Thursday, May 25, 2017

Five Random Observations from Handworks 2017

A packed crowd watching Roy Underhill speaking in the Festhalle barn.

After 2300 miles and a couple herniated discs, I am back from my first Handworks. It is still kind of a blur, and I will need a few more days to process the enormity of the event, but here are a few observations.

1. Wow, there are a lot of hand tool aficionados out there. For two solid days, I had a constant stream of visitors stopping by my bench to say hi, try my planes, and chat about planing, sharpening, hand tools, whatever. I bet a couple hundred people took at least one of my planes for a drive. It was an invigorating experience. Anyone who says hand tools are dying out would have their mind changed by this event.

2. The Abraham clan is amazing. In most walks of life, an event with a couple thousand attendees and a couple hundred participants would need a small army of full-time, paid workers. The Abrahams--Jameel, his brother and father, along with some extended family and friends--somehow put on this whole massive event, and pulled it off without a hitch. I'm in awe. Jameel and family, thank you so much!

3. Social media sucks. Platforms like Instagram are great places to post work and connect with other craftspeople, but it doesn't take much for them to seem like a cross between The Stepford Wives and Lord of the Flies. For the last week, I've been bombarded by posts about the "community" at Handworks and how awesome it was, and if I see another I might lobotomize myself with an auger bit and a Yankee brace. The funny thing is, this "community" doesn't seem to include most of the talented toolmakers at Handworks--it's a club for the people with the most "followers," or those who have the most photogenic smiles. In that respect, it's more like high school than a community. Remind me to seriously curtail my use of social media this year--I think we've all got better things to do.

4. Wow, there are a lot of amazing toolmakers out there. The toolmakers at Handworks were an amazing group. I had some wonderful, in-depth conversations with  Larry Williams and Don McConnell of Old Street, Matt Bickford, Ron Brese, Nick Dombrowski (Lake Erie), Aaron and Alan from Walke-Moore, Don Williams, Jeremiah Wilding, Tico Vogt, and many others. And I got to catch up with a lot of great folks like Chris Schwarz, Megan Fitzpatrick, Dan Schwank (Red Rose Reproductions), Chris Kuehn (Sterling toolworks), and Konrad Sauer (apologies to anyone I'm forgetting). My only frustration is that I was so busy that it was hard to get away from the bench, so there were a lot of folks I didn't get to meet (particularly all the folks in the Greenwood barn), and I really regret that. Hopefully I will get to meet them the next time around.

5. Roy Underhill has mad skillz. OK, no surprise. But Roy came by my bench and put the jack, try, and smoother through their paces, and it was an incredible thing to watch. I have done a bunch of shows before Handworks, and have probably seen at least a thousand people try my planes. No joke, I have never seen someone as fluid with a plane as Roy. At shows, I keep the jack set for a pretty aggressive cut, and a lot of people really struggle with it. Roy just ripped off huge shavings, effortlessly, not because he's got incredible hulk strength, but because he's got terrific form. In fact, I need to write a whole blog post on that, but in the mean time, enjoy this clip of Roy with one of my smoothers, and (hopefully) see you at Handworks next time.


  1. I love this entry. All of it. I love that there are as many talented Handtool makers and enthusiasts that those like yourself have a somewhat viable opportunity to survive doing it. I'd love to make it to Handworks some day. Maybe by then some of the trendy gang will have moved on to hipper pastures. Thanks for your candor and spirit.

  2. Great post, Steve. Thanks for coming over to talk. I wish I'd had the chance to visit your bench and use your planes. Without someone to spot me, I really couldn't leave for any meaningful period of time. It was fun to learn about your history in music. Have you provided any of your original compositions as backgrounds for videos?

    1. Tico, it was good to meet you too. I totally understand about not getting over to visit…I was stuck to my bench most of the time and didn't get to see lots of people I wanted to see.
      I'm not sure my kind of music would fir with a woodworking video, but I'll keep it in mind. See you around!

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