MARCH WOODWORKING MADNESS...AGAIN!
The annual NWA Woodworkers Showcase may be the finest guild show in the nation.
By Ellis Walentine
Woodworkers Showcase 2002, the 11th annual expo of the Northeastern Woodworkers Association, was held on March 23-24, 2002, at the Saratoga Springs Civic Center in Saratoga Springs, NY. The yearly event is one of the largest and best-attended guild shows in the U.S.; this year's paid attendance was 5,283. Not bad for two 7-hour days.
This year's show was the seventh Showcase I've attended, the other six as judge and lecturer. As usual, it was like a family reunion for me, a great chance to get together with all my woodworking pals who make the trek up here each year.
Among the woodworking luminaries at the show were Frank Klausz, Ian Kirby, Ernie Conover, Nick Engler, Carol Reed, Al Stirt and JoHannes Michelsen. Together they presented 22 free lectures in four separate seminar rooms during the two-day event; guild presenters offered up another 21 sessions. When not lecturing, the guest lecturers talked one-on-one with visitors on the expo floor, critiquing members' work and giving tips on woodworking.
I also bumped into Tom Lie-Nielsen and Mario Rodriguez at the Lie-Nielsen booth. Tom showed me the latest addition to his line of planes, a #8 low-angle jointer plane that's 24 in. long and weighs over 10 pounds. If I had had the $350 in my pocket, that plane would be in my shop right now!
Four aisles of vendor booths--42 vendors in all, including Ridge Carbide, Lie-Nielsen Toolworks, local dealers for Delta, Jet, Oneway, DeWalt, Hitachi, Makita, Senco, Forrest, Bessey, Hegner, WoodCentral advertisers Swing Paints, DMT, Bush Oil, Williams & Hussey, several lumber dealers, and many others--tempted visitors with bargain prices on tools, lumber and supplies.
Turning was the featured theme of this year's show exhibition, with several large tables full of members' turned objects on display. The blue ribbon winner was Richard Pagano, whose lovely segmented turnings are shown in the photo below.
One item that really caught my eye was this stunning lidded bowl by Robert Cutler of Alaska. It's made of aspen branches, mahogany, moose antler, mother of pearl, brass, copper and a few other things. Nice work!
The natural-edged nested bowls shown below were clear evidence of the value of this technique for getting the most from prized wood.
Rounding out the turning theme were special on-floor demonstrations by two famous turners, Al Stirt (left) and JoHannes Michelsen (below). It's a pleasure to see how these masters produce some of the seemingly impossible turnings they do.
Michelsen told me he's made more than 3,000 hats to date, almost half of them full-size wearable models that start life as 100+ lb. chunks of wood. When he's finished, the wall thickness is something under 3/32 in.
Besides the special grind he puts on his tools, another one of Michelsen secrets is this clever light arrangement to gauge the wall thickness of his hats as he turns. The light fixture is mounted on the end of a piece of standard threaded lamp tubing and is fitted with a ball bearing that fits into the jam chuck, allowing the chuck to spin while the light fixture remains stationary. I didn't ask if he had ever tangled up a wire, but Murphy's Law tells me he probably has. :-)
Carvings also figured prominently into the exhibit, as they do every year. I don't know why there seems to be such a high concentration of carvers in the Capital region, but they are always well-represented at the NWA Expo. This year, they filled an entire room off the exhibition hall. (See photos below.)
Not to be outdone were the furnituremakers. In addition to the hundreds of pieces of furniture by amateur members of the guild, several professionals also vied for attention and prizes.
Adirondack furniture, long a well-represented furniture idiom at this show in the heart of the Adirondack region, was somewhat scarce this year, but nicely represented by this rustic sideboard by Thomas Benware of Middle Grove, NY. Benware makes this traditional birch and bark furniture for a living, as does Barry Gregson, one of the best known makers of upscale Adirondack designs. Gregson also had a booth with some of his lovely chairs and other items. (Whoops, sorry folks. I didn't get any shots of Barry's work, but you can visit his web site at www.adkrustic.com.)
Brendan Murphy's painted Windsor furniture was another eye-opening display in the professional category.
The lovely demi-lune table (right) of mahogany, with holly stringing, was expertly crafted by Leonard Bellanca, a professional furniture designer and perennial prize-winner at the Saratoga show.
The blue ribbon for furniture in the cabinetmaking category went to John Olenik (below, left) for his Krenov-inspired chest-on-stand of spalted elm and walnut. Olenik also won a third prize for his exquisite mahogany side table.
Bill Bush's incredible dressing screen (below, right) in mahogany, woven ash and water-jet-pierced slate, took the honors in the "other" category. We'll be bringing you another Shop Shot on this piece in the near future. For only $18,000, I could have brought this beauty home with me! Oh well. I did grab a pint of Bill's great oil finish.
This year's Best of Show award went to John Michne for a stunning Adirondack guide boat, another regional specialty. I didn't get a shot of the guide boat, but I was equally impressed with the workmanship on Michne's other entry, this cedar strip canoe with inlaid hull and sculpted portage yoke of curly maple--truly a remarkable feat of canoe-making!
The NWA deserves a lot of credit for producing what may be the finest guild show in the U.S. I'm always amazed at the amount of hard work and dedication that goes into a production of this magnitude. It could easily serve as a model for other guild shows across the country.
Good work, everyone! See you again in 2003!
. . . Ellis Walentine
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