Stepping stones of influence affecting my life periodically trigger mechanisms that mark turning points of recollection. Like the time I cut my first ragged dovetails but determined they would be the worst ones I ever cut. Another powerful influence was a photograph of Edward Barnsley surrounded by youthful apprentices making early Arts and Crafts pieces and investing himself in the lives of these young would-be furniture makers. That decided me that when I was mature enough, skilled enough, I too would invest my closing years as a craftsman in the lives of the ensuing generations regardless of cost. That’s what I do. Two and half decades ago I recall ordering three very specific catalogue.
One of them survives today. This was just about the time when I heard about that the worldwide web was emerging and I couldn’t understand how such a concept could possibly work. Back then I was living on the Frio river in a remote part of Texas called Concan. The catalogue was called Highland Hardware. I sat on the river banks reading the catalogue, dogging the corners, circling the items that would equip me for making my first wooden spoons and spatulas from a wood I’d never known till that year, mesquite. Today, Highland Hardware is now called Highland Woodworking. Under the guidance and care of the original founders, Highland Hardware has evolved to become one of the finest woodworking providers in the USA. There is nothing they do not have or cannot get and yesterday I took a behind-the-scenes, behind-the-storefront tour to see just how this evolution took place.
First off, I recommend that you get on their mailing list and order their catalog. It’s different, simple and clear. It has changed only in size since I received my first copy all those years ago (hard to imagine quarter of a century has past since then, some of you weren’t born). They’ve been in the woodworking business for 35 years now.
Meeting Highland’s founder Chris Bagby for the first time yesterday reminds me of so many others I have met along the way who took a direction that would influence the way we work and enable us to fulfill our own dreams as craftsmen and women working wood. I use the word influence cautiously – there are those in the business of selling alone and then there are family businesses where the company feels like family. All of the staff at Highland Hardware, sorry, Highland Woodworking, totally connect to the work and to one another. Just like a family. You don’t get that without leaders that care passionately about the people connecting beyond the storefront.
Driving through the old town toward Highland Woodworking I sensed a certain defiance towards socio-economic downturns normally associated with progress. The surrounding small stores were alive with people and traffic that supported local economy and then, slap bang in the middle of the main street was the unlikely but wonderful presence of Highland Woodworking. Quite unusual if you think about it. The old brick walls, a private car park (parking lot) for visitors, and a sense of welcome you might not feel in most towns these days with big box stores forcing small companies off the high streets around the world.
Beyond the wonderful facade of brick and solid wood is a store beyond all others. There is no doubt that this company has evolved and so too the building altered and reconfigured to accommodate various types of growth including internet sales, TV filming, woodworking teaching and much more. I got to meet the many members of staff that make this store provider work. They all seemed passionate about their work, yes, but more than that, this was not in any way artificial, they knew their onions and I overheard the way they directed customers with solid advise that many suppliers might not normally have. One man that helped me on the sales level also taught many of the classes in the woodworking school. He took me through the workshop where students can learn just about any workshop you care to name so if you want the basics of sharpening edge tools or a whole range of wood turning workshops or you want to get into making Windsor chairs, check out Highland Woodworking’s 2013 schedule.
Highland Woodworking stocks an expansive range of just about anything you might need to work wood. Walking through the store you will find instructive manuals of woodworking in the most expansive library of woodworking books you could find anywhere in the US. The displays of different tool manufacturers ranges from a very impressive range of Lie Nielsen planes, chisels and saws through to a massive line of axes by Granfors. Not quite so impressive visually but equally core to fine woodworking is the nuts and bolts stuff we need for refining our work. They stock everything from blond shellac flakes to the best woodworking tweezers I’ve ever used. A friend gave me these sliver grippers in 1991 and I would not be without them. Small, unimpressive? Maybe, but this just shows the attention Chris and his staff take to keep us supplied with the best stuff on the woodworking market. I cannot possibly give the definitive list of all Highland does. You have to go yourself and be prepared to spend a few hours browsing and, if you cant get there, at least order their catalog or visit them online. You won’t be disappointed at all.
Oh, some of you were asking for a good vise. These are UK Eclipse vises. Almost identical to Record quick release vises.
Part II coming soon.