I went to Iowa and all I got was this Incredible Community

Or: The Handworks 2017 round-up

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And just like that, Handworks 2017 is over, and I’m back in the UK feeling quite jetlagged. After nearly 12 months of build up, the event itself flew by at breakneck speed. Given that the show covered five separate buildings and featured over 50 demonstrators, it would be nigh on impossible to give an exhaustive account of the show (not to mention that I covered the event for Furniture & Cabinet Making so need to attempt that herculean task for the magazine). Needless to say, the tools were shiny, especially Konrad’s planes, which I finally got to try for the first time, and the Studley reproduction was eye-wateringly beautiful. Seeing new tools unveiled by Veritas, Blue Soruce Tool Works, and Texas Heritage, and a sneak preview at something else which has not yet been publically announced, was very cool. But what really struck me throughout the two days, and what I had flown out for, was the sense of community.

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I’ve known Chris (of Sterling Tool Works) for 3 years, but Handworks was the very first time we met in person. Many thanks to Chris for letting me hang out on his stall and sell OtW tees.

I’m only one participant, and I am looking forward to reading other accounts of the event over the coming days to see how others experienced the event. But for me the real highlight was the warmth, friendship, cameraderie, and inspiration demonstrated by everyone I spoke to. I’ve written a lot about community in the past two years, but nothing had prepared me for the experience of meeting so many good friends in person for the first time, for seeing plenty of old friends again, or for the generosity of spirit in action. Thank you to everyone who stopped by to say hello and introduce themselves.

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Jason Thigpen (of Texas Heritage) is another longstanding friend I’ve been waiting years to finally meet. He has a strong line in headgear.

Events like these always result in opportunities that wouldn’t otherwise present themselves. On Friday I gave an impromptu talk on selecting backsaws at the Bad Axe Tool Works stand thanks to a very kind invitation from Mark, and that night got to play an incredible resonator guitar by Mule Resonators over beer (one of Matt’s guitars needs to become a permanent fixture in my life). Chatting to Megan resulted in a possible article for Popular Woodworking next year, and I have also started to knit together the strands of an ambitious article which I hope will consolidate and expand upon some of the themes I’ve been writing about for the past four years, and which is set to feature contributions from some significant craftspeople – more on this as it starts to come together. A personal highlight was Jameel Abraham of Benchcrafted (who by the way is the nicest guy imagineable) asking me to put some OtW decals on the sublime tool chest he built with Chris for PopWood last year. And where else but Handworks can you turn around at breakfast to find Jim Tolpin and George Walker standing behind you in the coffee queue?

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Jim McConnell is my favourite woodwork blogger, and a good friend to boot. Beer was quaffed, yarns were spun, memories were made.

Although it is bittersweet to leave Amana (for me at least – the Apprentice still has a beard phobia which meant that Handworks wasn’t the most comfortable time for her), the good memories and strength of community, will continue to inspire me in my ‘shop for months to come. Some of the same faces will be at the European Woodwork Show in September, and while another Handworks is never guaranteed, I am sure that future events will continue to bring us together.

I can’t possibly hope to mention everyone in this blog post that I spoke to over the course of the two days, but here are a small selection of the hundreds of photos I took,

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With Megan Fitpatrick, who is just as entertaining and erudite in person as in print.

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It was great to finally meet Nancy Hiller after months of chatting on Instagram.

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Mark Harrell is a dangerous man – everytime he makes a new product money disappears from my bank account. Top chap.

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I’ve known Anne (of All Trades) for years, but this was the first opportunity we’ve had to catch up in person. Great times.

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Does the Kilted Woodworker need any introductions? Ethan is one of the most generous and community minded people I know.

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This guy definitely doesn’t need any introduction. But he’s been a damn fine friend and mentor over the past 3 years.

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With Vic Tesolin. There’s a 98% chance that Vic cracked an offensive joke immediately before this photo was taken, during it, or straight after. I wouldn’t change that for the world.

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Jameel Abraham of Benchcrafted – the nicest guy. Thanks to him Handworks happens.

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Konrad Sauer and I first spoke when I was researching the Karl Holtey article for PopWood. His planes are sublime.

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Saint Roy!

 

John and Janet Switzerland – the loveliest people you could hope to meet, and great craftspeople to boot.

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With Jenny Bower (who I interviewed for Furniture & Cabinet Making a couple of months ago) and husband Nathan.

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The Baby Anarchist’s Tool Chest built by Chris and Jameel, now sporting OtW decals.

 

Moving forwards in reverse: 2016 in review

Somehow it is January yet again. I’m not sure where 2016 went – the past 12 months have disappeared in a blur, and it seems like only yesterday that I was writing my 2015 round up. Every year goes by quicker than the last, and fatherhood has only accelerated that feeling. I’m a lot less sleep deprived than I was 12 months ago (the Apprentice has now been sleeping through the night since August) which definitely makes reflecting on the past year a whole lot easier.

First off, let’s get the important stuff out of the way. No year is complete without a mix cd of the best new songs, and a list of top 5 albums, so here are my top picks (in order):

  1. Real – Lydia Loveless
  2. A Sailor’s Guide to Earth – Sturgill Simpson
  3. Case/Lang/Viers – Neko Case, KD Lang, Laura Viers
  4. A Moon Shaped Pool – Radiohead
  5. Skeleton Tree – Nick Cave & The Badseeds

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The finished pair of saw benches

A year at the workbench

Although I didn’t set out last January to have any kind of theme to my woodworking, looking back it feels very much like 2016 was a year of doubling down on fundamental techniques, and embedding a solid handcraft practice to my work. So I built two Packing Boxes and a School Box from The Joiner & Cabinet Maker (only the chest of drawers to go now!) and a pair of staked saw benches from The Anarchist’s Design Book, as well as  Moxon vise. Little did I know how important staked chairmaking was going to become when I settled on that particular saw bench design.

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There wasn’t much in the way of lutherie last year – the parlour guitar was put to one side so that I could start the Mysterycaster commission, and also so that I could work on the furniture projects.I will return to the parlour guitar, and the Mystercaster is a priority for 2017. But lack of lutherie aside, I’m really pleased with the selection of projects I worked on over the past 12 months – I am definitely feeling the benefit of spending much of the past year focusing on those all important fundamental skills (although there is always more to learn, and more practice to have). An epic build like an acoustic guitar can be very rewarding, but there is something very satisfying about working through projects that take a shorter period of time. Maintaining a balance of short projects and longer-term builds is something I’m going to try and do going forwards.

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I didn’t manage to get to any classes in 2016, but I did take a trip to Forge de Saint Juery, which was a wonderful experience and one that I highly recommend. After nearly two years of discussion and design between myself, Mark Harrell, and Susan Chilcott, the Bad Axe Luthier’s Saw was finally unveiled, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed testing one of the first production models at my workbench.

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The Bad Axe luthier’s saw – being involved in the design process for this has been a wonderful experience

In terms of writing, Over the Wireless more than doubled readership from 2015, and I was grateful to feature interviews on the blog with some really important members of the woodwork community, including Joshua Klein, James McConnell, Brian Clites, and Kerryn Carter. I was also honoured to write the inaugural post for the “Perfect in 1000 words” for the Daily Skep (thanks Jim!). Furniture & Cabinet Making published nine of my articles last year, including the Dancing About Architecture series, which are two of my favourite pieces of writing to date. The June edition of Popular Woodworking  also carried my feature on Karl Holtey, which was a real thrill. But the big writing development of 2016 still has to be the Life and Work of John Brown. This is a hugely important project and one that I am entirely humbled to be part of.

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So 2016 was quite eventful, although I’m quite sure that by many people’s standards that would rather quiet (and in no way do I want this round-up to appear self congratulatory).

…and the next 12 months

And now for 2017 (which  to be perfectly honest still sounds like the future to me). What does the next 12 months have in store? Well the main focus of my attention for much of the next two years will be on the Life and Work of John Brown – there is a great deal of research to do, many interviews to be undertaken, not to mention chairs to be built. But it is going to be great fun, and I’ll be posting as much as I can on Over the Wireless throughout the process. I’ve also got a number of articles slated for Furniture & Cabinet Making, and which I’ll be announcing in due course.

But what about the next 12 months at the workbench? Well, I’m going to be brave and nail my colours to the mast right now. The projects which I’ve got lined up for 2017 are as follows:

  1. The Police Man’s Boot Bench – a furniture commission I actually started today (new year, new build. It seemed appropriate);
  2. Staked Work Table from the Anarchist’s Design Book; and
  3. The Mysterycaster.

So now, if I don’t manage to complete those builds this year, you dear reader, have a full licence to tell me to get my act together.

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Finally, after a year of no courses or shows, I’m looking forward to travelling a little more and connecting with the wider woodwork community. So I’ll be at Handworks in Iowa this May, and then at the European Woodwork Show at Cressing Temple in September. Over the past two years woodwork has been defined for me by the community, and I can’t wait to see many good friends and readers at both events.

So, Happy New Year. And thank you to everyone who has read a blog post or magazine article, or commented on a photo on Instagram. This community is so important to what I do, and the past 12 months would not have been half as rewarding without you good people.

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Hopefully 2017 will involve more father-daughter trips to the timber yard

 

Handworks 2017

  
Last week Benchcrafted announced Handworks 2017, once again at the historic Amana Colonies in Iowa. This will undoubtedly be one of the highlights of the 2017 woodworking calendar. I’ve not been able to get stateside for previous Handworks events, but I’m very pleased to say that I will be attending in 2017 where I’ll be covering the event for Furniture & Cabinet Making magazine, and also helping out on the Sterling Toolworks stand. 

Who else will be attending? Drop me a line in the comments box below if you’ll be there.