Friday, February 22, 2013

The Furniture Project 2013, Day 1


My booth at the New England Home Show, well bannered.

Yesterday was the first day of The Furniture Project at the New England Home Show, where I was teaching free classes on the basics of hand tool woodworking to promote the Close Grain School Of Woodworking.

(Each day's post is linked at the end of the previous post. Skip to day 2, day 3, or day 4.)

Like last year, Thursday was pretty slow until the after-work crowd arrived. Then it tailed off again. Today may be busier, but tomorrow will be mobbed, given that it's a weekend day and a big snowstorm is expected for Saturday night. Sunday is anybody's guess at this point.

The schedule for The Furniture Project lists me at the "Masters Workbench." That may be coming it a bit high to call me a master, especially when Phil Lowe is going to be in the building, but I appreciate the compliment!

I had four Paul Sellers workbenches setup, each equipped with 2 full size saws, 2 joinery saws, 3 handplanes, 2 chisels, sawbench, holdfast, bar clamp, bench hooks, shooting board, mallet, marking knife, marking gauge, and combination square. You can see most everything here.

One person had pre-registered via email for Thursday classes, but he had to cancel. A couple people signed up for sessions during the day, and I ran the rest of it as an open demo.

A number of people stopped to talk for a while and try a few quick things (half of them other exhibitors from the non-woodworking part of the show; like I said, slow day). Many picked up cards and expressed interest in the school.

A surprisingly common question was along the lines of "What do you mean by school?" Specifically they wanted to know about class formats and schedules, since larger schools have full-time and part-time day programs as well as long-term evening and weekend programs.

I always explain that this is a small part-time school, evenings and weekends, all hand tools (in fact, the entire school is on display in my booth). I teach the basics of sharpening, stock preparation, and joinery to get people started; then for more advanced classes they have a number of choices at the other fine schools in the region.

The demos all went well. You can see the process of someone getting engaged, from standing off in the background, to moving in closer to watch, to putting hands to tools, to laughing and smiling and shaking hands as they thank me when they leave.

All the time I invested in tool tuning paid off well, polishing the backs of the chisels and plane irons to a mirror finish, then sharpening. These 50-100 year-old tools performed magnificently. Sure, I was using soft white pine for easy success, but they just left beautiful cut surfaces. I love it when a demo comes together.

One lady from one of the bathroom renovation exhibits told me she liked to build things in her basements, but she used power tools. She was very interested in the hand tool processes and the precision achievable. I sawed a narrow piece at 45 degrees, then shot it on the miter shooting board. Her jaw dropped when she saw the resulting gorgeous glassy surface.

As usual, another popular item was my portable sharpening station. For saw sharpening, I brought an antique Sargent No. 100 saw vise mounted to a length of 2x6. A few old-timers said they remembered those.

Wednesday was setup day. I loaded my van to the gills with the four workbenches (one breaks down to separate top and leg assemblies), auxiliary items, tools, and lumber. I dismounted the vises to make the benches easy to load. I need to build some individual small toolboxes. For now I just transport everything in plastic bins, not very traditional.

After unloading at the Seaport World Trade Center in Boston, I spent half an hour reassembling the fourth bench and remounting the vises. Naturally the battery in my cordless drill died, so I finished driving the screws with Yankee driver and brace and phillips-head bit.


One van, four workbenches.


Fully loaded with workbenches, sawbenches, tools, and lumber.


Side door view.


The contents of my van exploded into the staging room at the Seaport World Trade Center.

The total cost of equipping the school was about $500 and 35 hours of effort per seat. That covers time and materials for workbench, sawbench, bench hooks, shooting board, mallet made from walnut scraps leftover from my Queen Anne foot stool, vise (the single most expensive item), tools, and tool restoration. So all told, I spent about $2000 and 140 hours over the past year to get to this point.

The banners were a last-minute addition. I had been thinking about getting one ever since looking at photos from last year, where the demo areas looked kind of barren in the background. I had heard an ad on the radio for Staples banners on sale for half-price, so when I stopped in to get foam board to make signs, I got information about them.

Monday I went to their instant banner website and made up the school banner with logo, then had it printed for pickup at the store. It was ready that evening, and I was thrilled with the result.

Tuesday morning before work, I made up the other two, using high-resolution photos of my tool wall and shop that I had sitting around. Why did I have high-resolution photos sitting around? That's another interesting story that will come out in the fullness of time.

The photo banners were ready after work, and they came out equally as well as the first. People always love the tool wall. The print manager at Staples said, "I have to ask you, what is this?", so I gave him the 2-minute explanation of my shop, the school, and the show.

Total cost for 3 banners in outdoor vinyl with grommets, about $150. Yeah, that was pretty darn easy.

(Continue to Day 2)

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