The woodworking event of the year is history.
By Ellis Walentine
"Should I go this year, or not?" I waffled until the last minute about attending this year's AWFS® (The Association of Woodworking & Furnishings Suppliers) Show in Anaheim, California, but finally decided to go. It was worth the effort.
This year hasn't been the most productive or innovative for most of the woodworking machinery industry, but it hasn't been without its highlights either. The most buzz for hobbyists and custom shops seemed to be coming from a small handful of vendors - the WMH Tool Group (Jet, Powermatic and Wilton), Laguna Tools and Porter-Cable. German manufacturer Festool also showed some excellent new toys - er, tools - this year, as they continue to make a strong play for stateside business.
Jet's major innovations were in its bandsaw and planer lines. This year, they've lowered the price of their 14" bandsaw to $499. The Powermatic 14" saw with the Carter quick-change system will retail for $899.
In the planer arena, Jet has updated its benchtop planer to a model that resembles the Sears 13" planer in every respect except the two speed gearbox. It will sell for $379.
They've also brought out two larger floor-model planers - the 16" open stand model for $899 and the 20" version for $1399 (with choice of a single-phase 3 hp motor or a three-phase 5 hp motor).
In their lathe department, Jet now has a variable speed version of their popular mini-lathe. It will sell for around $379. Another thing that caught my eye was their new pen lathe for less than $150. Small enough to fit in a briefcase, it comes with three turning tools and a mandrel kit. Just the thing for those business trips away from the workshop.
Jet's other notable introduction was their floor-model, tilting table mortiser, which will be available in October or November 2003 for about $800. It is a heavy-duty unit, with handwheels for side and cross-feed and a 1-HP, 1725 rpm motor. It is positioned to compete with the Powermatic and Multico offerings.
Powermatic has also been busy developing new products, for both the hobbyist and professional markets. Their new 20" planer for the small shop has solid cast-iron infeed-outfeed tables and a digital readout for $1750. It comes standard with a 5 hp single-phase motor.
There is also a smaller version, the model #15S, with cast-iron tables, digital thickness readout and a spiral cutterhead for smooth, quiet planing operation. It will sell for around $1499.
Laguna Tools has been busy, too, building on their growing line of bandsaws and accessories, including a new line of smooth-cutting, carbide-tipped bandsaw blades and aftermarket ceramic guides for competitors' bandsaws as well as their own.
Looming ominously in the middle of the Laguna booth was president Torben Helshoj's pet project, a monster of a wood lathe called the Pinnacle 1C. The Pinnacle incorporates just about every feature you could want on a heavy-duty wood lathe, and more. In fact, it's almost as if it aspires to be all things to all turners. The basic package, starting at $5900, includes the not-so-basic lathe, a 1500-lb beast with a 24" swing, 51" between centers, six belt-changed variable speed ranges and a removable bed section that accommodates bowls up to 48" in diameter. There is also a standard, chain-drive, manual-side-feed handwheel that propels the tool rest along the lathe bed. The power plant consists of a 2-hp frequency-converted three-phase motor that runs off single-phase 220-volt power.
For an additional couple thousand bucks, you can pick up a heavy duty copier attachment and a special gearbox that ties the side-feed chain to the headstock spindle for spiral turnings. There's also an accessory toolrest that holds a laminate-trimmer motor for fluting and other router-based operations. With all these features and capacity, the Pinnacle lathe aspires to be a contender in the high-end wood lathe market. It should be ready to ship in the Fall.
Laguna rounded out their display with new sliding table saws and two dandy floor-model, horizontal mortisers (Laguna and Knapp brands) in the $3000 to $4000 price range.
Festool's booth was brightened by the smiling face of my old pal, Frank Klausz, who was demonstrating the company's new line of sanders and jigsaws. Prior to the show, Frank hadn't realized how smooth and well-engineered these tools are, and he was extremely bullish about Festool quality.
Frank was particularly pleased with the smoothness and accuracy of the Festool jigsaws, which are available in two barrel-grip models and an overhand grip model. As with other Festo tools, these saws had elaborate dust-collection ports, meant to be hooked up to Festool's line of auto-actuated shop vacuums, including a new mini-model designed for low-volume, high-portability chores like sanding and jig-sawing. Frank had even rigged up several tiny wooden sander platens and glued them to sawblades for edge sanding in difficult-to-reach spots like the pierced openings in the backsplat of a Queen Anne chair.
Festool's new sanders -- a 6" random-orbit model and a flatiron-style sander -- were also a hit, with their smooth action and excellent dust pickup, so efficient that it practically held the sanders to an upright surface while running.
At the other end of the hall, Porter-Cable was proudly displaying their long-awaited new router, the model 890, a 2˝-hp beast that comes as a fixed-base model for $199, or as part of a "combo kit" (with a plunge base) for $249. For an extra $20 you can have the router-raiser accessory that lets you adjust the bit height from above the table. For $29 more, P-C offers a nifty"grip-vac" attachment that acts as a combination D-handle and vacuum port.
Though machinery is the dominant theme of these major shows, there is always an educational component as well, including an extensive lecture program (The "College of Woodworking Knowledge"), taught by the likes of Dresdner, Nagyszalanczy, and various panels of industry experts, on subjects of interest to everyone from hobbyists to factory managers.
Also, not least among the side attractions of the Anaheim show, there is a Student Design Competition, a juried show of work from outstanding high-school woodworkers from around the country. In the photo at right, A.J. Hamler of Woodshop News is part of the judging committee rating these unbelievable works in wood. I wish I had been doing work like this at that age!
All in all, the pace of innovation at this year's show seemed to reflect the sluggish state of the economy. I had the sense, though, that manufacturers were optimistic for a rebound in the coming year. Let's hope so, because demand drives innovation, and innovation makes us more productive in the shop.
Let's see what IWF is like next summer…. . . Ellis Walentine
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