Woodworking in America 2008 #2: Day 1, or Is This Heaven or Am I Just In Sensory Overload?

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Blog entry by Texasgaloot posted 11-15-2008 05:21 AM 18726 reads 0 times favorited 10 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 1: Day 0.5 Part 2 of Woodworking in America 2008 series Part 3: Woodworkers are Strange People. »

Back in college when you had four classes in one day it was just another day. I guess that’s why we send our kids to school while they are young. I don’t feel young.

Here’s the run-down of my day (mercifully all my classes were within two buildings very near each other.) My first session was on chair design with Brian Boggs. If you aren’t familiar with Brian, you need to be. Find him here. Now, I’ve never really had any interest in chairs, knowing that they were something I was inevitably, eventually going to have to deal with. I also figured that they were extremely complicated. In so far as that last, I was right. Brian’s enthusiasm spilled over as he offered us tips for good chair design based on his own experience of making more that 2500. I think I might be able to do this, after all (if I had too!)

My second session was one I had been looking forward to since the WIA was announced. It was Frank Klausz and Roy Underhill (St. Roy) offering opposing viewpoints on cutting pins first vs tails first when dovetailing. Neither of these men require any introduction, but both behind the workbench… way over-the-top! As you might guess, they are old friends, both highly skilled and highly regarded, both with very sharp wits, and with the hearts of teachers. I know you’ve seen St. Roy on the Woodwright’s Shop, and Frank has many instructional videos out, including cutting a set of dovetails in 3 minutes, available on Popular Woodworking’s website. This was intended to be a discussion of one approach compared to the other, but it didn’t turn out that way. Talk started out comparing each approach in making standard dovetails, then moved to half-blind (Frank calls them “half-lapped”) dovetails, and then into blind (or mitered) dovetails. At this point Roy mentioned that mitered dovetails could only be made by cutting pins first, and Frank immediately said, “How?” making Roy repeat “pins first.” Roy was Frank’s cameraman from then on! Roy demo’ed the very rare Passer Drill, a very unique tool used to make the mortises for the shaped brass escutcheons on try squares. Roy spent quite a bit of time running around behind the scenes pulling things out of boxes, arranging things for Frank, and doing things that I couldn’t follow, so late in the program when he pulled a little metal cylinder from a box and then telescoped it to about 3” high, I wasn’t surprised. He then pulled a second one out. I was puzzling what they were for until he pulled one of those really little bottles of liqueur out and poured a measure into each telescoping cup. Frank and he then toasted us. At another time in the session, they were both reflecting on the time that Frank visited the Woodwright’s Shop. Frank complimented him by noting that this show does not do takes—it is shot real time. Roy’s response was yes, he has 24 minutes and 27 seconds to get it right the first time. His tools are alcohol powered!! We laughed until our sides hurt.

Here are a few interesting comparisons. Roy works predominantly (or was supposed to be representing) the English style of dovetailing: precise layouts using folding rules, strict proportions (large width of pin 1/2 width of stock, small width of tail, 2x width of stock), pins with very narrow and almost feminine proportions, and laying out with marking knives. Frank works in a “continental” style: no marking, no jigs, who cares about the angle of the dovetails as long as they are pleasing. Just use a sharp pencil. Frank did say he loves the holdfast he borrowed from Roy.

After a great lunch visiting with Matt Vanderlist (what, you don’t know who he is by now? Matt’s Basement Workshop Podcast?) which we laughed and joked all the way through, I attended Frank Klausz’ Advanced Dovetail Techniques seminar. There we watched Frank cut full blind (err… mitered) dovetails, talking and teaching the entire time he was working. “You have time to set up particular dovetail jig to make project if you are hobbiest. If you vish to be paid for verk, you make drawer in 20 minutes, you have 6 drawers to dovetail, you pick up dovetail saw and chisel. No time to play vis jigs.” And on sharpening: “Best jigs you have is hands.” Dagnabit… he’s absolutely right. Here are some more write-me-downs: Frank is holding up the new Lie-Nielsen fishtail chisel, used for cleaning out dovetails. He’s holding it delicately, talking about buying good tools, and says, “These are my jewelry.” And then with raised eyebrows he quickly follows it with, “Because I deserve it!” “A tool is only expensive if it is cheaply made and doesn’t work, and will ruin your work.” Here’s the biggest one for me, the one I take to heart and ponder for a while. “Proper design, proper materials, proper joinery, and proper finishing makes classic furniture. We are making furniture not for our children, but for our children’s children.” I’m still pondering that.

My final session for the day was a panel “moderated” by Chris Schwartz and consisting of Joel Moskowitz of Gramercy Tools, and Mike Wenzloff of Wenzloff & Sons Saws. I got the distinct impression that Mike and Joel had… different approaches to their work. It was interesting to hear the varied opinions. Mike did offer a brief tutorial called “knocking the set out” of a saw that was over-set. I was also impressed with the fact that Chris started out the session by noting that Pete Taran and Patrick Leach reversed the downward-spiraling trend of the western saw when they formed the partnership of Independence Tools. Their saws were the finest made in America, and the tooling was sold to Tom Lie-Nielsen. Those saws are LN’s dovetail and carcase saws. What’s profound and personal about this is that I’m acquainted with both Pete and Patrick from the Old Tools Listserve, previously mentioned, and for the third time today I have heard that my IT saws with matching serial numbers are classics. What foresight I had, eh? I guess I’d better practice some more.

Liz and I did attend the Friday Evening Welcome Reception (a carry-over from last night because they couldn’t fit everybody into the room at the Boone Tavern,) and got to rub elbows with Adam Cherubini, St. Roy, The Schwartz, Mike Dunbar, Matt Vanderlist…

And tomorrow I do it again! Wooohoooo!!

-- There's no tool like an old tool...

10 comments so far

View hObOmOnk's profile


1381 posts in 5342 days

#1 posted 11-15-2008 03:57 PM

I live up the road from Berea.
I visit that magic town often.
Berea is truly a bucolic concentration of skilled artisans, using wood or any other media.

While you are there, stop by Warren May’s shop just down the street from the Boone Tavern.
Warren makes dulcimers,the native musical instrument of our Commonwealth.
He also makes fine hand crafted furniture that sings with the joy of his musical talents.

Visit the Artisan Center on the outskirts of town and drink in the rich craft heritage of Kentucky.
You’ll see Mike Angel rocking chairs or masterful willow furniture made by Ron Owens.

The true value of craft is for the maker is to show beauty in that which is useful.
Berea, Kentucky is a beautiful place.
The organizers of this event have chosen a perfect venue.

-- 温故知新

View 8iowa's profile


1591 posts in 4976 days

#2 posted 11-15-2008 04:11 PM

Drat!! I’ll be driving past Berea tomorrow evening (Sunday 11/16) and will miss it all.

-- "Heaven is North of the Bridge"

View MsDebbieP's profile


18619 posts in 5375 days

#3 posted 11-15-2008 04:13 PM

an excellent write-up! Thank you.

the “children’s children” comment reminds me of the Native belief that we are and need to behave as the ancestors of the next 7 generations.

I’m looking forward to reading more about your experience

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (, Young Living Wellness )

View Thos. Angle's profile

Thos. Angle

4444 posts in 5177 days

#4 posted 11-15-2008 04:23 PM

I’m jealous!!!

-- Thos. Angle, Jordan Valley, Oregon

View ChicoWoodnut's profile


904 posts in 5030 days

#5 posted 11-15-2008 04:33 PM

Oh man that sounds like fun!

I guess now we know why St. Roy requires so many band aids.

Thanks for taking the time and spending your talent to write this up so eloquently.

-- Scott - Chico California

View Lee A. Jesberger's profile

Lee A. Jesberger

6875 posts in 5194 days

#6 posted 11-15-2008 04:35 PM

What a day!


-- by Lee A. Jesberger

View Douglas Bordner's profile

Douglas Bordner

4074 posts in 5278 days

#7 posted 11-15-2008 04:39 PM

Dang, Mack. I’m drooling. I was unaware of both the conference and Berea as a locality of interest to artisans. Now I’ll add it to the list of must visit towns (Ft. Bragg, Seattle, Excelsior Springs, Asheville…)

-- "Bordnerizing" perfectly good lumber for over two decades.

View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8901 posts in 5314 days

#8 posted 11-15-2008 05:40 PM

Crap – I am jealous!

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

View John Gray's profile

John Gray

2370 posts in 5100 days

#9 posted 11-15-2008 07:11 PM

Wish I was there. ;-)

-- Only the Shadow knows....................

View ShannonRogers's profile


540 posts in 5003 days

#10 posted 11-17-2008 03:28 PM

It breaks my heart to know that I was supposed to be there and couldn’t make it at the 11th hour. Thank you so much for keeping us in the loop. Your witty prose makes me feel as if I was there with you as originally planned.

-- The Hand Tool School is Open for Business! Check out my blog and podcast "The Renaissance Woodworker" at

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