Tuesday, May 19, 2015

back from Handworks 2015

I'm back home from Handworks 2015, unpacked, and I found a few minutes to share my thoughts.

Handworks was in Amana, IA, and the H. O. Studley tool chest exhibit was planned to coincide nearby in Cedar Rapids. I traveled alone and spent 4 days in Iowa.


Handworks is essentially just a marketplace. But if you like hand tools and woodworking, it seems to be the one to be at. For me, there are two reasons to attend an event like this: It's a chance to test & compare the best hand tools available firsthand, and it's a chance to rub elbows with lots of other like minded folks. 
The main arena, after most people have left.
Before this, I once drove 4 hours to test carcase saws from 2 manufacturers side by side. This weekend, I flew about 4 hours to Handworks, where there were 5 of the best manufacturers of carcase saws, and one antique dealer. Of course, that's just one example. But a lot of buying decisions [should] come down to criteria that are hard to measure by reading, like ergonomics. When there are so many high quality tools available, the decision really isn't about quality--it's about what you like. This is a chance to ask questions of toolmakers, put your hands on tools, and really figure out what you like. Many of the vendors offer free shipping and/or a show discount, so if you come prepared, Handworks a good way to acquire some tools.

While most people were talking or spending, Mike Siemsen was
building a workbench. 

My advice is to go to an event like this with a budget. You'll need it to get the most out of the event. (Based on my experience in 2014, the next Woodworking in America marketplace might also be a good substitute)

All eyes on St. Roy.

I got nearly all my shopping done on the first day, so I dedicated Saturday to talking. Wandering around a crowd of friendly folks and knowing that you have a common interest with everyone you see is a refreshing experience, and especially valuable for often-introverted woodworker types. I made a few acquaintances, even friends, and had a lot of stimulating conversation on topics that my local friends usually don't scratch. I don't often get a day with such a focused agenda, and it was extremely relaxing. It also didn't hurt that Roy Underhill got the day off to the right start by standing on a workbench and being hilarious for about a half hour. He is really good at that.

Amana, by the way, was a perfect backdrop for the event. It's a quietly stimulating place. The people and institutions still show a strong connection to their past as a self-sufficient religious commune. It didn't feel like [other] tourist traps at all--like it still has one foot in the past instead of reenacting it. Go there if you like looking at beautiful objects, eating too much delicious German food, and going to bed early.


I don't know how I'm going to write about this. I got to spend time with H. O. Studley's famous tool chest, which is an object which you can easily learn about from text and photographs. (Just pull up your favorite search engine). The entire point of visiting it was to get what you can't get from words and pictures. So I'm not sure how to convey that with words and pictures. I guess I can concretely say two things:

Apparently beauty can shine through a bad
photograph. Oh well, there are already plenty of
good ones on the internet.
  1. I feel inspired. Partly from the book which I bought. But largely from getting to spend time physically near an object. That feeling is valuable to me. And I think it will lead to action.
  2. Donald Williams let the folks in my time slot and the ones after (late on Sunday) stay for more than an hour. So I spent 3 hours getting all my questions answered and absorbing the experience more fully. Apparently I'm supposed to rub your noses in that fact, so, um, there you go. 

Worth the trip

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