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 (www.benchcrafted.com), 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. (www.czeckedge.com) 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. (www.breseplane.com)

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. (www.sauerandsteiner.com) 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.

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