Category Archives: Woodworking Education

A Day At Fine Woodworking Live 2013

This post is following my usual theme of “better late than never”…

I got the chance a few weekends ago to spend a day in New Haven, CT to attend Fine Woodworking Live. The event was the whole weekend, however Fine Woodworking also offered day passes for this year’s event. Not to get into too much personal info, but since I have a special needs son, which has meant a very “tag-team” approach for my wife and I, I’m very happy the day passes were offered. I could go for the day, and be back that night.

It was great to see a couple of folks I hadn’t seen in a while, and meet for the first time others. Getting to spend time with fellow woodworkers is always a great part of an event like this. The day began with a presentation to all the attendees, and was then followed by the classes. What was nice is that the most popular classes (determined by a survey they gave to attendees prior to the event) were offered at multiple times. The common thing I took away from the event was the approachability of the instructors and the Fine Woodworking employees at the event. All the folks I spoke with either after classes or in the hallway were easy going and willing to answer questions and feedback.

Of course I took some pics while there (click on each for larger image):

I think I would be remiss if I didn’t share my thoughts on Fine Woodworking as an organization. When I first became interested in woodworking, my impression of Fine Woodworking was that it would be the magazine I would get once I “got good” at woodworking. It was the magazine for folks that had a great deal of experience, which I had yet to obtain. Shortly afterwards, I was invited by the Modern Woodworkers Association to take a tour of their offices and shop in Newtown, CT. It was then that I figured it might be a good time to check out the magazine, so I subscribed.

Once I had magazine in hand and took part in the tour, I realized my first impression was a bit off. With their mix of editor and contributor authored articles, it is a very much “how-to” magazine, with content suitable for multiple experience levels. When on the tour with Matt Kenney and Mike Pekovich, it was clear they were regular guys with a love for the craft.

Now that I’ve been a subscriber for a couple of years, attended Fine Woodworking Live, and listened to their podcast Shop Talk Live for some time now, it’s clear to me that they are working hard to lose any image they’ve had as a publication only for the professional or well experienced hobbyist with an aloof air to it. Shop Talk Live I find entertaining, and they don’t hide the fact that mistakes will be made (Smooth Moves is great section of their podcast).

So for anyone reading that may have a notion that Fine Woodworking is not for the everyday hobbyist or new woodworker, I would say to give them another look. Check out the magazine and their online membership, as well as their Shop Talk Live podcast. Of course, if you can make it to next year’s Fine Woodworking Live, I would highly recommend it. Even if you can’t make the whole weekend, I hope they will continue to offer the day passes – it was definitley worth going.

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The Sawdust Tour & The Woodworking Shows

I recently had the chance a couple of weeks ago to take a Friday off from work and take the couple hour drive out to West Springfield, MA for The Woodworking Shows stop at the Big E (aka the Eastern States Exposition). This was my first trip to one of the Woodworking Shows, so of course was interested in the vendor booths setup there, but I especially was interested in what education opportunities were going to be offered.

I found one such opportunity at The Woodworking Coach booth run by Andy Chidwick of The Chidwick School. Andy is travelling with the show in what’s called the Sawdust Tour – a “social media blitz” where Andy is teaching at the show, and in the process taking the opportunity to meet with other woodworkers along the way, including visiting folks’ shops if possible, such as Todd Clippenger and Matt Vanderlist.

Of course I checked out the vendor booths and caught parts of a few other seminars, but after attending Andy’s first seminar of the day, it was clear I was going back to hear more. Andy spoke about steam bending, picking out the best grain direction from a board, sculpting work – and the joinery that goes into a sculpted chair, and also encouraging us to think outside the typical woodworking publications – to become an observer anywhere and gain inspiration from something that could then be used in a project in the shop.

I had a chance to talk with Andy after the seminars. He’s a great guy, very knowledgeable, and clearly has a passion for the craft along with the desire to pass that along to others. Check out the site for the Woodworking Shows to see if one is near your area. I highly recommend going if you can and check out Andy’s seminars. You can learn quite a bit and they are highly motivating. Also check out The Chidwick School site as well. Andy offers classes in Montana, and soon will be offering an online curriculum as well.

So Andy, it was great to meet you, and thanks for the Sawdust Tour shirt!

Double Dose of Goodness

The months of November and December have been great ones here at the shop. Allow me to explain…

November – The Puja Table is complete!

The Puja Table, the project that I had been working on for the better part of the past year, was finished back in November and given to my friend who it was for. This was my second furniture piece, and my first commission. When I completed my son’s work table and posted it on Facebook, he approached me about building him the puja table. After discussing some design items, and what wood to use, he gave me a deposit to buy the materials.

One of the reasons I did not cover the project in too much detail before (one blog post and one video), is that by the time the project was really taking shape, it was also getting to be a while since he asked for it. I spent a good amount of time sweating the details. I must honestly say he was more than patient though, which I really appreciated. My focus however, especially between August and November, was to finish it up to deliver to him before Thanksgiving.

When it was delivered, he was more than happy with the result. My first commission ended with a happy customer!

I had a few things I set as woodworking goals for this project.

  • I had worked with walnut some when making some paddle cutting boards and really liked how it is to work with. I helped “steer” my friend toward walnut as the primary species, as I really like the look of it as well. When I showed him some pictures online of projects made with walnut, he readily agreed.
  • Attempt a new joinery technique. This was my first attempt at sliding dovetails, which I used to join the leg pieced into the top. This definitely proved to be a challenge, especially with some limited tooling. With some finessing though, I was happy with the result.
  • This was also my first experience with spraying finish. In this case lacquer. Once I got the hang of it, things went pretty well. I did have to correct some overspraying and drip marks initially though.

Some pictures of the final piece. Click each for a larger view and info.


December – The Wood Whisperer Guild for Life!

I’m no longer one of those folks who can say that I never win anything. The Wood Whisperer had their yearly Holiday online party a couple of weeks ago, and as usual part of the festivities were prize giveaways. The prizes ranged from tshirts, USB thumb drives, DVDs, to Guild memberships. This year, saving it for last, the granddaddy prize was a lifetime Wood Whisperer Guild membership. When I heard my name as the winner, I had to pick my jaw up from my desk! I was surprised and excited beyond belief. I was now a Wood Whisperer Guild member for life!

Now, if you don’t have any experience with the Guild, you can find out more and sign up here. I joined the Guild last year when Marc had a one night sale (after the 2011 Holiday party) of 50% off. I was able to sign up for the three month option, which I then renewed that next spring for one year. Since then the Guild has been restructured to have various levels of access. You can gain access to the “a la carte” version, where you pick which projects you want, or an option to gain access to all the currently existing projects. Again, check out the link. There is a section that explains all the levels available that goes into more detail than what I am here.

So now the next question… why join the Guild? After all, there is a reason why I renewed my membership before winning the lifetime membership. In short, because it’s a great resource – both in knowledge and the community. The level of detail that Marc goes into in the videos that accompany each project is incredible. There is also access to help for your project, and interviews with experts that are recorded and posted if you can’t make a live event. Even if you’re not in a position to build the particular project that is ongoing at the time, the insight that you can gain when watching the videos can be easily brought to whatever project you are working on. Having that level of education at your fingertips really makes it a no brainer in my opinion.

So am I excited I won the lifetime Wood Whisperer Guild membership? “Heck yeah” would be an understatement.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year everyone!

Hangin’ With Woodworkers

It’s been a busy few weeks – I recently was in a remote training class for work for a week that was on west coast hours (I’m on the east coast). That was followed by a different than usual work schedule afterward. This is a blog post I’ve been wanted to do for a bit now that involves two recent opportunities to join other woodworkers for two different events.

Visit to Fine Woodworking Magazine

The first of these events was a visit to Fine Woodworking magazine in Newtown, CT with the Modern Woodworkers Association folks – a great reason to take the day off from work and get a long weekend out of the deal. Our hosts were Senior Editor Matt Kenney and Art Director Mike Pekovich, who gave us an overview of how an issue is produced, and afterward a tour of the shop area that included a discussion and demonstration of tips for shop efficiency. I don’t want to simply redo the excellent and detailed posts that Steve Branam, Dyami Plotke, and Nick Roulleau did about our visit – click on each to read their posts, they’re well worth the read. I had a great time and for me, I valued the tour and workshop efficiency tips (while I was doing this before, I am now even more conscious of setting realistic, obtainable objectives for a finite session of shop time). What I also valued though was seeing fellow woodworkers in person. What the MWA is all about is translating online social interactions into in person ones. Folks I had been interacting with in Twitter, Google+,  blogs and forums I got to meet in person, as well as some I met for the first time (from both an online an in person perspective). Matt and Mike were gracious and treated us to lunch at the Taunton cafeteria, and it was more good conversation that  continued at the lunch table.

WoodExpo 2012

Just over a week after the Fine Woodworking visit, it was time for WoodExpo 2012, part of the New England Home Show. I was just as impressed, if not more so, with the projects this year. What really struck me this year was that they had more real estate at the show, and that it was placed in a better location for more people to be exposed to some very fine pieces. It was also quite busy. I went on a Saturday as opposed to a Friday last year, so that may account for it being that much more busy. I did get a chance to briefly chat with Tommy MacDonald and Eli Cleveland, and a bit more with Rob Bois, Mike Morton, Mike McCoy, and Steve Branam (all four exhibited at the expo); as well as Dyami Plotke and Nick Roulleau. I also got to meet Chuck Bender who had a booth setup at the show. My biggest regret is that I could not stay longer. The Boston area Modern Woodworkers Association (MWA) had their kickoff that evening and I was not able to stay for the dinner after the expo. I had hoped to get to talk to Tommy and Eli a bit more as well, but unfortunately when I had to leave, they were just beginning a panel discussion regarding the state of the craft and the relationship with the buyer – I would have loved to stay to hear that discussion.

I hope to be able to plan a bit differently next year, and for other folks perspectives on WoodExpo, encourage folks to also visit Dyami’s post, as well as Nick’s two posts on his site, and on the MWA site.

Is It October Yet?

Check out the trailer for “Rough Cut – Woodworking with Tommy Mac”, by clicking here, or the image below. Is it October yet?!

The True Value Of Free

I’m still what I would consider a novice woodworker, and ever since I’ve become interested in woodworking, I’ve been soaking up any information I can get. Books, magazines, DVD videos, and especially online content available for free.

As someone who wants to learn about all facets of woodworking – not just techniques, but also ideas from others on how to build one’s hobby, shop ideas, etc. – I very much value any information I can get for low cost or free. Let’s face it, I think most of us are on a budget; and I sometimes struggle with finding time and money to keep my modest hobby going consistently, especially since we’re currently a one income household with a young mildly austistic son.

And yet, there are some that would find fault with a few seconds of advertisement in one of these free online videos from The Wood Whisperer (Marc Spagnoulo). And to boot, it’s only the online embedded version of the video that has the ads. The iTunes podcast and downloadable versions of the videos don’t even include the ads! At first I couldn’t believe it, but remember that it takes all types, and that some people are just not happy unless they’re complaining about something.

What these folks, who provide their content for free, have invested in their craft cannot be measured – in their shops and in their own learning. What they then do is invest yet more: their cameras, microphones, editing software, computer hardware, writing ability, and TIME. Time to create the content, edit it, answer email questions, administer online forums, scour the internet to let us know of the upcoming deals, and the list goes on.

Some have made woodworking their full time career; guys like Marc Spagnoulo and Tommy MacDonald. Others have been doing it as their hobby, while maintaining their work and family life balance, such as Matt Vanderlist and Tom Iovino. Then there are the others I am continually discovering, such as Shannon Rogers, Kari Hultman, David Pruett, and so many others.  All these people who create content and share their knowledge and ideas, and those who offer their insight via sites like LumberJocks, other community forums, and their blogs, do so to the betterment of the entire woodworking community. Those that need to add a few advertisements or sponsorships to keep doing what they are doing is certainly more than understandable, it’s common sense.

Knowledge sharing in exchange for a few seconds of ads – I’ll take that any day…

WGBH and Thomas MacDonald

In my last post I talked about the Major League Woodworking tools that I acquired last fall. Well, since then, Tommy has been rebranding both his site and tool line due to an agreement made between himself and WGBH in Boston for a woodworking show! I posted a video from the Folding Rule podcast that has the announcement from the New England Home Show. Tommy’s podcasts have always been a great and entertaining source of woodworking information.

Congratulations Tommy!