Perhaps my last Paul Sellers blog on the AWFS Fair in Las Vegas for this year, not sure. As you know, I have spent the past few days trying to understand exactly how the AWFS Fair impacts a world working wood and I came away with mixed but positive feelings. Of course I am here at the show with American Woodworker Magazine to launch a joint veture with my new book and the DVDs on traditional hand work, but there have been many inspiring events along the way.
I recall a time when I entered the sphere of working wood as an apprentice vividly…47 years ago. The snow outside the massive blue sliding door, the essence of pine that filled the air, me in my drain pipe jeans as the eyes of half a dozen bib-coveralled men looked up from the benchwork at my uncertainty. The two worlds of working wood with hand tools and the modern tech I just left are 47 years apart and, well, seem incomparable now. I recall the sense of care I felt as I crossed the piles of raw then polished parts to get to the bench. The nervousness gently mocked by the men and older apprentices began to diminish as I glanced into the open tool chests of tools beneath each of the benches. SHavings were already inches deep and clung to my legs as I walked across to my new workstation. This workshop would be my new home for five years. I never realised I was apprenticing for five years. To me it was simple; at 15 years of age I was indentured to my new master and one day I would be a woodworker. I loved being there and little did I or the men I was with know back then that one day I would be a master woodworker demonstrating in a show in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA.
The highlight of the show for me wasn’t so much to do with the standards of mechanized equipment as the changes we now see in the industry and that markedly affect my craft of working wood. I spent time with Tom Monahan at General Finishes quizzing him about his wonderful waterborne finishes and wanting to know about a product that was unheard of back in the 60s. Amazing stuff that dries in seconds and is ready to recoat with a pad in the same time. These low VOC finishes have changed many unpleasant aspects of our work today. On another aisle I spent time with Ralph Johnson from EZE Lap talking (or more extolling) the virtues of their sharpening stones, which are really diamond plates. I’ve used their products for over a decade now and I remember the hollow stones on the benches back in the UK when I was 15. They didn’t have dead flat surfaces of diamonds back then and had no way of flattening their stones. I was so glad when I discovered EZE Lap products. Now I can endorse these plates for sharpening over any system because they have proven themselves reliable…they work, last, cut, stay flat and all of that with just about zero mess or clean up. In other words a no-maintenance sharpening system at last. For those who emailed me I use 3″ by 8″ sizes in Coarse, Medium and Super fine grades…roughly speaking 250, 800 and 1200 grits.
In a completely different sphere there was a unique company there that connected woodworkers with clients via an internet site called CustomMade.com. I talked with Mike Salguero and was impressed by their care for the clients and a system that really works. If you have a good design and you want to sell to a gallery or retail buyer, this company makes the connections with you and lines you up with future customers. Most woodworkers I know are great at design build but lousy at marketing and sales. Here’s another solution.
Another company I have watched grow over the years is Laguna Tools. I first met Tolben Helshoj about 8 or more years ago if my memory serves me. This is a family owned and run business and we have been working toward getting their 16″ bandsaw at the new Legacy School of Woodworking and hopefully we will have one there in a few weeks. I spent time talking with Caroline Helshoj to familiarize myself with the details of using and filming their new bandsaw in our next DVD series where we use the bandsaw to deliver the resaw capacity we need for the projects we will be building. Here again, bandsaws have changed with all the new top-notch safety features and a wide range of additions that didn’t exist for me as a boy of 15.
The highlight of the show? Well, for me it has to be the student competition. Universities and colleges entered highly individualistic designs both new and innovative and traditionally classic too.
I loved walking between the galleried setting and seeing the exposure of this new work. I wish I could have met some of the organisers of the event which is very much they heart of the show organizers AWFS Fair and supported and sponsored by the manufacturing industry surrounding the presentation. Really well done.