2010 IWF Recap
Still the top show in the US.
The International Woodworking Fair -- or IWF, for short -- is a biennial woodworking trade show held at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta, Georgia. It is the largest woodworking show of its kind in the Western hemisphere and a traditional magnet for manufacturers, innovators and woodworking consumers from novice to industrialist. I've only missed one or two of these shows in the past 20 years, as it's the place to see and be seen, to talk to manufacturers and advertisers, to prospect for the latest and greatest new products and inventions, and to reconnect with colleagues and friends in the woodworking and journalism businesses.
This year's show was the smallest by far that I have attended in at least two decades, filling less than two of the enromous main halls of the GWCC and none of the mezzanines and corridors that, in years past, were bustling with small vendors, publishers and newcomers to the field. Despite the paucity of vendors and visitors, there were innovations to be discovered, and, for a change, a decent chance to meet and talk with the exhibitors.
IWF typically runs from Wednesday through Saturday. In the old days, you actually needed several days just to walk the miles of aisles. This year, I was there only on Wednesday and Thursday, and that proved to be ample time to visit the toolmakers and friends I needed to see (with a few regrettable exceptions -- you just can't see everyone). It was a slow year for new product development, but there were still quite a few items that caught my eye. I'm offering up just the following sampling for your vicarious show-going pleasure. You can view a previous IWF report if you want to get a better idea of the historical scope of this show. Bill Tindall is writing up several of his favorites on the Messages board as time and inclination permit. I hope these and other testimonials bring home some of the flavor and excitement of this event, as well as a glimpse of some of the latest attention-worthy developments in the woodworking field. I'll figure out a way to incorporate Bill's blogs into this shot somehow.
All the usual players in the portable and hand-held power tool business turned out in force with their latest drills, drivers, saws, sanders and other standard tools. Of these, a couple tools in particular caught my eye. One was the new combination router system from DeWALT. The kit consists of everything shown in the photo at right: a router motor with fixed and plunge bases, and an edge guide. DeWALT an optional LED lamp unit to shine some light on your routing chores.
In the not-exactly woodworking category, DeWALT also had a cool new gizmo, a camera on the end of a flexible hose that can be manipulated into walls and inaccessible spaces for viewing wiring, insulation and other things you might need to investigate. I could have used one of these when Dan and I dug out a faulty wire in my kitchen wall a few years back. I took a picture of the poster so you can read the features and benefits for yourself. It was pretty nifty.
Moving along to the Festool booth, I immediately spotted their latest sander offering: a mini-Rotex random orbit sander with a detail sander pad attachment. A little coupling prevents the detail sander pad from spinning, so it works like an oscillating sander.
Though it's been around for a couple years, I thought I'd mention Festool's zero-clearance jigsaw throat plate. It allows you to make chipout-free cuts in even the flakiest plywood. Worth a look if you haven't seen it yet.
At the General booth, there were several notable additions to their tool line, including this router table, made exclusively for them by Jessem. It has a universal router carriage that can be adjusted to accommodate any of the popular router motor diameters and features an above-the-table height adjustment.
Another General innovation that caught my eye was this interesting stock pusher for the bandsaw, designed to keep your fingers away from the blade in the last couple critical inches of feeding a piece through the saw. You adjust the height with the blade guard. It works down to rips of 3/8" or so.
In the exotic precision department, I was blown away by the concept of this latest angle-finder from Bridge City Toolworks. Employing a digital caliper and some internal arithmetic, this protractor measures accurately to six seconds of arc (1/600°). Regardless, the concept is bulletproof and the workmanship is remarkable. The price was yet undetermined and it hasn't shown up on their website yet, but John mentioned a price that was in my affordable range, which is saying something.
In yet another clever coup, John Economaki, Bridge City's founder, has come up with an ingenious little gauge he calls the Kerfmaster. It makes sizing dados and grooves easy, fast and accurate. You calibrate the jig to the kerf width of your blade or bit, then gauge the stock thickness, and then use the jig to set up for perfectly fitting joints. You have to see it to get the idea, so here's a link to the YouTube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PQ6_S6lZKLI
Rockler had some new items in their booth that caught my eye. One was this low-cost CNC machine, called the CNC Shark Pro Plus. At $3,600, not including the recommended Bosch ColtTM router. It has a 25" x 25" x 5" cutting zone, a T-track table that accepts various holding fixtures, and top speeds of up to 200 in./min. Also available, at $300, is a ruby-tipped digital touch probe that will follow complicated surface contours and record these in a computer program that can then be used to replicate the parts to within 0.001" detail.
Another new item in the Rockler lineup was this 32-mm system drilling template system that allows you to drill accurately spaced holes for European cabinet hardware. The spring-loaded drill bit is available in 1/4" and 5mm diameters to accommodate different diameter shelf rests. The advantage of this new fixture is that a single setting registers the front and back rows of shelf rest holes so they are parallel and square to the cabinet side.
Also from Rockler is this band-clamping arrangement, including a slick web clamp and corner blocks that have fingers spaced to fit standard dovetail and box joint spacings. I used to make my own corner blocks very similar to these, because they were the only really good way to band-clamp boxs and frames. I think Rockler has a winner here.
I don't do a lot of scrollsawing, but I'm pretty familiar with the important features of a good saw. I must say the Eclipse scroll saw was loaded with nifty innovations, including its cast-iron table, work light, 1 1/2" true-vertical blade stroke, adjustable dust nozzle, convenient controls, 45° tilting table, and analog speed control. At $1750, it isn't a price-point unit, but it seems to be a very nicely engineered and very solid machine.
Next was a clever invention for sharpening jointer and lunchbox planer knives quickly and easily on sandpaper on glass. The system consists of a blade-holder that registers the knives at the correct angle for sharpening. Made by a small startup, Deulen Tools, this jig has already been ordered by many of the big-name mail order suppliers, proof that if you build a better mousetrap, they will come.
While it is hardly news, oblique work lighting is something that more people should take advantage of. This self-contained, floor-standing unit from SandMan Products, consists of four automobile headlights mounted in a diamond-plate housing on a stand. Nothing beats raking light for showing up sanding problems.
Tormek has introduced a few new items this year, including a drill bit grinding attachment and a stainless steel arbor with speed nut (left) for changing stones quickly without tools, something you might want to do if you own their Japanese waterstone in addition to the regular stone.
My old pal, Jim Brewer, longtime manager of Freud's USA division, which is now a subsidiary of Skil-Bosch, points to a poster explaining Freud's latest router bit set, for making full-length tenons on cabinet doors. This innovation is long overdue.
These hand clamps from Cabinet Hardware Solutions positively amazed me. Looking for all the world like Vise-Grips™, these clamps have only one setting -- for tension -- but their grip range is HUGE. The big one can grip anything from the thickness of a business card to a 3" wide cabinet rail, all with the same pressure!
WorkSharp, already well known for its grinding jigs, has added a new Belt Sharpening Attachment to their WS3000 line, essentially a mini belt grinder driven by the main grinder motor. The attachment allows you to grind knives, scissors, carving tools, marking knives and other edge tools. It takes 1" x 18" belts. Price was around $70.
Next, I visited the CompX Timberline booth, where I ran into an old friend of mine from my contract furniture days, Gregg Walla, who is now president of this cabinet hardware company demonstrated the company's latest invention, the StealthLock, a wireless, remotely-activated electronic cabinet door locking system. The transmitter keypad can be used to open one or several cabinet-duty locks. If you're using only the wireless keypad, this system can be totally invisible from the outside of the cabinet. At $129 per unit, the price can add up if you're outfitting a whole office, but think of the possibilities of a secret lock in your next residential or commercial project.
Jet has a new machine coming out soon, a 6" x 25" dual drum sander. Weighing in at 525 lbs., this is no lightweight machine. It features a 3Hp motor, (2) 5" dia. drums, conveyor feed and digital thickness readouts for both drums. This means you can adjust the drum heights individually to compensate for sandpaper thickness, a really thoughtful feature.
Thermally modified wood has been getting a lot of press in recent months, and with good reason: This stuff is a real breakthrough! I met Igor Danchenko, president of Westwood Corp., the originator of the process, who explained that to thermally modify wood, they heat it at about 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 14 to 16 hours in an oxygen-free environment, using steam to keep the wood from burning.
The most obvious advantage of this process is that it makes the wood virtually waterproof. Even woods that normally rot easily, like poplar, will last 15 -25 years in the elements, according to the company's claims, although I don't know how they would know that. It also makes the wood lighter in weight and dimensionally stable, and it darkens it to a mellow brown color that goes all the way through the wood. I've priced this product locally at about $4 + per board foot for poplar, so it's also affordable. I can easily see it taking the place of redwood and cedar siding, exotic wood decking, marine uses, and other applications where moisture resistance and dimensional stability are called for.
There were plenty of other exciting things to do and see at IWF 2010, but this blog has to end somewhere. I'm hoping that the industry bounces back between now and 2012 so that the next show is a bit more dynamic, but this one wasn't bad at all. I highly recommend it to any woodworker.
. . . Ellis Walentine