Feature Mondays - Woodworks 2014 report archive

Tuesday 10 March 2015

Brian Greene reports from the Woodworks 2014


On a beautiful late September weekend woodworkers from across Canada and the northeastern United States made a small Ontario town seem like the centre of the woodworking universe. Perth, Ontario, an hour south of Canada’s national capital Ottawa, was the stage for Woodworks ’14 and WoodObjects. The event was a project of the Ottawa Woodworkers Association, in conjunction with the Algonquin College Heritage Institute in Perth. Woodworks was everything you could want in a woodworking weekend. Approximately 200 people in a beautiful location, a great line up of internationally-known speakers, a unique emporium atmosphere of boutique tool makers and a stunning collection of inspiring furniture.

Algonquin College Heritage Woodworking Programme

The Algonquin College regional campus in Perth provided the organisers of Woodworks and WoodObjects with unparalleled access to its facilities and staff and tremendous help from a bevy of student volunteers. Everyone, including Dean Chris Hahn, was

on deck for the weekend. Even a power failure within minutes of the start of the first talk on the first day by Christopher Schwarz didn’t flap these folks!

The Perth Algonquin campus provides purpose designed and built learning environments for speciality trades, business and community and health studies. The big focus here is The Heritage Institute. Algonquin’s unique Heritage Carpentry and Joinery programme is aimed at students who are interested in the preservation, renovation and restoration of historical architecture in Canada. It also offers programmes in Construction Carpentry and Advanced Housing, as well as Heritage and Traditional Masonry.

History of the event

This is the third official Woodworks event, but the first one to go national. The first two were one-day club events with local speakers and a modest furniture exhibit. Before that, folks would gather annually in a club member’s garage for a day dedicated to all things to do with hand planes.

Since the demise of the annual woodworking show in Ottawa and the growth of events like Handworks 2013 – see F&C 208 – Woodworking in America and Fine Woodworking Live, there has always been a sense that the market needed a bigger event. The feeling was that if the Ottawa Woodworkers Association didn’t do it, someone else would.

“Along the way we’ve had great advice from the organisers of past events and tremendous support from Lee Valley Tools, one of our main sponsors,” said Woodworks conference chairman Vic Tesolin.

True to its roots, the goal of this event has been an informal atmosphere of friends gathered to learn and share experiences with one another about their passion for woodworking. The organisers are hoping to maintain that atmosphere by closely controlling growth. “We don’t want this event to get too big and lose the very thing that participants seem to enjoy most,” said Vic. “We’d like to grow a little larger to make it more financially stable but, in the present location, probably not more than 175 attendees plus vendors and organising staff.”

WoodObjects exhibition

A large part of the success of the weekend was that it was a very dynamic event. Alongside Woodworks the Conference and a well-attended tool emporium, was WoodObjects the exhibition with a juried display of 29 pieces by 17 makers. Jurors were none other than Garrett Hack of Vermont, Michael Fortune from Toronto and Ron Barter, owner of Rosewood Studio in Perth. Garrett and Ron were also presenters and were available all weekend to give the makers feedback on their pieces.

In past years WoodObjects has attracted some of Canada’s finest woodworkers who exhibit work of the highest standards with

an emphasis on original design, excellence in workmanship and diversity of approach. This version was no exception.

“We were really pleased to draw out so much of the furniture making talent we know exists in the region, providing them with an opportunity to show what they can do,” said Karen McBride, who was a member of the Woodworks organising committee and headed up the WoodObjects programme. “The result was a stunning display of creativity and technical skill.”

Courage, initiative and passion

Ron Barter, a furniture maker and owner of Rosewood Studio in Perth, as well as a WoodObjects juror, officially opened the WoodObjects exhibit at a well attended wine and cheese party in the school’s library. To the exhibitors he said: “This exhibit

is a testament to and a celebration of your courage, initiative and passion… the courage to share with the public and your peers, to open yourself up to judgement and potential criticism… the initiative to actually make something and the passion it takes to create something to the very best of your ability. There will always be a kind of magic in this.”

Selected vendors

The organisers of Woodworks ’14 made a deliberate effort to focus on designers and makers of hand tools. Lee Valley Tools was a major sponsor of Woodworks and was there displaying their new line of custom planes. Lie-Nielsen Toolworks are always a favourite – the rivalry is always friendly! Emporium exhibitors included Scott Meek Woodworks, Barrett and Sons – planemakers, Neil Cronk of The Cronkwright Woodshop, Bad Axe Toolworks, KJP Hardwoods, Douglas S. Orr – Antique Tools and Rosewood Studio.


In ‘Finding your own Voice’ Garrett Hack, long-time Fine Woodworking contributor and the author of The Handplane Book and Classic Hand Tools, encouraged people to try lots of possibilities and pick elements to form a design vocabulary of their own rather than merely copying others. He surveyed design ideas from recent furniture making history and showed us some of the ideas he uses in his work.

In his second talk Garrett spoke about making the building of furniture more efficient. Not surprising, he extolled the efficiencies of sharp, appropriate tools, of knowing where the transition is between machine work and hand work and of taking advantage of the possibilities afforded by hand tools. He stressed the importance of mock-ups of complex parts as a way to try ideas, testing how something works, to show a client or to practise a technique.

Linda Manzer, a world class builder of finely inlaid guitars for some of the best players in the world, showed some of the work she is famous for and spoke of the risks she has taken over the years that have set her work apart. Her advice was ‘you have to go out on a limb sometimes because that’s where the fruit is’.

Robin Lee, president of Lee Valley Tools and Veritas, stressed the important benefits of manual training not the least of which is forging self-confidence by creating and learning to problem solve. In spite of the role of the big box stores, he said he was glad to see ‘a resurgence of small business manufacturing and tool making’. His view is that ‘craft is not dead’. He’s encouraged by what he sees as a return to quality, saying ‘buying quality tools is more environmentally sensible anyway’. He said: “People are increasingly being engaged by the technological innovations creeping into woodworking. That’s good. Anything that forms the next generation is good.”

For Tom Fidgen, author of The Unplugged Woodshop: Hand-Crafted Projects for the Home & Workshop and Made by Hand, the key to success is recognising that the journey is more important than the destination. Tom builds his furniture strictly with hand tools. His other passion is helping other designer/makers enjoy the process of designing and making. He says: “Real success comes from how we choose to spend our time… it’s about lifestyle and making sure we get enough sleep, eating well, drinking less and turning off the television. Everyone has the same 24 hours. We need to master our time, plan our days and find a good rhythm.”

For Mark Harrell of Bad Axe Tools, it was standing room only for two sessions demystifying the traditional backsaw.

He showed how to take it apart, clean it, sharpen it, re-tension it and put it back together as a finely tuned tool capable of precision work.

Woodworks drew consistently high praise from participants, exhibitors and presenters, saying: ‘I’m already looking forward to coming back!’ and ‘content was excellent. Awesome scope from ‘how to’s’ to ‘why’. Very inspiring’. Woodworks ’16 is already under discussion!

Tom Fidgen’s five simple steps for increasing success

1/ Know what the goal is. It should be clear, tangible and reachable

2. Take small steps. Things don’t happen by accident. Practice!

3. Note the change. Know where you’ve been, where you are and where you’re going. What gets measured gets managed

4. There’s safety in numbers. Put it out there, talk about it, hang out with others doing similar stuff

5. Prepare the fix. Make it ready in case you need it

Tom Fidgen has just launched a new membership-based website. Find out more here.

Woodworkers Institute

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Woodworks , WoodObjects

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The British Connection

Perth was founded in 1816 as a military settlement to defend against invasion by the United States. Concerns for the defence of Upper Canada arose during the War of 1812, which had revealed the vulnerability of the thin line of settlement along the St. Lawrence River between Montreal and Kingston. Perth was designated to direct people to an unsettled interior and was accomplished through British government sponsored military settlement and assisted immigration. Many of the first settlers were military veterans on half pay.
Situated between Ottawa and Kingston and with a population of around 6,000, Perth has retained its historical roots. It has a big vision of how life should be and its vibrant community spirit is set against a backdrop of beautiful heritage architecture and plenty of open natural spaces.