Why We Build the Way We Do

I like to think I’m above average in the amateur enthusiast level of woodworker (don’t we all.) Still, even at my level of expertise I recognize a bit of snobbery in myself.

Last weekend I tried a new market to sell my work. It was a bust but gave me ample opportunity to walk around and socialize. Other vendors like to talk about various things they’ve made for their booths with me. One vendor who sold mason jar stuff (pickled eggs, canned vegetables, salsa, honey…) was especially proud of the new shelves he’d finished. A simple design where a sheet of plywood is cut up into shelves and sides, screwed together through the sides and squared and strengthened via a back panel screwed to everything. His was painted purple.

Now this is a perfectly acceptable design for its purpose. It held the weight, was environment appropriate, inexpensive and durable enough to be moved around a lot. It’s a design you see in lots of DIY shops and there’s even a business here in Austin by the university that sells bookcases to college students and grunge stores made in a similar manner (he does add side dados for the shelves.)

I even contemplated that I could take a week off here and there working the markets and instead load up the bed of my truck with plywood, circular saw and generator to batch out this style of shelving for vendors on the spot, dirt cheap and still make a little money.

But I can’t. It’d be uncomfortable, even emotionally painful to hand someone a piece of work I’d built at that level. I know how and can do better. Yet “better” would still serve the same purpose as the quickly assembled. Hold up masonry jars for a few years until the abuse of constant moving dictated a new build.

For about a decade I sold motorcycles to help pay my way through college. I got to meet and ride with some top level racers. Most true pros I know drive like grandma’s on the street. Yes they’re capable of a little hooliganism but on the street, their attitude is “why”.

Yet while going no faster or getting to their destination any quicker they show a level of knowledge and skill that takes the journey up a notch and makes the experience so much more enjoyable. And like fine woodworking most time its things you don’t notice unless you are look for them.

Turning a car is simple. Brake, turn the wheel and accelerate. Racers at normal road speeds those transitions are invisible. And there’s no course correction in the middle. The suspension is always settled. You can hold an open cup of coffee and not spill it because the driver did all the geometry and physics without thinking. They read the terrain so the turning arc (never constant) hit any bumps in a manner to not unsettle the car side to side. They know the vehicle enough that the braking force equaled the gyro scoping effect of the turn so that the suspension compressed once for both operations and matches what is needed for the line chosen. All so the action on the vehicle and passengers doesn’t vary in that one turn.

Take away two wheels, 90% of the weight and add in a moveable seat, center of gravity, and weight distribution fore/aft/left/right and you have the added variables presented to a motorcyclist. I’ve never been in awe of the skill of factory racers than riding behind them going to lunch at a corporate event.

Knowledge lets you recognize the minutia in different things that serve the same function. It adds an appreciation level that acts as an added benefit. Things denied others until they learn.

I made it to lunch as fast and safe as those factory riders. That vendor made a shelf just as effective as what I’d make. But….

It’s harsh recognizing you’re a snob.

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Top Tips for Teaching Woodworking – Get away from your bench/desk (7 of 12)

Be it a visit to your garage shop, a middle school shop class, a woodworking store, or a paid for class you have got to offer one-on-one education to any student in front of you.

Most woodworking classes are going to involve hands on time. Personal opinion is this should be the majority of time spent in a classroom setting. The half hour block where 5-10 minutes spent explaining and demoing followed by 20-25 of activity has always worked well as it paces students so they don’t get physically drained or loopy stupid.

You as a teacher need to be fast enough, organized enough, or have the modules prepared enough so that you can get away from your workbench and out among the masses during the work time. You will find that this is the time where most of your actual teaching occurs as the lecture/demo is just the regurgitation of information/skill to the wall. I like to think of this activity time as Drive-by teaching opportunities “like a gangsta”.

This is all about speed teaching. Answering specific questions, expanding on a subject, discovering what info you didn’t communicate well, judging understanding, and moving on. The one on one is also where you get to drill down with each student so you’ll know how to tailor future lessons. You’ll also find that it’s this time that develops the respect between student and teacher as it shows your personal interest to and understanding of the student.

In the beginning think of yourself as a sniper with a machine gun. Rapid fire targeted teaching. You’ll feel like these beginning sessions are mass chaos running around with your hair on fire as you’re doing a lot of work. Time will fly and you’ll feel like you’re behind schedule. It’s all about speed in the beginning. If you follow the techniques mentioned elsewhere towards the end of the class/course/semester you’ll be bored out of your mind standing on the outside waiting for a teachable target to pop up their head. Later on you’ll be able to spend much more time delving much deeper into solutions with the students. It’s just how things work out if you develop a real educational environment.

This technique isn’t too applicable in a symposium or club meeting setting but you can utilize some aspects by getting a variety of volunteers to come up and try/do the demonstrating during your lecture.

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Top Tips for Teaching Woodworking – Student Should Teach Students – (6 of 12)

If there is anything that will turn a group of students into an intelligence consuming cohesive monster of a learning mob then it’s getting students to teach other students.

When answering a question or walking around if you see one student struggling with a specific task and the person right next to them excelling get one to demonstrate to the other. Doing so develops a pattern of collaborative learning (an important lesson in the modern workplace) and reduces the initial apprehension in a new class of getting to know each other. There are three 5-second steps to doing this successfully: walking away, following up, and reciprocating.

Ask one peer to help another by implying the student-teacher knows something unique. I usually refer to it as a trick or hack. Then walk away as if you have to get something else done or help another. Preferably across the room out of earshot. “Hey Jane that’s really good. Show Joe that trick. I’ll be back in a second.”

Asking in such a manner provides the appearance that the teacher-student grasped something beyond the lesson, not that the first isn’t grasping it. Leaving dissolves the pressure created when even the nicest authority figure is present. The time frame reference tells both this is just a short casual commitment that won’t cost either much but you will be checking back to make sure the knowledge is transferred.

Most times when you follow up a minute or so later you’ll get confirmation with a quick glance. Be sure to acknowledge you’re approval. My normal response is to just stick my head in so both notice I’m there and give a “Kewl” and walk away. If you can’t visually tell get some kind of affirmation that the information has been transferred successfully. You’ll never get an absolute negative response because the students don’t want to drop each other under the bus. But occasionally you’ll get a kind of ‘meh’ reaction. In that situation come in and utilize the student-teachers work to explain the answer. This does two things. It gets the needed information communicated and it’ll be a one-on-one lesson to both on how to teach each other because you are basically role playing what the student-teacher should have done. So in the future when you ask either to help another they’ll have a better shot at success.

And if you think this technique is only for teens, think again. You’d be surprised how well it works with the grey haired set.

The worst thing you could do with this technique is have the same student always playing the teacher role. You have to provide some method for reciprocation. This sometimes takes a little creativity but if you want this tool in your arsenal long term it must be done. It’s also why making sure seating arrangements in a classroom or workshop are fluid or change often.

Now this won’t work all the time as some subjects, people, or problems don’t lend themselves to peer education and it’s tailored to classes with more than 6 students (I prefer 24+). Use your judgement and intuition here. But when you can, use it because you are in effect teaching positive behavior skills via example and practice in a subversive non-confrontational or stressful way.

Plus you’ll find the group as a whole will be able to absorb more information and progress much farther as it creates an educational pattern of behavior that enables the teacher to focus on the truly hard roadblocks in learning.

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Top Tips for Teaching Woodworking – Don’t Give Answers – (5 of 12)

One of the differences between a demonstrator and a teacher is that a teacher guides a student to discovery because they know an answer given is worth a fraction of one discovered. It’s that ole “give a fish or teach to fish leading to bad breath for a day or a lifetime” argument. This is another reason why developing a broad knowledge base is so important teachers.

In this arena when a student asks you how to do stuff simply answering the question short-changes the student. Instead ask leading open ended questions in a manner that will lead the student’s thoughts to the answer. Nothing in woodworking is original. It’s all derivative. So use that to your advantage by drawing analogies and such.

This not only provides the answer to their question but reinforces the inquisitive mind and builds confidence in their intelligence. They will now have real world experience showing they’re capable of figuring things out themselves if needed. In this day and age of google being able to provide facts on command and education systems so focused on regurgitation rather than absorption, developing and exercising trouble shooting thought processes is more important than ever.

Most woodworking teaching situations are fairly short lived: a symposium, weekend class, garage visit, or whatnot. But if you teach something that spans weeks utilizing this technique will result in fewer questions and farther development because the simple questions will begin to be answered by the students themselves and you’ll be left with only the difficult ones. Additionally, at the middle/high school level the students will begin to show you much more respect because they will see that you see them as intelligent as yourself only lacking some facts and experience.

So the best thing you can do as a teacher when asked a question… if possible, don’t answer.

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Top Tips for Teaching Woodworking – Prepare but be Flixible – (4 of 12)

SLG_0189Broad knowledge is as important as specialized for a teacher. Communication is the main activity of a good teacher and being able to communicate with the broadest background of population means you need a pretty broad background of knowledge. I will say a good general knowledge of physics is beneficial in teaching woodworking. Not because everyone out there is a physicist but because it will allow you to translate a lot of motions from one activity more relevant to the student into woodworking skills.

The reason you need this broad knowledge base is because your students have such a variety of backgrounds. If only you could schedule a class made up entirely of engineers, of moto-crossers, of gamers, or of knitters. Then you could have a consistent knowledge of interest baseline among your students to draw upon. Ahh… a teachers dream class…

Wake up, that’s never gonna happen.

Part of your prep for class is figuring out multiple ways of explaining the same thing. Repeating the same words over and over to a person not grasping a concept is like shouting English in Borneo thinking the volume will communicate meaning. It’s not the responsibility of the natives to understand the interlopers. It’s your responsibility as teacher to make sure you’re understood by the students.

So if in your conversations you learn one student has an interest in golf then having a general knowledge of the sport would be useful. So if you don’t have it, get it. You don’t need to be an expert but having a basic understanding of putters, irons, woods, and balls can translate to analogies explaining smooth, fore, and jointer planes or body mechanic requirements of different saws, or tracking while cutting miters by hand.

So besides working to bring back crafts let us all root for a resurgence in Liberal Arts Degrees! Woodworkers need ‘em.

 

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Top Tips for Teaching Woodworking – Complement Intelligently – (3 of 12)

OSLG_0015dds are that most people the majority of us will be teaching will be woodworking beginners, kindergarteners so to speak. And at that level many of us are tempted to slather praise and encouragement on as if it was butter and syrup on hotcakes.

Encouragement is a seemingly generational thing. I’m not of the opinion everyone should get a trophy or that absence makes the heart grow fonder. I’ve also learned that encouragement is only a reward if it’s recognition of a person exceeding their own expectations. Otherwise it’s only a recognition of what they knew they could do.

So it’d be smart at some point on day one set a baseline for student project expectations so that encouragement can be doled out intelligently and appropriately. A prekindergarten student can’t be expected to color in the lines and a new woodworker can’t be expected to make gap free joints consistently at first. But even a gappy joint can work out in the end and be functional so set the expectations accordingly.

A good way of doing setting expectations without sounding condescending in a brief class is to take advantage of the time constraint. Talk about history and the quality/time craftsmen had to adhere too. Maybe show photo’s of old work for students to see what they’ll be able to accomplish and then a close up to show how even the masters took liberties in quality to produce quantity.

“With class time in short supply we (the class) are working on the quantity scale because I want you to get as much information as possible with just enough experience to sink it in so you can refine your skills when time is more abundant.”

With expectations set you can then dole out encouragement as needed to help persuade a student to accept a lesson.

But in an educational environment should you really be praising the result or the process? Try to make what encouragement you offer more meaningful by focusing on the action and not the results. If a student’s smoothing skills with planes improves it’s not the result of the board. So why complement the glass smooth finish. Complement tool control, body positioning, apparent comfort level, speed, finger pressure, eye hand coordination, etc…

When you complement these actions and skills then the motivation extends beyond that specific project as they transfer a classes value from a finite activity/project to a skill they’ll have forever.

Praise is a powerful tool in the hands of the respected. And with great power comes great responsibility. Use your power well.

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Top Tips for Teaching Woodworking – Admit to Limits – (2 of 12)

“I don’t know” is the most powerful thing a teacher can say. Especially when followed up with “Let’s find out.”

It’s unrealistic for a teacher to be an expert on everything. And while it isn’t hard to ‘fake it’, why bother, students will know and that’ll call into question everything you’ve ever taught them and will definitely affect how much they absorb from you in the future.

This is an educational environment. Showing others how to learn is just as important as providing what to learn. It leads to reduced anxiety to experimentation and a willingness to fail among your students. Two incredibly beneficial characteristic’s to develop.

So if you don’t know something just say so and be in awe of how it leads to greater learning.

There are also times where you might know something or have done it before, but might not be the most skilled at. Just straight up explaining it like that goes a long way towards credibility.

“Ok class, we’re going thru different dovetails today and to be complete I want to show you the double blind. Now I’ll admit, I’ve never used this joint in a project. I’m not very good at it. But it has some unique techniques that you will use elsewhere. Understanding both the joint and how it’s cut will open up new ideas for you in the future. So forgive me if we fumble around a bit…”

The hard ones are when you know something but not the why. Make sure you’re up front about that too as this kind of situation opens up great opportunities for discussion which can lead the whole group to deeper understanding. Personally I know that certain modern steels are greatly improving the cutting edges of modern tools and I can explain that to a class. This holds it’s edge longer, this gets keener. But I can’t explain why.

There are also those things that “it’s always been done that way.” So telling students that up front in the context of “my experience has shown me” gives students permission to disagree. Also a good thing in an educational environment.

“I don’t know.” Who woulda thunk that’d be the an opening to learning.

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Top Tips for Teaching Woodworking (1 of 12)

2017 is going to be a milestone for ‘wortheffort’.

First off we are hoping we can shift our retail business to the ‘net so as to spend more time creating content. Working approximately 80 shows a year is murder.

Secondly is a renewed focus on educational content in print and online. I’ve decided to reformat the teen woodworking series I was teaching in the old brick and mortar school into a book accompanied by a video series. I started the “classroom video series” on YouTube before deciding a printed book would bea more in depth medium and writing the books outline. We’ll continue on with that video series this month but will skip Ch.2 and jump to Ch.3 since it’ll fit with the outline of the book better. There’ll be 12 chapters in all with multiple sections in each and I’ll go back and redo Ch.1 & 2 with my NEW AV EQUIPMENT! (Yipppee!).

But to get the ball rolling I’ve written 12 “Top Tips for Teaching Woodworking” series of blog posts and will be posting a couple a week for the next month or so.

So here we go!


Teaching is a milestone in every woodworker’s career. Be it helping a boy/girl scout troop assemble derby cars, helping a neighbor repair a fence using your tools, or showing your local club a technique you just learned, that marker can come fairly quickly in your career too. Passing what you know to those that don’t is the human way. What’s cool about this transition is the dirty little secret every teacher knows. Teaching best benefit is a selfish one as your own learning curve will turn sharply up with a greater understanding of the subject taught and a stronger foundation to leap and grasp more knowledge for yourself.

Now I’m of the opinion that someone does not need to be a PhD., Master, or Expert to teach. History and life experience has taught us we generally learn best from those that know just a little more than us likely because they can better relate to us. We strive to reach the next step, not the summit, and it’s the person right above us not the wizard shouting from up high that has a hand out we can reach. Kindergarteners model the 1st graders. 1st graders learn from 3rd and so forth. (Everyone knows 2nd graders are nuts.) A “teacher” just needs to know information a “student” wants to learn and have the ability to pass it along thru modeling /explanation. It’s that second part where real risk presents itself.

We’ve all known incredibly knowledgeable individuals who couldn’t translate that knowledge to others or well-meaning individuals who’ve been more a hindrance than help to growth. So it seems logical that learning some teaching skills at the start will make you more effective teacher and recognizing a teachers faults might help yourself learn from someone more skilled.

So let’s open a discussion that can be continued within your woodworking clubs, fellow parents, families, and classrooms. In no particular order here are some Top Tips for Teaching Woodworking.

 

  1. Safety

Teaching woodworking is quite a bit different than a subject like Algebra. It’s an activity with physical risk. Unfortunately there are few hard rules here. It’s just one big grey area. How you teach your kids versus other kids or those adult kids who paid for a class will differ. But safety concerns has to be top of mind when teaching a subject that involves so many blades.

We’ve all seen overprotective parents who put helmets, pads, and mouthpieces on their 4 year olds to go play at the park and rush to the hospital when a kid skins their knee. Then others who depend upon the catch phrases, “They’ll learn.”, “That’ll teach ‘em.” when those skinned knees occur. The thing is, both extremes are right. It’s their kids so their rules. And adults in protecting themselves are of the same extreme and both attitudes are right, for them.

That is why it is important to begin a course with the standard speech, “Woodworking can be dangerous if you are stupid about it.”, or a variation thereof. These usually include a “Hell and Brimstone, Your safety, your responsibility” diatribe along with rules and reasons. (Personally if it’s going to be a long class I’ll also take a few minutes to tell students the teaching tricks I’ll be pulling on them at this time. More on why later.)

But it can’t end with those speeches because there’s two more things you’ll need to do. Make sure students know where your comfort level is and manipulate attitudes.

Those who have a little more loose set of safety morale need to understand you’ll be reining them in and those more strict… that you encourage them to trust their gut and have the teacher figure out a another way. That’s part of your job after all.

The hardest thing to do as a teacher is to judge and manipulate attitude and attention. It’s a never ending task that you’ll not nail every time. This skill also affects your effectiveness as a teacher. While most people who sign up for a woodworking class are eager and excited to be there you as the teacher don’t know what happened to them the 5 minutes or 5 months before the class. You don’t know where their minds are or what their current frustration level is. And unless you’ve had months of relationship building it’s incredibly hard to uncover every persons perfect motivational hot button. Now if you are leading a classroom, club, or meeting where not everyone there has bought in 100% at the start, your work is even harder. (Have you thanked your kids school teacher lately?)

Be it a formal classroom, symposium hall, woodworking club, or single car garage it’s a good idea that before anybody shows up and enters your ‘classroom’ to greet them at the door like a Baptist Preacher. Look ‘em in the eye, shake their hand, get their name, offer some 5 second small talk, then thank them by name for coming with some kind of team statement (“We’re gonna have some fun”). This guarantees you have some kind of positive personal contact with the students at the start, sets the relationship as a team effort, reduce apprehension among both parties (it really does get rid of your nervous heebie jeebies of teaching), and is your first chance at reading your students that day so you can make note of those who are anxious, nervous, and agitated.

Plus you’ll find that the audience will pay much greater attention when they’ve had personal contact with you. Something about knowing that the prof knows who you are makes you not want to snore during their lecture.

If you are teaching a class involving student participation then these anxious, nervous, and agitated people are the ones you want to focus your attention on at the start of the class. Do it in some way that attention isn’t drawn to them. Perhaps when the class breaks to do the exercises offer your assistance to them first. If their agitation or anxiety makes you even slightly nervous then you have no choice to separate them and discuss before things escalate.

This kind of confrontation can be incredibly uncomfortable for a teacher. We aren’t trained for this and it isn’t why you become a teacher. But, ya gotta do it because ignoring it will makes things worse, possibly derail the whole class, and will definitely make your day unpleasant.. So the trick is to not make it a confrontation in the first place.

One of the easiest tricks I’ve come up with to do this is sharpening.

Every woodworking class is going to involve sharpening of some kind. So I start most classes with a quick discussion/demonstration of this and a mandate that I’ll work with everyone at some point during the day. Now if all you do is run your hand over a persons chisel and comment “nice job sharpening” you’ve fulfilled that mandate. But if you need to separate a student for a semi private conversation then, “Hey, let me quickly show you some tricks at the sharpening station.” or if it’s a long term class then “Hey, it’s your turn to help me sharpen up some…”. I’m sure there are many other stand-alone quick lessons that can be used in a similar fashion.

Now incredibly most times a short conversation is all it takes to turn these kinds of things into a non-issue. Many times will also be a turning point for a student in your class for no other reason than they have personal experience showing that you are paying attention to them.

To avoid making things adversarial  always start with a general, second nature, tame open ended question (“How’r things going?”). You’ll get one of two responses here. Either “Fine” or a diatribe about all that’s happened to them that’s top of mind. If any of the gushing gives you an opening to recognize the behavior that concerned you note it and then continue listening sympathetically. “Oh, that’s why you appeared anxious/agitated/nervous/…”

If they clam up then just proceed to your sharpening lesson. If you see the behavior when the student tries sharpening then make a note of it in terms of motion. “Oh, when you’re doing that it looks kinda aggressive…” If you don’t observe the behavior then move on, you might have misinterpreted.

Wrap it up by asking for a favor. “Hey, you know from earlier where I was talking about my personal safety morale. Well at the bench/lathe/module would you watch appearing [behavior modification] so I don’t get nervous. I’m not as effective when distracted and want everyone to get their full value and you to be able to finish the class.” This identifies what you want changed  and why without being accusatory along with a hint of consequences.

Rarely will behavior modifications in this type of classroom involve much more than that if you do it sincerely and without accusations. But if you just ignore behavior that concerns you then it will get worse. You have no choice but to jump in early as the leader in the class.

For a second warning of the behavior many times I’ll just offer a knock on desk/computer/workbench with a hand motion to tone it down.

Third is a straight up this is not acceptable behavior and if it continues… If you go that route you have no choice but to follow thru but at this point generally the classroom will be behind you and will respect you more for taking action. It’s their safety to after all.

Sometimes being a good teacher means being a jerk when people’s safety is as risk.

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The Bleeding Edge of Risk

In the day of helicopter parents, litigious lawyers and cubicle life how is a person going to experiment with a risk vs. reward model with relative safety?  Woodworking gives us an outlet to analyze, and take the risks that can provide great reward while avoiding the risks don’t.

One example is pushing a board through a saw. It doesn’t matter what type of saw you’re using, if you push the board through in an unsafe manner there is risk of losing limbs or digits. Yes, you may have to performed that action 100,000 times safely but the risk still isn’t worth it. Analyze the situation, determine the risk vs. reward and take action. You should cut the wood using a push stick, or any other safety tool to reduce the risk to acceptable levels but still get the work done.

Now, let’s examine dovetails. One of the hardest things I do when teaching new woodworkers, especially teens, is convincing them that they have the ability to cut to the line. Invariably they’ll analyze the situation themselves and decide, “I’ll just cut a little off and chisel back.” But, there is just as much chance they’ll butcher the work chiseling. You can’t put the wood back in once it is chiseled out.

Read the Rest on Popular Woodworking’s Blog

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SWAT

DSC_5352For the past 4 years I’ve been going to the Southwest Area Turners Association Symposium (SWAT) held in Waco during the summer. This is the second largest turning symposium in the country and it is by far the biggest inspiration for me every year to try more and do better. Applying what I see and learn to everything from cabinet making to, of course… turning. I could spend the entire weekend exploring the 734 pieces in the instant gallery alone. The quality you find, designs you see, and level of execution is awe-inspiring. What’s more amazing is almost all of them were provided by attendees with a few from presenters. These are items that with a little practice and forethought even I might be able to create! (well, roughly create)

DSC_5356DSC_5345Most years I blast thru the gallery on day one taking lots of pictures and seeing what I think will be my inspiration piece of the year. And then it’s to the vendor’s area and lectures. But during each break I make it a point to go back in and linger. Giving yourself time lets you notice things that were so subtle as to be overlooked in a casual glance. I find that the more time I spend it’s these little things that keep drawing me back and holding my interest. The best ones are the pieces I didn’t even notice on the first go around because of their seeming simplicity but on closer examination your mind explodes as the execution is so perfect it hides the complexity and skill needed to accomplish the task. To me… that is quality art. A piece so perfect as to hold your attention and make your imagination go wild.

2One of the pieces that intrigued me this year was this small, slightly offset, turned box. At first glance you say, ‘oh, nice shape’, and then move on as you know how to make boxes and it only takes a cursory glance to register the overall shape for future use. But then on the next day I spend time some with it. I noticed how thin the walls are yet the weight is appropriate and nicely balanced. The flare down the sides was a graceful curve blending with a slight offset to create a visually different curve at all angles of the box yet the grain itself matched perfectly top to bottom when angled right. The base was sized just right to hold the off center weight of the piece. The clincher in the piece was the slightest of cutouts in the top. And then it hit me, this wasn’t just a single offset, it had a multitude! The forethought that went into this piece was phenomenal! I spent the next hour with this little piece in my palm (that’s how big it was) showing other attendees asking questions on how they thought she did it. Boom… mind blown.

Another piece I saw was a simple small platter. Curly maple that had a dye treatment to the rim. Sure in had a slightly different shape in that it didn’t use a traditional ogee but it wasn’t a piece I noticed my first time around. Or the second. Or even the third. It wasn’t until late in the second day did a little glint of light draw my attention to the rim. And there I was for 30 minutes racking mine and every other brain around me to figure out how this guy created this oblong spherical brass rim embedded into the ridge while maintaining depth. I think by the end of the day I figured it out but my theory is he used 3 different types of epoxy, hand braided brass wire, and formed it all into a mold in three steps just to get glint of light on the edge. I’m definitely going to try this in place of holly in a federal piece someday!

IMG_9049Can you tell my mind was swimming with ideas. And these were just 2 of the 734 pieces present. Another nice thing at SWAT is that several hundred of these pieces are given away! Yes, items you’d think would sell for several $100’s in a gallery are given away to kids with cancer thru the Beads of Courage Program. Woodworkers really are a generous bunch. The contributions took up 2 tables.

This year SWAT broke every record with the exception of total attendance. More vendors, more instant gallery participants, more raffle entries, more raffle donations, more, more, more…

What I like so much about symposiums like this, be it turning or hand tools, is the breadth of people that come together from all walks of life. You have retired executives and extrusion workers, artists and accountants, oil field workers and optometrists all laughing, learning, admiring and ogling together with non of the barriers you might find in normal life. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention, turning is a decidedly ‘white’ hobby and I haven’t a clue why.

IMG_9069What SWAT does so well is keep costs low. The event is organized by local clubs, each of whom host a room and arrange it’s presenters. Most have one nationally known ‘name’ instructor who puts on several presentations in a day and a couple of the clubs more talented presenters filling in gaps. All in all you got 24 presenters in 36 classes and 5 special interest groups. More than enough variety for the 880 full registrations sold.

Yet thru careful planning they still provide a pen turning area for first time turners, a ‘spouses’ area providing a chance to show off other crafts, and some really great food for the 3 lunches and 2 dinners they provide.

IMG_9010I’m also told they keep the costs to vendors low so you get a larger group and larger variety. It attracts locals such as the small sawmill in S. TX run by a lady and her friends in addition to the international brands who bring along crowd pleasing presenters such as Jimmy Clewes, Stuart Batty, Alan Lacer, and Carl Jacobson. The vendor gallery alone draws a huge crowd every year and since those people aren’t counted as registrants it’s likely attendance this year was way above 1000!

Because the place is so conducive for the vendors they contributed wildly this year to the raffle. I’d say they provided several times the value in prizes as SWAT did with the three grand prizes of Jet and Vicmarc lathes. All I know is the give-a-ways took well over an hour to get thru even moving at the auctioneers fast pace.

Next year is SWAT’s 25th anniversary and they promise it’s be the biggest one yet because they’ve been holding some funds back the past few years in preparation. They hinted that they will be opening up a few more rooms (each meaning another 9 classes and a special interest) and a handful more of nationally known presenters.

DSC_5301This year I went to see Lyle Jamieson demonstrating his hollowing techniques. I gleaned some good tips on reducing vibration, face plates, and using hunter style bits. Plus a simple pen laser makes blind measuring easier. Kirk DeHeer gave a nice presentation on using iron infused finishes and the patina possible. Kevin Felderhoff did a crotch turning that took advantage of a cool tail stock jam chuck that I just need to now make. Dennis Ford showed some small hollow forms. And Derek Weidman… ya, that guys brain works differently. I actually watched him turn a longhorn bull on the lathe. Or was he carving in the round. I was confused and in awe.

By the end of day 3 I was wiped out and all I did was eat and sit the entire time. Talk about brain overload. Which is a good thing as I now have an entire year to try out new things.

If you ever get a chance to go to a symposium or meet up like this make it a priority to attend. Even if it’s just to attend the free gallery of works.

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