Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Wesonbirt 2008 - still the perfect woodworking show.

I had the good fortune to attend the Festival of the Tree again this August, and like last year - was not disappointed. The format was the same - camping on the grounds of the Westonbirt Arbouretum, large scale sculptures in a picturesque setting and very fine food prepared by “cheffie” (pictured below drying some tea-towels).

One of the most enjoyable things about traveling is the incredible people - and this year's adventure was no exception. There were many familiar faces to catch up with and just as many new ones. We were set up in the Classic Hand Tools marquee again - situated off to the side of the display area. But judging from the well worn pathways inside - we were certainly not out of sight.

There was a new demonstrator at the show this year - and for all intents and purposes - he stole the show. Steve Woodley specializes in supplying hand hewn timbers for restoration work and provided four days of inspirational demonstration.

He was supplied with 3 oak logs and over the course of the 4 days, managed to square up two of them. I found myself stopping to watch every time I walked by - with several additional deliberate trips to watch his progress. I was struck with the simplicity of the process - and the incredible skill and precision required to execute it properly. Steve taught me two very important lessons about axes. First - he taught me how to sharpen them - and yes - they should look like the backs of your plane irons. Secondly - a mediocre axe is not worth the struggle. He had at least 8 axes with him - all made by Gransfors. These are available in the UK from Classic Handtools or in North America through Lee Valley. Not only is he highly skilled - he is a fantastic guy. His brother lives less than an hour from my house and I am hoping to figure out a way to get him over to this side of the pond. I am working on it Steve.

It was great to see Jolyon Reynolds again this year - he was set up around the corner from Steve. Between the two of them - they had an amazing demonstration.

Mark Hancock and his charming wife Karen were at the show again and were a crucial part of the good natured fun and frolic in the classic handtools compound. There were only a few “safe” seconds for me to capture the above photo before Mark shifted his gouge and showered me with shavings. Typical : )

I was thrilled to see my good friend Michel Auriou again - it had been far too long since our last visit. I always enjoy Michel's insight into toolmaking, steel and business. The best piece of news was that Auriou is back in business. Hopefully some more left handed rasps will be in my future...

David Charlesworth and Pat stopped in on Saturday - it was great to see them again. They were set up beside me which gave us a chance to catch up a bit and talk shop. Here we are discussing one of Bill Carters planes (nice segue, eh?)

That same day - Bill and Sarah Carter arrived. It is always a thrill to see them. Bill had over a dozen planes with him - from wee little 1/2" boxwood smoothers, to an incredible 28-1/2" jointer. Bill was kept very busy with a steady stream of admirers and Sarah kept the three of us content with coffee and homemade cake.

If I had the money - this pair of mitre planes would have come home with me.

Another fine planemaker stopped in for a visit - Christopher Martyn. I met Christopher at last years show and was very impressed with his instrument planes. Some of his planes were featured in Fine Woodworkings 2007/2008 Tools & Shops issue.

My friend Tony stopped in to try a few planes - here he is testing out a No.4 smoother.

I also met Mike Riley and had a great visit with Phil Edwards. The Romanesque fellow is Alex Primmer - he works for Classic Handtools.

It is amazing how much changes in a year. Last year, Phil was contemplating making a few planes - and this year he had his own line of tools and was conducting a brisk business. A few days before I left for England, Phil sent me an email asking if there was anything he could bring along to help reduce my luggage. It was an extremely thoughtful offer and as it turned out - I did use many of his things over the course of the event. My deepest thanks Phil for taking good care of me during the show. I hope I can return the favour in Berea.

Mark Bennett was a new demonstrator at the show and I have to say I was quite impressed. He is a very kind, soft spoken fellow and we found ourselves discussing the finer points of plane design, our respective wood stashes (I suspect his will knock my socks off when I see it) and design in general. I thoroughly enjoyed his company. He was also a wealth of knowledge and passed on several great insights. One of the more interesting one was tree warts. I have to admit I was a little skeptical until he showed me one. He handed me a holly wart. He said they are very tight burls and cuts them into disks and uses them for inlay work. So I now have a Holly wart to add to my growing pile of timber.

Fun & games

The show was not just work - there was tremendous play as well. I sometimes feel guilty about it - and there were two instances where I found myself beautifully derailed.

The first instance was finding a small Boxwood branch sitting on the burn pile (yes, they were burning boxwood!). I have a wonderful Japanese hammer head by Masayuki that is in need of a handle. I have been referencing So's site to learn how to handle a hammer. I cannot find any Gumi - but this piece of English boxwood should be a nice substitute. Philly caught me cleaning up the piece of boxwood for the trip home.

The other derailment was Mark and I cleaning up a large piece of boxwood (with an Auriou rasp of course).

Philly and Mike Riley planting some vile shavings.

Chris Pye being majestic even when he is trying not to be. Chris was set up about 30 feet away but I was able to watch him transform a rather non-descript bit of wood into a very fanciful beast. I only wish I was able to pay closer attention - I know he has a lot to teach and I have a lot to learn.

I also had great visits with John Lloyd and Rob Cosman but did not manage to find them when I was collecting photos.

And last but certainly not least... a rather tuckered member of the International football team who was sadly defeated at the third annual “Billy Hancock Birthday showdown”. The Brits won 3/0. Mark shared a very funny comment on the last day. He was telling a few of us how surreal it was to be the keeper for the British team and seeing all these faces he recognizes from magazine head shots rushing at him. The quote went something like this... “and there was Rob Cosman - with the ball... rushing towards me. Bloody hell!”

I would also like to express my thanks to Mike Hancock, his lovely wife Mary, and their kids Alex and Billy. The Classic Handtool marquee is not the focus of Westonbirt - but it has become a very important part of it - and clearly inspires people to work with wood. Mike has done an outstanding job, and has proven that a vision of something different and a little creativity can make something very special happen. Congratulations Mike.


Blogger Paul Kierstead said...

I have one of Phils mini panel raisers and totally love it. Works wonderfully and has great craftsmanship too.

A couple of months back I bought a medium sized Gransfors splitting axe. I was stunned. I can accurately split off kindling one handed trivially easy with this axe. I had no idea an axe could be so great.

4 September 2008 at 09:09  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It was great to meet you, Konrad, and a real treat to try out your beautiful planes. Tell Riley to get out those Wenzloffs and keep practising his dovetails......

Cheers ;-)

Paul Chapman

4 September 2008 at 09:24  
Blogger Philly said...

Glad you had a great time - thanks for your companionship during the five days!
See you Berea - and don't forget to bring your best shirt ;)

4 September 2008 at 12:51  
Blogger Konrad said...

Hi Paul,

I had a great time messing around with Phil's planes. The mini panel raiser was a favorite of mine too.

Seeing a skilled person using a high quality axe was pretty inspiring. The next LV trip - one is coming home!


6 September 2008 at 18:19  
Blogger Konrad said...

Hi Paul C,

It was great to meet you as well. Glad you liked the planes too. Yes - Riley is going to be practicing - I promise to post his next project.


6 September 2008 at 18:27  
Blogger Konrad said...

Hey Phil,

Yeah - best shirt:) Here is the story. I was in need of a cloth or something during sharpening and Phil said he had an extra "cloth" - it turned out to be one of his old collared shirts. The shirt seemed to make its way around the whole marquee cleaning up all manner of messes.

See you in a few months Phil!


6 September 2008 at 18:30  

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