Handworks 2015: A Hand Tool Heaven
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Editor's note: Handworks 2015 was an incredible event. We feel privileged to be living in this current era of hand tool artisans and we are already looking forward to returning to Amana in 2017. Mark your calendars - believe me, you won't want to miss it!

I imagine the diehard hand tool woodworker would feel something akin to what they expect Heaven to be like when walking through the doors of the Festhalle barn - small lights adorning many surfaces, birds calling from their roosts in the ceiling joists, Roy Underhill and Chris Schwarz straight ahead, ready to take your earthly spoils and exchange them for brilliant reads about your favorite topic (hand tool woodworking, of course). Look to the right and see shiny planes and hand tools by Lee Valley, Knew Concepts, Elkhead Tools and Bad Axe Saws. Not to mention Jeff Miller over in the corner smiling at you. Look to the left and see a veritable sea of hand tool artisans, including Scott Meek, Ron Hock, Chris Vesper, Jeff Hamilton, as well as so many others. Up the steps, a large Lie-Nielsen display awaits and their show staff is ready to help you feel your way around any of their beautiful tools. Look everywhere around you and the people you see are the quiet woodworkers, the ones who appreciate the sounds of silence on a daily basis, who prefer to work with their hands rather than letting a machine do the hard stuff. And perhaps, those who sometimes prefer the process of the work to the end product. This, this is Hand Tool Heaven.

But wait - apparently this is only the Hand Tool Heaven main barn, and just a short walk away is the Hand Tool Heaven Greenwood Barn, where you can meet Peter Galbert and Greg Pennington, talk to Jim Sannerud about his turning and milk paint finishing, or look at one of Claire Minihan's beautiful travishers, and much more. There is always much more, no matter where you look.

And then, can it be? Down the road a bit, past the cafe where you will be returning for a delicious lunchtime sandwich when you and your wallet are finally ready to take a break from the beautiful hand tool displays, you will find yet another Hand Tool Heaven outpost. This time you find yourself in the Amana Furniture Shop, a building with more than 150 years of woodworking history that is currently the temporary weekend home for the likes of Mary May, Frank Strazza, Mike Siemsen, and Chris Kuehn of Sterling Toolworks (whose Dovetailing Square apparently made an impression on Chris Schwarz). When you first walk in, you see a pedal-powered scroll saw. Yes, this is Hand Tool Heaven, where you can always get a woodworking workout. You have a quick chat with Anne Briggs Bohnett, here to help out Chris Kuehn for the weekend. You talk about her own woodworking, including the stunning saw cabinet she built for Bad Axe Toolworks, a beautiful piece commissioned by Mark at Bad Axe to hold all of their saws at future woodworking shows. You stop by the door to investigate all the incredible details in Frank Strazza's 'Roses' table. And then you are on your way again! So many hand tools, so little time!

Back at the Festhalle barn, you slowly work your way through the crowded aisles, stopping at as many makers' tables as you can. Jameel and Father John Abraham of Benchcrafted, the founders and organizers of Handworks, are showing off their workbench vises and hardware alongside more than 30 other hand tool artisans, and happy to converse with any hand tool enthusiast who happens along and strikes up a conversation. You spend the rest of the day padding from booth to booth, purchasing the tools you need right now and adding to your own mental wishlist of tools you want/need for the future.

Saturday morning dawns with a vision of Roy Underhill stomping upon a workbench carrying an axe, listening for the sirens and the Swedish women's half-blind dovetailing team, and then urging the audience to take a one-word pledge to say NO to power tools, and "take a bite out of Norm". It is St. Roy at his best, evangelizing the religion of hand tools, and while perhaps preaching to the choir, he is certainly doing it in the most memorable way possible. His words echo off of the barn walls long after he has stepped down from the workbench, and inspire many a soul to find their own hand tool woodworker within.

Handworks 2015 - Roy Underhill "Calypso's Gift" from Benchcrafted on Vimeo .

And then, when you thought you had seen all there was to see of Hand Tool Heaven, you jump in a car and head up the road to the Scottish Rite Temple in Cedar Rapids, to Don Williams’ exquisitely done exhibit showcasing the Henry O. Studley Tool Cabinet and Workbench. The workbench is beautiful, solid, and yet looks like a real workbench, not just a showpiece. The tool cabinet, on the other hand, is otherworldly. You get the sense that Studley was working on the incredibly intricate details of his tool cabinet while the rest of the world slept at night, perhaps for his entire life. The architecture, and it really is something akin to building architecture that Studley instilled in this piece, is breathtaking to look at. From the dovetails in the tiny drawers, to the gothic cubby holding a #1 Stanley plane, to all of the mother of pearl and ivory inlay. The craftsmanship demonstrated by this tool chest is inspiring, to say the least.

By the time Don Williams and the docent who looks eerily similar to Studley shoo you out so they can prepare for the next viewing group, you are galvanized, electrified, awakened to the possibilities in your shop. You are a hand tool woodworker, and Handworks is your biennial Hand Tool Heaven.

-- Article by Kelley Bagby

CLICK HERE to see more photos from Handworks.

CLICK HERE to see more photos from the Studley exhibit.


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