The Slightly Confused Woodworker

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Woodworking Media

I’ve said it a hundred times before, but I don’t watch much TV, in particular if you take football and baseball out of the equation. Up until very recently, one of the few indulgences I had was watching television woodworking shows. Unfortunately, I’ve just found out that The Woodwright’s Shop is no longer being shown in my area. While there are a few other woodworking television shows still being shown, it just so happens that I’m usually not home when they are on. For all intents and purposes, woodworking television no longer exists in my house, and it’s disappointing.

I’m not sold on internet woodworking. I write a woodworking blog, I read many woodworking blogs, I watch woodworking videos, and I even watch The New Yankee Workshop and The Woodwright’s Shop, all on a computer. It just isn’t the same thing. There is a disconnect that occurs when using a computer. I can’t necessarily describe what that disconnect is, but it does exist. Sitting at a computer desk and watching a screen is not the same as watching a television program with my family, or even the same as reading a book in the same room. My daughter, and even my wife would watch Norm Abram with me; she would ask questions, or tell me what she liked and didn’t like. If I happen to be reading a woodworking magazine or book, my wife will usually check out what I am reading. My daughter always enjoyed looking at the project books I have, and she particularly likes the Eric Sloane books. I can only speak for myself, but you don’t see too many families gathered around a computer screen enjoying each others company.

I know that the internet has done a lot of amazing things for woodworking like allowing people to take woodworking classes who otherwise may never have that opportunity. But something about sitting at a desk watching a computer screen just bugs the hell out of me. It feels lazy, it feels wrong. In this paperless world, I print out articles I want to read because I don’t like having to sit at a computer to read them, in fact I have several ring binders filled with them. I find it funny and ironic that many woodworkers took up the hobby to work with their hands, get away from the grind, get away from the computer screen, and maybe slow down an ever quickening technological and fast paced world. Yet the world of woodworking media is now dominated by the internet, and I don’t know if that’s for the better.

Internet woodworking is here to stay; I know that. And internet woodworking certainly has its place. I’ve been able to share my thoughts and radical ideas with people around the world because of the internet. I’ve been able to learn woodworking techniques by watching skilled woodworkers, both amateur and professional, who were thoughtful enough to post their videos. In fact, you might argue that the hobby of woodworking would not be flourishing without the internet. I would probably agree. But I like woodworking television, and I like woodworking books, and there are those out there that would say that those forms of woodworking media are dead or dying. I don’t agree. For all the internet has to offer, it can’t replace a book, or a few minutes watching Roy Underhill while sitting on a couch with your kid. So if the day ever comes when you no longer can buy a woodworking book, or watch a woodworking television program, I believe that woodworking will die along with it.

Promised Land

Some of my fondest childhood memories are the times I went to see the Philadelphia Phillies play baseball. There is something magical about watching a professional baseball game at a ball park; it is truly a larger than life experience. Though those magical moments happen less often for adults, they are still there to be found. Sadly, I’ve never had one of those larger than life experiences as a woodworker.

If you are a woodworker, you likely subscribe to a woodworking magazine or two, and possibly even read a woodworking blog written by a genius such as myself. At any given time, there is usually a woodworking show going on somewhere in America, and there is usually a magazine article or a blog written by a person or persons who have attended the show which describes the magical experience they had. Before I had ever attended a woodworking show, I had read those articles and blogs posts, so you can probably imagine that I was pretty excited when I finally got the chance to attend my first woodworking show. When I walked through the doors I was expecting the woodworking equivalent of the first time I entered a professional baseball stadium, instead, I got the equivalent of walking into a woodshop at a retirement home.

I’ve been to a half-dozen or so woodworking shows and events, and they basically all have consisted of four or five groups of old geezers standing around being old. Now, I have nothing against old geezers standing around and being old because that’s basically what old geezers do. But I do have something against false advertising. It turns out that every description of every woodworking show I’ve ever read was pretty much misleading. It also turns out that in general, woodworking shows suck, and they suck a lot. But, while I know that I will never find the woodworking version of the Promised Land, there is one place I like to go, and fortunately I will be going there soon.

Hearne Hardwoods is located just over an hour’s drive from my house. It is one of the largest hardwood dealers in Pennsylvania, and possibly the entire region. Because of my hours at work, I don’t get to go there very often, but I have a few days off from work coming up, and I plan on using one of those mornings to make a trip to Hearne. Simply put, the place is a Mecca of wood selection. If you can’t find what you need there then it doesn’t exist. I plan on dropping a few hundred bucks just because, and hopefully it leads to a nice project or two for the end of the summer.

Before I go I will say this. If you are in the region and you do go to Hearne, don’t expect to walk into Woodworking Disneyland. It’s a lumber yard. Don’t get me wrong, it is a nice facility in a nice setting. In fact, the drive through rural Pennsylvania farm land is just as nice an experience as strolling through the facility. But there is no magic, no choirs singing, and no girls in bikinis. I’ve read descriptions of lumberyards on some woodworking blogs that make them sound like a bachelor party in Las Vegas. Hearne Hardwoods is one of the largest and most respected in the entire country, and it is nothing like any of the fanciful descriptions of other lumberyards I’ve seen. So all in all, in this instance trust my judgment, and not the BS you read in the magazines. There is no woodworking Promised Land. Hallelujah.

Handworks 2.0

I’ve never cared all that much for woodworking shows; I admit it. I know that being an amateur woodworker, I am supposed to drool with anticipation every time a woodworking show approaches nigh. The truth is, I’ve been to about 7 or 8 woodworking shows if you count the 3 Lie Nielsen hand tool events I’ve attended, and for the most part they consisted of half a dozen groups of septuagenarian men standing in a semi-circle with their arms folded listening to somebody talk. No offense, but that’s not my idea of a good time. Still, I’m not ready to give up on woodworking shows completely. As a matter of fact, there is a show in the works that may make me a believer.

The upcoming show, called Handworks, is located in Amana, Iowa. As of today it is scheduled for May 15th and 16th of 2015, which should give me plenty of time to plan the trip. The list of vendors, toolmakers, and woodworkers is a virtual who’s who of current woodworking tool makers including: Veritas, Lie Nielsen, Benchcrafted, Tools for Working Wood, and Bad Axe tools, as well as Scott Meek, Matt Bickford, and Hock Tools among many, many others. Wacky woodworker Roy Underhill will be presenting and Lost Art Press will also be on hand with books for sale. Those familiar with woodworking will recognize that this event is a pure “Hand Tool” affair. That is fine with me. I’m neither in the hand tool nor the power tool camp, but I’ve been to several power tool demonstrations, and there’s not much to them; you can only watch a board get cross cut on a table saw so many times. Hand tool shows manage to actually offer a little variety.

So why would a person that admittedly doesn’t care much about woodworking shows drive nearly 2000 miles round trip to attend one? Firstly, this may be the last chance I get to take a good road trip. I’m not a kid anymore, and my opportunities and excuses to take a cross country drive are now few and far between. Secondly, it would give me a chance to check out a part of the country that I’ve never had the chance to see up close. Most importantly, I think my wife and daughter would really enjoy the area, if not the woodworking show itself, and I really can’t say that about any of the other woodworking events I’ve attended.

Does all of this mean that I’m going? The odds are probably against it, but it is still my best chance. Flying to the show is out of the question because of the cost, and because if we were planning on purchasing plane tickets I would have a tough time convincing my family to choose Amana, Iowa over Disney World. I don’t mind making the drive, but it would involve several days in a car, which is not an easy sell. At the same time, there is no cost for the event, and I’m sure we can find an interesting place or two to stop and check out along the way. In other words, I have a shot.

So the bottom line is if there is one woodworking show in the world I would actually go out of my way to attend, it would be Handworks in Amana. And at the risk of sounding presumptuous, if any woodworker or woodworkers out there ever wanted to hang out with me for a few hours at a woodworking show and talk a little shop, or just get into trouble, this may be the best chance to make that happen. Hopefully, I’ll be going, and hopefully I’ll be seeing some of you there.

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