a number of years ago, but I really just couldn’t say. It’s not someone whose image I have seen often, or for a long, long time.

So I tended to some customers and a little while later I notice this elderly man is now at a nearby booth. No one seems to recognize him or react to him, so it must not be Toshio Odate. One person is even showing him how to use a marking knife. Toshio Odate is like the Roy Underhill of Japanese woodworking–almost a saint of some kind. Surely if it were him someone would recognize him.

Not long after that, this tiny man makes his way to my table. He reaches down and touches the blade of my big rip saw. He looks at it very carefully and asks how I did the shaping of the toe, and about the way the teeth are graduated, from smaller at the toe to bigger at the heel. “Very nice,” he says. “Very nice.”

OK, so I’ve got to find out who this is. But I don’t want to look like a total idiot if it’s not Toshio Odate. So I thought I would try to feel him out a little bit. You know, be a little discreet.

“You look awfully familiar to me.”

His reply was almost instantaneous. “All Japanese look alike.”

And he made this gesture that was somehow both comic and tragic with his hands around his face.

“No, no, that’s not …” I trailed off. We both chuckled a little.

“So what classes are you doing this weekend?” I thought perhaps I could smoke him out that way, by not specifying whether he would be taking or teaching the classes.

He sighed. “Just talking a little bit.”

Aha! I knew it!

“So you’re teaching.”

He shrugged. “I don’t know if it is teaching.”

Now, did I already tell you, I’m not a student of Japanese woodworking? Well it didn’t matter in the least. I couldn’t help but feel thrilled and honored to meet this master craftsman and to have had such a good humored exchange with him. We just sort of stood there for a few seconds.

“I knew it,” I said.

To which he said nothing, but simply grinned and nodded, then turned and shuffled off.

So what’s the moral to the story? Know your famous woodworkers? Or don’t admit in your blog when you don’t know one? Or how’s about this–Many times the most talented people are also the most unassuming? Yeah, let’s go with that last one. I think I like that one best.


There’s Always Gotta Be One…

October 7, 2009

And it’s usually me! The guy who is pulling pranks and trying to get people to laugh. I love a good practical joke. So this last weekend at Woodworking In America at Valley Forge, the tables were turned and I got a taste of my own medicine. Luckily for me I’m also the guy who never minds a good laugh at his own expense!

(A shot of the Benchcrafted, Brese Plane, and Czeck Edge area as it adjoined mine on the day before the show)

Woodworking In America was my first show as an actual exhibitor, and some of my buddies decided to give me a special welcome. My booth was situated right beside the space occupied by Ron Brese, Bob Zajicek, and Jameel Abraham. Jameel’s brother Father John Abraham was also there, and he’s just as ornery as Jameel. They arrived early on Thursday to set up their space, and then left. I did not arrive until later in the afternoon and was very stooped and road weary. I was just kind of shuffling along, and when I get back to my booth I look up and see this:

Now, I can be a bit gullible, but also being tired, my powers of b.s. detection were especially weak, so when I saw this sign I felt a bit crestfallen and thought, “Oh great. I’m on a hand scrawled sign, and they think I’m a rep for Harbor Freight.” I set down my things and shuffled over to the check-in table to ask about it. The staff at the booth thought it must have been some kind of mistake, so I just took the sign down and set up my stuff. Needless to say, Jameel, Father John, Ron, and Bob all had a very good laugh at my expense. And so did I. Especially when they found out that I’d actually gone to the check-in table to ask about it!

Periodically throughout the weekend people would stop by and ask, “Where’s Harbor Freight? I thought Harbor Freight was here.” Good stuff.

Then, just to make sure I got the full Abraham brothers experience, on Saturday when I took a bathroom break, I return to see Jameel standing near the border of our respective spaces by this donut box we’d all been plundering. He’d make a terrible poker player–he looked like a guy trying to conceal that he’d just been dealt a full house.

“Hungry?” he asks.

“I’m doing OK. Why? You hungry?” He grinned and shrugged.

“I think you got a customer.” He nodded behind me. I turn around and sure enough there is a gentleman looking at my saws. And there, tastefully displayed along with all of my other saws, is this:

Like I said, there’s always gotta be one. But in this case it was more like two, or three, or four! Did I even have a chance? I’ve already told them to be on guard, because I will hunt them down one by one just like in a horror movie and get them when they least expect it. Only instead of a hockey mask or something like that, I think I’ll wear a mosquito headnet from Harbor Freight!


Woodworking In America, Valley Forge

October 6, 2009

Without a doubt Woodworking In America at Valley Forge was the place to be this last weekend. I personally did not know what to expect, as this was my first big show as an actual exhibitor. And I’ve got to say, the conference exceeded my expectations in every way. The memorable moments and highlights just seemed to go on and on.

The shot above is of my booth on the first morning, before things got going. That machinist’s vise to the right, that was my makeshift solution for holding pieces of wood for people to try my backsaws, as I don’t yet have a travel bench for shows like this. However, the vise was not stable enough to use at all; the table was simply too flimsy, even with me bracing it. So my friend Jameel Abraham, who had brought his incredible workbench and Benchcrafted Vises (, very generously offered to let me use his bench when people wanted to try one of my backsaws. I would have been up the creek if not for Jameel’s kind offer, so thanks Jameel!

This picture above is a shot from my booth to the ones just beside me–you can see Jameel’s benches with their massive handwheel glide vises–those things are astonishingly nice. That space right there was occupied by Brese Plane (that is Ron right there wearing the light colored long-sleeved t-shirt), Benchcrafted, and Czeck Edge Hand Tools with Bob Zajicek. You can see a bit of the Czeck Edge offerings in the foreground to the right, all of those handles protruding from that block. Those were numerous marking knives and awls. Bob also had on hand his new chisels. It seemed like there was a constant stream of people there to examine and buy Bob’s tools all weekend. ( Other people in this picture include the young man to the left, Hunna, Jameel’s nephew, and Jameel himself, the bearded guy in the background using a plane at the far bench. Hunna, by the way, was the nicest young man–just 15 years old, with a quiet smile and a kind way about him. He was a real pleasure to have around.

Here is a better shot of Ron, Jameel, Father John (Jameel’s brother), and Dan Barrett, from D.L. Barrett and Sons, makers of truly incredible wooden plow planes. From left to right that’s Dan Barrett, Ron Brese, Father John, and Jameel.

You can see some of Ron’s planes out on Jameel’s workbench. Ron, Jameel, and I have been in touch for a while now, but I hadn’t gotten to try one of Ron’s planes until this show. Wow! I’m telling you, if you ever get the chance to try one, don’t miss it. They are so smooth, a lot of the time you can hardly even feel the iron cutting. I was using his shooting board plane, for instance, where the mouth of the plane is out of site to the side, and I couldn’t feel it making a shaving, so I leaned to the side to look, and Ron chuckled, “Oh it’s cutting.” And sure enough there were these wispy thin full width shavings curling up on each other in the mouth. Ron is a very smart and understated guy, and his planes just ooze competence. (

Here is a shot of the Barrett’s plow planes.

That picture won’t even do them justice. Seriously. It’s in no way hyperbolic to refer to those planes as world class work. It can start to sound almost a little fantastical when talking about all of the tools at this show–everything is so superlative. But that’s just the caliber of tools you are dealing with at a show like this. I had so many attendees tell me how much they enjoyed being able to walk around and look at all of these amazing tools. Well let me tell you a secret–the tool makers enjoy walking around and looking at the other tools just as much as the attendees do!

Here is a good shot of the booth shared by the Barretts and Medallion Toolworks.

The young guy standing behind Dan Barrett in the burgundy shirt, that is Kyle Barrett. Along with Dan he is instrumental in making those plow planes. Kyle is 18 or maybe 19 years old and is an incredibly bright young man. When you talk with him you find you forget how young he is and could be speaking with a gifted human intelligence of any age at all. Before we all went home on Sunday and were saying our goodbyes, I patted Kyle on the shoulder and told him to keep up the fine work–he modestly grinned and nodded. I have no doubt he will.

The guy to the right in the picture is Raney Nelsen, a hand tool enthusiast and a budding infill plane maker in his own right. Raney’s enthusiasm is absolutely contagious. And to the left in that picture is the saw maker Ed Paik of Medallion Toolworks. Getting to meet and hang out with Ed was a real treat–both of us being saw makers, we automatically had a lot in common, and it was more like talking with someone who might be at work at the next workbench than to someone who in fact lives hundreds of miles away. Here is a better shot of Ed’s fine saws.

There are also a lot of people and booths I didn’t get a photo of. I actually forgot to take my camera on Saturday, so that was a whole day where I was cursing my absentmindedness. And then there were other times when I just didn’t have my camera with me. I didn’t get a picture, for instance, of Konrad Sauer and his incredible infill planes. ( Wow. Just wow. Konrad is a consummate craftsman and a person of tremendous skill. It’s like just happening to be alive at the same time as Thomas Norris or Stewart Spiers.

All weekend, over and over again I found myself face to face with extraordinary, and sometimes even iconic, people. Like Roy Underhill. Roy appeared at my table seemingly out of nowhere. Here he is looking at my saws.












Someone said, “Hey Roy, you gotta try that dovetail saw.” So he did. He bent down, made a cut, and you could see his eyebrows sort of wiggle. Then he made another, and another. He liked the saw a lot and was very complimentary. It was a great honor to meet him.

I could go on and on. There are numerous tool makers I met that I did not manage to get pictures of. Thomas Lie-Nielsen, for instance, or Joel Moskowitz, or Ron Hock, Dave Jeske, or Gary Blum. It goes on and on. It was such an impressive array of people. My friend Mike Wenzloff of course was there, and I didn’t get a picture of him either.

And do you know, among all of these incredible people, it speaks to the quality of the attendees that some of the best conversations I had all weekend were with them! I really enjoyed getting to put faces to names that I already knew, or getting to meet some of the people whose paths I’ve crossed in the forums. On Friday night a number of us went out to dinner and had a terrific time, a mixture of tool makers and tool enthusiasts and craftsmen. I definitely have come away from this experience with a renewed hope for people in general. To the new friends I made, and to everyone who made this weekend such a special one for me, I really can’t thank you enough.

I’m going to leave with a couple images of what perhaps was the most stunning piece of work I saw all weekend–the oud that Jameel Abraham of Benchcrafted brought with him. For those of you who don’t know, Jameel not only is behind the incredible vises of Benchcrafted, he carves and builds furnishings for churches, he paints, and he is a luthier! This oud he built himself from scratch. In the picture below the oud is being held by Joel Moskowitz’s righthand man Tim, a very impressive designer and artisan in his own right.

Here is a good shot of the bone fretwork at the center of the oud.

And in this last picture Jameel is playing the oud. I think I could have listened to him play all day.