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Handworks – Amana 2015


It was quite a trek and a big time and financial commitment to travel to this event in Ohio, USA but we felt it was time to re-acquaint ourselves with some old friends and suppliers and to introduce ourselves personally to some of our new suppliers of fine hand tools.

This is the 2nd staging of Handworks at Amana which is a super location for such a show set in a historical (for the USA at least) village whose German settler origins are interesting enough and there was enough going on in the village to add flavour to the event (particularly the apple wine and the beer!).

Alex and I travelled via Amsterdam to avoid the Gatwick/Heathrow stress and were picked up at Chicago by that fine maker of English moulding planes and the like, Phil Edwards of Philly Planes, and his big buddy Steve who were exhibiting at Handworks.

L-R, Steve, Alex, Phil & Mike

L-R, Steve, Alex, Phil & Mike

5 burgers each and a small plate of nachos were washed down with some over cooled beer and followed by a night in one of Chicago’s outer suburbs’ finest hotels. A 4 hour road trip got us to Amana in more time that anyone could have thought possible (7 hours) but with Edwards navigating this was not a surprise.

We arrived to help Philly and Steve set up and to wander round the big barn, Festhalle Barn. An old buddy Doug Orr, font of all knowledge, was first to welcome us and as we hadn’t expected to see him there this was a welcome surprise. Doug is Canadian but surprisingly good fun despite that and it was good to catch more words of his infinite wisdom. Doug was helping Patrick Leach who had hauled tons and tons of second hand tools to the show from the East Coast, many of which had been plundered from the UK in his frequent visits.

Soon after we were welcomed very briefly to the “best woodworking show in the world” by Joel Moskowitz of Tools for Working Wood, New York who had a fine display of his Gramercy Saws and other tools. Joel’s boast was duly noted but we decided we would give the show our full 2 day appraisal before commenting.

A quick tour of the impressive barn got us introduced to the organisers, those fine fellows from BenchCrafted, Jameel and his elder brother Fr John who were a tad surprised that we had made such a big effort to come over to the show (as others were) but this was fun and we were bumping into some long lost friends including Chris Vesper from Australia, Dave Jeske of Blue Spruce Toolworks and Ron Hock of Hock Tools. These guys will all be at the European Woodworking Show in September.

Phil Edward’s USA help was the wonderfully eccentric and entertaining Kilted Woodworker, Ethan Sincox who kindly assisted us with photos (Alex only smiled when he lifted up his kilt, actually it was laughter). Thanks Ethan – top bloke.

Food, beer & the stunning Studley Tool Chest beckoned that evening but in the morning we witnessed a huge queue of excited woodworkers snaking down Amana High Street for the first day opening.LAP-Virtuoso

Crowds are great for trade but there were too many to get around comfortably and the exhibitors were there to sell their wares rather than chew the fat with us Brits. So a tactical retreat and a wander round Amana in the sunshine seemed a better use of our time until the crowds dispersed. Fortified with a glass of Amana apple wine and pizza we re-entered the fray shortly after lunch to meet the Veritas chaps, Ron Breeze of Breeze planes, fellow Brit David Barron, the Lie Nielsen crew plus a plethora of hand plane makers including Anderson Planes, Sauer & Steiner. There was a great buzz and friendly atmosphere in the Festhalle Barn and there were 2 more Handworks venues in Amana to check out. The open cart barns housed the author of Chairmaker’s Notebook, Peter Galbert who is also the inventor of the drawsharp, a very clever device which takes away a huge amount of the difficulty in sharpening drawknives. We managed to get a very good demo from Peter and we promised to try and get him over to the UK to teach a chairmaking course – a great guy to chat to and his enthusiasm was infectious.

We had popped down to the third location 4 or 6 times principally to meet with Chris of Sterling Tool Works but he was always busy collecting dollars from customers. We did get to meet Anne of All Trades who has been writing for Furniture & Cabinet Making magazine and she was great fun.

Anne of All Trades with Mike & Alex

Anne of All Trades with Mike & Alex

Another bonus was to meet with carver Mary May who was excited to hear that Chris Pye’s fishtail gouges that are being made by Auriou Toolworks in France are finally due to market in October.

Well day one of the show ended predictably with another disastrous Philly navigational error before a few pints with the Lie Nielsen crew and a very quick hello with Chris Schwarz who was seemingly exhausted from his exertions with the Studley Tool Chest as he explained that he was off to his bed. Actually within a short while poor Chris was in hospital suffering from severe dehydration and he had to abandon the show. We are pleased to report that he has regained his health, the trick is to spend more time in the UK Chris where there is little chance of dehydration.

Show Day 2 (Saturday)
This started with a packed house for the irrepressible, highly amusing Roy Underhill who gave a consummate performance to kick start another fine day.

The day was spent moseying around chatting to suppliers and seeing some new stuff that may be heading our way. We got acquainted with Lee Marshall of Knew Concepts and placed our first order and met Marco Terenzi who is a phenomenon (miniature tools that work etc)

Lee Marshall – Knew Concepts

Lee Marshall – Knew Concepts

Marco Terenzi

Marco Terenzi

We finally got to hook up with Chris Kuehn of Sterling Tool Works on the Saturday afternoon. He makes some neat stuff including his new square which is in the Starrettesque stable of layout tools.

Chris Kuehn - Sterling Tool Works with Mike & Alex

Chris Kuehn – Sterling Tool Works with Mike & Alex

It was deemed necessary to visit the Amana micro brewery with the Kilted Woodworker who being a true American struggled with the “one more no more” rule and after just 3 light beers his lily white kilted legs seemed to start moving as if at a Scottish country dance – strange!

Back to the barn and everyone seemed in great spirits (even Doug Orr) with most reporting very good sales which was just reward for the tremendous effort everyone had put into the show.

We also met Matt Bickford, who makes reproduction English moulding planes (albeit in Cherry rather than Beech) using tapered iron blanks from Lie Nielsen Toolworks which Matt grinds, heat treats and sharpens himself.

Matt Bickford

Matt Bickford

Author of Mouldings in Practice, another Lost Art Press publication (on sale in the UK/Europe here) Matt had a fine array of moulding planes on display next to the grand daddy of plane makers Mr Larry Williams who, with his great friend Don McConnell, are Old Street Inc. (formerly Clark & Williams)

Old Street Tool - Larry Williams and Don McConnell

Old Street Tool – Larry Williams and Don McConnell

These guys are lovely and humorous (well they made Mike laugh a lot anyways) and obviously successful as you have more chance of getting a plane from them as finding a one ended stick. Their work is legendary and they have stopped taking orders until they fulfill years and years of back orders (some going back as far as the Clark & Williams days). Larry & Don are generous in encouraging other wooden moulding plane makers such as Matt Bickford and Phil Edwards. Whilst you can’t get a plane from them both have produced DVD’s in conjunction with Lie Nielsen Toolworks which are available through Classic Hand Tools in the UK. Yes, we tried to persuade them to come over for EWS2015 but Larry isn’t so keen on the flying bit of getting here – great shame. Someone send him a ticket for a transatlantic liner!

Well is this the best Woodworking Show in the world?

It reminded us of the second hand tool event at West Dean College some years ago. Bigger than that for sure but 9 hand plane makers plus Lie Nielsen Toolworks and Veritas who make a wide range of production planes within their portfolios tended to skew the emphasis a little too much toward planes for our liking but it was great.

Our verdict is that IF they can add the large (currently redundant and in need of renovation) barn which sits next to Festhalle Barn and so house even more high class exhibitors (but no more plane makers!) then certainly it could be a contender for the best woodworking show in the world.

Finally a chance to catch up with Chris Schwarz’s partner in crime at Lost Art Press, John Hoffman for a few beers after the show. Now he must be a secret Englishman because he can weather the “one more no more rule” – good fun and guess which nation won the American quiz question “how many states in the USA have just 4 letters?” – yep us Brits won that one! Ohio, Iowa and UTAH baby!

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