Ray and Lynn Thompson host a phenomenal woodworking weekend in the Indiana heartland.
SHOP OWNER: Ray Thompson
LOCATION: Middletown, IN
by Ellis Walentine
Ray Thompson's big annual "Indyfest" picnic and woodworking powwow is now in the record books, and what a weekend it was. The event was populated with more turners than I have seen in one place since the big national AAW symposium in Louisville last June, as well as a host of "flat-siders" the likes of Moses Yoder, Jim Shaver and Mac McConnell.
The venue was Ray and Lynn's rural Indiana home, a family compound with a lovely new house and a large detached shop that they built themselves, just a couple miles from I-69, about 20 miles northeast of Indianapolis. The weather was unbelievable, if a tad on the chilly side, with not a cloud in the sky and temperatures ranging from the 50s to the 70s over the course of the two-day event. Muted autumn foliage and a harvest moon completed the picture of a perfect weekend.
Not surprisingly, the weekend's activities centered on woodworking, particularly woodturning, with non-stop demonstrations throughout the weekend. Lathes were everywhere. I counted at least seven including three Jet minis, a Jet 1642, a Nova XP, and a Vega bowl lathe graciously provided for the occasion by Randy McKinney, purveyor of Vega lathes and accessories.
Duane Leach, a well-known Indy turner enthralled spectators with his Hans Weissflog-style turnings, in which concentric grooves are cut into the inside and outside surfaces of a box lid or plate, but offset from each other by means of a clever offset drive jig. Where the rings intersect, tiny openings are created through the piece, resulting in pleasing hole patterns. It is very exacting work, but Duane was quite proficient at it, having taken a seminar with the originator of the technique.
Jennifer Shirley demonstrated two different techniques on her Jet Mini (with the tasteful WoodCentral patch on the front). The first was miniature hollow turnings (right), in which she used an array of homemade offset turning tools, made from Woodruff keys brazed together with silver solder.
Later Jennifer demonstrated her pyrography techniques on the lip of a small open bowl that she turned earlier that afternoon. It was enlightening to see the whole process unfold as she cranked up her Optima 1 woodburning pen and deftly inscribed a crosshatch design on the rim of the bowl.
On Saturday, Jim Shaver, who made the trek all the way from Ontario, showed us how he turns pens on a mini-lathe. On Friday, he showed how he cuts half-blind dovetails with hand tools, using a modified Cosman approach. I think he just likes showing off his Lie-Nielsen skew rabbet plane and his recently acquired Sauer & Steiner smoother. Man, that is one nice piece of workmanship.
In another well-attended demo, Dave Smith held forth on his now-famous alcohol drying method for bowl blanks. He has demonstrated and lectured on this topic all over the country since he first published his method last August. You can read Dave's article HERE.
In an unscheduled demonstration on the lawn in front of the shop, Keith Zimmerman turned a lovely piece of bubinga to accept one of Ruth Niles' highly-regarded bottle stoppers.
At the other end of the turning scale, several of the partygoers -- notably Al Crandall and Duane Leach -- spent most of two days turning two very large maple bowls on the big Vega bowl lathe that was loaned for the occasion by Randy McKinney of Vega. In the photo at right, Keith Zimmerman checks out the bowl in process. By the time it was down to 3/8" thick, that 50-lb. chunk weighed just a few ounces. Coincidentally, Ray's shop was knee-deep in stringy maple shavings.
In one of the more amusing moments of the day, our intrepid bowl team found that they couldn't get the toolrest up to the bottom of the bowl to finish off the bottom. In a last minute burst of creative problem solving, the crew moved Ray's Jet lathe over to the Vega, jacked it up a few inches to get the height right, reverse chucked the bowl on the Jet and finished off the bowl using the Vega's toolrest. Terry Quiram provided the necessary ballast to keep the Jet from moving away.
You are probably wondering how Ray and Lynn managed to feed sixty or seventy hungry woodworkers twice a day. Well, their home is ideally arranged for the task, with a buffet set up in the garage, and tables arranged on the driveway, which serves as a big patio on occasions like this. When the dinner bell rang, we all made our way from the barn/shop area to the house and chowed down on casseroles, barbeques, soups, salads, and desserts of all kinds. Kudos to the chef(s) for a job well done!
After lunch, it was back to the shop for more woodworking activities. Dave Smith's camper was right there along the driveway, as he had made the couple-thousand-mile trek from southern Washington for the occasion. A veteran of these affairs, Dave staked out a premier parking place for himself.
Behind the barn and all over the property, Ray and Lynn had planted exotic grasses and ornamental corn plants, some of which were almost 20 feet tall, giving new meaning to "...as high as an elephant's eye." I'd hate to meet an elephant that big.
On the lawn in front of the shop, Moses Yoder was busy getting everything ready for the planing contest: setting up the official contest board (a nice plank of hard 6/4 maple), unpacking the prizes and setting up the sharpening bench. Among the prizes donated by the contest's generous sponsors were a Clark & Williams foreplane, a Lie-Nielsen #2 bench plane, a Knight smoother, a Gramercy beading saw from Joel Moskowitz, a Veritas draw-travisher and a Rockler gift certificate.
Sharp blades are a must for planing competitions, and Moses's waterstone station got plenty of use as contestants tweaked and honed their steeds for the showdown.
Mac McDonnell (left, with Dan Donaldson looking on) emerged victorious with a shaving that ranged in thickness -- or should I say thinness? -- from 0.0003" to 0.001" over its length. I don't know how Ray was able to even measure a shaving that thin, but he managed nicely. Congratulations on that performance, Mac!
Moses entered all the measurement data into a spreadsheet program he had made up for the occasion, and the results were tabulated instantly, with built-in weighting for length and thickness. Too bad they didn't give points for style; I might have done better than fourth place. :-)
For more photos of the planing contest, check out Jim Shaver's writeup from the Hand Tools board.
A little later, Ray took the stage with a demonstration of how he makes hook tools for lathe turning. These useful tools are made in two basic configurations, one a single-bevel style for turning across the bottom of a box or vessel and the other with a double bevel for turning the transition between the bottom and the side. They differ only in the way they are sharpened. Ray made his demo tools from a length of 3/8" drill rod. After grinding the profiles, he heated them to cherry red with a MAPP torch and bent them in a simple fixture consisting of two roll pins protruding from a section of angle iron. After hardening and tempering the tools, we got to try them out on some test pieces of wood in the mid-size Jet lathe. Even without additional sharpening, it was clear that the shearing cut produced by this type of tool is very efficient and leaves a very clean surface.
Shortly after the plane contest, attention shifted to a raffle, with scores of donated prizes ranging from magazine subscriptions to calendars to some really valuable prizes like a Vega lathe duplicator. Everyone went away with something. There was also a special raffle for a yellow WoodCentral hat that had been signed by many of the partygoers. Randy McKinney was the lucky winner of the commemorative hat. Proceeds went to the WoodCentral general fund; thank you very much to everyone for participating!
There were also several vendors in attendance, including the local Woodcraft store, which had a table set up in Ray's shop, selling chucks, centers and a huge selection of Sorby turning tools. Nigel Maddocks, a Sorby demonstrator from the U.K., showed us how he uses various Sorby tools, including their line of texturing tools, which can be used to decorate spindles and bowls with a great variety of spiral and chatter detailing.
Randy Privett (right), manufacturer of the Monster brand lathe tools and accessories was also there with one of his deep hollowing rigs.
Vince Welch, who trades as "Vince's WoodNWonders" did a brisk business selling his line of sandpaper and power sanding mandrel systems. I picked up a starter kit myself and was impressed with how long the sandpaper lasts without tearing. Vince hopes to get broader distribution for his products in the near future.
Doug Thompson, from Cleveland, was also there sporting several of his Johannes Michelson-inspired full-size fedoras, including one befitting a mad hatter!
One of the other fine attractions at the picnic was the Instant Gallery, set up on tables at the back of Ray's barn. The range of work shown there was stunning, including Shaker furniture and boxes, a beautiful curly cherry music box and every kind of turning project imaginable.
The last item on the evening's agenda was the swap meet, whose premise was, "If you bring something, you'll leave with something." Everyone who brought a gift to exchange wrote their name on a slip of paper and put it in a jar. I got to play master of ceremonies, selecting pairs of names to exchange gifts with each other. At the end, we had three gifts left, so Jim, Duane and Terry had to figure out how to swap three gifts. Somehow, it all worked out. Everyone was pleased to have someone else's work for their collection.
Finally, as the turning wound down and the full moon appeared over the hedgerow to the east, several of us sat around a toasty campfire for another hour or so, singing and playing a few tunes and enjoying the warmth and good feelings of a weekend well spent. Getting together with this many like-minded people is always a thrill for me, as I know it is for most of us. It's doubly gratifying to me when I realize that WoodCentral is one of the main denominators we have in common. I feel privileged to have opportunities like Indyfest and Montanafest and Sophie's and Grumbine's, where I can meet and mingle and share knowledge and stories and good cheer with so many other woodworkers. Thanks so much to Ray and Lynn Thompson and to everyone else who conspired to make this weekend such a memorable occasion!
More photos can be found on the website of the Central Indiana Chapter of the AAW and on DougJ's picture site.
. . . Ellis Walentine, Host
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