Sunday, September 13, 2015

Brooklyn Fair 2015


My setup at the Brooklyn Fair.

A couple weeks ago I was invited to demonstrate traditional woodworking at the Brooklyn CT Fair. This is the oldest continuous active agricultural fair in the US, started in 1809.

I setup my two portable workbenchesMoxon vise, and portable sharpening station under a canopy across from the blacksmith shop. My wife and our friend Gary Hicks, the musician and guitar repairman who you'll be reading about in an upcoming post, joined me and explored the fair.

Throughout the weekend I demonstrated various hand tool woodworking operations. Since this was mostly a family crowd with very little experience with hand tools, I primarily kept to the basics of planing and chiseling.

Whenever anyone stopped to watch, I asked if they'd like to try out any tools, make some chips or shavings. Many were willing to try, then try out some additional tools as I piqued their interest.

I also gave several impromptu sharpening lessons. The portable sharpening station is always very popular.

For those interested in learning more, I handed out business cards with links to my Popular Woodworking University online video course Intro To Hand Tools.


Brothers Andrew, 8, Patrick, 12, and Carter, 5 from Rhode Island, using a #4 plane after boring holes with a Spofford brace and bit.


The boys were very excited to get the tools making holes and shavings.

Interestingly, I got a lot more participation from the kids than the adults. Most were pretty eager to imitate the curls I produced. I started with the spokeshave, since that's a very safe tool with very little blade exposure, lightweight and easy to handle, with about a 30-second learning curve.

I could also hold onto the back of the blade to guide it until they were able to handle it on their own. The spokeshave I had brought was a metal Leonard Bailey that I pointed out was almost 160 years old.

Then I showed them how to handle the planes, as well as the chisels for a couple of the older ones ("This is very sharp; the safe way to use it is to have both hands on the tool at all times."). I heard several parents ask their kids, "Isn't this more fun than video games?" Most agreed that it was a lot of fun.

For the smaller kids, I dragged my toolbox over and had them stand on that. I found that I could help them get shavings out of a plane if I pulled it from the front Japanese style as they used it, guiding it and maintaining contact with the wood. That even worked for my meat-eater wooden jack plane set for a heavy 1/16" cut; they really liked that.

My last visitors for the weekend were a family with several boys. The two older boys, about 5 or 6 years old, tried out the spokeshave. Then their brother Colin, watching from his mother's arms, piped up, "I want to try it!".

So I lifted him up on the toolbox and showed him how to do it. Colin is 2 years, 8 months old. He did just fine with the spokeshave.


Colin learning how to use a 160 year-old spokeshave.


He holds the record as the youngest participant I've had.

The crowd was pretty steady, so I didn't get much chance to look around. I filled in the odd moments making shavings and working on a Shaker candle box. I only got as far as dimensioning the stock and sawing out the dovetails. That means it was a good event, because I spent more time showing people things than working.


The blacksmith shop across the walkway.


Mike, one of the blacksmiths, working at the side forge.


Big Tractors! Gary in front of a large tractor on display.

I experimented with my booth layout a bit. I want people to realize they can step up to the bench and do stuff, so I initially had it oriented that way. However, my wife pointed out that meant I had my back to people when they first walked up.

What I eventually settled on was having the two benches oriented in a V with me working on the far side facing the front, but room to get by for people to step around.

I taped up a hand-written sign inviting them to come in and try the tools. I need to make up a short banner like that to attach to the front of the bench, plus a banner to go on the canopy.

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