I’ve had a couple of days now to rest up, process all that information, and try and heal from the sinus infection I picked up (when I lived in Kentucky, the sinus infection was how I was able to tell the seasons were changing!) I’ve been reflecting on the entire event, trying to figure out how I wanted to condense this huge volume of knowledge and impressions down into one blog, and it is not easy. Here are a few highlights of “Mack Goes to Berea:”
1. Woodworkers are extraordinarily nice people. Even the ones at the top who have the latitude (societal expectations?) to be snobs or condescending are neither. There is no Hollywood in woodworking, it seems. If you bump into Roy Underhill or Chris Schwartz or Frank Klausz (insert your favorite name here) in passing, the least you’ll come away with is a smile. If you engage them in conversation, to a one they will listen to what you have to say and respond because they heard you. In terms of the not-so-famous, several times during the weekend I noticed people who had never before met loaning tools or helping others with techniques. There was simply no distinction between professional woodworkers and hobbyists; one couldn’t really even tell. The only status we really had was that of “woodworker.” Society in general could learn a thing or two from woodworkers.
2. Those we venerate as masters are practicing woodworkers, too. Here’s what I mean by that: When one has a medical practice, one purports to have studied enough about medicine to dedicate the majority of their time to helping others who have not studied with their medical issues. No doctor, upon receiving their MD ever opens an office thinking, “Well, that’s all there is to know about knees” for example. The doctor, when confronted with a patients complaints, will first suggest a set of standard practices that we have observed will achieve the desired outcome, and if those steps don’t work, begins to study, work further into the issue, and perhaps even come up with new treatments. Sunday morning we had a session on taming tear-out with “The Schwartz.” He suggested things to do that help him work through the woodworker’s bane, and several comments came from the “audience.” Chris listened to each carefully, and a couple of times said, “I’ll have to try that.” We are all learning, thank God.
3. Along those same lines, I buried a number of old myths that seem to have originated about the time somebody started writing textbooks for shop class. Things I was taught: if you have a board larger than 6” or so, cut it in half and re-glue it so it won’t warp. No board should ever be any wider than 6” (and every wide surface should have each board inverted so that with one board the outside of the tree should face up, the neighboring board should face down, etc.) The problem with that is that the author of the textbook forgot to tell Hepplewhite or Chippendale or Phyfe, who used wide boards whenever they could. Ahem. Kind of embarassing, glad Mr. Phyfe was looking the other way…
4. As well as being extraordinarily nice folks, woodworkers are some of the funniest daggone people I’ve ever encountered as a group. The first person I ran into after registering was Matt Vanderlist (www.Mattsbasementworkshop.com). We knew each other online, but had never met. We immediately starting making one another laugh during our discussions. Every presentation I attended had us laughing at some point (the ones that Roy Underhill was involved in laughter actually dominated the information, somehow without obscuring it,) even the hands-on clinics were infected with this woodworking joy and mirth.
5. I’ll need another dose of this next year. I’m sure that it will take me at least a year to learn to use all the things I absorbed this year. I truly hope the good folks over at Popular Woodworking elect to have one conference at one central location so that we might get together as a big community again (that’s big talk coming from a card-carrying introvert!) I also truly hope that if you couldn’t make it this year, you will in ‘09. This conference was an unprecedented success!
-- There's no tool like an old tool...